Lawmakers to take up Council on Aging bill Thursday

    A legislative committee on Thursday is scheduled to take up a bill by two Baton Rouge-area lawmakers that would restructure the board of directors of the embattled East Baton Rouge Council on Aging and give outside entities greater oversight of the board.

    Rep. Steve Carter and co-sponsor Rep. Franklin Foil, both Republicans, drafted the bill in response to concerns about financial mismanagement, potential election law violations and lack of transparency that have been raised about the COA after voters approved a 2.25-mill property tax for the agency last fall. The tax will generate an estimated $8 million a year for the agency over the next decade.

    House Bill 199, which was pre-filed in March, originally reduced the size of the COA board from 15 members to seven, and gave the Baton Rouge Area Foundation, the Baton Rouge Area Chamber and the mayor of Baton Rouge each the power to appoint one board member.

    In the six weeks since filing the bill, however, Carter has met with other lawmakers from the Capital Region delegation and agreed to make some changes to the measure. The amended bill will replace BRAF and BRAC with the Capital Area United Way and the local chapter of the AARP. Also, the revised bill will give the Baton Rouge mayor two appointments to the board.

    As in the original draft, the mayors of Baker, Central and Zachary and the Metro Council will each get one appointment to the board, for a total of nine board members.

    While the changes may make the bill more palatable to some who would oppose it, the measure is expected to face a stiff battle at the committee level. The House Municipal, Parochial and Cultural Affairs committee is almost evenly divided politically, with 10 Democrats, nine Republicans and one independent. Two of the COA’s staunchest advocates, Reps. C. Denise Marcelle and Pat Smith, are among its members.

    What’s more, the COA board appointed four new members earlier this month and adopted bylaw changes designed to increase transparency and improve ethics training. Days later, however, the Louisiana Legislative Auditor’s Office released a report finding the COA may have broken state and federal laws by campaigning for the tax in violation of its nonprofit, tax-exempt status.

    Carter has said he supports the agency and believes in its mission.

    “Unfortunately, the board has had a troubled past and needs restructuring to ensure that our senior citizens are respected and served by an organization that demonstrates dignity and accountability,” he says.

    —Stephanie Riegel

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