Monday, 27 February 2012 17:20

Louisiana Bill On Hiring Legislators, Officials Needs Tweaks

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legislature_jvlastnews_thumbState Rep. Dee Richard, no party, has an idea that tweaked a bit would prove excellent to discourage legislators from putting their interests ahead of the people’s.

His HB 212 would prohibit, for two years after leaving their posts, legislators from working for state government. Recently, seven legislators near the ends of their terms, or who actually completed a term through limitation and either retired from elective politics, were elected to another office but who will not assume it for another year, or were defeated for election to the other chamber, or who otherwise decided not to run again, have accepted full-time paying jobs in state government by virtue of appointment by an elected executive.

 This motivated Richard to file the bill, arguing that, in these instances, given the way the law affects the individuals involved, taking these positions could increase dramatically their potential pensions from the state. He correctly sees this incentive as costing the state more than it should and skewing decision-making by both legislators and those who appoint them. But there’s another, more compelling, reason why the basic idea behind the law makes sense, given slight modification.

The greatest danger of the current practice is it can alter legislators’ behavior in their chase for post-Legislature job opportunities. As they near the end of their terms, they have every incentive to start deciding on legislation on the basis of how that positions them for that future desired employment, potentially putting that reason ahead of service to constituents. They may or may not behave that way, but it’s never a good idea to tempt them to do so.

At the same time, it’s quite possible, given their individual skills and legislative experiences, that these legislators might make pretty quality appointees to specified jobs, so legislation should not discourage that kind of employment when someone who served in the Legislature can demonstrate a job could be taken for the right reason. Thus, the law needs to accommodate cases where legislators are not angling for jobs just because they’re getting term limited and want to stay in government in order to exercise power or pump up a pension, or retiring before limitation because they are closing in on retirement age and wanting to cash in on an increased pension, or because they lost reelection.

Therefore, the law should allow immediate appointment and employment – but only under specified conditions and perhaps with special conditions. First, a legislator could not take this employment if in the final term in that office, until four years after that term would be over – at the end of two terms, either you make yourself eligible for immediate employment if something comes open, or you wait as many as eight years for that to happen. Second, if legislators serving first or second terms wish to take jobs before the end of their terms, they cannot until their term is complete – thus, you could not resign for the reason of immediately moving into a state job unless you have not been sworn in for another term. Third, if a recently-retired legislator is in a state retirement system already and this new job also would qualify him to be in another defined benefit system, instead the ex-legislator would have his retirement portion put into a defined contribution plan that would not allow his defined benefit plan to accrue any service credit.

Several advantages commend this restructuring. It would discourage term-limited members from spending that last term angling for a post-Legislature job. For those not term-limited, it would make them choose after completing their first or second terms whether to enter government service whenever they wanted to or to try stay in the Legislature. Because if they left midterm they could not take immediate state government employment, they could not make deals with elected executives who could fire another appointee to create a job and seamlessly let the member slip into that job. The incentive to pump up pension payments by getting a state job is removed. It could refresh the Legislature more quickly if some members leave after one or two terms for this reason. And, because all hiring must occur after completion of a term, there are no guarantees any job would be possible – the elected executive could retire or fail to win reelection, thus reducing dramatically the incentive for legislators during the previous term to make legislative decisions based up an unrevealed agreement with one of those appointing officials.

While a two-year blanket ban on service after being the Legislature can serve the same purposes, minus removing the ability to pump up a pension in the long run, it also might restrict recruiting quality state employees. The idea above loosens those restrictions while improving the filtration process to reduce the ranks of the power-hungry and eliminate the pensioners from these positions, accomplishing also greater clarity in their deciding in the Legislature on considerations removed from personal gain. This only can help legislators keep their minds right and relieve slightly the taxpayers’ burden to fund lavish retirement pay, while allowing people of genuine interest and quality to serve in the state’s bureaucracy if they choose.

by Jeffrey Sadow, Ph.D....Read his daily blog at Between the lines

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