- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 26, 2016

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - State senators are trying to trim the costs of a legislative agency that spends thousands of dollars each year on meetings at a swanky New Orleans hotel.

The Louisiana State Law Institute, which studies complex legal issues for the Legislature and makes recommended changes, regularly holds meetings of its decision-making council at the Monteleone Hotel in the French Quarter, even though the agency’s office is in Baton Rouge.

Travel, lodging, food and other expenses for seven meetings at the New Orleans hotel within the past nine months have cost the state nearly $175,000, according to a financial analysis done for lawmakers. Similar spending has been reported annually.

Sen. Rick Ward, R-Port Allen, wants the law institute council to hold more of its meetings in Baton Rouge, where he says free state Capitol meeting space likely could be provided. Ward’s proposal would mandate that two-thirds of the yearly meetings have to be held in Baton Rouge, with the council having to first seek Capitol space before going elsewhere.

“We are in such a bad financial situation right now that it’s absolutely imperative we save every penny we can,” Ward said.

A Senate judiciary committee backed Ward’s bill Tuesday without objection, sending it to the full Senate for debate.

If all seven meetings the council held within the current budget year were at the state Capitol, the law institute could have saved at least $11,200, according to a financial analysis of Ward’s bill.

William Crawford, law institute director, disagreed with the savings projections.

“The fiscal note is absolutely in error,” Crawford told senators.

He said the Monteleone - a historic hotel with nightly room rates advertised online ranging from $250 to more than $450 - provides special rates for the law institute council. And he said the law institute spends no more than $157 per day for a hotel, no matter where the meeting is located.

“I don’t believe we would save any money by meeting in Baton Rouge. We would lose our relationship with the Monteleone. They cut all of our rates,” Caldwell said.

He suggested participation in council meetings could drop off if they were moved from New Orleans, and he said meeting rooms at the Capitol weren’t configured well for the council.

Sen. Jay Luneau, D-Alexandria, pushed back against suggestions no savings could be found.

“We are in a terrible financial position right now, and everyone needs to cut everywhere we can, and every little bit counts,” Luneau said.

The law institute council has more than 100 members, including lawyers, judges and some lawmakers. The number of attendees for the most recent meetings ranged from 26 to 69, according to the bill’s financial analysis.

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Senate Bill 395: www.legis.la.gov


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