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|Solons sound off on special session|
Local lawmakers say they know the upcoming special session of the Legislature to deal with ethics reform will be a daunting task, but they claim they are up for the challenge.
Gov. Bobby Jindal on Monday stopped in Monroe to discuss the upcoming special session. He will travel throughout the state to promote his package on ethics reform before the start of the special session on Feb. 10.
Following a speech Monday, Jindal turned to Sen. Bob Kostelka and said, "You asked for this."
Jindal was referring to Kostelka's request to chair the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee, which will oversee all ethics reform legislation in the Senate.
"He said I've got a big job, but I've asked for it," said Kostelka, R-Monroe. "I thought I learned in the Army not to volunteer for anything, but I did ask for this one."
"Right now, I think it's a very doable thing," Kostelka said. "There's a lot of it, and there's going to be a lot of individual questions raised by legislators, who'll want to put amendments on it. It'll be a job to ferret through all that."
"Gov. Jindal has to be perceived by the rest of the country as succeeding in this quest because if he doesn't succeed, it won't be him that takes the hit, it will be Louisiana," Kostelka continued. "People will say, 'Well, Louisiana, you can't reform them.' It's not that we need that much reform - we've got a tough ethics law - but it needs to be refined."
Sen. Mike Walsworth, R-West Monroe, said lawmakers will handle a great deal of legislation during the three-week special session.
"I think most of what I've seen is common sense," Walsworth said. "The governor is putting all of his weight behind this, and the momentum for ethics reform is here."
"We'll have to look at the details on some of these and work through the process to make sure we can get things done," Walsworth continued. "But I think he's correct that once we get through this special session, the people will have a different perspective on their elected officials. It will be a more open process than what we have now.
"I think you'll see most, if not all, of his package pass. Overall, ethics reform is what most people want. I think the elected officials want it, too. We want to get this monkey off our backs."
Sen. Francis Thompson said the Legislature must deal with the issue of ethics reform carefully to adopt fair and acceptable legislation.
"I'm optimistic we'll be able to come out with a package that will be acceptable to lawmakers and other governmental entities that will be affected by that ethics law," said Thompson, D-Delhi, who represents District 34 in the Senate.
"But, we have to be very cautious to make sure that what we do is meaningful, and not just for show," Thompson said. "That's a double-edged sword; it can cut coming and going. So, we don't want to make it weak, but we don't want to make it where it's unreasonable because it could have detrimental affects on small communities."
Thompson said an ethics law could be harmful if it's written in a manner that would thwart people from serving in local government such as police juries, city councils and school board positions.
"Honestly, if we're going to have an ethics bill, then you have to make it inclusive, or you'll have gaps and holes," Thompson said. "I think it should go from the top to a reasonable level.
"I think you ought to exempt small communities because you don't want to discourage potential local government leaders from being in local government. We want to encourage the very best to be in government. Same at the state level; we don't want to do anything that would prevent us from getting the best quality of legislators that we can get."
An ethics reform bill also should take into account criminal penalties on ethics violation as well as those who make the decisions regarding any criminal penalties, Thompson said.
"I have no problem with that being the district attorney as it is today," he said.
Personally, Thompson hopes ethics reform passed in the Legislature will deter legislators, who are lawyers, from representing clients against government.
"If you're a state representative, or a state senator, it just makes sense to me that you represent the state … you don't represent a citizen against the state," he said.