Each session, lawmakers file appropriations bills, trying to get the state to pay what courts have ruled is owed to plaintiffs.
This session, one of the 26 “Appropriations/Judgment” bills is authored by Crowley Representative Jack Montoucet, on behalf of the Louisiana Probation and Parole Officers Association. The amount due that group is $3,722,315.00.
“The process says that I have to go to Appropriations with a bill that captures that money,” Montoucet explains.
In 2009, Montoucet authored a bill that set up a retirement fund for the officers’ association, paid for by a portion of probation and parole fees. In 2012, the money disappeared.
“What happened was the money got swept in the funds sweeps bill,” Montoucet says.
Facing a potential budget shortfall, the Fiscal Year 2013 budget grabbed money from “idle” funds sitting on the state’s books. The money was used to pay the general operating expenses of state government. Because all the money in this retirement fund was used, the account was closed, and the fund disappeared from Louisiana’s accounting ledgers.
“The Parole and Probation Officers filed suit,” Montoucet tells us. “And that’s when the judge ruled it was unconstitutional to take that money to use in the General Fund.”
That ruling was issued by 19th Judicial District Court Judge William Morvant in November, 2013. Although the Jindal administration initially said it would appeal the decision to the Louisiana Supreme Court, the Legislature—also named as a defendant in the case—chose not to take the case further, concerned about a possible “ripple effect” and other lawsuits over the 2012 funds sweeps.
Montoucet says he’s unsure if his bill to pay the judgment will pass this year.
“If they don’t have the money, they don’t pay,” Montoucet says.
He adds it’s not a new problem, but it is one that could ultimately impact Louisiana’s credit rating.
“I know for a fact there’s a lot of judgments that have never been paid,” Montoucet states. “And they’re still on the books.”
A look at the 26 judgment bills filed this year shows amounts ranging from $25,000 to hundreds of millions of dollars. At least one bill is seeking to satisfy a judgment far older than the one for the probation and parole officers. It’s for a judgment that’s been left unpaid for more than 30 years.