First Ethics Bill Ready
State Rep. Jerome "Dee" Richard wants to know more about the finances of local elected officials, and he's betting other members of the Legislature are just as inquisitive. In particular, Richard, a freshman lawmaker from Thibodaux who has no party affiliation, wants politicians representing voting districts of 5,000 people or less to fill out more substantive financial disclosure forms. His House Bill 49 would bump local officials up to Tier 2.1 from Tier 3 in the state's financial disclosure scheme, placing them on par with members of the state's top boards and commissions. The tiers were established last year during Gov. Bobby Jindal's special session on ethics reform.
If the Legislature adopts the bill and Jindal signs it, Tier 3 would be eliminated entirely, since it only applies to officeholders from voting districts of 5,000 or less. The bill would change the rules on Jan. 1, 2010, and officials would have to file their new Tier 2.1 reports by May 15, 2010. Local officials already must disclose information on taxes, contracts with the state and gaming interests, but Tier 2.1 also seeks more detailed data on their spouses and job descriptions. It also requests a breakdown of "each source of income," as compared to the Tier 3 exception for "all income exceeding $250."
Richard's measure represents the first ethics-related bill filed for this year's session, which begins April 27, but it probably won't be the only one. The Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana (PAR), a good government group based in Baton Rouge, recently suggested ways that lawmakers could improve public records access, including:
• Minimize and clarify exceptions to the public records law.
• Establish consistent and reasonable costs for public records.
• Provide a pre-trial mediation process for public records disputes.
• Expand online access to live and archived meetings.
• Bolster financial transparency. — Jeremy Alford
Fysics Or Phootball?
Rep. Rickey Hardy, a Democrat, wants the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, the state's top school board, to require public school students in 6th through 12th grades to maintain a 2.0 grade point average to play sports and participate in extracurricular activities. Students already must have a 1.5 GPA to play football or volleyball, but there are no requirements to join the Key Club or run for student council president. Hardy's House Bill 47 is a carbon copy of similar legislation he pushed — and the House Education Committee shot down — during the 2008 regular session. But with lawmakers finally raising the bar on their own ethical GPAs last year, Hardy's arguments may suddenly be more persuasive. Although it was not scientific, the Louisiana High School Athletic Association polled the question on its Web site in November — and 58 percent of more than 26,000 Internet votes supported raising the state's GPA requirements. — Alford
Ag Studies for the 21st Century
It's time for LSU to harvest its agribusiness offerings and plant new educational seeds for future students, according to a new national study authored in part by LSU Chancellor Michael Martin. The report suggests agriculture colleges need to change with the times and prepare top students for emerging challenges in the field, including such topics as energy consumption, national security, nutrition and the impact of climate change. Academic institutions should also integrate agriculture with other departments and engage farmers and other employers to help produce a flexible, skilled workforce.
Martin says LSU should be on the cutting edge of that effort. "There are many challenges facing the agricultural industry, and it's up to colleges and universities to foster the next generation of professionals who can lead innovation and solve real problems," he says.
The National Research Council assembled a committee of experts at the request of the federal government and private interests to produce the report, "Transforming Agricultural Education for a Changing World." The NRC functions under the auspices of the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering and Institute of Medicine.
The report describes aspects of the undergraduate educational experience in agriculture that need to be created, strengthened or modified. It also encourages colleges and universities with agriculture programs to act strategically to recruit, retain and prepare the agriculture graduates by broadening the treatment of agriculture in the overall undergraduate curriculum. A brief on the report can be found at www.dels.nas.edu/dels/rpt_briefs/ag_education_final.pdf, and the full report can be ordered at www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=12602. — Alford