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Self-serving bill could have been worse; will Blanco veto?

As bad as the self-serving legislation passed in the waning moments of the 2006 regular session of the Louisiana Legislature was, it could have been worse, and might still be repaired.

SB 513 would have allowed any legislator (and appointed officials with a number of years of service) serving from 1995 for ten years to have access to state group insurance, even as they are part-time employees of the state, at the preferential rates paid by full-time state employees (75 percent subsidized, and that’s the rate for employees with 20 years or more). But it foundered after the Senate rejected simple House amendments and didn’t even get a conference report.

It would have appeared to be a victory for the citizenry, because it prevents part-timers from getting a benefit that should be reserved for full-time employees and having taxpayers foot the bill. Recall that legislators expressly are designated as part-time because the authors of the 1973 Constitution felt legislators should be drawn from the ranks of the citizenry, that they should have to exist primarily in the real world to gain a better understanding of the typical, unelected citizen’s needs and desires. In doing so, they could self-insure or utilize their or their spouse’s employers’ insurance. The appointees added by the bill are the same. It is excessive to permit a full-time benefit to part-time employees.

There are those that argue improving benefits would improve the quality of lawmakers by attracting higher-quality lawmakers to office. This is a curious form of self-deprecation: legislators who claim this imply they aren’t quite as good as the state deserves and that if this standard was in place those who follow would be better. Simultaneously, it is infused with hubris, disdainfully considering that there are plenty of individuals as capable as they – if not moreso – who would serve without any desire for such benefits because they feel it is their civic duty to forgo personal rewards.

It also reeks of hypocrisy: why should legislators vote to give cheap health care to themselves at taxpayer expense when the state can’t even fully fund waiver slots for the disabled, it refuses to restructure the health care system that would save nearly $100 million a year, and, just this session, with no dissenting votes whatsoever, passed into law SB 613 which would enshrine into law a Medicaid reimbursement formula that inefficiently spends state health care dollars.

So it was a big win for the state? No, the victory was illusory, because they got just as good of a deal for legislators on this account in HB 1028 which did pass (only cutting out the state appointed officials). Notice that legislators were so concerned about this getting through that, up until the final minute when they knew HB 1028 was going through, SB 513 was kept alive as a safety valve (and senators may try to use their vote to reject the SB 513 report as political cover). HB 1028 also was more limited in that it did not include the state appointed officials, and recent very negative publicity about this concept probably made legislators shy away from an even worse bill.

Once again, Gov. Kathleen Blanco has been presented an opportunity to display some reform credentials with the passage of this absurd legislation. Relatively speaking, it’s not a lot of money, but it’s the arrogance displayed (mainly driven by the fact of term limits with too many legislators feeling they need to grab as much out of the system as possible before being forced out). Not having much to hang her hat on this regard, if she wants to burnish these credentials and do the right thing, a veto by her of HB 1028 is in order.


Anonymous said...

hooray! blanco vetoed this shameless effort by state legislators to line their pockets at the taxpayers expense.

never would have happpened had the media, including your website, not shined the spotlight on this shameless benefits-grab over the past few days.

nice job ..

Anonymous said...

the most hilarious aspect of all this was watching the Democrat and Republican leaders in the legislature "urging" blanco to veto a bill that their members had almost unanimously voted for just days ago! these hacks claimed that the members were "confused" and didn't know they were getting a free ride at taxpayers expense! ROFL!

these bastards obviously tried to sneak this benefits-grab through without anyone noticing, but when constituents found out and voiced their ire, they couldn't back-peddle fast enough!