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|Jindal explains need for ethics session in visit to Monroe|
Gov. Bobby Jindal believes the upcoming special session on ethics reform will be a strong first step in lifting Louisiana from the murk of its poor perception in the eyes of the country.
State legislators will convene the special session to deal with ethics Sunday, Feb. 10.
In the meantime, Jindal will visit various regions of the state to promote his ethics reform package.
His first stop was in Monroe on Monday.
"We're going to enact the nation's toughest, best ethics codes and we intend to set the gold standard for the entire country," Jindal said. "LSU has done a study saying the No. 1 thing we can do to create more jobs for our people is crack down on corruption."
Forbes magazine last month surveyed its readers and business leaders across the country, asking them what Louisiana can do to attract more jobs and more investments from the business community.
"Their readers said the No. 1 thing we can do is tackle ethics reform," said Jindal, who took office last month.
"Our people are demanding and deserving a new Louisiana," Jindal said. "We know the country is watching us and we want them to know it's a new day here."
There are seven major points to Jindal's ethics reform package, and some 60 specific items in the proposed ethics package that Jindal favors.
Those seven items include financial disclosure, conflicts of interest, transparency for lobbyists, improving education and enforcement, public access to information on state spending by each agency, fraud and abuse control and revamping campaign finance laws.
First, Jindal said there must be increased financial disclosure among elected officials. Louisiana ranks near the top in the country for financial disclosure for governors, but 44th for disclosure for legislators.
"The people have the right to know how their elected leaders are making money," Jindal said. "They have the right to know what may be influencing them when they make decisions."
Jindal said his administration will strengthen the gubernatorial disclosure form, which ranks in the top five in the United States, and then apply it to all other elected officials.
"That's all statewide elected officials, executive branch department heads, legislators … all officials from voting districts with a population of 5,000 or more," Jindal continued. "They'll all have the same disclosure form, and we'll have other disclosure forms for elected officials who don't meet those criteria."
"The bottom line is every elected official in Louisiana will be filling out these forms," he said. "Those who serve on boards that control the taxpayers' money will fill out these forms. They'll be online and the people will know."
Concerning possible conflicts of interest, Jindal said the options for officials are simple: An official can do business with the state, or he or she can be a legislator, but they cannot do both.
Jindal's package would close the loopholes on competitive bid contracts and negotiating contracts so no elected official can profit from their position. Under that proposal, legislators, their spouses and businesses would no longer be allowed to enter into any contracts with the state that are authorized or renewed during their term of office and for one year after their term expires. Negotiated contracts between the state and the adult children, siblings and parents of legislators and their spouses would be prohibited, too.
Louisiana ranks below average in requiring lobbyists to disclose who their clients are, how much money they are paid to represent their clients and how much money lobbyists spend to influence legislators, Jindal said. That is one area Jindal wants to improve.
"Let's find out what the special interests are doing in Baton Rouge," Jindal said. "Let's find out who's spending money down there and what they're trying to lobby for."
New lobbyist disclosure forms would include what special interest groups are lobbying for, their business relationships with legislators and their spouses, as well as department heads. Special interest groups also would have to detail what they're spending money on under the Jindal proposal. Special interest groups would be required to file monthly reports, which would be available online, Jindal said. The ethics reform package also includes criminal penalties for those who intentionally file inaccurate or incomplete lobbyist reports.
Other penalties the proposed ethics package includes the suspension of public servants charged with a crime and making those convicted of a crime related to their office forfeit the taxpayer-funded portion of their pension. Indicted legislators would be prohibited from serving on committees, subject to waiver by either the House or Senate by a two-thirds vote.