Health Contracts Stalled In Dispute Over LGBT-Rights Order

BATON ROUGE (AP) — Contracts to provide health insurance next year for 10,000 state employees, retirees and family members were stalled Friday because of the ongoing dispute over Gov. John Bel Edwards' LGBT anti-discrimination order.

         House lawmakers allied with Attorney General Jeff Landry refused to approve contracts for the Office of Group Benefits that contained LGBT-rights language required under an April executive order issued by Edwards.

         Landry, a Republican considered a possible rival for Edwards in the 2019 governor's race, is challenging the constitutionality of the Democratic governor's order that bans discrimination in state government and contracts based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

         "The reality is this: If you bring that contract back again and it has the same language it has now, the situation is not going to get any better, so stop playing games with us," House Appropriations Chairman Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, told Edwards' lawyer Matthew Block.

         "You all figure this out in the courtroom instead of bringing this to us," said Henry, who supports Landry's challenge of the executive order.

         Lawmakers could get court guidance Nov. 29, when a judge hears arguments in Landry's lawsuit.

         But for now, the disagreement leaves the contracts in limbo. The House Appropriations Committee and the Senate Finance Committee have to approve them, for the contracts to take effect. Without the deals, health plans that cover thousands of people could end Jan. 1.

         Block said the Edwards administration doesn't intend to renegotiate the three contracts with insurance companies Vantage Health Plan and Peoples Health to strip the anti-discrimination language. He accused the House lawmakers of trying to score "political points with people's lives and health care."

         "The governor is not altering his executive order, and his executive order requires this language to be in any contract. These (insurance companies) have voluntarily agreed," he said.

         As soon as the joint Appropriations and Finance hearing on the three contract renewals began Friday afternoon, it was clear that several House Republicans objected to the anti-discrimination language contained within the documents.

         Henry noted that previous versions of the contracts didn't include the LGBT-rights clause. Rep. Rick Edmonds, R-Baton Rouge, said he wasn't in favor of the anti-discrimination language unless Congress or the Louisiana Legislature enacts such protections into law.

         The House Appropriations Committee voted 14-6 to strip the language from one of the contracts. Senate Finance Chairman Eric LaFleur questioned whether that approach was legal, and senators didn't vote on the issue at all.

         At the Nov. 29 hearing, Landry is seeking a court injunction blocking enforcement of Edwards' order, saying it seeks to establish a new protected class of people that doesn't exist in law and that lawmakers have refused to add.

         Edwards accuses Landry of repeatedly exceeding his authority, and wants the judge to set parameters around the attorney general's power in office.

         – by AP Reporter Melinda Deslatte



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