In The News › Bills push consolidation in N.O.

Apr 13, 2006

Source: Times-Picayune

Bills push consolidation in N.O.

Bills push consolidation in N.O.
Assessors, sheriffs, courts among targets
Thursday, April 13, 2006
By Ed Anderson
Capital bureau

BATON ROUGE — Proposals to consolidate New Orleans’ assessors’ offices, combine some courts, and merge the civil and criminal sheriffs’ offices will get their first airing of the legislative session today with Gov. Kathleen Blanco expected to push for the changes.

The House Judiciary Committee meets at 9 a.m. and will take up House Bill 514 by Rep. Peppi Bruneau, R-New Orleans, to merge the Orleans Parish Civil and Criminal District courts, the civil and criminal court clerks’ offices, and the civil and criminal sheriffs’ offices. The bill also would abolish the offices of recorder of mortgages, register of conveyances and custodian of notarial archives — turning over the jobs to the civil clerk’s office and later to the merged clerk’s office.

Judges, sheriffs, clerks and other officials affected by the bill are expected to oppose the measure.

Meanwhile, the Senate Committee on Local and Municipal Affairs will take up Senate Bill 141 by Sen. Ann Duplessis, D-New Orleans, a proposed constitutional amendment to reduce the seven property assessors in Orleans Parish to one. Orleans is the only parish in the state with more than one assessor.

That bill is scheduled to be heard shortly after the Senate adjourns for the day, probably about 10:30 a.m. Blanco has made “right-sizing” government a top priority of the session.

Trying again

The court-merger bill passed the House at the February special session but died in the Senate Committee on Local and Municipal Affairs, which has a similar bill on its agenda for today. But Sen. Willie Mount, D-Lake Charles, a Blanco floor leader, has steered another court-merger bill to the Senate Judiciary A Committee, which is viewed as a friendlier forum.

The assessors-merger bill was killed in the House Ways and Means Committee during the special session and was never heard in the Senate. Duplessis said starting the proposal in the Senate could be more beneficial and would give backers a chance to lobby the House.

Duplessis said she expects the bill to get a favorable vote by the Senate panel. The measure would need a two-thirds vote of the Legislature and then approval of the voters at the Nov. 7 congressional election to become law. It must pass statewide and in Orleans Parish to become effective.

Duplessis said a fight could come over an amendment she will introduce that would end the terms of the assessors elected now in 2007, instead of 2010 as would now be the case.

Mount has a separate assessors-merger measure, Senate Bill 271, to allow the seven to serve out their full terms.

“I feel very comfortable” one of the bills will pass, said Duplessis, who expects New Orleans business groups, the Bureau of Governmental Research and other government watchdog groups to testify in favor. “The problem will be with (passing) the amendment,” she said.

Algiers Assessor Tom Arnold said he was expecting the bill to be heard after the April 22 city primary, allowing Orleans Parish voters to either re-elect existing assessors or replace them with candidates who have vowed to resign if elected in favor of a one-assessor system.

“They should wait to see what results from the vote,” said Arnold, father of Rep. Jeff Arnold, D-Algiers, an opponent of the measure. “I don’t understand what the big rush is. . . . I don’t see where it would help the city with more or less (assessors). We are unique; that doesn’t make us wrong.”

Duplessis said she has received information that the cost savings to the state could be about $800,000 a year by cutting the number of assessors to one.

Mergers years away

Bruneau said his bill would not shorten anyone’s term in office. He said the 14-judge Civil District Court and the 12-judge Criminal District Court would merge Jan. 1, 2009, to form the 41st Judicial District Court. An agency of the state Supreme Court will assess the number of judges needed and make its report to the Legislature before 2009.

The offices of the two sheriffs and two clerks would merge May 3, 2010, and the mortgage, conveyance and archives office would be abolished Jan. 1, 2009, and their jobs turned over to the civil court clerk. A year later, the function would be handed off to the merged clerk’s office.

If his bill fails, Bruneau said, he has another measure — House Bill 391 — to merge the judicial funds of the civil and criminal courts to allow the cash-comfortable civil court to help support the cash-poor juvenile and criminal district courts.

He also has House Bill 701 to merge the two clerks’ offices and combine the archives, conveyance and mortgage offices, effective in 2009.

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Ed Anderson can be reached at eanderson@timespicayune.com or (225) 342-5810.

Apr 13, 2006

Source: Times-Picayune

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