Legislature close to allowing industry members to sit on groundwater commissions 

The Louisiana Legislature is close to approving a bill that would allow employees of industrial companies to sit on the groundwater district commissions that oversee the drinking water those companies use for commercial operations, according to Louisiana Illuminator. 

The legislation would also retroactively void ethics violations five Baton Rouge-area groundwater district commissioners face over conflicts of interest.

The Senate has already approved SB203, and it got out of the House Committee on House and Governmental Affairs without a single objection Wednesday. The full House will next take up the proposal that has faced little opposition from lawmakers so far. 

The legislation’s sponsor, Sen. Bodi White, R-Baton Rouge, is chairman of the Senate Finance Committee that builds the state’s budget. 

White drafted the bill in response to the Louisiana Board of Ethics charging five members of the Capital Area Groundwater Commission—which manages the groundwater in the Baton Rouge region—with ethics violations. The five members are employees of ExxonMobil, Georgia-Pacific, Entergy and the Baton Rouge Water Company, all of which extract water from the Southern Hills Aquifer System to help with their industrial operations. 

“The industries we are talking about are the biggest taxpayers in this parish,” says White, arguing in favor of keeping the industry employees on the board.

The state ethics board believes the commissioners’ jobs might present a conflict of interest that runs afoul of state ethics laws. The issue is currently under investigation and is scheduled to go before an administrative judge for deliberation some time after September. If White’s bill is approved, that process would be halted and the charges voided. The bill, if it becomes law, will also solidify that industrial companies can appoint their own employees to groundwater district commissions around the state—not just the one in the Baton Rouge region. Read the full story.