The state Senate voted unanimously last week to ask the Louisiana State Law Institute to review Gov. Bobby Jindal's signature ethics reform laws with an eye toward recommending possible improvements. Senate Concurrent Resolution 2, authored by Sen. Ed Murray, D-New Orleans, asks the Law Institute to give lawmakers any and all recommended changes in the state's new ethics laws by March 1, 2011 — in time for consideration at next year's annual legislative session, which will begin only six months before Jindal and lawmakers stand for re-election.
The resolution's passage in the Senate came on the heels of news that the Florida-based Citizens Access Project, which monitors government transparency nationwide, ranked Jindal's office last in the U.S. in terms of access to records in the governor's office.
The resolution asks the Law Institute to "study and make recommendations with regard to the changes made [in 2008] to the procedures by which the Code of Governmental Ethics is administered and enforced, and by which alleged violations of the code are adjudicated." The resolution specifically asks the institute to review the ongoing controversy over the proper role and authority of the state Ethics Board. Jindal pushed legislation in 2008 to strip the board of its power to sit in judgment over ethics cases. The governor's proposal, which lawmakers dutifully adopted, transferred that power to state administrative law judges — who are appointed by someone appointed by the governor. Jindal's "reforms" also barred the Ethics Board from reviewing decisions by the administrative law judges. Critics say the changes politicized and gutted the ethics enforcement process. Jindal has fought any and all attempts to tinker with his "reforms."
The resolution puts the controversy into the lap of the Law Institute, which is an independent, nonpartisan group of legal scholars and practitioners who serve as advisors on law revision and law reform issues for the state. The institute is headquartered at the LSU Law Center. Legislators usually give great deference to recommendations of the institute.
A concurrent resolution has the force of law but cannot be vetoed by a governor. If SCR 2 is approved by the House, and if the institute recommends changes to the reforms enacted in 2008, it could force a showdown between Jindal and his critics in next year's legislative session — just in time for the 2011 elections.