Last Modified: Tuesday, June 12, 2012 6:18 PM
BATON ROUGE (AP) — A handful of proposals that chip away at provisions of the state's ethics code received the backing of Gov. Bobby Jindal, who signed into law new exceptions Tuesday to nepotism bans and contracting prohibitions.
Critics of some of the provisions say the changes could undermine ethics laws and lead to more sweeping exceptions in later years.
"If you want to destroy ethics in this state, you do it one local bill at a time," said Sen. Mike Walsworth, R-West Monroe, objecting during debate to a special exemption approved for community hospitals in Jefferson Parish.
Jindal signed that measure and three other ethics exemption bills opposed by the Board of Ethics. The Republican governor, who made strengthened ethics laws a centerpiece of his first term in office, included the ethics measures in a list of bill signings released Tuesday.
"We review bills like this on a case-by-case basis. We do not support anything that would jeopardize enforcement of the ethics code," Jindal spokesman Kyle Plotkin said.
Exceptions will be carved out for doctors in St. Tammany and Jefferson parishes, to allow public hospital board members' relatives to be hired for health care jobs at two Jefferson Parish hospitals and to let doctors on a St. Tammany Parish hospital board contract directly with that facility.
A statewide exemption was created for doctors who were on a public hospital service district board from a two-year ban on having a contract or a job with that board or the facilities it oversees.
Another measure will allow members of a Baton Rouge port commission and their family members to sell grain to a grain elevator overseen or owned by the commission.
The bills, in some instances, require people to recuse themselves from decisions if there's a conflict of interest. In each instance, as they have for other exceptions over the years, bill sponsors described circumstances that they say show a need for the special treatment.
The Jefferson Parish hospital exemption generated strong criticism as it moved through the legislative session. The bill was killed in a Senate committee, only to later be revived and given final passage.
As passed, members of the parish council and two parish hospital boards will be allowed to hire relatives as health care workers at two hospitals. The parish council names the hospital boards.
Jefferson Parish Sen. Danny Martiny, a Republican, said the change was made to allow the wife of a parish councilman who has just finished medical school to work at one of the public service district hospitals.
"There's nobody with an illicit motive here. It's about a lady who wants to be a doctor in her parish and treat the people where she lives," Martiny said during Senate debate, noting that rural parishes have similar exemptions after lawmakers argued the parishes have trouble attracting doctors.
Walsworth said Jefferson Parish has more than 400,000 people and can find others who could serve on hospital boards.
"This is not about a shortage of doctors. This is not about a shortage of nurses. This is about 10 people on a board who want their cake and (to) eat it too," Walsworth said.
During the just-ended legislative session, senators rejected one of the largest ethics exemptions proposed, which would have exempted architects, engineers and others doing government contract work from state conflict of interest and nepotism laws.Online: House Bills 206 and 279 and Senate Bills 84 and 754 can be found at www.legis.la.gov