10 March 2006

Ethics Board finds legislator profited from bill

la state representative arthur morrell

ok so they got this guy but our question is what is being done about these two: representative jeff arnold and representative alex heaton? these two thugs are on the house ways and means committee and they shamelessly voted to defer action on a proposed constitutional amendment involving (1) arnolds father and (2) heatons brother.

you may read more about it here and here.

so our question is whats the louisiana ethics board going to do about representatives arnold and heaton?

Ethics Board finds legislator profited from bill

Capitol news bureau
Published: Mar 10, 2006

In a rare case for Louisiana, the Board of Ethics Thursday found state Rep. Arthur Morrell used his legislative position to help his legal clients.

The board issued a $1,000 fine for violating of state conflict-of-interest laws. The New Orleans Democrat faced a fine up to $10,000 and the possibility of censure.

Morrell vowed to appeal the decision, which he said is “going to have a devastating effect on other legislators.”

The Ethics Board ruled that Morrell violated state ethics laws when he pushed a legislative resolution to get the state Department of Health and Hospitals to change its rules so that some mental health firms facing sanctions could continue to operate without restrictions.

At the time Morrell was representing seven of the 15 providers affected.

State ethics laws prohibit a public official from participating in a transaction in which he has “a personal substantial economic interest.”

House Clerk Butch Speer said the Morrell case is the only action he recalls of a legislator being pursued for personally benefiting from a legislative action.

“I don’t think this ruling provides any greater gloss or changes the burden legislators carry in living up to the code of ethics,” said Speer, who has worked for the House since 1972.

Ethics Board attorney Kathleen Allen agreed that such actions are rare. The only other case involving a legislator she could recall dates back to 1995 involving legislative action by state Sen. Charles Jones, D-Monroe.

Morrell said the resolution he filed helped all mental health rehabilitation facilities, not just his clients.

Morrell said he and other legislators often vote or sponsor legislation in which they may have an interest.

For instance, Morrell said he is a thoroughbred horse owner and he has sponsored bills routinely affecting the industry.

Several legislators are in the insurance business and sponsor bills that directly affect their business, he said. And some legislators vote for teacher pay raises that would benefit their spouses.

Sexton said nothing is wrong with Morrell sponsoring legislation related to horseracing because he is not benefiting more than other horse owners in the state.

“If your benefit is no greater than a general class of person’s, you have an absolute right to participate even though you may be a member of that class,” Sexton said.

But Morrell stepped over that line when he sponsored the resolution to help his mental health rehabilitation provider clients, Sexton said.

Sexton said Morrell represented seven out of 15 mental health rehabilitation agencies. They had been stopped from accepting new clients by DHH because of problems with their operations. The firms were losing money as a result of the ban, Sexton said.

Morrell refused to say how much he was paid by the facilities but Sexton said the representative once reported charging a client $100 per hour.

At issue was Morrell’s filing of House Concurrent Resolution 37 which was approved by a House committee on a 9-7 vote in May 2004. Morrell said he quit pursuing the resolution before it reached the full House because DHH changed its policies.

“Once the policy was changed my clients no longer needed me. They fired me,” said Morrell said, responding to a question from his attorney Suchitra J. Satpathi of Baton Rouge.

Ethics Board member Michael Johnson said Morrell’s own statement underscored the fact that he filed the resolution to benefit his clients and that he was hired for just that purpose.

Eight of 11 Ethics Board members found Morrell violated conflict of interest laws. Board member John Greene recused himself and Joseph Maselli voted no. Board member Dolores Spikes was absent.

Recently retired state Medicaid director Ben Bearden testified that he could not determine whether Morrell was acting as a legislator or a lawyer representing his clients.

DHH Secretary Fred Cerise testified that Morrell approached him about problems his clients were encountering and the lengthy time it was taking for appeals to be considered and decisions rendered.

After investigating the situation, Cerise said he decided to allow providers to accept new patients unless there were health and safety concerns and moved to expedite appeals hearings at the same time.

“The decision I made was a decision I thought was in the best interest of the clients, not in the best interest of any provider or Rep. Morrell,” Cerise said.