Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Little Insurance Reform in Louisiana

Thursday, May 1st, 2008

Baton Rouge, Louisiana



In the short list for vice president, two names that regularly appear are Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal and Florida Governor Charlie Crist. And as part of the discussion, there are naturally comparisons as to the economic progress being made in both states. One area where Florida leaves Louisiana in the dust is in insurance reform.

Crist has been in office a little over a year, and from the get go made insurance issues his front burner concern. When he took office in January of 2007, Crist called off his inaugural ball saying his full focus needed to be directed towards insurance reform. He called the Florida legislature into a three-day retreat with insurance restructuring being the only thing on the agenda.

In fairness to Jindal, he has only been in office four months but has yet to designate one official on his staff to be the point person for much-needed change in the Louisiana insurance laws. Meanwhile, the Florida Legislature has been dealing with high profile insurance issues as top priorities in its present legislative session. In the Louisiana legislature, insurance issues are rarely mentioned. The comparisons are striking.

In the health-insurance area, Florida just this week completely revamped payment procedures from health insurers to doctors, making major strides in cutting down on red tape and putting the focus on doctors practicing medicine rather than being bogged down in reams of paperwork.

In addition, Governor Crist has taken a completely different approach on mandates as compared to Louisiana. He has legislation that will offer stripped-down health-care benefits where purchasers can choose their mandates. By not making so many procedures and coverage types mandatory, Florida can now offer a basic health policy for only $150 a month. It's the choice of the patient. And it offers a basic health policy to thousands of citizens who are uninsured in Florida. Nothing like that has even been considered in Louisiana

The words "homeowners insurance" has nary been given a mention during the current Louisiana legislative session. Affordable insurance to cover one's property has been the single biggest detriment for rebuilding in south Louisiana. And yet there has not been one creative idea put on the table by legislators. In Florida, finding ways to reduce the cost of basic home insurance has been the front burner issue for months.

Just last week, the Florida Senate approved sweeping property insurance changes that have been touted in the Florida press as a "homeowner’s Bill of Rights." The changes in Florida are directly opposite from the direction being taken in Louisiana. Florida legislation holds insurance companies too a much higher degree of accountability when it comes to antitrust laws and violating a litany of other state laws. Insurers are now required to get state approval before raising property insurance rates, and are prohibited from using arbitration panels when there is a disagreement with property owners. Rates charged to those who purchased Florida Citizens Property insurance have been frozen, and can never be higher than competing company rates. All these changes fly in the face of the insurance company favoritism that dominates both the Louisiana insurance department and the Louisiana legislature.

Florida has also put in place a series of strong consumer laws with an insurance advocate uncontrolled by the insurance department. In Louisiana last year, efforts to create a separate insurance consumer advocate, independent of the insurance department, met a chilly reception by legislators, who allowed (perhaps tongue in cheek?) for such an office to be created in the insurance department itself. The fox guarding the hen house?

The comparisons between the Florida Citizens Insurance Corporation and a similar company set up by Louisiana are striking. Florida initially set up its company by doing what any normal business would do. Capital and surplus were put in place of over $700 million, and reinsurance in the private European market was obtained to protect the Citizens plan in case there were major losses. And there were adequate professionals hired to run the company on a daily basis.

Louisiana did none of the above. From the day the Louisiana company was created by the insurance department and the legislature, Louisiana Citizens Property Insurance Corp. was a disaster waiting to happen. We have read about the incompetent management and the rip-offs of millions of dollars in illegal spending. Even today, this company has yet to file financial statements or balance their checkbooks. Not one dollar was allocated to the new start up company created by the legislature. Is there any business that can start from scratch without having any money in the bank?

And if the failure to not adequately build in safeguards by Louisiana Citizens and the Louisiana Insurance Department officials who were running the company was not bad enough, the decision not to buy adequate reinsurance has turned out to be the biggest single financial disaster in Louisiana’s history. Louisiana taxpayers will spend the next 20 years paying off the bonds that were sold to cover the losses, now well over $1 billion.

We have not even begun to discuss automobile insurance, where just last week Louisiana was listed as having the third highest rates in the country by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. One could make an argument that for the financial well-being of the state, insurance restructuring and reform should be the major issue in this current legislative session. The fact that insurance issues are almost nonexistent is a reflection of how far the state has to go in creating a more affordable climate for its citizens.

Louisiana and Florida are two troubled states when it comes to affordable insurance, and each are taking a dramatically different direction. Right now, it looks like Louisiana, made the wrong turn in the fork of the road.


You are the person who has to decide. Whether you'll do it or toss it aside; you are the person who makes up your mind. Whether you'll lead or will linger behind. Whether you'll try for the goal that's afar. Or just be contented to stay where you are.

Edgar A. Guest

Peace and Justice.

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s weekly column appears in a number of newspapers throughout the State of Louisiana. You can read Jim’s Blog, and take his weekly poll, plus read his columns going back to the fall of 2002 by going to his own website at

Jim’s radio program on WRNO (995 fm) from New Orleans starts up again this week, with a Sunday show from 11:00 am till 1:00pm. Other changes will be announced in the weeks to come.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008


Thursday, April 23rd, 2008
New Orleans, Louisiana


Under both federal and Louisiana state law, prosecutors are given wide ranging immunity for their actions. Louisiana in particular has been a domicile for some of the most troubling examples of blatant prosecutor misconduct. Up until now, there was little recourse for an aggrieved defendant. But all that might change in the coming weeks as the US Supreme Court considers the ramifications of a prosecutor who goes too far.

The Supreme Court has ruled in the past that "absolute immunity" shields prosecutors from being sued by persons who were wrongly convicted, even when there was exculpatory evidence kept from the accused that might have helped his or her case. But a California decision recently accepted for review by the Supreme Court puts the whole immunity issue back on the front burner.

Prosecutors, particularly Louisiana, want the nation's highest court to block any suits from someone wrongly convicted because, they say, it will open the door to a floodwall of frivolous claims. And if you review the history of numerous questionable decisions by Louisiana prosecutors, it would be fair to say they have good reason to be concerned.

Perhaps the most blatant example of prosecutors abusing the public trust was in a 1996 New Orleans conviction of Dan Bright for first-degree murder. Both the FBI and the Orleans Parish District Attorney's Office suppressed a statement from a confidential FBI informant identifying someone completely different as the trigger man.

Bright received the death penalty and stayed in jail for eight years following his appeals before he was finally released by the Louisiana Supreme Court. Before his release, he served his time in Angola State penitentiary on death row in a coffin-size cell for 23 hours each day. His recourse when finally free? Just a shoulder shrug and comments of "tough luck" from the judicial system.

About the only bright spot to come out of the Bright judicial fiasco was the fact that the foreman of the jury who voted to send him to the electric chair, Kathleen Norman, has joined as an active member of a New Orleans organization called the Innocence Project. Their purpose is to review cases were the conviction was questionable, particularly when DNA evidence is available, and assume the burden of representing such defendants on appeal. Kathleen was on my radio show last year, and gives compelling testimony of how it is so easy to agree with knee-jerk acceptance as to whatever a prosecutor might claim happened.

Another case of blatant prosecutorial misconduct surfaced following the conviction of a fellow named John Thompson. He was convicted by a New Orleans jury of murder and spent 14 years on death row. But his prosecutor had remorse, and on his deathbed, he admitted destroying evidence in the case that would have set Thompson free.

And in a new can of worms for New Orleans federal prosecutors, pleadings have been filed by a New Orleans lawyer that a federal judge has labeled "sensational," involving the Edwin Edwards case. Allegations are being made that Congressman William Jefferson participated in a bribery scheme involving former federal prosecutor and ex-New Orleans District Attorney Eddie Jordan. These new charges of prosecutorial misconduct will no doubt be looked at closely by the Edwards legal team as the former Governor continues to serve his term in a federal prison.

In addition, a new study just made public sums up the nation’s view of Louisiana. The state has the nation's second worst legal system, and Orleans Parish was ranked as one of the 10 least fair and reasonable court systems in the country, according to a report released this week by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

As you can imagine, prosecutors throughout Louisiana are up in arms over the possibility of losing their absolute immunity. But is accountability all that bad? We are talking here about numerous cases where there was exculpatory evidence that could have helped the accused, yet it was purposely hidden or destroyed by a prosecutor. This goes far beyond any frivolous lawsuit. It's a case of the prosecutor not only failing to do his job, but also subverting any realistic effort to see that justice will prevail.

Look for the High Court to confect some limited immunity, but force prosecutors to focus more on the facts and the truth, rather than continue, as we have seen time and time in New Orleans, to operate in the “gotcha” mentality mode that causes justice, way too often to be denied.


The function of the prosecutor under the federal Constitution is not to tack as many skins of victims as possible against the wall. His function is to vindicate the rights of the people as expressed in the laws and give those accused of crime a fair trial.

William Orville Douglas quotes

.Peace and Justice.

Jim Brown

(For a more detailed discussion of the whole area of prosecutorial abuse, see Jim Brown’s website at

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Thursday, April 17th, 2008
Baton Rouge, Louisiana





Presidential Democratic frontrunner Barack Obama found himself in hot water last week over what he perceives to be "bitterness” in small-town America. The criticism came from Republicans, as well as his Democratic opponent, Senator Hillary Clinton. According to his opponents, Obama is both elitist and out of touch by saying that small-town voters "cling to religion and guns in bad economic times." So is Obama all that much out of touch? Far from it. He's right on the money.

Those who are really "out of touch" are the political insiders in both parties who cannot shake their Washington inside the Beltway mentality. In most instances, they haven't a clue as to the many frustrations incurred by small town folks throughout this country.

If you want to witness these frustrations firsthand, drive up to Northeast Louisiana through my old hometown of Ferriday. Many commercial buildings stand along Main Street empty. The saving grace of this town, as is the case of many other small towns throughout the country, was the local Wal-Mart. It just shut down. Unemployment throughout this part of the state hovers around 30%. With so many people unemployed, a high percentage have no health insurance.

Economic conditions in Ferriday and Northeast Louisiana are mirrored throughout the country in numerous other rural communities. And to keep some semblance of hope, these folks find a few things to cling to. One is religion. Church attendance is significantly higher in rural areas, particularly in south. And for a whole litany of everyday problems, religion offers comfort, consolation, and hope.

How about clinging to your gun? Few families in rural America are without a gun, for both hunting and self protection. When I first began practicing law in Ferriday, I was amazed at the number of men, young and old alike, who would take off in the fall for a month or more just to go hunt. As one prospective juror told the judge at a jury trial but I participated in, "you need to let me off this jury judge. It's hunting season, and that's about all I live for."

So I read Obama's comments to mean that he perceives major economic problems throughout rural America. The economy is sluggish; oil prices are staying over $100 a barrel, health care coverage for many has become unaffordable, mortgage foreclosures have jumped dramatically, and unemployment rates continue to rise in large segments of rural America. When you're without a job, and are, as the song says, “down and out”, it's only natural to play to those precepts that give comfort and offer hope.

Too many in small town America, such precepts are guns and religion. So where is Obama off the track? The Beltway gang around both Clinton and McCain need to drop this dead horse. And maybe get out in the country a lot more.


You Are What You Eat,

At Least Politically

Well, the results are in. A new poll has examined Sunday they'll be eating habits of Americans. And if you want to know someone's political party persuasion, just check out how they eat. We've often been told of what we eat says a lot about who we are. Now we find out that what we eat also says something about how we are going to vote for. The process is called micro targeting, and the system uses consumer data to hone in on who eats or consumes what, and how they vote.

So here's your test. Circle your choices, and then at the end, you will magically find out whether you are a Democrat or a Republican.

1.) Dr. Pepper or Pepsi-Cola and Sprite?

2.) Scotch or Gin?

3.) Red wine or white wine?

4.) Fiji water or Evian?

5.) Chick-fil-A chicken or Popeye's fried chicken?

6.) Stuffed crust pizza or regular crust?

7.) Chocolate chip cookies or Fig Newtons?

8.) Raisin bran or Granola?

Made your choices? The here is how you stack up. The first choice means you are more likely to be a Republican. Dark whiskey, dark wines, and less spicy food profiles you in the GOP. Organic grown or more Whole Food-y, olive oil, and Ben and Jerry’s skews you more towards the Democratic camp.

So as the fall election season get closer, look for more marketing ideas to tie into the political season. Hey here’s a suggestion. If Obama gets the Democratic nomination, the Ben and Jerry’s guys, who are die hard democrats, should come up with a new flavor, Yes, Pecan!


"I won't eat anything that has intelligent life, but I'd gladly eat a network executive or a politician."
Marty Feldman (American actor)

Peace and Justice.

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s weekly column appears in a number of newspapers and websites throughout the State of Louisiana. You can read Jim’s Blog, and take his weekly poll, plus read his columns going back to the fall of 2002 by going to his own website at

Jim’s radio show on WRNO (995 fm) from New Orleans can be heard each Sunday, from 11:00 am until 1:00 pm.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Vice President Jindal? Maybe!

Thursday, April 10th, 2008

Baton Rouge, Louisiana



Well, no. The new Louisiana Governor is very much in the mix, as more focus took place this week on who Sen. John McCain will pick as his republican running mate. And when you consider the alternatives, and the balance McCain both needs and is searching for, Jindal stands toe to toe with any other candidate being discussed.

First, who’s on the front burner? Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney is at the head of a number of Republican lists following his strong second-place finish in the earlier republican primaries. A leading republican cheer leader for Romney is former White House Chief of Staff Andy Card. "He's attractive, he is knowledgeable, he didn't stumble too many times, so I don't think that he suffers from foot in mouth disease," Card says.

But there are also a number of detractors lining up against Romney. In a full-page ad that is running in a number of newspapers around the country, leading social conservatives are warning Senator John McCain not to pick Romney as his vice presidential running mate. As national talk show host and author Greg Jackson (WRKO in Boston) is telling the news media: “I know Romney to be a very dangerous and deceitful person. He is the only one to establish abortion on demand for $50 as part of his very own socialist health care plan," Jackson said, referring to the plan put into place in Massachusetts when Romney was governor of the state.

Romney also carries the label of a "flip – flopper, “on issues like gun control, abortion and gay marriage. Simply put, this has McCain is more liberal on social issues, Romney does very little to shore up the Republican conservative base. Throw into the mix his Mormon religion, and there are just too many downsides for McCain to consider Romney.

How about Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice? Speculation over a Rice candidacy stirred up a good bit over the weekend during a discussion on the ABC program “This week with George Stephanopoulos." Fox news analyst Dan Senor, who was a former military spokesman for coalition forces in Baghdad, told the Sunday morning panel that Rice "has been actively, actually in recent weeks, campaigning for this." (Senor, by the way, just happens to be my son-in-law)

But Rice also has too many negatives. She is perceived to be an orchestrator of the present Iraq problem. Even though McCain is strongly supporting the Iraqi occupation, he has continually charged that until recently, the war was woefully mismanaged. A McCain/Rice ticket would be a one- issue ticket: the war. Too much baggage here. And Rice also is pro-choice on abortion, and in support of affirmative action. Again, this will not set well with the more conservative Republican base that feels McCain is too liberal to begin with.

So just what are the attributes McCain needs to look for in balancing off his ticket? Let’s make a list:

1) Youth. John McCain, of concern to many voters under 50, is perceived to be an old guy. Now a lot of us don't think that 71 is all that old, particularly in this day and age. But there is a perception problem, and easy candidate who is dynamic, vigorous, and much younger.

2) McCain's political life has been inside the Washington Beltway. He needs to add on his ticket a vice presidential candidate who is seen as a Washington outsider.

3) McCain admits he knows very little about economics, and his lack of business background brings back the Romney campaign quote that many candidates for president were unqualified because they "had not run as much as lemonade stand."

4) McCain still carries a stigma of his recent documented and numerous flirtations with leaving the Republican Party. He needs a consistent died in the wool Republican running mate who is strongly acceptable to the hard-line conservative block that McCain will never have himself. Someone who is able to appeal directly and unequivocally to the religious right on their level, particularly on gut issues like being pro life.

5) What McCain needs is a complementary running mate, not an identical running mate. Someone in the fold politically, but also someone who brings a balance for the conservative right that McCain alone cannot offer.

So who is the guy that a number of important conservative voices are touting, and who meets the criteria just listed? How well does Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal measure up under a republican microscope?

Youth? Obama is middle aged compared to Bobby Jindal. To those in Louisiana who have been following his career, he seems to have been around the political scene for many years. But the 36 year old Governor would bring freshness and energy to the ticket that would both help the McClain ticket, and give the Senator a comparison to joke about on the campaign trail.

A Washington insider? Jindal did spend three years as a Louisiana Congressman. But his varied background in running Louisiana's public health care system as well as its board of colleges and universities gives him enough” hands-on experience” that should overcome the Romney charge of never as much as running a lemonade stand. As Louisiana's governor, he should carry the same "outsider" credentials as Bill Clinton, George Bush, and a host of other governors who were on a national ticket.

How about his republican credentials? Just take a look at a cross-section of conservative political commentary from throughout the nation. A major Republican conservative website: "Conservative activists are swooning over Governor Bobby Jindal, Louisiana Republican, with many claiming that he should be John McCain's vice president pick, or, at the very least, the keynote speaker for this year's Republican national convention in September."

The Wall Street Journal said: "that's why Mr. McCain's choice of vice presidential running mate can make or break his candidacy. This is the time for change, real change. This is a time for some one whom every body knows to be the rising star of the GOP, the new governor of Louisiana, Bobby Jindal."

How about these comments from the conservative “American Spectator magazine?" “Mr. Jindal has crammed a lot of legislative and executive experience into a career that is just beginning. If Mr. McCain wants to prove to conservatives that he means business and not empty words, he could not do better than to choose Mr. Jindal. Soon."

And how about the voice of conservative radio, Rush Limbaugh? His view:

“I'll tell you.... I'm going to give you a name that would make me jump for joy.
Bobby Jindal. I did an interview with Bobby Jindal. He is the next Ronald Reagan, if he doesn't change. Bobby Jindal, the new governor of Louisiana is the next Ronald Reagan. He's young. He was just sworn in for his first term. He's the guy that beat the liberal Democrat machine throughout Louisiana. He did it on 100% conservatism.
... This guy could be the next Ronald Reagan. If McCain chose him, here's a southern state; this is Louisiana. That depends on who they think McCain will need or want, but Jindal is very young, and he's only in his first year as governor.”

So there you have it. Strong credentials with and all out blessing by Rush himself. It’s not surprising that the Governor is denying any serious interest. But you can bet he would jump at the chance if the phone call came from the Senator.

Meanwhile, back at the Louisiana state capitol, one guy who is keeping a sharp eye on the VP jockeying is Lt. Governor Mitch Landrieu. Just imagining how his future is affected if there ends up being a Vice President Jindal. But, hey, that’s a whole different column. Stay tuned.


“There would never be an assassination attempt on me. You know why? Charles Barkley is going to be my vice president, and rest assured, nobody is going to shoot me to put Charles in as president. “

Former Minn. Gov. Jesse Ventura on his choice for Vice President if he ran for President.

Peace and Justice.

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s weekly column appears in a number of newspapers throughout the State of Louisiana. You can read Jim’s Blog, and take his weekly poll, plus read his columns going back to the fall of 2002 by going to his own website at

Jim’s radio program on WRNO (995 fm) from New Orleans starts up again this week, with a Sunday show from 11:00 am till 1:00pm. Other changes will be announced in the weeks to come.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Performance Based Pay for Public Officials

Thursday, April 3rd, 208

Baton Rouge, Louisiana.



How do you put a dollar value on the worth of a public official? That's the issue being debated in the Baton Rouge State Capitol this week. The new Economic Development Secretary is asking approval for a salary of $320,000 a year. His assistant is requesting a salary as deputy secretary of $235,000 a year. These amounts are significantly above what other economic development directors are making throughout the South. So how do you justify such large increases?

Is such a high salary a "Hail Mary pass" in a desperate effort to try to do some catching up economically in Louisiana? Or is there a sound justification for paying the state quarterback for economic development that kind of money. And how about this idea? Shouldn’t receiving such large salaries be based on results?

LSU football coach Les Miles will pocket some three and a half million dollars this year, making him one of the highest-paid football coaches in the nation. He received such an enormous salary package based on results. It's the old adage that you get what you pay for, and with Miles, Louisiana ended the football season with a national championship.

Stephen Moret, who is requesting this major salary increase, says he will work seven days a week. But a lot of people work that hard. Should time and work be the only criteria in paying public employees? Why not pay the governor, the secretary of economic development, the superintendent of education, and a cross-section of other public officials that directly affect our lives, based on a scale of how well they perform and what results they achieve?

It seems like someone is always giving the re-assurance that comes from the bogus public versus private sector comparisons. Fortune 500 CEOs make on average $10 million. So some would argue that paying the Governor of Louisiana $125,000 a year to oversee a $30 billion enterprise is a real bargain! But what about results?

Experimentation with performance pay in the public sector is on the grow. A New York City charter school is promising to pay teachers $125,000 a year, plus bonuses based on classroom and schoolwide performance. Sure, this is a lot of money, but those in charge are looking for a significant increase in student performance levels. Bottom line -- results.

All this aside, the heart of our query is about pegging the pay of the governor and his top assistants to performance. I would surmise that most voters in Louisiana would think it's a good idea, but how do you do it? When you talk about results, it is certainly easier to define in the private sector. Results are measured in the stock price of a publicly traded company or by profit in any other company. The more the company makes, the more its managers can earn.

But can you create an accountability and production index in government? I think you can. This would be a challenge for key economists at Louisiana universities. Develop a formula that would give a “performance index." Sounds difficult, but why not give it a try?

I suggest starting with the "misery index” we've heard so much about. This so-called misery index, you may recall, is the sum of the Louisiana unemployment rate added to the state’s inflation rate. Go ahead and pay Gov. Bobby Jindal and his brain trust the big bucks. The governor should make $1 million a year. But this amount would be adjusted by the misery index. Right now, the index is a relatively low 8%, so Jindal’s salary would be close to what he now makes: $125,000. Remember you divide the whole number, not the percentage. So if we look back to 1980 when Dave Treen was governor and the misery index was up to 22%, he would have been making less than $40,000 a year.

Now this should just be the beginning. As Governor Jindal often tells us, future economic growth in Louisiana is tied to job skills through education. Therefore, we should build into the formula increases in high school math performance, elementary student test results, reduction in the state’s troubling pollution levels, and maybe the number of new movies that are shot in Louisiana each year. Leave out the LSU national football ratings, but include the student athlete graduation rates.

Finally, I would factor in consumer confidence. Are the voters getting tangible results? Are they happy with the performance of their top public officials? If you own shares of stock, and have little confidence in your company investment, you simply sell the stock. The average Joe ought to be able to put in his two cents worth as to the value he's getting out of Louisiana government. Get his opinion through a statewide poll, and factor the results in to the performance Index.

So to Stephen Moret and other top officials working for the Louisiana Governor, I say make your case and ask the salary level you think you are worth. But just like in the private sector, be prepared to defend the bottom line. The proof of course is in the pudding. Be accountable for the results that take place. And if you succeed, reap the benefits

In ancient Rome, there was a tradition when major projects were built. Whenever a Roman engineer constructed an arch, as the capstone was hoisted into place, the engineer assumed accountability for his work in the most profound way possible. He stood under the arch.

So pay these pied pipers of change and economic growth the big bucks they say they are worth. But keep them directly under the arch of performance, and let voters know there will be a day of reckoning if this promise of change and results plummet to the ground.


“Effective leadership is not about making speeches or being liked;
leadership is defined by results not attributes."
Peter Drucker

Peace and Justice.

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s weekly column appears in a number of newspapers throughout the State of Louisiana. You can read Jim’s Blog, and take his weekly poll, plus read his columns going back to the fall of 2002 by going to his own website at

Jim’s radio show on 995 fm from New Orleans continues with a break during the spring. Look for him to be back on the air in the weeks to come.