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Jindal ethics plan good enough to encounter some trouble

Much anticipated, the call for the special session promised for months by Gov. Bobby Jindal is here and, as he had argued he wanted a “gold standard” of ethics laws, that’s what he produced, and he may get it out of the Legislature.

However, he didn’t ask for a titanium standard. That would have meant an outright ban on lobbyist gifts to and elected or appointed policy-maker and applying financial disclosure requirements to all without exclusions for jurisdictions of fewer than 5,000 (who under Jindal’s request will file general affidavits of fidelity). Still, gold is very good and denotes the top rank in things as varied as the Olympics and beer-tasting competitions.

The question now shifts to how much of it will find it way into law. Jindal set the session at three weeks – realistically 15 days given weekends unless that last Saturday gets requisitioned – which shows there’s a lot to do and there will be some controversy. Some items have come up before with varying degrees of progress – a ban on free tickets to events involving sports (in the past almost all) and culture (and barely any instances), offering a constitutional amendment to have forfeited taxpayer-paid portions of pensions if an official is convicted of a crime related to public service, and prohibition of legislators from changing votes made on the floor after disposition of a bill (still practiced in the House of Representatives). Of course, none ever succeeded in getting made into law or rule.

Now, these all ought to go through. Of the first two, with so many new legislators in the House having no exposure to the benefits of free tickets and (most of them) not having acquired any vesting towards a state pension, House majorities on these should be sufficient to put too much pressure on the more-veteran senators who will be more resistant. As for the third, the veteran nature of the Senate probably would lead to its defeat – except the rule already is present in the Senate, and the many new House members never having taken advantage of a switch have little loyalty to the existing rule allowing them to do that.

Also expect the request to extend reporting requirements to candidates for office to get enacted. These legislators will take the attitude that if they have to follow more stringent requirements as elected officials, so ought their future opponents – maybe discouraging some quality challengers to them. And they’ll fall over themselves trying to put into law the item preventing all statewide and legislative candidates, not just those presently in those offices as is current law, from conducting fundraising during legislative sessions.

Where Jindal might find his requests the most endangered are those dealing with the ability of legislators, spouses, siblings, parents, and companies in which they have any “interest” (what portion of ownership of an entity is an “interest” is left undefined, but Jindal may mean any ownership whatsoever) for any retail contract over $2,500. This has been a gravy train for some legislators (does state Sen. Francis and brother Michael Thompson ring a bell here?) as has legislators acting as “consultants,” another item set to stop this, so these could be fought tooth-and-nail especially in the veteran Senate. Also in this category would be the requiring of nongovernmental who get money grooved to them by legislators to turn in for public inspection details about them; such earmarks have been popular with a significant number of legislators.

Of course, the success of the package will depend upon details, like what is an “interest” in an entity, or what details are requested of the entities that get earmarks, or what and how many ranges are used with the disclosure forms. If Jindal can get all of this passed without much watering-down in these details, Louisiana will have a very good ethics code and Jindal will have delivered successfully on a major campaign promise.

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