Jindal goes light with budget vetoes

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Gov. Bobby Jindal used light strokes with his veto pen Friday when he addressed next year’s $24.6 billion state operating budget.

The Advocate reports Jindal eliminated eight measures from House Bill 1, the state spending plan for the fiscal year that starts next month. After last year’s legislative session, Jindal issued 31 line item vetoes.

One of the items stripped Friday was a diversion of dollars that sparked concerns for New Orleans’ senior centers. Legislators wanted the Tremé Community Education Program at Harmony House Senior Citizens Center to get more than half of the $450,000 set aside for 10 centers.

Half of the budget vetoes – four out of eight – delved into health care issues.

The Jindal administration sparked controversy by proposing a reduction in funding for patient care in emergency rooms in an effort to discourage Medicaid patients from calling an ambulance for nonemergency medical needs.

The Louisiana Hospital Association fought back, predicting some emergency rooms would close. The organization mounted an advertising campaign to get Jindal to back off.

Legislators sided with the hospitals, which feared getting less money from the government for patient costs. Jindal used his veto power to restore flexibility to possibly pursue a lower reimbursement rate for some emergency room care.

The veto came as a surprise and disappointment for Louisiana Hospital Association President Paul Salles.

“We have stated throughout the process that it’s a really failed strategy, a short-sighted strategy to a much larger problem,” he said.

Salles said Jindal may have vetoed the language but the state health agency has retracted proposed rules implementing the payment changes.

“They are working with us on a more global approach,” Salles said.

Jindal said the emergency room veto was necessary to allow for budgetary discretion during fiscally challenging times.

He also vetoed a measure that sought to reduce the time for parole eligibility on certain crimes of violence including manslaughter, purse snatching, forcible rape, terrorism and stalking. The idea was to reduce prison overcrowding by only requiring some inmates to serve 75 percent of their sentence – instead of 85 percent – before becoming eligible to file a parole application.

“To lower the bar for release of offenders who have committed violent crimes like Forcible Rape, Manslaughter, and Human Trafficking is a step too far that could put our citizens at risk,” the governor wrote.

State Rep. Dee Richard, No Party-Thibodaux, vowed to mount a veto override effort after Jindal struck down his bill, which would have trimmed the number of contracts in state government. Savings would have gone to higher education.

“House Bill No. 142 could hinder the state’s efforts to continue to provide its citizens with timely, high quality services. Its arbitrary and burdensome process could cause significant delays and introduce uncertainty to executing a contract, which would make contracting with the state difficult and discourage businesses from seeking opportunities to provide services to the people of Louisiana,” the governor wrote.

Overriding a governor’s veto would require the approval of two-thirds of the Legislature.

“I’m going to try to override it. It can’t hurt,” Richard said.