LABI seeks judicial transparency

The Advocate

The state’s most influential business lobby will closely watch how legislators fix the budget crisis, but the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry also will push bills that force judges to make their personal financial disclosures more easily accessible.

“We’re asking the Legislature this year to require them (judges) to put it online, like every other official, in every other branch of government,” Stephen Waguespack, the head of LABI, said Wednesday.

About 100 business executives, lobbyists and professionals gathered over a lunch of sautéed fish at Juban’s Restaurant to hear a report by Waguespack on key business issues for the annual session of the Louisiana Legislature, which convenes Monday.

Much of the focus this year will be on how to balance a state budget with a $1.6 billion revenue deficit and to do so without significant cuts to health care, higher education or tax credits important to the business community.

Adam Knapp, president of the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, which co-hosted the event with LABI, said businessmen need to watch closely to ensure the course lawmakers follow to handle the budget crisis doesn’t endanger economic growth or decimate higher education.

Waguespack agreed. But he also discussed non-budget-related legislation that LABI will press during the session.

And one of the most important items, he said, is increased transparency for judges and courts.

The Louisiana Legislature in 2008 required a wide array of public officials to publicly list what they own and what they owe. The disclosures of personal financial holdings of all legislators, agency heads, mayors, police jurors, aldermen and other government officials are available online at the Louisiana Board of Ethics website at any time of day and at no cost.

But the judiciary back in 2008 asked not to be included. The courts came up with their own system.

Judges file similar personal financial disclosures. But those reports are available at the Louisiana Supreme Court in New Orleans or they can be sent to the requestor.

“That information is being collected. It’s simply not being put online,” Waguespack said.

Another measure LABI wants to see passed is a bill that would end government collection of union dues from the paychecks of state government and school district employees who voluntarily choose to be members of labor organizations.

“There are some adults in this game that don’t want reform, don’t want success. Those are leaders of the unions in this state,” Waguespack said.

The government shouldn’t be in the middle of the process because, for one reason, a large chunk of the money collected locally is sent to national unions. “Go look at the platforms of the national unions and you tell me if they reflect the local community values of a lot of teachers,” he said.

The slide Waguespack flipped to during this part of his presentation showed coins flowing from people through unions to support strict gun control, family planning, global climate change and other issues opposed by many conservatives.

Called “paycheck protection,” a similar ban is being debated by a number of state legislatures in 2015, including Pennsylvania and Missouri. The idea has been pushed since 2012 by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a national group of conservative state legislators and corporate officials.

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