Recent editorials from Louisiana newspapers:
The Courier, Houma, Louisiana on state horse racing audit
A recent audit of the Louisiana State Racing Commission raises some troubling questions and will likely mean a windfall for higher education.
Louisiana Legislative Auditor Daryl G. Pupera released the audit on Monday, saying the agency — which oversees horse racing — has shortchanged higher education by $15 million over the past 10 years.
That is unacceptable.
In addition to the failure to pay the proper share of the money it collects to the state college board, the commission's practices raise other questions that deserve answers.
The racing commission collect 1.5 percent of the off-track wagers.
That money must be split up specifically, according to state law: Higher education gets 33 percent; the state's horse breeder associations get 14 percent; and the racing commission gets the rest to cover administrative costs.
The audit shows that the commission has not made the payments to the Board of Regents, and that its failure has cost Louisiana higher education $15 million since July 1996.
The commission says it lacks a mechanism that would allow it to send the money to the Board of Regents.
While that is possible, it is not an acceptable excuse for failing to comply with state law.
In stark contrast to its handling of higher education's share of the money, the commission dutifully paid the required 14 percent each year to the horse breeders.
And it had no trouble collecting the 53 percent of the money to which it is entitled. In fact, in three of the past six years, the commission spent more than its share of the take.
The fees collected at gambling sites amount to a tax. The handling of this money should be undertaken with every care our public officials can muster.
Unfortunately, the Louisiana State Racing Commission appears to have failed.
But there are other questions here:
Why do horse breeder associations get 14 percent of the fee? Aren't the horse breeders rewarded by their own businesses? Why is the public subsidizing their activities?
Why did this failure go on for 10 years without the Board of Regents noticing that it was entitled to money it wasn't receiving? Are there other sources of higher education revenue that are being similarly neglected?
Who's watching the store? Does the racing commission know what its responsibilities are under the law that controls it? If so, why was it lax in paying its obligations? If not, why not?
The audit shines some light on the process that should be taking place between the state and Louisiana's horse racing industry.
Unfortunately, it raises many more questions than it answers.
Perhaps the Legislature can take a careful look at the entire picture when it convenes next year. There might be even more questions that have not even been asked.
The Advocate, Baton Rouge on shootings against police
Louisiana is once more at the top of a bad list, with five on-duty officers shot and killed this year. And it's not even September.
The death of Senior Trooper Stephen Vincent, based in southwest Louisiana for Louisiana State Police, is the latest in a melancholy list. He leaves a widow and a 9-year-old son.
This year, in Baton Rouge, Shreveport and New Orleans, four other officers have died. The occasions include not only the traffic stop that resulted in gunfire against Vincent on a rural road. The officers killed this year have included a Housing Authority policeman in the Crescent City and a U.S. marshal, the latter on detached duty in Louisiana from his home in Mississippi.
It's a long list for a small state. Nationally, there's not a big surge in killings of officers, despite rising tension in some minority communities after the Ferguson, Missouri, disputes over the police shooting of Michael Brown. "Right now there's nothing indicative of why Louisiana has been having such a bad year," said Chris Cosgriff, a Virginia-based police officer and director of Officer Down Memorial Page, which gathers detailed information on fallen officers.
Preliminary information on Cosgriff's site shows 24 gun deaths of officers in the U.S. this year, and 47 last year. The FBI, which has not yet released recent statistics on "felonious killings" of officers, cited 27 such deaths in 2013 nationally, and 49 in 2012.
Five, in other words, is a lot in a single state.
"The fact is, we're going to a lot more police funerals this year," said Mike Anderson, special agent in charge of the FBI's New Orleans division, which oversees the entire state.
One of those recent funerals was in St. Amant, the hometown of Shreveport officer Thomas Lavalley, killed in what started as a routine house call.
The imminence of risk is one reason that the role of police officer, in whatever jurisdiction, carries with it great stress.
But these terrible incidents also give the community a chance to remind officers that we are greatly appreciative of the role of law enforcement in our cities, the state and the nation.
We owe a debt greater than is easily repaid, but respect and appreciation are part of what officers are owed in Louisiana. Particularly in such a bad year.
Alexandria Daily Town Talk on the state's unclaimed property fund
We've got to give credit to State Treasurer John Kennedy when it comes to pushing the envelope to get money back in the hands of Louisiana residents while finding creative ways to bolster the ailing state budget at the same time.
Since taking office, Kennedy and his staff have aggressively sought to make residents aware of unclaimed property and facilitate their access to any money that might be theirs. That money comes in many forms — unclaimed paychecks, stock dividends, settlements and refunds. Basically, if an entity owes a Louisiana resident money and they can't find them, it goes over to the state where it lands in the unclaimed property fund.
It's a win-win as the state gets the benefit of interest generated on the unclaimed money while they hold it, while the rightful owner can claim the full amount at any time.
U.S. Government Savings Bonds are another example. Over the years, the state treasury office has gained physical possession of many lost savings bonds. "People bought these savings bonds decades ago. They were shoved into drawers or safe deposit boxes and forgotten," Kennedy explained. The bonds, some of the which date to the 1940s and 1950s, have been treated like any other unclaimed property, with regular promotional and investigative efforts to find the owners. And many bonds have been successfully returned, but 1,428 bonds with a face value of $89,260 remain unclaimed. The bonds' matured value is $462,057.42.
With nearly a half million dollars sitting on the shelf, Louisiana, like many other states, tried to redeem the bonds. The federal government, however, refused noting that although the state was in possession of the bonds, they were not the rightful owner. So the bonds continued to sit on a shelf in the hope that one day the rightful owner could be found. And they didn't generate any interest to the state.
Things changed recently when Kansas officials discovered a way around the government hold-out. They passed legislation that said that if the state was in possession of lost bonds, they had ownership of the bonds. They then went to state court, where they were granted full title to the bonds in their possession. Armed with that, they petitioned the U.S. Treasury to redeem the bonds to the state. And it worked.
Louisiana has followed the same process, but so far the U.S. treasury has yet to redeem the bonds held at the Louisiana treasury office. We see no reason for delay and join Kennedy in urging the U.S. Treasury to reissue the bonds to the state of Louisiana or to provide the records necessary for redemption right away. The money belongs to Louisiana residents, it should be in Louisiana.