Word changes could affect ethics reform

Photo by: James deGraauw/WAFB-TV
Photo by: James deGraauw/WAFB-TV

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - A few key words passed by the legislature could pull the rug out from under Governor Jindal's most important accomplishment - ethics reform. Legislators changed the standard of evidence needed to find someone unethical from "reliable, substantial" to "clear and convincing." So, what does that mean?

The change from just "reliable and substantial" evidence needed to "clear and convincing" could mean fewer people get punished for breaking state ethics laws. So, what does Governor Jindal think of all this? We had trouble getting answers. Governor Bobby Jindal's press secretary, Melissa Sellers, would not let us speak to the governor Friday for answers to our questions about ethics reform. The governor received the Golden Mic award from the Louisiana Association of Broadcasters, which is where 9NEWS tried to get comments from him. He's been called Louisiana's golden boy and he says he set the gold standard for ethics reform. "I think the legislature and the media got tired of me saying "gold standard," but it was important we did indeed set that gold standard."

However, political analyst Jim Engster says if Jindal does not speak up and help fix this crucial ethics standard of evidence change, his golden status could melt away. "Many would think it's much easier to convict somebody of ethics charges under the old standard, so instead of the gold standard, we may have something less than that," Engster says. He says starting August 15th, Louisiana's ethics laws could actually get weaker, instead of stronger. The state's legal standard for finding someone unethical would change from reliable, substantial evidence needed to "clear and convincing" unless legislators make an amendment this session. "There isn't a lot of time to address this and the governor could make it happen in a hurry if he wants to," Engster says.

As far as answering questions about if and when he'll do that, Governor Jindal is not talking. His press secretary told us the governor was not doing interviews and closed the door behind them. "This governor likes to control the message, address large groups, talking about what he wants to talk about and going on shows like Jay Leno will give him a national forum and knows will get softballs rather than confronting legitimate issues of government, but sooner or later, he has to answer questions of 'clear and convincing,'" says Engster.

Governor Jindal plans to appear on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno next week. He has until June 23rd to change the wording of his ethics laws and protect the integrity of the ethics special session he fought so hard to bring about.