On Tuesday, February 26, the Louisiana Legislature adjourned a special session called by newly-elected Governor Bobby Jindal in the hope of enacting sweeping changes to Louisiana ethics laws relating to elected officials and other state administrators. The session resulted in the passage of a number of bills designed to increase transparency with respect to state officials’ financials, to limit potential influence by lobbyists, and to reduce potential conflicts of interest in state officials’ dealings with state agencies.
Governor Jindal recently signed the last of these bills into law on March 10, highlighted by the following:
- Senate Bill 5: Requires the recusal of elected officials who have a conflict of interest from voting on legislation. The bill repealed an exception in the existing ethics code, thus ensuring that under no circumstances will an elected official vote where a conflict is present.
- Senate Bill 8: Places a $50 cap on purchase of food and beverages for public servants per occasion, thus eliminating the unlimited spending by lobbyists and special interests. In the past, Louisiana allowed unlimited spending on food and beverage for public officials and employees by lobbyists and those seeking contracts with the state.
- Senate Bill 3: Prohibits lawmakers and other elected officials from receiving free tickets to professional sports games, college sports games and big-money cultural events, as well as free fishing trips, hunting trips and golf games from lobbyists. Under the law, elected officials may still receive free tickets to civic, nonprofit, educational or political events when the official is part of the program as a speaker or panel member.
- Senate Bill 37: Requires online reports of all state spending by agency and function. Under the law, the Commissioner of Administration will post a monthly report of the appropriations and spending for each budget unit of state government. The website is supposed to be fully functional by January 2009.
- House Bill 1: Requires disclosure of income for elected or public officials. Spouses of the officials and candidates for elected offices are included. The law breaks up the officials into three levels, with various required disclosures required for each level: the top tier is for the governor and the governor’s department secretaries and top staff, statewide elected officials, the superintendent of education, and the commissioner of higher education; the middle tier is for state legislators and anyone holding public office representing a voting district of 5,000 or more people; and the lowest tier is for people holding public office representing fewer than 5,000 people, and for members of smaller boards and commissions.
- Senate Bill 1: Prohibits public officials or their spouses from contracting with the State of Louisiana. The law allows current contracts to remain in effect until they expire, but disallows the signing any new contracts.