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|Work continues in special session on ethics|
One week after approving a measure regulating the manner in which state lawmakers conduct their personal business, the Senate was poised to consider a law requiring legislators to disclose their sources of their income each year.
The measure, known as House Bill 1, passed the House last week.
Currently, the proposal is under review in the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee.
State Sen. Mike Walsworth, a member of the committee, expected the bill to move quickly with relatively few changes.
"I think it is a pretty good bill," said Walsworth, R-West Monroe. "It has provisions that will show income and other relevant issues to shine light on state and local government."
"It will also be in a format that anyone interested can find the information readily," Walsworth said.
Late last week, the Senate adopted Senate Bill 1, which would eliminate conflicts of interest by prohibiting lawmakers and other elected and appointed officials from doing business with state agencies.
The Senate bill was passed after amendments were added to allow exceptions for individuals employed in certain professions such as the field of medicine and the legal profession.
State Sen. Francis Thompson said exceptions were made for individuals in certain lines of work such as farming, the legal field, education and the medical field.
"Those individuals will be held to a different standard, instead of a wholesale ban," said Thompson, D-Delhi.
Sen. Neil Riser said the exceptions would help ensure Louisiana voters were able to send the best legislators possible to Baton Rouge.
"Senate Bill 1 was part of the governor's calling, and I think it's allowing people in those fields to serve in public service as well," said Riser, R-Columbia. "It's a good bill."
Thompson said he expected most, if not all, of Jindal's ethics reform proposals to be approved by the Legislature.
"For the most part, the governor's package is in good order," Thompson said. "When everything is said and done, I think we're going to come out of here with a very strong ethics package."
In the House, state Rep. Noble Ellington said lawmakers were making "serious progress" on ethics reform, noting the timeliness in which legislators handled HB 1, known to lawmakers as the disclosure rules.
HB 1 establishes guidelines requiring lawmakers, elected officials and certain appointed government officers to disclose sources of income. Also, HB 1 establishes a set of income-reporting ranges for legislators and appointed officials in all levels of government.
Ellington said the measure was meant to provide easier reporting guidelines for the holders of smaller offices. He noted that the bill would ensure people know where their legislators stand.
Ellington said he expected some changes would be made in the Senate. The bill would remain true, according to Ellington.
Rep. Kay Kellogg Katz said the amount of public discourse surrounding Jindal's reform initiative highlighted the importance of the proposals.
"All of these discussions are simply to try and make a bill better, to clarify things," said Katz, R-Monroe. "I think it's obvious that the will of the people is that we want to give everybody a good impression of our state."
Katz pointed out that ethics reform was one of the pivotal promises of Jindal's campaign. She said voters had made it clear they wanted to clean up the state's image.
"We want to have transparency in our dealings," Katz said. "I think we have achieved that with the disclosure bill that came out of the House. Members of the Legislature will have to show their income."
Katz said the disclosure rules and laws governing conflicts of interest were strict but necessary. She said many people would not want to publicize their incomes to their neighbors. That should be part of the price of serving in office, according to Katz.
"There is enormous responsibility when one is working in public service," Katz said.
Riser said work is far from complete in the special session. Discussions are just beginning on HB 1 in the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee.
With the end of the session in sight, Riser said lawmakers were beginning to look ahead to next special session. Jindal announced recently he would call a second special session sometime in March to deal with budgetary matters. The Regular Session begins at the end of March.
"This call (current special session) was about ethics," Riser said. "When we finish this up, we'll come back and reconvene on the excess funds we have available and how they are going to spent."