Chipping Away at Ethics
Lawmakers have filed several bills to create new exceptions to the ethics reforms pushed last year by Gov. Bobby Jindal. One would exclude certain officials from having to disclose their spouses' state retirement income. State Rep. Jerome "Dee" Richard of Thibodaux, who has no party affiliation, says he wants to loosen the restrictions so more people can serve on local boards and commissions. "Some people are uncomfortable revealing information that is only indirectly connected to them," says Richard, a member of the House and Governmental Affairs Committee. "These are mostly volunteer positions, and we want more people to step up." His House Bill 101 would create a new exclusion in the state's Code of Governmental Ethics for board or commission members who are married to individuals receiving retirement payments from various state retirement systems. Last January, Jindal prodded lawmakers to impose more stringent financial disclosure requirements on many public officials, including members of boards and commissions. In response, hordes of appointees abandoned their posts in late 2008 and officials scrambled to fill the open spots, many of which remain vacant. If lawmakers agree with Richard's proposal, the new exception would go into effect Jan. 1, 2010.
Sen. J.P. Morrell, a New Orleans Democrat, has introduced Senate Bill 14, which would exclude members of neighborhood crime prevention and security districts from reporting requirements. Meanwhile, Rep. Tom McVea, a Jackson Republican, is pushing House Bill 88, which would allow certain police jurors or parish council members to be employed by the U.S. government. All of the ethics bills have been assigned to the House and Governmental Affairs Committee. The session begins April 27 and must end no later than June 25. Additional information can be found on the Legislature's Web site: www.legis.state.la.us. — Jeremy Alford
Ag Cuts Won't Come Easy
Agriculture and Forestry Commissioner Mike Strain is telling his story to anyone who will listen. His budget has been reduced by nearly $8 million so far this year, and 25 positions have been slashed from his department. In addition to those cuts, Strain says his department has suspended the nuisance animal trapping programs, consolidated the critical wildfire firefighting aircraft fleet and closed several laboratories. Lawmakers will consider another $15 million in cuts during the upcoming regular session. "The LDAF (Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry) can't absorb that kind of a reduction in operating funds," Strain says. "A cut like that will result in the elimination of more than 230 jobs, including 75 firefighters and more than 20 inspectors for seed, fertilizer and pesticides." Many lawmakers — or at least enough to matter — are in his corner. "I think it's just unacceptable that we have these folks taking these cuts, and we need to get behind them," says Rep. Harold Ritchie, a Democrat from Bogalusa. Other legislators in the Rural Caucus and the Acadian Delegation agree, and those groups collectively comprise more than 75 percent of the Legislature. "When the caucuses stand together, not a single bill can pass without them," Strain says. — Alford
Jindal Attorney Leaving?
Speculation over how much longer Jimmy Faircloth would remain Gov. Bobby Jindal's general counsel has been bubbling for weeks. Some of the scuttlebutt has pegged Faircloth as a man who wants more out of his job but is hogtied by the politically cautious Jindal administration. Others whisper that the governor simply wants a new attorney. Either way, Faircloth has confirmed that he's pondering a run for the Louisiana Supreme Court in the wake of Associate Justice Chet Traylor's announced retirement on May 31. "I'm being urged to run by several people and I'm considering it," Faircloth says. For now, he's mulling over the decision with his family. Sources close to Faircloth say his job in Baton Rouge has created too much strain for his family in Alexandria and, unlike other state officials, he often commutes. A Supreme Court post, however, would present similar challenges. The court is located in New Orleans.
Another key question is whether Jindal would endorse Faircloth — and whether that endorsement would bring in enough money to mount a substantive bid in what should be a competitive race. District Judge Marcus Clark of Monroe and former Justice Joe Bleich of Ruston are among the other potential candidates. As for Jindal's endorsement, anything is possible. Jindal, a Republican, recently supported state Sen. Rob Marionneaux, a Democrat from Grosse Tete, for the top administrative job at the Public Service Commission. Jindal also backed Baton Rouge state Senate candidate Lee Domingue, a fellow Republican who seemed to have more baggage than Delta Airlines can carry. Faircloth's lack of judicial experience could hurt his chances, and his private law practice could provide political fodder as well. He was a founding partner of Faircloth, Vilar & Elliott (now Vilar and Elliott), whose client list included the Coushatta Indian tribe, which sponsors the Grand Casino in Kinder. As soon as Faircloth decides what to do, the speculation will make way for a new nugget of intrigue: Who, exactly, will the governor choose to replace him? — Alford
Landrieu Bill Targets Horse Slaughtering
U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, a New Orleans Democrat, has once again filed legislation to address one of her perennial policy issues: the slaughtering of horses for food. Landrieu's bill, co-sponsored by 13 other senators (including a few Republicans), would prohibit the shipping, transporting, moving, delivering, receiving, possessing, purchasing, selling or donation of horses and other equines for slaughtering for human consumption. "Although U.S. slaughterhouses have been closed, thousands of horses are transported across our borders and are inhumanely butchered," Landrieu says. Her proposed Prevention of Equine Cruelty Act would bring horse cruelty in line with other animal cruelty laws. If enacted, a person violating this law would be subjected to criminal and civil penalties. "The slaughter of horses for human consumption is not going to end by giving offenders a slap on the wrist," Landrieu says. "If we are going to stop this inhumane treatment, traffickers must recognize that the consequences of their actions are severe, and the penalties will be stiff." In 2006, an estimated 100,000-plus U.S. horses were slaughtered for human consumption in Europe and Asia. Americans do not eat horsemeat and a Public Opinion Strategies poll found that nearly 70 percent of Americans oppose the slaughter of horses for human consumption overseas. U.S. courts forced the three remaining horse slaughter facilities in the United States to shut down, and since then the transport of live horses from America to facilities in Mexico and Canada has increased dramatically. It is estimated that 1,500 horses are carried across the U.S.-Mexico border each week. — Alford