Ethics board focuses legislative agenda

The Louisiana Board of Ethics decided Friday to pursue a limited legislative agenda that seeks changes in laws it thinks are the most important to its work.

Among the board priorities are clarifying what constitutes personal use of campaign funds and what information ethics attorneys must disclose to those accused of violating ethics laws in judicial proceedings.

Both are issues that have created problems for the board which is charged with policing conflict of interest, nepotism as well as campaign finance, lobbyist and personal financial disclosure reporting laws.

“I don’t want to throw a whole ton of recommendations to the Legislature,” said Board vice chairman Scott Schneider, of New Orleans. “There’s some things we feel very strongly about and should be addressed. Otherwise, it gets lost in the wash in my opinion.”

Ethics administrator Kathleen Allen said the approach makes sense since the 2013 session, which opens April 8, is a “fiscal session” with limitations on how many bills legislators can file other than those dealing with the budget and taxes. Legislators are limited to five general legislation bills.

“We are going to have to find someone to use one of their bills,” Allen said.

The Ethics Board reviewed more than two dozens potential recommendations — some dealing with process and technical issues and others seeking to clarify the language in some laws.

After the review, Allen said she will draft a proposed letter to the legislative leaders outlining board priorities and bring it back for board consideration in February.

After the meeting, Allen said she will emphasize four board priority items:

Giving more clarity to what is considered banned personal use of campaign funds.

A board subcommittee has been working on the issue and there is litigation in state court with Mayor President Kip Holden challenging board interpretation and charges filed him for improper use.

Spelling out that investigative reports to the board, recordings and minutes of executive sessions of the board in which decisions are made to bring charges are confidential and privileged. The Ethics Adjudicatory Board and a state district court has weighed in saying the board should provide the accused with more information.

When do private entities doing traditional state work become public employees subject to the ethics code.

Fixing a glitch in the reporting of contributions by political action committees.

In other action, the Ethics Board postponed for another month a response to questions concerning what’s allowed and what’s not when it comes to gifts and meals for teachers and principals by students, parents, PTAs and others.

The board reviewed answers proposed by a staff attorney.

Board chairman Blake Monrose, of Lafayette, said the board will either provide an opinion to the St. Tammany Parish schools superintendent in the areas on which board members agree or not give an advisory opinion at all. Schneider said there were not enough specifics for the board to provide answers in response to some questions.

The board also suspended all but $100 of a potential $7,097 fine levied on East Baton Rouge School Board member Jerry Arbour, ending a long-standing dispute over late filing of campaign finance reports.

Arbour filed the reports timely but he did not file them electronically required by law. Arbour contended he was not required to electronically file. The case went to the Ethics Adjudicatory Board which backed the Ethics Board.