Jindal succeeds in pushing ethics agenda in Louisiana

February 28th, 2008 - 11:31 pm ICT by admin  

By Parveen Chopra
New York, Feb 28 (IANS) Bobby Jindal, just six weeks into his job as Louisiana governor, fulfilled his campaign pledge to push through ethics bills to bring more transparency to the legislative system of the state. Aiming to attract more investment to the state and shake off its shady image, Jindal, the first US governor of Indian origin whose name did rounds as Republican candidate for vice president, secured agreement from the grudging lawmakers on the bills Tuesday.

The package of bills will make state politicians’ finances more transparent, cut down on their perks and create an overall ethical image for the state.

Though faced with opposition from lawmakers of a state that takes pride in its brazen style, Jindal made it clear that there was little scope for outside investment in the state until it painted a more ethical picture for itself and came into the national mainstream on ethical standards.

“I’ve talked to CEOs in New York, even the president of the United States. And when you ask them for more investment, their first reaction always is ‘Well, who do you need to know? Who do I have to hire? Is this money going to end up in somebody’s pocket?’” the Republican governor was quoted as saying in The New York Times.

Henceforth, Louisiana legislators would be required to disclose all sources of income over $10,000. They will no longer be eligible for contracts for state-financed or disaster-related work. There will also be a limit on freebies they can receive from lobbyists.

The new income disclosure requirements for legislators are comparable to those of Washington state, ranked first in the country by the Centre for Public Integrity.

Jindal was, however, unable to persuade lawmakers to pass another bill that would have ended retirement benefits for public officials convicted of crimes related to their state work.

Despite that, Jindal said lawmakers approved the core points of his ethics law change proposals, and he characterised the special session on the bills as a win for his ethics agenda.

While Jindal’s bold moves may be unpopular with a section of legislators, business pressure and public opinion helped him along.

“Hurricanes Katrina and Rita caused people to rethink how they wanted their social institutions to be designed, how they wanted services to be delivered, what kind of state they wanted to call home,” The NYT quoted him as saying.

Challenges ahead for Jindal are many: a poorly educated work force, bad roads and infrastructure, a persistent stream of residents leaving the state, and little business investment.

“My biggest concern is, we’ll run out of time,” Jindal told the newspaper. “There are so many things we need to do in our state. It’s like being in this endless buffet and having this incredible appetite, but knowing there’s no way you’re going to be able to eat everything you want to eat, or taste everything that’s out there.”

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