Debts aimed helping State Police

A state Senate committee Monday steered dollars toward a Louisiana State Police training academy through legislation creating a state debt collector.

If the bill becomes law with the amendment intact, new troopers would be trained for the first time in several years.

Another significant change was made to House Bill 629 by the Senate Committee on Revenue and Fiscal Affairs.

Instead of putting the millions of dollars expected to be collected from old debts into a pot for legislators to spend, the money would be returned to the state agency owed the debt. The $5 million cost of a State Police training academy would come off the top first for five years.

HB629 now moves to the Senate floor. It likely will make a stop in the state Senate Finance Committee before the full Senate debates it.

The bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Chris Broadwater, said the legislation is necessary because the state needs to improve its debt collection efforts. “We haven’t done a good job of collecting the money that’s owed the state,” Broadwater, R-Hammond, said.

He said state government could generate an additional $180 million to $200 million over five years by creating the Office of Debt Recovery within the state Department of Revenue to pursue payments more than 60 days past due.

The revenue department could grab casino winnings, tax refunds and bank accounts from debtors who owe money to state government.

Millions of dollars are owed to state government. The debts range from delinquent college tuition installments to unpaid environmental monitoring fees.

Some of the money has been owed for just a few weeks. Other bills have not been paid for months or years.

The state Attorney General’s Office pursues debts for some, but not all, state agencies.

State Sen. Neil Riser, R-Columbia, told Broadwater that his concern was the legislation directed the collected money to be deposited into a debt recovery fund instead of returning the dollars to state agencies.

Riser said other states direct collected debts to the originating agencies.

“I understand the concern. My intent was not to tie the hands of the Legislature,” Broadwater said.

Broadwater said legislators would decide where the money would go.

As an example, he cited funding problems with higher education and suggested legislators could choose to send recovered debts to the state’s public colleges and universities.

Riser, the committee’s chairman, told Broadwater that he was amending the bill so agencies would recapture the dollars from debts owed to them.

The committee adopted Riser’s amendment without objection.

Riser then focused on funding for State Police, saying a trooper academy has not been held in several years because of money problems.

State Sen. Robert Adley, R-Benton, said he did not want to give State Police more money. Adley said State Police already does not collect all the money it should.

Riser countered that State Police supplement law enforcement efforts in rural parishes and help save lives.

The committee voted 5-3 in favor of directing $5 million a year from the debt collection efforts to State Police for a trooper academy.

Voting FOR money for a trooper academy (5): State Sens. Dale Erdey, R-Livingston, Sharon Broome, D-Baton Rouge, Yvonne Dorsey-Colomb, D-Baton Rouge, Rick Gallot, D-Ruston, and Neil Riser, R-Columbia.

Voting AGAINST money for a trooper academy (3): State Sens. Robert Adley, R-Benton, Bob Kostelka, R-Monroe, and J. P. Morrell, D-New Orleans.