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Story Archives: Progress continues in special session on ethics
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|Progress continues in special session on ethics|
Sen. Neil Riser says the special session on ethics reform will yield new laws governing the conduct of state legislators and other elected officials.
Riser called the session productive so far. He expects the Senate to work quickly to pass House Bill 1, Gov. Bobby Jindal's proposal to require many elected and appointed state officials to disclose their sources of income.
Late last week, the Senate adopted Senate Bill 1, which seeks to 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 added exceptions for individuals employed in certain professions such as the medical field and the legal profession.
State Sen. Francis Thompson said exceptions were made as well for individuals engaged in farming.
"Those individuals will be held to a different standard, instead of a wholesale ban," said Thompson, D-Delhi. He was referring to the exceptions extended to attorneys, doctors, farmers and others.
"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." He pointed to HB 1, too.
Ellington, D-Winnsboro, said he expected some changes would be made HB 1 in the Senate.
The disclosure rules would require a number of appointed cabinet officials, or the governor's hand-picked agency heads, to disclose their sources of income. Also, HB 1 establishes a set of income-reporting ranges for elected representatives, senators 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 pointed out that the bill would ensure people know where their legislators stand.
State 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 noted that ethics reform was one of the pivotal promises of Jindal's campaign. She said voters have made it clear they want 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, Katz said.
"There is enormous responsibility when one is working in public service," Katz said.
Riser said work is far from complete in the special session, noting that discussions were 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 March and the next special session. Jindal announced plans not long ago to call a second special session to deal with budgetary concerns. 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 be spent."
Rep. Andy Anders of Ferriday was unavailable for comment.
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