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|What to do beyond ethics reform|
When the Legislature concludes its special session on ethics reform look for Gov. Bobby Jindal to declare the session a success.
That much we should expect in light of the status of key pieces of Jindal's legislative package, which he asked state lawmakers to approve in the spirit of cleaning up the state's image, or as part of an effort to put an end to politics as usual here.
It's unclear, at least in this corner, exactly what the phrase "politics as usual" means, or entails. Suffice it to say it must have something to do with Louisiana consistently ranking as one of the worst states in the Union in which to live and work. We've cornered the market on that front.
Thus far in the three-week special session, which must end no later than March 1, lawmakers, by and large, have signed off on the nucleus of the Jindal-backed reform measures.
At the very least, it would appear the Legislature is well on its way to giving final approval to a bill to ban most members from doing business with the state.
Why "most" members and not all of them?
That's the case because efforts to stop legislators who practice law for a living from suing the state were dead on arrival before the special session began in earnest. Likewise for any thought of prohibiting a legislator/physician from collecting state-sponsored Medicaid payments for caring for the poor. The later point was a wise decision.
Lawmakers also appear headed toward signing off on a bill that calls for members of the Legislature to disclose their sources of income, though the financial disclosure requirements won't be as stringent as the ones the governor faces. It's a good start toward transparency in government, though.
Let us not forget as well about the bill to limit the amount of money a lobbyist would be allowed to spend on food and drink for a particular lawmaker. Currently, there isn't a limit.
That's about change if the Legislature sticks to its guns and caps at $50 per day the amount of money lobbyists can fork over for a steak or whatever at one of Baton Rouge's eateries or points elsewhere.
In the world of good government, or in the eyes of the folks who rank states as clean and honest or crooked and no good, the aforementioned efforts to reform state government will go a long way in showing the country, especially the business community, that we're at least somewhat serious about cleaning up our act in Louisiana.
Before we declare a new day in Louisiana, though, we would do well to review every printed word of every piece of legislation dealing with ethics reform that lawmakers approve in the special session, grudgingly or not. Specifically, we should study the amendments lawmakers tack on to the ethics bills. Often tools to gut or restrict the true intent of legislation, those amendments will tell the tale.
Yet, we won't have that opportunity until the special session officially comes to a close, or not until lawmakers have safely slipped out of Red Stick for a spell, knowing they must return later in March for a special session on budgetary concerns. The Regular Session convenes at the end of March following the second special session.
While ethics reform certainly is a noble cause and while its time was long in coming, ethics reform, in the grand scheme of things, is not a deciding factor in prompting a large corporation to locate in Louisiana to provide much-need, good-paying jobs for the people. Instead, corporate America favors tax-friendly states, good roads, a sound public education system and a well-trained workforce.
Louisiana fails miserably on every single one of those points.
Those points, or those concerns, my friends, are the ones Jindal and the Legislature must improve if the new governor and the new Legislature leave Louisiana in better shape than they found it.
Not long ago state Rep. Noble Ellington of Winnsboro came under fire because his wife, Brenda Armstrong Ellington, works as his legislative aide.
Armstrong has worked for Ellington in that capacity since his tenure in the Legislature began in the House of Representatives in 1988. They were married in the fall of 2006.
When Armstrong and Ellington were married, she stayed on the job. That decision was based on an Ethics Board ruling that allowed then-Sen. Steve Thompson's wife to work as his legislative aide. Thompson served in the Senate from 1988-1996.
Thanks to that ludicrous law called term limits, Ellington, who succeeded Thompson in the Senate, gave up his Senate seat for a successful bid to serve in the House of Representatives again. He was elected last fall to represent the district he first represented some 20 years ago.
Around the time Ellington was preparing to assume his seat in the House, or roughly one month ago, he informed the clerk of the House that Armstrong would continue working as his legislative aide.
The House balked; it informed Armstrong and Ellington that she could no longer work in that role, citing a new Ethics Board ruling. The new ruling threw cold water on Armstrong maintaining her job as her husband's aide since he moved from the Senate to the House.
Armstrong filed a lawsuit to keep her job.
Thanks to an injunction issued by 19th Judicial District Court Judge Don Johnson, Armstrong is still working as Ellington's aide; the lawsuit is still pending.
Regardless of how the court rules on Armstrong's lawsuit, it seems a bit silly, or beyond any rationale, that she should lose her job—which she has held for 18 years—simply because her husband moved from the Senate to the House.
One would think the folks who manage the affairs of the Legislature have more important things to do than nit-picking a matter such as the one concerning Armstrong and Ellington.