Leslie Turk

New ethics law playing favorites

by Leslie Turk

The ethics “clean up” legislation Gov. Bobby Jindal signed into law appears to play favorites with three legislators and their relatives, The Advocate reported today.

The special treatment came via legislation filed to fix flaws in ethics laws approved during Jindal’s February special session on ethics.

The special provisions benefit state Sen. John Smith, D-Leesville; state Rep. Noble Ellington, D-Winnsboro; and state Rep. Rick Nowlin, R-Natchitoches.

One provision allows Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association President Chris John to lobby the Louisiana Legislature despite that his father-in-law, Sen. Smith, is a lawmaker and a member of the Senate Natural Resources Committee -- which oversees much of the energy industry’s activities. It’s a new privilege designed specifically for John’s situation.

Another provision allows Ellington to keep his wife, Brenda, as his $54,000-a-year legislative assistant, an arrangement the Louisiana Board of Ethics and a district court said violated state conflict of interest and nepotism laws.

A third provision helps Nowlin’s engineering firm keep doing business with governmental entities. That business can continue through Jan. 7, 2012. The prior law would have prevented sustaining those relationships unless there was an ongoing contract.

Former Ethics Board member Mike Johnson told The Advocate the myriad exceptions makes Louisiana’s ethics laws “like a piece of Swiss cheese.”

“You don’t have a general law people can look to and understand,” he said.

Senate President Joel Chaisson II, D-Destrehan, the sponsor of the “cleanup” law, did not return two telephone messages.

“All I can say is that it is a part of the process,” said House and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Rick Gallot, D-Ruston.

Not surprising, Jindal did not respond to The Advocate's three requests for an interview.