10 June 2008

Committee action, Jun. 10: SB 718, SB 204, SB 106

SB 718 would remove the imposition of financial disclosure requirements similar to those that have to be followed by elected officials on members of boards and commissions (both statewide and those of political subdivisions). Author Sen. Danny Martiny’s bill intended for most that only places of residence of mailing address and that of work be revealed, along with sufficiently large business interests, and that members pledge for themselves and their families that they know of no conflicts of interests pertaining to their actions. Martiny suggested an amendment be made to make a pledge of recusal if a conflict did occur in service. For some, additional information would be required. He said this would redress an overzealous approach pursued during the ethics special session.

Amendments were offered that moved certain boards and commissions around from old to new categories and vice-versa.

Rep. Mert Smiley said he had received no calls about the issue and wondered whether the legislation was needed. Martiny said it was, because the theory was why be so intrusive in a global sense when concerns about specific individuals can be addressed specifically. He said he had heard from some constituents who were upset and that many others could be when they learn of the recently-passed requirements. Smiley, however, argued that one can always find good people to serve on boards even with the current requirements. Martiny said the imprecise categorization was not good. Smiley said the Legislature had done exactly what constituents had wanted.

Rep. Patrick Connick, on behalf of the Department of State, offered an amendment that would excise advisory museum board members and retirement system board members by putting disclosure requirements on only bodies that handled public dollars. However, the Ethics Board is planning to rule on whether these kinds of appointees would be counted under the new requirements, so it might be mooted. Rep. Karen Carter Peterson offered language that would define the new tier as having control of less than $10,000 a year, and later came back with new language that would supplant Connick’s. Rep. Rosalind Jones noted required reporting may actually increase since the new category expanded the number of boards covered, although House and Governmental Affairs chairman Rick Gallot said the House in other instruments already gone approving in that direction.

Amendments finally consolidated, Gallot proposed a vote on them but Rep. Dee Richard wanted to move the State Civil Service Commission into the higher tier. Gallot said it was better addressed separately and they went for the vote on all of the others, adopted without objection. Richard’s was then adopted without objection. Connick then wanted a couple of specific personnel shifts, and was adopted without objection.

Peterson then spoke on the bill. She complained the Legislature got bullied into making ethics changes and some mistakes were made, and felt put on that the Gov. Bobby Jindal Administration wouldn’t admit that. However, she said she didn’t see need for a lot of changes on this account but that a blanket approach neither was good. Martiny said he welcomed amendments if it helped pass the bill.

Rep. Jane Smith joined the complaint parade, saying she thought the bill was needed because you could not get as good people to serve with the current regulations, and she was tired that any attempt to change them was said to be “watering down.” Smiley spoke, saying correction was an ongoing process but that the initial changes accomplished an incredible amount of beneficial change and other complaints often forgot that.

Jindal’s Executive Counsel Jimmy Faircloth voiced support of the bill, but said there were no apologies for what was achieved in the special session, even if imperfect, and characterized as inaccurate any assertion that it discouraged any challenges to its language in these bills.

Peterson moved favorably as amended, and it was done without objection.

SB 204 would make official journals printers for the state and political subdivisions put the information they commit to publish on behalf of these governments on the Internet, and would increase the maximum amount to be charged by this of 10 percent. Author Sen. Mike Walsworth first asked for an amendment that would force obituaries to be free that got put on the Senate floor to be removed, and it was without objection. Proponents argued a permanent printed record was necessary, and that newspapers provided a ready way by which to do this. Walsworth also argued that this would consolidate all journal aspects of a government in a single space for convenience of the public.

Smiley was encouraged when testimony revealed community newspaper tended to print obituaries for free anyway, and it excited him to move for passage. Without objection, it was.

SB 106 by Sen. Blade Morrish would put into law requirements that nongovernmental entities report information if they receive state budget funds. Morrish said it was important to put them in law because rules can be so easily overridden by the chambers.

Gallot moved to defer, because he said leaving in chamber rules led to more flexibility, but a substitute was offered to counter that. On the latter, Danahay, Henry, Ligi, Ponti, Pugh, Richard, and Smiley voted in favor while Barras, Connick, Cromer, Jackson, Jones, Peterson, and Gallot voted against. A tie means failure, so the committee without objection delivered the coup d’grace with Gallot’s motion.

Where I grew up, “transparency” wasn’t a compliment.

WEDNESDAY: HB 988 and HB 1372 are scheduled to be heard in the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee.

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