Politics column for July 21, 2013

Guillory opposes ‘Gang of Eight’ bill

State Sen. Elbert Guillory traveled to Washington, D.C., last week to participate in rally against amnesty for illegal immigrants.

Guillory, of Opelousas, the state Legislature’s only black Republican, was among the speakers at a Black American Leadership Alliance-sponsored rally.

“Several thousand people came together from across the nation,” said Guillory.

Among the speakers were GOP U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz, of Texas, and Jeff Sessions, of Alabama, Guillory said, “and then they had a few fillers like me.”

The rally’s main message was that many blacks and legal Hispanics would lose their jobs if the “Gang of Eight” immigration bill became law.

The “Gang of Eight” refers to a group of Democratic and Republican congressman — four each — that came up with the U.S. Senate passed immigration compromise.

Kennedy floats idea of consultant cuts

State Treasurer John Kennedy gave Gov. Bobby Jindal an idea last week of where to find dollars to expand home services for the developmentally disabled.

Jindal vetoed $4 million that would have allowed more disabled to get care that keeps them out of institutions.

Kennedy said in his “opinion column” that even though “money is tight” there is a way to restore the funding. A “good start” would be for Jindal to reverse his axing of a legislative plan to cut $2 million in consulting contracts.

“The state Department of Education pays tens of millions of dollars to consultants each year, many of whom are out-of-state,” Kennedy wrote. “In fact, from 2005 to 2010, the department issued 5,499 consulting contracts worth $615,773,580.74.”

Kennedy said many of the contracts are still in effect and others have been added.

Kennedy laid out a some examples, then added: “It’s your money, so you be the judge of whether they are necessary, and more important than helping the disabled.”

Ward switch gives GOP super-majority

State Sen. Rick Ward III gave Republicans a super-majority in the Louisiana Senate with his party switch last week.

Ward, of Maringouin, became the 26th Republican out of 39 senators - a two-thirds majority which is needed to pass taxes and proposed constitutional amendments.

Ward also became the third Democratic legislator to switch to the GOP in recent weeks. Earlier, House Appropriations Committee chairman Rep. Jim Fannin, of Jonesboro, and Senate Retirement Committee chairman Elbert Guillory, of Opelousas, registered Republican.

“I’ve been in the Legislature now for two years and really the road the Democratic Party is going is not an area I feel comfortable with,” Ward said.

“As I dealt with more and more issues it became more clear to me that’s where I stand politically,” the Maringouin legislator said of his move to the GOP.

Ward said he is “very conservative and I feel it best represents the people of my district.”

Ward’s District 17 covers parts of St. Helena, East Feliciana, West Feliciana, Pointe Coupee, East Baton Rouge, West Baton Rouge, Iberville, Assumption and St. Martin parishes.

LABI head critical
of assessment system

The president of the state’s largest business lobbying organization accused Gov. Bobby Jindal last week of unraveling needed improvements to the state’s property assessment system.

Dan Juneau, president of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, wrote in his column that Jindal’s predecessor, Kathleen Blanco, created the “most reform-oriented” Louisiana Tax Commission in modern history.

The commission, whose members are appointed by the governor, oversees assessors who determine property tax bills based on assessments.

A recent report by the Louisiana Legislative Auditor’s Office suggested that the current commission is too lax with assessors, resulting in some homeowners’ tax bills being dramatically lower than their neighbors’ tax bills.

Juneau said Blanco’s appointees audited assessments and demanded accountability from assessors.

“In 2007, I also met with Governor Jindal after his election but before his inauguration. I told him how important it was to keep the property tax reform effort moving forward,” Juneau wrote.

He said assessors supported Jindal’s 2007 campaign and were rewarded with a dinner at the Governor’s Mansion after the election.

“They obviously had strong influence in his appointment of commission members,” Juneau wrote.

The governor’s spokesman, Sean Lansing, said Jindal wants the tax commission to work with assessors to ensure any deficiencies pointed out by the auditor are corrected.

Kleckley: No conflict with Cromer post

House Speaker Chuck Kleckley said state Rep. Greg Cromer’s new job won’t affect his status as chairman of the House Insurance Committee.

Cromer, R-Slidell, is the new chief executive officer of the Louisiana Health Cooperative, which will offer insurance coverage through new exchanges coming with Obamacare.

“I have been assured that any issues regarding his new employment have been addressed, and no conflicts exist,” Kleckley said in a statement.

Schneider resigns from Ethics Board

New Orleans lawyer Scott Schneider resigned from the Louisiana Board of Ethics.

Schneider, who works for Tulane University, had been the board’s vice chairman.

He was one of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s seven appointees to the 11-member board.

Now Jindal, according to state law, must await nominations from the state’s private college presidents from which to choose a new appointee.

In this case, the nominees must be attorneys to meet the legal requirement that three of Jindal’s seven appointees be attorneys.

The Ethics Board on Friday elected Julie Blewer, of Shreveport, as its new vice chairman.

Dept. of Insurance shakes up staffing

There’s a mini-reorganization going on at the state Department of Insurance.

The department, effective Aug. 1, will have a new deputy commissioner position to head the newly-formed Insurance Fraud Prevention Authority Division.

The post, created via 2013 legislation, will be filled by Matthew Stewart, the current director of the division, said Commissioner of Insurance Jim Donelon. Stewart will move into the appointed post from an $80,000 a year Civil Service job, Donelon said. He will make right at $100,000 a year in the new position, Donelon said.

“As we elevate the position to a deputy commissioner we gave up another deputy commissioner position in the former Office of Receivership,” said Donelon. “We saw an opportunity to shrink it and move it into the Solvency Division.”

Donelon said remaining Receivership employees have been moved from Florida Boulevard office space into the Insurance Department headquarters building in Capitol Complex.

Rep. Jackson to serve as keynote speaker

State Rep. Katrina Jackson, chair of the Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus, has been tapped as keynote speaker for Southern University’s summer 2013 commencement ceremony.

The ceremony is set for 10:30 a.m. Aug. 2 on Southern’s campus.

The Monroe native is an attorney. She was elected to the state Legislature in 2011 to represent District 16 which covers parts of Ouachita and Morehouse parishes.

BREC head to speak at Press Club of BR

Carolyn McKnight, superintendent of the East Baton Rouge Parish Recreation and Park Commission, known as BREC, will speak at Monday’s meeting of the Press Club of Baton Rouge.

McKnight will discuss progress since passage of the 2004 Imagine Your Parks plan and what comes next. The construction portion of the plan should be mostly completed by 2014.

The Press Club meets at De La Ronde Hall, 320 Third St. in downtown Baton Rouge. 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.

N.O. Tea Party head
to speak at GOP meet

Mary Kass, founder and president of the Greater New Orleans Tea Party, will be the speaker for Thursday’s meeting of the Ascension GOP Roundtable.

The Roundtable, sponsored by Ascension Republican Women, begins at 6 p.m. at Brew-Bachers’s Grill, 909 E. Ascension St., Gonzales.

Kass will discuss the national Common Core State Standards Initiative being implemented in Louisiana schools and schools across the country. She will raise questions on the quality of the Common Core standards, the substantial costs to implement, and the threat to state autonomy, parental rights and family privacy.

Cost for the meal is $14. The Roundtable is open to the public and guests are welcome. Reservations are requested. Phone (225) 644-5728 or e-mail: ARWrUS@aol.com

Compiled by the Capitol news bureau. Contact email is cnb@theadvocate.com