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18.5.08

Ensure LA state ethics enforcement has enough funds

Just because some have made a mountain out of a molehill regarding recent ethics standards changes in Louisiana does not mean some alteration is out of order.

While some have argued the change, which changes the standard for guilt in ethics matters from “preponderance of evidence” to “clear and convincing” which is higher, makes these matters “unenforceable,” this neither is objective nor rational. Many states employ the higher standard (some even a more stringent one) and that well may be appropriate given that some violations could lead to criminal charges.

A legitimate question, however, is whether resources planned for the Louisiana Ethics Administration Program will be sufficient to meet the higher standard. Its adjudicatory duties have been shifted to professional administrative law judges which will save money and the Gov. Bobby Jindal Administration is budgeting more than double what the agency now receives. Still, its duties also have increased in terms of the number and length of forms to sift through.

Although Jindal did not seem to know of and/or understand the ramification of the wording change (nor for that matter, almost anybody in the Legislature which made no comments on it during debate), after the bill was passed the Ethics Board made him aware of the change and, somewhat questionably, gave unsolicited advice that he veto it. So since he signed it, Jindal now bears responsibility if ethics enforcement is hampered by the new requirement creating too much demand on resources.

The Legislature also bears responsibility now that it knows and it has amended a specific instrument to deal with the matter. HB 906 was changed to revert back to the previous standard. Thus, if the Legislature does not want to increase the workload and thereby passes it, and then if Jindal doesn’t want to either and thus signs it, the matter will be settled.

But if the reversion does not become law, then it will be incumbent on the Legislature and governor to provide adequate funding. Whether the present amount in HB 1 is adequate is debatable. To be on the safe side, some increase may be in order. So one or the other should be done: cancel the language change, or increase funding to support the new language.

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