Adviser says hospital decision may wreck budget

Jared Brossett, District D
Jared Brossett, District D

Don Gregory, health care adviser to the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana, issued a statement late Friday saying the federal decision on Jindal’s efforts to privatize charity hospitals could blow a huge hole, possibly as large as $440 million eventually, in future state government budgets.

The U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services late Friday questioned the Jindal administration’s use of $260.8 million in advance lease payments to prop up the deals involving six public hospitals, including those in New Orleans, Lafayette and Houma. If the decision stands, the state would have to find another way to cover those payments.

“While we hope, for the sake of the citizens of Louisiana and to avoid an extraordinary budget impact, that the administration is successful with its appeal, state leaders at this point should face the reality of this potential shortfall and start planning how we will deal with this problem in our current development of the fiscal year 2015 state budget in the Legislature,” Gregory wrote.

In a December 2013 report, PAR wrote: “It is not known how federal Medicaid regulators will view these rental payments with regard to providing matching federal funds. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) will have to determine whether the payments violate regulations prohibiting donations from providers. There is potential for a significant disallowance in Louisiana’s Medicaid program if CMS determines any portion of these rental payments is not permitted.”

Boysie Bollinger helps PAC get cap removed

Count wealthy Lockport shipbuilding company owner Boysie Bollinger as the Louisiana poster child for letting big money onto the state election scene.

The Fund for Louisiana’s Future used Bollinger as its example in successfully arguing the unconstitutionality of a Louisiana law that bans any person from making a contribution in excess of $100,000 to a political committee during a four-year calendar period.

The super PAC pointed to Bollinger as “a specific prospective donor” who would contribute $125,000 absent the state’s position that Louisiana law doesn’t allow it.

A federal court judge ruled late last week that independent expenditure committees — such as the Fund for Louisiana’s Future — cannot be subjected to Louisiana’s $100,000 cap. It would violate the PAC’s First Amendment rights.

The fund’s organizer has said the PAC would support U.S. Sen. David Vitter’s bid for governor in 2015.

Candidate sign-up set for vacant House seat

Louisiana House Speaker Chuck Kleckley has set candidate sign-up for Aug. 20-22 for the open New Orleans House District 97 seat.

The special election is to fill the seat vacated by state Rep. Jared Brossett, who won election to the New Orleans City Council.

Kleckley’s proclamation set the primary election for Nov. 4 and a runoff election, if needed, for Dec. 6.

Negotiations could decide plumbers’ code

Negotiations going over the weekend could decide whether plumbers will have to follow the International Plumbing Code instead of the Louisiana State Plumbing Code.

Republican State Rep. Erich Ponti, who is a Baton Rouge contractor and sponsor of House Bill 1048, confirmed he had been meeting with opponents of his legislation that would make the switch.

He breakfasted with Jim Bernhard, the Baton Rouge businessman who founded The Shaw Group, and lunched with union leaders.

But Ponti stressed no agreement has been reached and that negotiations would continue through the weekend.

Hundreds of plumbers, union members and other opponents last week stalked State Capitol halls in fluorescent-green T-shirts.

Members of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Consumer Protection and International Affairs gave Ponti a week to try to find a compromise.

Adley aims to beef up State Capitol security

Concerned about State Capitol security, state Sen. Robert Adley is proposing formation of a Legislative Security Council and hiring of a director of legislative security who would employ officers.

Adley said the idea is to “evaluate and manage how we handle security around the Capitol.”

The new entity would be on top of State Police, which provides security during legislative sessions. And Adley assured that the Legislature’s current security employees who man metal detectors at major Capitol entrances would stay, too.

“We have some issues we need to address,” said Adley, R-Benton. “I worry about the people. It needs to be as secure for the people as possible.”

Did some breach of security prompt the proposal, asked state Sen. Page Cortez, R-Lafayette.

“We see some breaches every day around the country,” Adley said. “The security around this place is all but null and void.”

The proposal stalled as senators questioned the cost. Adley did not have a fiscal note. He agreed to get one before senators voted on the measure.

Dardenne launches statewide tour

Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne is getting ready to launch a statewide tour to create awareness about Louisiana’s tourism industry and its impact on the state.

The tour is in conjunction with National Tourism Week.

Dardenne heads out Monday in a mini-coach wrapped in Louisiana Travel’s latest tourism promotion.

The first stop is the Landry Vinyards in West Monroe. He’ll promote attractions and events along the way as he travels to Ruston, Minden, Shreveport, Many, Leesville, Mansura, St. Francisville, Hammond, Avondale, Breaux Bridge, Abbeville and Avery Island. The tour ends Friday in Vacherie at 3:30 p.m. at the Oak Alley Plantation.

PACs try to scrap contribution limits

The Fund for Louisiana’s Future won in federal court in New Orleans late last week after it argued that independent super PACs like itself should not be limited in the contributions received.

A political action committee supporting Republican U.S. Sen. David Vitter lost an attempt Friday to get the Louisiana Board of Ethics to allow unlimited individual contributions, rather than the $100,000 limit imposed by state law. The Ethics Board said state law prohibits any person from making a contribution in excess of $100,000 to a political committee during a four-year calendar period and the board cannot rule on the law’s constitutionality.

Citizens United vs. Federal Elections Commission found that independent expenditures in campaigns “do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption” that would provide a constitutional reason to restrict political speech.

Director of Catholic bishops group retires

Danny Loar is retiring as executive director of the Louisiana Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Loar, who has held the job since 2002, served as chief lobbyist for the Catholic Church in Louisiana and worked with archdiocesan and diocesan school superintendents on legislation and other issues.

Under his leadership, the group’s inaugural website was launched, legislative bill handling was changed from paper to digital service and an email advocacy group of 10,000 people was set up.

New Orleans Archbishop Gregory Aymond, in a prepared statement, praised Loar’s service and said “the bishops remain grateful for his leadership.”

Loar’s retirement takes effect June 30.

He will be teaching sixth-grade religion and seventh-grade American history at St. Theresa Middle School in Gonzales.

The new executive director will be Rob Tasman, who has been associate director of the group since 2008.

Tasman, an attorney, is also a religious education instructor at Catholic High School in Baton Rouge.

Visit Baton Rouge VP to address Press Club

Renee Areng, vice president of Visit Baton Rouge, will be the speaker for Monday’s meeting of the Press Club of Baton Rouge.

Areng will make a significant announcement at this venue and comment on a record year for tourism, including the Miss USA Pageant in Baton Rouge this summer.

The Press Club meets in the Iberville Room at the Belle of Baton Rouge Hotel, 102 France St. Parking is free in the garage off Mayflower Street.

Lunch, which is served at 11:30 a.m., is $12 for members and $15 for nonmembers. The public is invited, but only members of the Press Club and the news media are allowed to ask questions.