Is the rush to reform worth the price?

The Louisiana Legislature will have met in two special sessions this year by the time the regular session begins March 31, costing thousands in taxpayer dollars to convene.

So the question emerges: Cannot the issues addressed by these special assemblies be dealt with at the regular session?

The Louisiana Constitution allows state legislators to address fiscal matters only in odd-numbered years, so a session concerned mainly with the increased revenue in state coffers stemming from hurricanes Katrina and Rita will take place March 9 and end sometime before March 24. The wisdom of having fiscal-only years is debatable.

Whether the first session, called to deal with ethics reform, will produce the hoped for degree of transparency in government remains to be seen. No doubt part of the reason for placing the reform bills in a special session was to lend publicity to the process.

Gov. Jindal certainly is not downplaying the passage of the reform bills.

“We have promised an end to corruption and incompetence in state government,” Jindal announced in a Feb. 26 news release. That is no mean promise.

The most trumpeted of the reforms force state and local officials to disclose their personal finances, but that new law has yet to be tested. In the news release, the Office of the Governor states only that the law will deposit Louisiana in the top five nationally for transparency in government.

New laws forbidding certain state contracts, prohibiting free tickets for elected officials to attend some sporting events and capping at $50 the price of the food and beverage lobbyists can spend on public officials are more concrete.

As for the doubtfulness of the need to hold a special session to address Katrina and Rita money, state Sen. Butch Gautreaux summed it up when he said during a recent interview, “I don’t know why we’re doing it instead of just waiting for the regular session.”