The Edmonson amendment was friendless in the end and DOA in court.
Judge Janice Clark was merely required to list the multiple constitutional failures that proved fatal. Legal questions are seldom as easy to resolve as this.
Those responsible for the scheme to give State Police Superintendent Col. Mike Edmonson a huge pension boost were not prepared to defend it. Had it been possible to do so, they hardly would have needed to sneak the amendment through in the first place. It is now pretty clear how the plot unfolded and, indeed, how politicians in Louisiana look after their friends on your dollar.
The story begins in Edmonson’s office. Edmonson has long regretted a decision some years ago to participate in the state’s Deferred Retirement Option Program, which allowed employees approaching retirement to build up a nest egg by having their pension contributions deposited into an investment account for three years. On retirement, they would draw on the DROP account while also receiving a pension calculated according to their income at the time. They were told their decision to participate in DROP was “irrevocable.”
Edmonson continued to work several years after opting for DROP, rising from captain to colonel. His pension thus would have been significantly higher had he not opted for DROP, so naturally he chafed, as have countless others in the same boat.
But those countless had to live with the consequences of their decision, whereas Edmonson has enough stroke to ensure that his right-hand man on the State Police force, Charles Dupuy, can always find a sympathetic ear at the Capitol. Sure enough, after some discreet lobbying from Dupuy, Edmonson was in line for at least another $30,000 a year on top of his pension.
The lobbying was necessarily discreet, for fear troublemakers would start demanding equal treatment and the rank and file would resent their boss raiding their pension pot.
Thus a bill dealing with police disciplinary procedures was amended on the down-low to give Edmonson the moolah. Under the wording of the bill, another veteran trooper in Houma could rescind his decision to enter DROP, but that was just a collateral effect.
The amendment was added on the hectic last day of the session by a conference committee and sailed through, mostly unread by legislators. That would have been that had Tom Aswell, of Louisiana Voice, not raised the alarm.
How it came to pass was a mystery at first; conference committee member Sen. Neil Riser, R-Columbia, for instance, had no clue who inserted the amendment. Then he suddenly remembered that he had.
Gov. Bobby Jindal is fond of Riser — he tried to get him elected to Congress last year — and Edmonson wouldn’t be police chief if he didn’t enjoy gubernatorial favor, too. So when Jindal declared he had not known that the amendment was a windfall for Edmonson, not everyone was convinced.
Although the amendment was adopted in flagrant disregard of the state constitution — it was not germane to the original bill and had not been advertised, for example — executive counsel Thomas Enright made no move to stay Jindal’s hand. Thus Jindal signed a bill with flaws so glaring that they should not have gone unnoticed by anyone who ever cracked a law book.
The law, as Clark promptly ruled, is clear enough. The political machinations are the murky part of the story, and the repercussions extend even to Wall Street. Playing fast and loose with underfunded pension pots does not help Louisiana’s credit rating.
The inescapable conclusion is that the amendment was born of a plot that was expected to go unnoticed. Once the cat was out of the bag, it was just a question of who would get to court first and have the amendment struck down. The honor went to state Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, who voted for the amended bill and was, no doubt like most of his colleagues, astonished when he discovered what he had done. Claitor is running for Congress and likely figured lots of registered voters would take note when he dashed to the courthouse in a noble cause.
James Gill’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.