Capitol Views: House to reconsider pension bill; panel OK's excluding professionals from ethics code; La. to keep longest polling hours in U.S.

Capitol Views: House to reconsider pension bill; panel OK's excluding professionals from ethics code; La. to keep longest polling hours in U.S.

The House is scheduled to reconsider its action Tuesday on a retirement bill that turned a 401(k)-type plan into enrollment in Social Security for new employees.

After a lengthy debate, an amendment to enroll new employees in Social Security, instead of setting up a "cash balance" plan, surprisingly was adopted. But House members later said there was confusion during the debate, and that some legislators thought they were voting for final passage on the initial House Bill 61. When the amendment was adopted, author Rep. Kevin Pearson, R-Slidell, returned it to the calendar with the intention to reconsider it today.

Sen. Elbert Guillory, D-Opelousas, who will present a set of the more controversial retirement measures Thursday in the Senate, watched the debate from the back of the House chamber. Legislators figured that if Pearson's less controversial bill could not pass, bills to raise employee contribution and the retirement age would be in big trouble. Guillory has said he would bring up his bills on Thursday or next week, as he and the administration continue to modify them.

—Engineers, architects, landscape architects and CPAs working on public contracts would not fall under the state Code of Ethics if a bill approved by a House Committee is enacted.

Rep. Franklin Foil, R-Baton Rouge, said that a Board of Ethics 2009 ruling defined professionals providing services to government can be considered public employees subject to conflict-of-interest rules. He said that interpretation saddles professionals with the obligations of being a public servant without the benefits.

Kathleen Allen, administrator for the Board of Ethics, said the board's interpretation in the 2009 case was not new and that the board has handled conflict-of-interest questions regarding professional services on a case-by-case basis since the 1980s. She said those professionals are not subject to income disclosure rules.

Without objection, the committee sided with the professionals, sending HB 1034 to the House floor.

—The perennial effort to shorten the polling hours failed again, ensuring that Louisiana will remain home to the longest-in-the-nation election day, from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. HB 209, to push back the opening hour to 7 a.m. failed on a 4-4 vote in Senate & Governmental Affairs Committee.

Secretary of State Tom Schedler implored the committee to give some relief to elderly voting commissioners and the parish clerks of courts who are having a hard time replacing them as they retire or die. But AFL-CIO state director Louis Reine argued that the change could create hardship for firemen and other shift workers.

Sen. Mike Walsworth, R-West Monroe, argued that with the expansion of early voting period, "You can always figure out a way to vote." Three Democrats and Chairman Sen. Jody Amedee, R-Gonzales, whose district includes many shift workers, voted no to create the deadlock.

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