by Jim Tucker, Speaker of the House
I would like to respond to the letter to the editor, "Bill Would Be Ethics Setback," which appeared in the February 19 edition of The Advocate as well as concerns stated by PAR and CABL of House Bill 41. While I respect Jean Armstrong, the author of the letter, and the League of Women Voters, PAR and CABL, I feel I must correct some of the inaccuracies stated therein.
House Bill 41 seeks to have administrative law judges rather than the Board of Ethics decide whether someone is guilty of violating ethics laws. Currently, the Board acts as investigator, prosecutor, and judge of alleged ethics violations.
I do not know how Ms. Armstrong can state that HB 41 was "added to the call at the last minute" and "put on a fast track to passage." The Governor is required by the Constitution to issue a call at least 5 days before convening a special session. He did that, and there was an item in the original call dealing with this issue. Additionally, HB 41 has been moving through the legislative process at the same rate as other bills. With a limited amount of time in a special session, all bills are heard as soon as possible. HB 41 is no different than any other bill.
HB 41 does not diminish the power of the Board of Ethics. The Board will continue to be the investigator and the prosecutor of ethics violations, as they should . However, it is a violation of a person's due process rights to be accused, prosecuted, tried and sentenced by the same body. Our legal system is based on a separation between the investigators (law enforcement agencies), accusers and triers (prosecutors), and the decision makers and sentencers (judges/juries). It should be no different for someone being investigated by the Board of Ethics. There is nothing wrong with infusing the process with outside persons who have an unbiased view and no preconceived ideas of a person's guilt or innocence. It is most important that independent individuals be able to look at all the evidence and determine judgment.
This bill provides for, among other things, a randomly selected 3-judge panel of administrative law judges to look at the evidence presented to determine if the accused is guilty or innocent of the accusations against them. This process will not "undermine" the system. On the contrary, I believe that these changes to the process strengthen the democratic system and place all parties, both accuser and accused, on a level playing field.
Again, HB 41 does not diminish the power of the Board of Ethics. This bill, like the others in the Governor's package, makes positive changes in the ethics law and will send the message that Louisiana is serious about ethics reform and transparency in government.