Gov. Jindal favors repeal of Edmonson benefit law

La. Gov. Bobby Jindal; State Police Col. Mike Edmonson

Gov. Bobby Jindal wants the Legislature to repeal a state law he signed that provides State Police Col. Mike Edmonson with enhanced retirement benefits. Jindal’s press secretary on Tuesday released a statement outlining Jindal’s position. “We did not know the legislation affected only two people. The Legislature shouldn’t have handled this issue this way. … Continue reading →

State Farm sued over auto repairs

Advocate staff photo by MARSHA SHULER -- Attorney General Buddy Caldwell (left) and aide Randy Ishee hold up a substandard auto part during a Tuesday news conference. The state has filed a lawsuit against State Farm involving auto repair work.

State Farm, the state’s largest automobile insurer, is accused of engaging in a pattern of unfair and fraudulent business practices involving car repairs in a state lawsuit filed Tuesday. Attorney General Buddy Caldwell sued, alleging the company “created a culture of unsafe business practices in which consumer vehicle repairs are performed with cost-savings as the primary goal … Continue reading →

Education website shut down

AP Photo by MELINDA DESLATTE -- Superintendent of Education John White speaks after his meeting with Gov. Bobby Jindal about public school testing last week.

The website for the state Department of Education was shut down for part of Monday because of the state’s refusal to make payments, Superintendent of Education John White said. But the office in the Jindal administration that pays the bills said the website closing was unintentional and not part of a heated dispute between White and the … Continue reading →

Auditor: Bayou Health report flawed

The Jindal administration’s positive report to the Legislature on the status of Medicaid privatization lacks information supporting “global assertions” of cost savings and improved health outcomes, the legislative auditor said in a report issued Monday. Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera said the report, covering July 2012 through June 2013, is largely based on data provided by … Continue reading →

Traffic problems defy quick solutions

Advocate staff photo by HILARY SCHEINUK -- Congestion on the Mississippi River Bridge connecting East and West Baton Rouge Parishes begins to accumulate around 3pm, Friday, July 25, 2014. ORG XMIT: BAT1407251812452652

Despite increased traffic and lane closures, sweeping changes on and near the Interstate 10 bridge in Baton Rouge are unlikely anytime soon because of political and financial hurdles, officials said. Kam Movassaghi, former secretary for the state Department of Transportation and Development, noted that a $200 million plan to widen I-10 from the bridge to Essen Lane … Continue reading →

Former City Court clerk pays ethics fine

A former Baton Rouge City Court employee has agreed to pay a $2,500 fine to end an ethics case against her involving the receipt of bribes. Ingrid Simon signed a settlement with the state Board of Ethics, which had charged her with improperly benefiting from the public job she held. The consent opinion signed by Simon … Continue reading →

Long waits at OMV offices 'absolutely awful'

Advocate staff photos -- State Rep. Kenny Havard, left, and state Sen. Ed Murray.

State Sen. Ed Murray recently spent more than three hours at the Office of Motor Vehicles on Veterans Boulevard in New Orleans. “The wait time was absolutely awful,” Murray, D-New Orleans, said Thursday. “There was hardly anyone working.” Louisiana’s long waits to renew driver’s licenses or obtain car tags have been well documented. A Continue reading →

State to face $1.2B budget shortfall

Office of Budget and Planning Director Barry Dusse, left, and Chairman Jim Fannin.

Next year’s state spending plan could be off by as much as $1.2 billion, but the projected shortfall was only briefly discussed during a meeting at the State Capitol on Thursday. Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration says Louisiana has plenty of time to reap savings and bring in more revenue to fill in the gap. “We have already … Continue reading →

DOTD: La. traffic snarls, delays show big hike in July

Advocate staff photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING -- A DOTD electronic message board on I-10 Eastbound in Port Allen, nearing the approach to the Mississippi River Bridge, can post traffic and weather updates, amber alerts and other information.

Feel like traffic snarls around the new Mississippi River Bridge have been especially bad lately? Statistics back up those suspicions. Lane closures on and near the Baton Rouge bridge shot up by 50 percent during July, an official of the state Department of Transportation said Monday. Kirk Gallien, deputy assistant secretary of operations for DOTD, … Continue reading →

Solar compromise offered

The state’s chief utility regulator crafted a compromise that will save many solar installation companies from imminent bankruptcy. But the price he asked was to support his re-election and abandon any backing of his opponent. Described as either as “borderline illegal” or basic hardball politics, depending on the speaker, the proposal by Louisiana Public Service Commission Chairman … Continue reading →

Buddy Roemer has 'small' stroke

Former La. Gov. Buddy Roemer

Former Gov. Buddy Roemer suffered a “small” stroke recently but expects to make a full recovery, Roemer’s son Chas said Monday. “He did have a small stroke about four weeks ago,” Chas Roemer told the Press Club of Baton Rouge. “He has been back at work.” Chas Roemer said that, while his … Continue reading →

Hurricane Isaac recovery bonds sold

Bonds to raise money to repay Entergy Corp. for getting the lights back on after Hurricane Isaac were sold earlier this week, state regulators announced Thursday. The slow-moving hurricane with sustained winds of about 67 mph dumped rain and caused flooding throughout south Louisiana in August 2012. About 787,000 of Entergy’s customers in Louisiana, mostly in the … Continue reading →

Miss. River bridge lane closures scheduled

Westbound motorists using the new Mississippi River Bridge may face major backups this weekend. The outside lane for drivers heading west on the Interstate 10 structure will be closed Saturday and Sunday from 6 a.m. until 1 p.m., the state Department of Transportation and Development announced. The closing is needed for routine bridge inspection, DOTD officials … Continue reading →

Edmonson won’t take retirement boost

Advocate staff file photo by RICHARD ALAN HANNON -- Louisiana State Police superintendent Col. Mike Edmonson is seen in this August, 2012 photo.

State Police Col. Mike Edmonson said Friday he will not accept the enhanced pension benefits granted as a result of a controversial last-minute law change. Edmonson said he wants the Legislature to revisit the issue in its 2015 session as separate legislation. “It’s been too much of a distraction,” he said. “It takes away from … Continue reading →

Edmonson won’t take retirement boost

State Police Col. Mike Edmonson said Friday he will not accept the enhanced pension benefits granted as a result of a controversial last-minute law change. Edmonson said he wants the Legislature to revisit the issue in its 2015 session as separate legislation. “It’s been too much of a distraction,” Edmonson said. “It … Continue reading →

Harvey fire official gets $10,000 state ethics fine

A Harvey Volunteer Fire Company No. 2 official has agreed to pay a $10,000 fine for violating state ethics laws. The fine came as part of a settlement of Louisiana Board of Ethics conflict-of-interest charges against Tim Thiebaud. The charges related to business the fire company did with Thiebaud and his wife Donna’s business, Thiebaud’s … Continue reading →

Road savings idea strikes out with legislators

Advocate Photo by MICHELLE MILLHOLLON -- Deputy Commissioner of Administration Ruth Johnson told legislators Friday that only 5 percent of state roads would apply for overlay with a controversial, thinner layer of asphalt.

For legislators, thinner isn’t necessarily better. Members of the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget raised concerns Friday about using thinner asphalt on state roads as a cost-cutting measure. Texas saves millions of dollars annually by using a 1-inch overlay of asphalt. State Rep. Jim Fannin, R-Jonesboro, warned the Jindal administration against following Texas’ … Continue reading →

Medicaid privatization yields savings

Advocate Photo by MICHELLE MILLHOLLON -- House Appropriations Committee chairman Rep. Jim Fannin, R-Jonesboro, listens Friday as state health officials provide an update on Bayou Health - a private health insurance program  that covers two-thirds of the state's 1.4 million Medicaid population.

The Jindal administration’s private insurance-based program covering about 900,000 Medicaid recipients is working to curb escalating health care costs, Louisiana’s health chief said Friday. A new report indicates Bayou Health plans registered less cost than would have been incurred in the traditional state-run Medicaid program, state Department of Health and Hospitals Secretary Kathy Kliebert said. She said … Continue reading →

Group Benefits gets scrutiny

Advocate Photo by MICHELLE MILLHOLLON -- Legislative Fiscal Office senior analyst Travis McIlwain, left, talks about the finances of the state Office of Group Benefits during a Friday meeting of the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget. At McIlwain's left is Deputy Commissioner of Administration Ruth Johnson.

The Legislature’s top money panel signaled Friday it would keep close watch on efforts to stabilize the finances of the state insurance program for about 230,000 employees, their dependents and retirees. Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget Chairman Rep. Jim Fannin said he wants monthly reports on the progress of efforts to stop the continued erosion of … Continue reading →

Bond Commission approves college upgrades

Advocate staff photo by MARK BALLARD -- State Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego, left, listens while State Treasurer John N. Kennedy addresses the Bond Commission on Thursday.

The State Bond Commission gave permission Thursday to make the loans necessary for a $175 million expansion at 18 community college campuses around the state. The money would build new campuses in the New Orleans area to train students for river-related shipping business and for work as chefs. In Lafayette, a building would be constructed for … Continue reading →

Bond commission holds off on building charter schools

The idea of shifting state money traditionally used to pay for public school education into a fund that would pay for construction at charter schools chilled some members of the State Bond Commission. The panel of high-ranking state officials that oversees borrowing by government agencies asked the not-for-profit corporation running the charter school to delay its request … Continue reading →

VA medical claims backlogged

A federal move to rely more heavily on the private sector for veterans’ health care ran into problems because the hospitals and other providers in Louisiana aren’t getting paid quickly. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is more than $35 million behind in paying private Louisiana hospitals, specialty care physicians and others, according to the … Continue reading →

Jindal administration announces big changes for Medicaid program

The Jindal administration is moving toward a program in which the state pays premiums for a private health insurance program for two-thirds of the state’s 1.4 million Medicaid recipients. State Department of Health and Hospitals Secretary Kathy Kliebert announced the change Thursday. Kliebert said the move will provide for more budget predictability and increased savings while … Continue reading →

VA clinics in Acadiana are nearing congressional approval

The U.S. Capitol building is seen through the columns on the steps of the Supreme Court, Monday, May 5, 2014, in Washington. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Long awaited veterans’ clinics in Lafayette and Lake Charles could receive federal authorization within the next couple weeks, the head of the state Department of Veterans Affairs said Wednesday. Secretary David LaCerte, who is visiting Washington during a two-day trip, said he received assurances from members of the veterans affairs panels in the U.S. House and Senate … Continue reading →

Program for at-risk children coming soon

Louisiana Health and Hospitals Secretary Kathy Kliebert

More than two years after its launch, a state program designed to provide better, more coordinated services for Louisiana’s at-risk children and youth is still not active statewide. The idea behind the Jindal administration initiative is to provide community care for children and youth with mental health and substance abuse problems so they can stay out of … Continue reading →

Feds: La. must refund $7 million

Louisiana erroneously claimed more than $7 million in bonus payments related to its children’s health insurance program that need to be repaid, a federal inspector general’s report concludes. The state Medicaid program “overstated” program enrolment, including ineligible individuals, in requests to the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, called CMS, according to the report. … Continue reading →

Whistleblower said claims agreement ‘close’ to fraud

An anonymous whistleblower warned federal officials about problems “dangerously close” to fraud in connection with the state award of a lucrative, now-scrapped state Medicaid claims processing contract, according to recently released documents that the Jindal administration used in making its decision to cancel the largest contract the state lets. The email shows that federal … Continue reading →

Senate leader suggests highway funding fixes

Senator Robert Adley

The chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee said Wednesday that the state should consider a wide range of short-term steps to ease Louisiana’s road funding woes. One issue that needs review is using $60 million per year of state gasoline tax revenue to help fund State Police, state Sen. Robert Adley, R-Benton, said. Adley repeatedly noted … Continue reading →

Bayou Health faces changes, and queries from legislators

Advocate staff file photo by BILL FEIG -- Aerial of the new State Capitol building and grounds.

The state’s Medicaid privatization initiative is approaching its third birthday and the Jindal administration claims it’s resulting in taxpayer savings. But the administration has been unable to provide the numbers that would compare the costs of traditional government-provided Medicaid versus the costs under the private healthcare model. It’s an elusive number because of the complexity of … Continue reading →

State pension boards approve change

Louisiana’s two largest statewide retirement systems took a step that could reduce their long-term debts and ultimately lower the costs paid for state government retirements. The Louisiana State Employees Retirement System and the Teachers Retirement System of Louisiana boards voted to reduce their projected annual investment returns from 8 percent to 7.75 percent. … Continue reading →