SHREVEPORT, La. (KTAL/KMSS) – With President Donald Trump holding a rally in two days in Bossier City, members of local police and fire departments questioned if they could attend if they’re off-duty. But they’ve received conflicting answers.
Employees are being told two different things from two different state offices, which is putting their supervisors in a sticky situation. While one state lawmaker is looking to change that.
The issue of whether municipal police and fire employees can attend President Trump’s rally off-duty and in plain clothing started last week. The Office of State Examiner Fire and Police Civil Service sent out emails detailing what employees can and cannot do that’s considered political activity.
According to the Louisiana Civil Service President Adrienne Bordelon, “if an employee is at a political rally they could face a 30-day working suspension for first offense and termination for 2nd offense of which they can be barred for at least six years.”
Bordelon went on to say, “it is the long-standing advice of this office employees should air on the side of caution because of the severity of the penalty.”
However, on Tuesday, Attorney General Jeff Landry issued an opinion saying employees can attend based on Article 10 of Louisiana’s Constitution.
That is an advisory only and the AG’s opinion does not have the force and effect of the law.
We spoke with the Shreveport Fire and Police Chiefs on how they’re handling it. Fire Chief Scott Wolverton said he sent his employees both e-mails and will leave it to employees to decide.
“My goal is to protect our firefighters and any information that passed along to me from that level in Baton Rouge I’m going to pass it along to our members,” Wolverton said.
“We’re just trying to put the facts out there. So the last information I got we just put out the flyer. It kind of left it to the employees to interpret this for yourselves and if you have specific questions certainly they can ask. And now that we actually have an Attorney General opinion I forwarded that to our legal term as well and waiting on guidance from them,” said Police Chief Ben Raymond.
The reason municipal employees cannot attend political rallies goes back to the Hatch Act.
“I lived it. My husband is a retired Shreveport fireman now and my father is a former police officer from Shreveport, I lived with that same gag on my mouth. My husband told me right when we got engaged if you put a political sign in our yard or on our vehicles that I will be fired immediately no questions asked. So the spouse of one of these employees is just as hatched as they are and I just think it’s time for a change. I mean all but four states have revised their little Hatch Act and it’s time for Louisiana to join them in doing so,” said State Representative Dodie Horton, (R) District 9.
A law that Representative Horton tried to change during the last legislative session with HB 346.
“I called my husband and asked him what he would do. He said if I was still an active member of the Shreveport Fire Department, I would air on the side of caution and I would stay home. Their job is so valuable they can’t risk losing it,” Horton said.
The Civil Service President also said someone can report the employee if they are seen off-duty and in plain clothes at a political rally and ask for a civil service investigation.
If an investigation were to take place the Attorney General’s opinion would be used in the case.