Louisiana Politics: State ethics revisions seem likely; committee created

The members of an advisory committee reviewing Louisiana’s ethics laws sound optimistic, some even confident, that significant policy changes will be recommended to the Legislature—maybe even in time for the regular session that begins March 12.

A pair of legislators and key Ethics Board members are leading the committee. In separate interviews they expressed a shared interest in tweaking some of the Jindal-era “Gold Standard” policies that were adopted in 2008.

“I think there’s some sentiment for altering some of those things,” said Ethics Board member Peppi Bruneau, the chairman of the Ethics Review Committee and a former state representative who chaired the House Republican delegation.

“Like the smaller (disclosure) tier, and whether we need all that. We’re finding laws that were added just to get the state more points in those good government rankings.”

Rep. Greg Miller, R-Norco, and Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, occupy the two legislative seats on the review committee, which was created by the Ethics Board. Miller and Morrell are also striking the same tone as Bruneau on certain topics.

“The sentiment is there,” Miller said, referencing possible changes to the 2008 disclosure and reporting laws engineered by the administration of former Gov. Bobby Jindal. “I don’t want to go too far, but I also want a common-sense approach.”

Morrell added, “The whole 2008 reform was more about getting points for those ethics ranking systems. And for talking points. If anything, this is long overdue.”

Bruneau said he was “hopeful” that his committee would have some recommendations in time for the 2018 regular session. But members are really just beginning their work and they’re nowhere near the drafting stage of their mission.

There was an organizational meeting in September and a more structured gathering in October, when committee members discussed travel provisions and the different reporting tiers for financial disclosure statements.

The next meeting is slated for Thursday, Nov. 16. Members are expected to explore possible solutions for those travel-related issues discussed last month and they’ll likewise continue their conversations about financial disclosures.

By most accounts, the committee’s work represents the first organized review of the ethics code since the late 1990s, and it may actually become the most thorough analysis ever conducted with public support.

“We’re looking at everything and we’re looking to simplify,” said Bruneau. “The ethics code ought to be easy enough for the average state worker or local or state candidate to pick up, read and understand.”

Some members are interested in taking a deeper look into the monthly reporting requirements for lobbyists, arguing that quarterly filings should be sufficient. Others are more curious about fees and how the Ethics Board is allowed to determine or negotiate fine and penalty payments.

For champions of this proposed cleanup effort, term limits may prove valuable. Forty-one percent of the Senate is on the way out and 33 percent in the House is term limited as well. Those with one foot out of the door—and a pragmatic touch earned from years of service—could make all the difference, especially if opponents start labeling the revisions as loopholes.

Other members of the review committee pulled from the Ethics Board include former Rep. Jane Smith, Lawrence Brandon and Board Chairman Bob McAnelly.

The last statewide election

The final push is on for Saturday’s balloting for treasurer, which will likely be Louisiana’s last statewide election of 2017.

Secretary of State Tom Schedler is predicting a turnout of 12 percent or 13 percent, which is just slightly below the 14 percent turnout the top race produced in last month’s primary.

While the contest to succeed now-U.S. Sen. John Kennedy has been quiet, there has been a little bit of movement on the endorsement front.

Congressman Cedric Richmond has announced his official backing of fellow New Orleans Democrat Derrick Edwards. Plus, state Sen. Neil Riser of Columbia, after being squeezed out of the runoff, has endorsed former Rep. John Schroder of Covington.

Will Baton Rouge’s Angele Davis, who ran third in the race for treasurer, endorse at the last minute? That isn’t clear, but top supporters sound doubtful.

As for the cash dash, the latest finance reports show Schroder sitting on a $171,000 campaign kitty, compared to $7,800 in cash on hand for Edwards.

They said it
“I had a 4.0 at my graduation — that was my blood-alcohol level, not my GPA.”
—Political pundit James Carville, to the Alexandria Rotary Club, in The Town Talk

“I often get asked if I’m raising my girls to be Republicans or Democrats. My answer to that is, ‘Do you have children?’ I can’t even get them to close the door.”
—Carville
For more Louisiana political news, visit www.LaPolitics.com or follow Jeremy Alford on Twitter @LaPoliticsNow.

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