If legislators vote to return to the State Capitol to consider overturning some of Gov. John Bel Edwards’ vetoes of bills from the last session, we urge them to think deeply about a Baton Rouge issue that has statewide implications.
It’s an environmental issue, about safeguarding Baton Rouge’s water supply from deep wells, but also an ethics issue: Lawmakers passed a bill that not only legalized paid staff members of industrial water users serving on the region’s groundwater commission, but waived fines levied by the Board of Ethics.
There is a perennial tug between ethics enforcement and the need for expertise, such as engineers and water managers, on public bodies. Somebody has to pay for the latter, and typical commissioners or other regulators get only nominal payments from the state for showing up for meetings.
But the ethics board rightly said it must enforce current law that forbids such an obvious conflict of interest for the commission members who are paid by the large industrial users of the water supply.
Even if legislators feel they should back industrial users of the aquifer, the Baton Rouge area is full of retired engineers and other experts who could serve on the groundwater commission without running afoul of current law.
The governor was right to veto Senate Bill 203. We don’t need such a broad exception in the ethics code for the Capital Area Groundwater Commission. Or, for that matter, other bodies where similar conflicts of interest are possible.