Efforts to dictate state agency heads’ work hours failed in the House Tuesday after lawmakers intimated the author targeted Louisiana Department of Health Secretary Rebekah Gee.
House Bill 849 wasn’t aimed at a specific individual, but if people felt the legislation fit Gee’s behavior “maybe there’s something there,” said sponsor Rep. Lance Harris, R-Alexandria.
Rep. Sam Jones, D-Franklin, said though Harris didn’t explicitly name her, his inferences and statements during testimony made the bill about Gee.
In a typical week, state Health Secretary Dr. Rebekah Gee takes part in dozens of meetings and conference calls with health care professionals…
“Dr. Gee is a woman, and there’s something in this bill that just smacks of misogyny to me,” Jones said. “She’s a woman, she’s a wife, she’s a mother, and I don’t think there’s a guy in here who could keep up with her. Or let me say it a better way, like we say it in sports: I don’t think there’s a guy in here who could carry her jock.”
HB849 would have required government department heads to work a “full time” schedule of seven hours a day and 40 hours a week. The bill barred agency heads from working or volunteering for any outside organization that falls under his or her department’s purview, or performing any work related to their state position that could result in direct or indirect economic benefit.
Under the bill, agency heads could still volunteer for designated 501(c)(3) charities on their own time.
Originally limited to the governor and lieutenant governor’s appointees, the bill was expanded by Rep. Rob Shadoin, R-Ruston, to apply to all agency heads. Even after expansion, the bill failed in a 46 to 40 vote.
HB849 came with steep penalties. Any agency head caught breaking the rules could be removed, suspended, demoted or suffer a pay cut, and face fines of up to $10,000. They could also be fined up to an additional $5,000 per day and be forced to pay back any economic benefits received.
The bill didn’t specify how agencies or the executive branch would track the work of department secretaries. Lawmakers on the floor questioned whether timecards or tracking software would be necessary, and how working remotely from home or traveling for appearances would fit into coming in for work.
Gee, a licensed obstetrician-gynecologist, has continued sporadic clinical work since she was appointed Health secretary in January 2016. Gee volunteers at the LSU Uptown Clinic offering pro bono services, and said she’s worked 11 half-days since becoming secretary, per a previous interview with The Advocate.
The clinic is overseen by the LSU Health Sciences Center and the center pays Gee’s medical malpractice insurance as it does for other pro bono doctors at the clinic. This could present a conflict of interest under the bill since the LSU Health Sciences Center falls under Gee’s purview.
Harris said it’s important that department heads operating with multibillion dollar annual budgets devote their time to efficiently running their agencies to ensure the best performance possible.
“I think taxpayers deserve and expect people running these large budgets and departments to devote 100 percent of their concentration to that department,” he said.
Harris didn’t offer an opinion when questioned about Gee’s job performance, saying he wasn’t Gee’s supervisor and wasn’t knowledgeable of the benchmarks she was expected to reach.
Harris did say he didn’t feel the leader of the Department of Health must necessarily be a doctor when lawmakers insisted a doctor was the agency’s best choice for chief executive.
“I think there may be other people from other sectors of the professional realm that could do just as good or a better job when it comes to running a department,” he said.
Several legislators, including Democratic Reps. Barbara Norton, of Shreveport, and A.B. Franklin, of Lake Charles, questioned why Harris neglected to bring a similar bill when parallel concerns were raised during Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration. Jindal was criticized for the amount of time he spent out of state.
Harris said his bill doesn’t imply there’s any wrongdoing occurring under the current administration, but instead looks ahead to prevent future abuses or poor performance by agency heads. He said he couldn’t imagine why his colleagues would be against a good government bill.
The bill was rejected, and while the author reserved the right to call the bill for reconsideration, it was still seven votes shy of the necessary 53 votes needed to advance the legislation to the Senate.
Voting for setting agency heads work hours (46): Speaker Barras, Rep. Abraham, Amedee, Bacala, Berthelot, Bishop, Carmody, S. Carter, Connick, Coussan, Davis, DeVillier, Dwight, Edmonds, Emerson, Foil, Garofalo, Guinn, L. Harris, Hazel, Henry, Hensgens, Hodges, Hoffmann, Horton, Huval, Ivey, N. Landry, LeBas, Mack, McFarland, Miguez, G. Miller, Jay Morris, Jim Morris, Muscarello, Pugh, Pylant, Schexnayder, Shadoin, Stagni, Stefanski, Talbot, Thomas, Wright and Zeringue
Voting against HB849 (40): Reps. Anders, Armes, Bagneris, Billiot, Bouie, Brass, C. Brown, T. Brown, Chaney, Cox, Danahay, Duplessis, Franklin, Gaines, Gisclair, Glover, Hall, J. Harris, Hunter, Jackson, James, Jefferson, Jenkins, Johnson, Jones, Jordan, T. Landry, Leger, Lyons, Marcelle, Marino, D. Miller, Norton, Pierre, Pope, Reynolds, Richard, Smith, Thibaut and White.
Not Voting (19): Reps Abramson, Bagley, Carpenter, G. Carter, R. Carter, Crews, Cromer, Falconer, Havard, Hilferty, Hill, Hollis, Howard, Leopold, Magee, Pearson, Seabaugh, Simon and Stokes.