By John Maginnis and Jeremy Alford
A lawmaker from Assumption Parish and a group of senior citizens from south Louisiana say they are working on filing potential litigation against the administration of Gov. Bobby Jindal to address a variety of issues related to the Office of Elderly Affairs.
At the heart of the possible lawsuit is the ongoing debate over the creation of a new state department for elderly affairs the legislature and governor signed off on last year, but has not yet come to fruition.
The lawsuit being threatened could also target $1.8 million in funding that has been stripped or redirected from the office in recent years, according to state Rep. Joe Harrison, R-Napoleonville.
“The administration unconstitutionally took money away from the office and depleted its funding sources by moving it into other departments and using it to fill budget holes,” said Harrison.
Kyle Plotkin, communications director for Jindal, said administration officials are aware of the situation.
“We will be meeting with Rep. Harrison and stakeholders in the coming weeks to discuss the potential lawsuit and see if we can figure out ways to avert it,” he told LaPolitics.
Lawmakers passed and Jindal signed into law Act 384 by Harrison during last year’s session, which calls for the creation of a new state department dedicated entirely to elderly affairs. Currently there is only the Office of Elderly Affairs, under Jindal’s executive department and related functions located in other departments and offices.
For Harrison’s law to take hold, however, a future constitutional amendment will be needed to create a 21st state department or an existing department will need to be merged or eliminated, since the constitution only allows for 20 to be in operation at one, a quota that’s currently filled.
Harrison said the administration is delaying a decision and a lawsuit could force them to take a stance.
“Litigation and legislation,” he said. “That’s the only way to get their attention. There are councils on aging that need this help. It would be a benefit to them. Those that don’t have a tax base are having to cut their Meals on Wheels programs. That’s shameful, especially when we’re able to find money to feed and house convicts and prisoners.”
With 800,000 seniors in Louisiana, this is a major issue that could blow up fast. When Harrison’s legislation was debated in the 2013 session, hundreds of senior citizens from around the state visited the State Capitol and lobbied their local lawmakers.
Diana Edmonson, the executive director of the Terrebonne Parish Council on Aging, was among the activists last year and said litigation may be the only avenue left to supporters of Harrison’s efforts.
“The administration has not followed the procedures we expected them to,” she said. “We don’t want to be under the executive branch or moved under (the Department of Health and Hospitals). We want our own department.”Senate race becoming GOP microcosmWith the anticipated inclusion of state Rep. Paul Hollis of Covington, practically every faction of the Louisiana Republican Party is now represented in the still-developing U.S. Senate election.
The presumed frontrunner, Congressman Bill Cassidy of Baton Rouge, is easily the most mainstream Republican candidate in the field and is often criticized for not being far enough to the right. Rob Maness of Madisonville, a retired Air Force colonel, has been working to answer that war cry with some success, largely on the tea party-libertarian front.
Now enter Hollis, whose faith-based politics helped him chalk up a perfect score with the Louisiana Family Forum this year. While Maness is already roping off the tea party support that’s to the right of Cassidy, Hollis could soon start preaching to the choir that’s on the same side.
“I wouldn’t say I’m running to the right of anybody,” Hollis told LaPolitics. “But everyone should take the time to look at my voting record and they’ll see who I am. I’m definitely to the right of (incumbent U.S. Sen.) Mary Landrieu.”
With federal paperwork filed and $250,000 of personal cash in his campaign kitty, Hollis said he expected to officially announce his candidacy toward the middle of this month.
While consultants and other onlookers consider Hollis’ bid a long-shot, there is an upside for the 41-year-old politician: he’ll be boosting his statewide profile.
Should he stick it out, Hollis could contribute greatly to pushing Landrieu into a runoff and probably threaten the Hail Mary pass being launched by Maness, who was gaining minor but notable momentum with a nod from the Senate Conservatives Fund. Its Super PAC is capable of injecting six figures into the race in support of Maness, sources say, but that could quickly be overshadowed by Hollis’ war chest, or rather its potential.
“I already have other commitments lined up from different donors as well,” Hollis added.
Aside from offering up some faith-based politics, Hollis said he sees other unique opportunities for his candidacy.
As a rare coins dealer with his own company, he said he brings small business experience to the debate and his 95 percent cumulative score with the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry doesn’t hurt.
“There are a lot of people in the gold and collectibles business who are going to be excited by this prospect,” Hollis said, referring to fundraising. “Nationally, I’m going to have people to turn to.”
Plus, with only half a term under his belt as a legislator, he can still somewhat claim outsider status.
“There’s a real appetite out there for someone new,” he said.
But he’ll still have to overcome those Republicans who feel like he doesn’t belong in the race and that Cassidy has the most solid chance of besting Landrieu. U.S. Sen. David Vitter called Hollis in November to express just that.
“I see this as a race against Sen. Landrieu and nobody else,” he said, repeating what he told Vitter. “I have had a few other phone calls and felt some pressure from people telling me to take a pause and think about what I’m doing. But those are equally balanced against people who are saying they want a fresh approach in this race.”