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Push to Save Big Charity
Several preservationist groups have joined forces to try to save Big Charity, the historic, art deco-style hospital built by Huey Long to serve the state's poor. The hospital shut down soon after Katrina, and efforts to reopen it have been quashed by the state. Meanwhile, preservationists worry about what will happen to the historic building. The National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Louisiana Trust for Historic Preservation, the Preservation Resource Center and the Louisiana Landmarks Society have joined the Foundation for Historical Louisiana (FHL) to save the iconic edifice. In the just-ended legislative session, lawmakers passed a resolution (HCR 89) authorizing the foundation to hire an architectural firm to conduct "an independent assessment of Big Charity to determine if it can be restored," according to foundation executive vice chair Sandra L. Stokes. In a letter dated June 25, Stokes notes one problem with the legislation: The "authorization" did not come with any "appropriation" — meaning there's no money in the new state budget to pay the reviewing architectural firm. "Without a professional study this building is in peril," she writes. "The FHL must have donor support to fund the assessment." Donations to the foundation's Charity Hospital Fund can be made via the group's Web site (www.fhl.org). — DuBos

Ethics Requests Rolling In
The threat of stricter financial reporting requirements has stripped the state Board of Ethics of 10 of its 11 members, leaving it all but paralyzed until the vacancies can be filled. The presidents of Louisiana's private colleges have 60 days to come up with board nominees. From there, the Legislature and governor have another 60 days to ratify the choices. That means the board could be non-operational until October, unless the process is accelerated. Adding to the uncertainty is the exit of Ethics Administrator Richard Sherburne Jr. , whose final day at work was last week. Meanwhile, the ethics workload didn't slow down. "We've received another dozen or two dozen requests" for advisory opinions and official action from the board, Sherburne said last week. Aside from the new financial disclosure rules ushered in by Gov. Bobby Jindal, departing ethics board members complained that Jindal and lawmakers diluted their responsibilities by shifting adjudicative authority to the state's administrative law judges. Others have accused Jindal of retaliation for a $2,500 ethics fine levied against his campaign earlier this year. — Alford

Alliance Banquet Saturday
Qualifying for the fall elections gets underway this week, Wednesday through Friday, and political tradition dictates that the Alliance for Good Government's annual "Legislator of the Year" banquet follows soon thereafter. This year's four-parish banquet will begin at 7 p.m. Saturday (July 12) at the Hilton Riverside. Cocktail hour starts at 5:30 p.m. — roughly 24 hours after qualifying closes. New Orleans City Councilman At-Large Arnie Fielkow will deliver the keynote address. Alliance chapters in Orleans, Jefferson, St. Tammany and St. Bernard parishes will honor individual state lawmakers with "Legislator of the Year" awards. After the recent public furor over legislative pay raises, Alliance honors for outstanding civic activists in each parish might be more enthusiastically anticipated, says Bob Moffett, president of the Orleans chapter. The Alliance has reserved 600 seats for the banquet, down from 700 at last year's gala, which followed the close of qualifying in the governor's race. "There's not nearly as many races this year as there were last year," Moffett explains. Tickets are $55 each. A table for eight is $400. For ticket information, call Moffett at (504) 822-2224. — Johnson

Lege Taps and Bonus Pay
While usually a national issue, the military's ongoing affairs grabbed the attention of Louisiana lawmakers several times this year. Late last month, the Senate closed its doors to establish a moment of silence as 13 fallen servicemen were honored. Sen. Rob Marionneaux, D-Grosse Tete, has led the annual "Military Family Day" since 2005, reading from the floor individual resolutions that honor the lives and accomplishments of those lost. GOP Rep. Jane Smith of Bossier City pushed through House Concurrent Resolution 105, which could lead to a bonus pay program for veterans in 2009. It requests the Louisiana Department of Veterans Affairs and the Veterans Affairs Commission to study and make recommendations regarding an "Afghanistan, Iraq, Global War on Terror Bonus." The state of Louisiana has a long tradition of establishing bonus payments to wartime veterans, dating back to World War II. Smith wants to re-establish such a fund next year, and she surely won't be alone in her sentiment, considering the Legislature's recent track record of increasing the pay of men and women who serve the public. — Alford

Property Tax Tweaks
Gov. Bobby Jindal has signed bills that seek to address perceived weaknesses in Louisiana's property tax laws in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Act 488 by Rep. Damon Baldone, D-Houma, changes the day on which interest begins to accrue on delinquent property taxes from 30 days after the deadline for payment to the first day after deadline. "After Katrina, the Legislature gave taxpayers a little break, a bit of a grace period," he says. "This brings it back to what it was prior to Katrina, since many people are now finally getting back to some semblance of a normal life. This also gives taxing districts the opportunity to get their money in a more timely fashion so they can work better with their budgets." Interest currently accrues at a rate of 1 percent per month, which will not change under the new law. Jindal also signed Act 506 by Rep. Jerome "Dee" Richard of Thibodaux, who has no party affiliation. Playing off a concept that is related to Baldone's bill, Richard's legislation allows assessors to permit the postponement of property tax payments when a declaration of emergency is issued by a governor or parish president. The Louisiana Homeland Security and Emergency Assistance and Disaster Act allows the issuing of declarations for overflow, general conflagration, crop destruction, hurricanes or "other public calamity." Assessors may also postpone payments in certain cases for residents who have lost their homes to an emergency or calamity, or those who would suffer a "substantial hardship" if they were to pay. Richard's law officially takes effect on Jan. 1, 2009. — Alford

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