House votes on ethics violations

Published 11:18 pm Friday, February 15, 2008

BATON ROUGE (AP) — Administrative law judges, not the Louisiana Board of Ethics, should have authority to rule on ethics violations, the House voted on Friday.

The House approved the bill in spite of objections from the ethics board, which would see its authority drastically reduced. Under the measure, the ethics board no longer would decide whether someone violated ethics laws. That power would be shifted to administrative law judges — who don’t work for the board — and the board would act as the prosecutor in hearings on possible violations.

Speaker Jim Tucker, R-Terrytown, the sponsor, said the change is necessary because the board shouldn’t have its current status as investigator, prosecutor and judge in such cases.

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Rep. Jean-Paul Morrell said the board has recently issued a string of ‘‘increasingly inconsistent’’ rulings.

‘‘Perhaps somebody who’s versed as a judge would be better,’’ said Morrell, D-New Orleans.

Rep. Don Cazayoux acknowledged the ethics board isn’t perfect, but said its authority shouldn’t be so thoroughly cut back.

‘‘We don’t fix a hangnail by cutting off a whole arm,’’ Cazayoux said.

House members approved the measure 95-3, sending it to the Senate. Voting against were Cazayoux, D-New Roads, and Reps. Michael Jackson, D-Baton Rouge, and Jack Montoucet, D-Scott.

The bill is part of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s package of ethics bills.

Hefty campaign contributors wouldn’t be able to get appointments to boards and commissions from their favored candidates, if lawmakers agree to a bill that received approval Friday from a Senate committee.

Sen. Ben Nevers said he proposed the measure (Senate Bill 23) to make sure campaign donors can’t buy those sought-after appointments. The bill would bar any person who donates $2,500 or more to a candidate from being appointed to a board or commission by that candidate.

‘‘I think many people think that the way you get appointed to a board of commission is you pay for it,’’ said Nevers, D-Bogalusa. ‘‘I think we need to remove that perception.’’

The Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee approved the measure without objection. Nevers said it would help reach the ‘‘gold standard’’ sought by the governor in his special legislative session on ethics law changes.

‘‘This is not 18-karat stuff. This is pure gold stuff, Mr. Chairman,’’ Nevers said.