23 February 2008

Legislative special session through Feb. 23, 2008

THIS WEEK FOR THE GOOD: HB 65 with minor amendments passed Senate committee, passed Senate, and concurred in by House; SB 2 with minor amendments passed House committee; SB 5 with minor amendments passed House committee and passed House; SB 44 with minor amendments passed House committee; SB 57 passed Senate, and with minor amendments passed House committee.

THIS WEEK FOR THE BAD: HB 85 with minor amendments passed House committee.

Total House introductions: 98; total Senate introductions: 74.

Total House good bills: 6; total Senate good bills: 2.

Total House bad bills: 3; total Senate bad bills: 1.

Total House good bills heard in committee: 4; total Senate good bills heard in committee: 4.

Total House bad bills heard in committee: 3; total Senate bad bills heard in committee: 2.

Total House good bills passing committee: 3; total Senate good bills passing committee: 4.

Total House bad bills passing committee: 1; total Senate bad bills passing committee: 1.

Total House good bills passing the House: 1; total Senate good bills passing the Senate: 4.

Total House good bills passing Senate committee: 1; total Senate good bills passing House committee: 4.

Total House good bills passing Senate: 1; total Senate good bills passing House: 1

Total House good bills going to governor: 1; total Senate good bills going to governor: 0

20 February 2008

Floor action, Feb. 20: HB 85, HB 7

HB 85 would not allow any elected official in the state appoint to any commission or board anybody who had contributed to his campaign within the past five years at least $1,000. Rep. Sam Jones recited a history of past colorful episodes involving these appointments, then accused the Legislature as a whole of being in a rush to complete business, liking it to an avalanche, argued the Senate would not complete work on this bill before everybody wanted to adjourn, and asked it go back on the calendar.

HB 7, which would cap donations and require reporting of them to a gubernatorial transition, was tried to be amended by Sen. Troy Hebert that would do essentially what HB 85 would have, except the amount would be at least $5,000 given to a transition fund and would apply to all state government appointive positions – at least that’s what Hebert thought. Pres. Joel Chaisson objected, saying this needed more study and that this really didn’t fit the bill where unintended consequences could occur. Hebert admitted there were better instruments and said he would withdraw it but said this was an issue that needed vetting. Thereupon, the Senate approved it 38-0.

Troy, it’s called the Constitution, and you need to look at it.
Chaisson, when Hebert questioned why certain boards had members appointed by certain entities, in relation to appointments the Ethics Board.

16 February 2008

Legislative special session through Feb. 16, 2008

THIS WEEK FOR THE GOOD: HB 3 with minor amendments passed committee; HB 48 passed committee and with minor amendments passed committee; HB 65 with minor amendment passed committee and passed the House; SB 19 passed committee.

THIS WEEK FOR THE BAD: SB 23 with major amendments passed committee; HB 72 with minor amendment passed committee.

Total House introductions: 95; total Senate introductions: 72.

Total House good bills: 6; total Senate good bills: 2.

Total House bad bills: 3; total Senate bad bills: 1.

Total House good bills heard in committee: 4; total Senate good bills heard in committee: 1.

Total House bad bills heard in committee: 1; total Senate bad bills heard in committee: 2.

Total House good bills passing committee: 3; total Senate good bills passing committee: 1.

Total House bad bills passing committee: 1; total Senate bad bills passing committee: 1.

Total House good bills passing the House: 1; total Senate good bills passing the Senate: 0.

MONDAY: HB 16, HB 38, and HB 85 are scheduled to be heard by the House and Governmental Affairs Committee; SB 15 and SB 16 are scheduled to be heard by the Senate Retirement Committee.

15 February 2008

Floor action, Feb. 15: HB 1

HB 1 would expand dramatically ethics disclosure requirements for public officials. Speaker Jim Tucker after a discussion of amendments adopted without dissent, and then turned things over to floor amendments.

Rep. Fred Mills offered an amendment to move boards and commissions, at least for those that were included in the scope of the call and already would have been part of the second tier because of budgets greater than $10,000, from the lowest category of reporting to the second tier. He pointed out these had substantial powers even if some budgets were small and compensation low and therefore ought to come under stricter scrutiny. He argued that constables in some jurisdictions would have to report in the middle tier, so why not the members of these? After favorable questions, it was adopted unanimously to cheers.

Rep. Jeff Arnold asked for an amendment by Rep. Hollis Downs to remove information about the size of liabilities owed to licensed, already-regulated, financial institutions, although favorable arrangements to officials not available to the public would have to be reported. Tucker argued against it, noting that it could tip off potential illegal activity, although Arnold said it was likely to be found through other means. The amendment passed 51-45.

Rep. Nita Hutter asked that all lowest-tier officials, those with voting population jurisdictions less than 5,000, should be moved to the middle tier. She said the scope of powers they have, just as what justified the Mills amendment, mandated this. “An elected official is an elected official is an elected official,” she said. Tucker argued this was moving too far, too fast, and it may not be acceptable to rural interests. Other representatives echoed that this provision could kill the bill. The amendment failed 4-94.

Rep Kirk Talbot wanted to add two governor staffers to the top tier covered. Tucker said he believed a better interpretation of the call which he thought originally applied only to agency heads. It was adopted without objection, to applause.

Rep. Cedric Richmond wanted to amend in essentially the entire governor’s office which includes thousands of staffers. Tucker replied it was too overbroad, that elected and appointed policy-making individuals only should be included. Richmond withdrew and then asked to amend in correctional wardens. Tucker pointed out this was the wages of expanding beyond policy-makers, and opposed. Richmond said these wardens had much contracting power, and thus appropriately should be added. The amendment failed 28-63.

Richmond then queried during a slow moment with a point of order whether the Talbot amendment would cease to cover officials if their job titles changed. Speaker Pro-Tem Karen Carter Peterson said in fact a title change would cause non-coverage.

Rep. John LaBruzzo offered an amendment that would waive reporting if there was a case of identity theft. He said false claims of dishonesty because of this could be used against an officeholder by having an investigation launched. But Tucker objected, saying this excuse could be used disingenuously to avoid reporting, but that before the bill hit the Senate they could work something out to provide for a better way to handle the issue. LaBruzzo said he thought the language of the amendment was clear enough to allow only genuine cases to be used as an excuse. The amendment failed 2-94.

Speaking for passage of the bill, Rep. Sam Jones said he was troubled that the bill’s provisions were “unreasonable” invasions of privacy. He said it was too fast, and said he heard some would give up wanting to run for local government. “Why are you putting you wives and husbands into doing this,” he asked. This bill “makes government our masters,” and “tramples the Bill of Rights” he claimed, saying current laws could handle corruption. This would cause “government to register our wives and husbands,” perhaps followed by “our internal organs.” Needless to say, he did not recommend passage.

Rep. Jane Smith defended the bill as amended, saying that Tucker had made a bill that was considerate of legislators’ and other officials’ rights. Rep. Rick Gallot said the bill might be intrusive but that was the price to be paid to be in public service. Richmond said he didn’t like this bill, but said perceptions were such that he’d be willing to put up with it, if it could keep people from calling legislators corrupt.

Tucker said this was something that could not have been contemplated in the past, a bill that would restore confidence in the state’s political leaders. While not perfect, he said it achieved the object of sufficient transparency. The bill, after applause for the staff, passed 102-1, to applause.

If you have a $100,000 credit card, I need to get your credit.
Arnold to Rep. Walker Hines when the latter used that as an example in a question.

12 February 2008

Committee action, Feb. 12: HB 41

HB 41 would move judicial functions concerning ethics from the state’s Ethics Board to the Division of Administrative Law. Author Speaker Jim Tucker argued the process would improve enforcement by using administrative law judges for the actual adjudication and the Board would continue to make decisions about whether to prosecute, utilizing expert, impartial adjudicators which would not undermine the Board and bring more efficiency to the process.

Director of Administrative Law Ann Wise testified that the proposal mirrored procedures present in about half the state. She said administrative law judges are well trained in due process and the Administrative Procedures Act and that it cleared cases on average in less than two months.

Rep. Jane Smith asked how the judges would be chosen. Wise said the director chooses by case but usually randomly, although some have geographical constraints for efficiency sake. Responding to Rep. Mert Smiley, Wise said only minimal hiring would be needed to accommodate this bill at this time.

Rep. Karen Carter Peterson offered an amendment that would have only two-year experienced or more in administrative law lawyers handle such cases. Wise said it would reduce flexibility somewhat but slight adjustment to the amendment to allow 10 years experience in lieu. Peterson agreed and the amendment was adopted without objection.

Board executive counsel Richard Sherburne said he was coming to provide information but wanted deferral to allow time for the Board to comment, but House and Governmental Affairs Chairman Rick Gallot pointed out the bill would not be passed before the Thursday meeting of the Board. He argued due process he thought was well protected under the current arrangement, and that the collective nature of the decision-making was desirable.

Peterson pointed out that the Board was a Legislative creation, authorized its powers and members in part determined by it and that there would be greater independence by putting the enforcement function in the Division of Administrative Law whose employees were part of the civil service. She chastised him by saying the Board knew changes were coming and should already have considered these kinds of things and that no delay was necessary. Rep. Noble Ellington pleaded courtesy on the matter of moving the bill. Tucker promised he would not move the bill on the floor until after the meeting, and said there would be other testifying opportunities in other venues before it would go to the floor.

The Governor’s Executive Counsel Jimmy Faircloth pointed out that the governor had met with representatives of the Board and with his transition advisory boards where enforcement matters were discussed, so here was advance notice. Clarity, not internal fixes, was what the Administration wanted. Peterson moved reporting with her amendment, and it was done without objection

“Once you have the votes, sit down and shut up.”
Tucker, when Gallot asked whether he had any closing comments for HB 41.

THE GOOD: (similar to HB 16: SB 57; similar to SB 33: HB 65.)
THE BAD: HB 72 by Rep. Regina Barrow would allow for campaign funds to be used to purchase gifts for constituents up to $75. (Similar bill to SB 25: HB 85.)

09 February 2008

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly -- Prefiled bills thorugh Feb. 9, 2008

(Note: even as prefiling has kicked off for bills for the 2008 regular session, the Log will not report on these during the course of the special sessions. Therefore, as things stand that means the first analysis of prefiled bills for the regular session looks to appear right before it begins.)

Welcome to coverage of the 2008 First Extraordinary Session of the Louisiana Legislature. The subject area is quite narrow and the areas of controversy are not many, so let’s take a look at the good, bad, and ugly of the prefiled bills. Actually, because the subject matter is so narrow and needed, almost all of the bills filed are good, so only the most crucial – that is, the ones likely to cause the most controversy – will be listed, while there are a few truly bad bills whose purpose is to subvert the intent of the session.

THE GOOD: HB 3 by Speaker Jim Tucker would put the same reporting requirements on judges as any other elected official (similar bill: HB 47). Tucker’s HB 12 would not allow legislators who have a potential conflict of interest in a matter relative to a floor vote to cast a vote on that matter (similar bill: SB 5) His HB 16 would tremendously restrict any state elected or appointed high official from receiving something of value to lobby another part of government, both during their tenure and for a year after (similar bills: SB 2, SB 44). Rep. Simone Champagne’s companion HB 19 (similar bills: HB 46, HB 48, SB 17) and HB 20 (similar bills: HB 45, HB 51, SB 15) call for forfeiture of any state monies that go to an elected official’s pension if that person is convicted of committing certain felonies related to performance in office, even those committed before the enacting of the amendment and bill. HB 40 by Tucker would prevent using campaign funds to pay immediate family members for services. SB 19 by Sen. Ben Nevers would prohibit any lobbyist expenditures on behalf of legislators. SB 33 by Sen. Bob Kostelka would force anybody owing ethics fine to pay up before qualifying as a candidate for election.

THE BAD: HB 35 by Rep. Cameron Henry tries to combine HB 19 and HB 20 to some degree. While this approach might make it more difficult to undo reforms, it creates a clumsy amendment that may encourage people to vote against it. HB 38 by Rep. Juan LaFonta would attack free speech rights by not allowing contributors to the campaign of a winning gubernatorial candidate or their family members from being appointed to boards and commissions (similar bills: SB 23, SB 25). SB 20 by Nevers would reduce democratic choice and serve no useful purpose ethically in prohibiting current elected officeholders from running for another office.