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Can electoral considerations save LA ethics bill?

No doubt that certain “supporters” of HB 730 amended it on the Louisiana House of Representatives floor last week, along some members who approved them and the bill as a whole, had the sole intention of trying to sink it later in the legislative process. But their efforts may backfire.

This bill by state Rep. Michael Jackson was to create simple, even innocuous, reporting requirements of legislators. Basically, all it would require them to do is to report contacts or ownership, directly or indirectly, with entities that deal with the state. It was next to nothing in ethics standards, but better than nothing.

On the floor, several amendments broadened the scope to include all state and local officials, even appointed ones, as well as candidates to offices by speeding up the effective date to Aug. 15. It made this a stronger bill, but the motive for many was to make its requirements seem so onerous and unworkable as to give political cover to legislators trying to defeat it.

Surely many House members who didn’t want even the original minimal requirements knew that its next stop was the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee, which has gained a reputation in recent years under the chairmanship of a regular violator of ethics statutes state Sen. Charles Jones as a graveyard of ethics reform and incubator of measures that serve to increase the amount of potential corruption in the state political system, such as its support of laws designed to impair ballot security at higher taxpayer cost. They hope this committee will do their dirty work for them.

But will it? Senators know that voting against this will look bad to constituents, so anyone gunning for reelection with be hesitant to do so.

If you look at the committee’s composition, only three of its members, Chris Ullo and Noble Ellington with Jones, are term-limited – and Ellington plans to run for a House seat. Reviewing other committee members, it’s unlikely that ex-bagman Cleo Fields would support ethics legislation, but others are running for reelection. It’s possible that since five members are running for election of some sort in the fall, the votes would be there to pass the bill on.

Thus, it may be up to Jones himself to end the life of ethics reform. As chairman, unless the committee majority prefers otherwise, he can simply never bring up the bill. It also could be yanked out of committee by the entire Senate, but while committee and Senate majorities may vote for the bill if presented to them, but they won’t lift a finger to get the vote in front of them. Expect Jones to use his position to strangle even this mild ethics reform, with the blessing of many senators.

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