Looking for transparency in all the wrong places
The worst thing you can do in a democracy is to keep secrets,” Senate President John Alario said at a hearing last week. He is one of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s top legislative leaders.
Alario’s statement came amid growing anger from legislators saying they were left out of the loop as Jindal’s LSU leadership made executive decisions dictating the future of the state’s one-of-its-kind public hospital system.
Communication needs to begin with legislators as LSU tackles Jindal-ordered cuts to its system of 10 public hospitals, said the Westwego Republican. The cuts could leave shells of facilities in many communities without definitive plans to fill the health-care void or physician training that goes on in them.
Members of the Louisiana Legislature’s health-care committees sought answers to questions their constituents were asking about the reductions that the legislators couldn’t answer. Frustration was voiced repeatedly during the four-hour session.
House Speaker Chuck Kleckley said decisions are having a major impact on the legislators’ districts and legislators need all the information they can get. “It’s important we work together. It’s important we keep this line of communication open,” said Kleckley, who has LSU’s Lake Charles hospital in his backyard.
The legislative meeting was held on the same day that the LSU Board of Supervisors, the majority of whom were selected by Jindal, approved an LSU hospital system and medical education revamp that eliminates nearly 1,500 employee jobs, reduces emergency and surgery beds and eliminates some services.
The plan relies on the state ironing out relationships with private hospitals to take over more of the care of the poor and uninsured. It also creates an upheaval in graduate medical education programs that use the hospitals as a base to train the state’s future physicians.
The changes, which some say would decimate the traditional hospital system in Louisiana, skirt laws that legislators approved to give them some say if cuts go too deep or emergency rooms or hospitals closed.
That’s not making legislators happy these days, but they shouldn’t feel alone. They are just getting a taste of the cloak of secrecy the administration continues to invoke.
Jindal’s LSU administrators just this week asserted what they claim is a legal right to withhold documents related to the hospital cuts and their initiative to turn over more health care and hospital operations to the private sector. The administrators invoked “deliberative process privilege” — i.e., they don’t want the public to know the basis on which they make decisions and don’t want anyone to know what’s going on behind the scenes, particularly who’s potentially in the mix for lucrative private health-care deals.
The invoking of deliberative process is only the most recent example of a Jindal agency hiding behind the exception.
The state Department of Education has been taken to court for refusal to provide records related to the state’s expanded school voucher program. The state Department of Revenue refused to release key documents in a flap over an alternative fuel tax credit which led to the agency’s secretary leaving.
Jindal won election in 2007 promising transparency in government.
Transparency, Jindal said, was important to ensure that decisions were being made for the right reasons and on the up-and-up. It was important for economic development and the state’s national reputation, he said. But transparency is lacking these days.
As Alario reminded: “The worst thing you can do in a democracy is to keep secrets.”
Marsha Shuler covers state government and politics for The Advocate’s Capitol news bureau. Her email address is email@example.com.