A Baton Rouge agency of the Louisiana Legislature spent more than $500,000 during the past three years to hold meetings at The Monteleone Hotel in the New Orleans French Quarter.
The expenses have been chalked up by the Louisiana Law Institute as its decision-making council met six to eight times a year over the three-year period to consider revisions to state law for legislators to consider.
“We have found that a majority of the council would rather meet in New Orleans,” said William Crawford, the Law Institute’s executive director. The agency’s offices are in the LSU Paul Hebert Law Center on the Baton Rouge campus.
The council meetings in New Orleans have been a tradition since 1938, the year the Law Institute was established, and the historic luxury hotel on Royal Street always has been the preferred venue, Crawford said, adding, “It’s easier this way for the out-of-town people to come into New Orleans and the New Orleans people to stay at home.”
The council has more than 100 members, mostly lawyers and judges but some legislators, too, from around the state. “These people take 11/2 or two days without pay, and they enjoy going to New Orleans,” he said.
The council meetings start Friday morning and end midday Saturday. On average, about two-thirds of council members attend.
For the seven meetings this fiscal year, which began July 1, expenses are projected to be $140,311 for travel, food and lodging costs, according to records obtained by The Advocate. Charges for room rental, food and refreshments add another $23,371, for a total of $163,682.
For the two prior fiscal years, the total costs ran $153,324 and $187,355, respectively.
Council members can be reimbursed a maximum of $300 for lodging and meals for a one-night stay and $450 for two days. If they drive, the members are reimbursed at 57.5 cents per mile, or about $126 from Alexandria. Valet parking is another $40 per day.
For the council’s upcoming May 15 meeting, The Monteleone guest rooms will cost in excess of almost $350 a night by the time taxes are figured in. Then there’s a $40 daily parking charge. Renting the room where the council meeting takes place runs $800.
Crawford said the council looked at other options because of the rising costs related to the New Orleans meetings.
“The hotel arrangements we have with The Monteleone are a bargain,” Crawford said. “Where else could we meet? The only other place would be Baton Rouge. The Baton Rouge hotel rate would cost us more than the New Orleans rate. I checked it out myself.”
Visit Baton Rouge President Paul Arrigo said Baton Rouge is “generally less” when comparing hotel rates in general with those in New Orleans.
“I am certain we could find a much more competitive rate and package in Baton Rouge,” Arrigo said.
Posted room rates for the Hilton Baton Rouge Capitol Center and the Renaissance Baton Rouge Hotel on Bluebonnet for May 15 bear out Arrigo’s observation. The basic Monteleone rate is $299 a night for a traditional king/double bedroom plus a 14.75 percent tax, for about $343 per night. (The regular rate is about $439 a night plus tax.)
The Hilton in downtown Baton Rouge is $169 a night and the Renaissance, $143 a night. The Hilton charges $16 for parking. Parking is free at the Renaissance.
After Hurricane Katrina, the council met in Baton Rouge for a while, with members staying at the Lod Cook Hotel and Conference Center, within walking distance of the institute’s offices on the LSU campus.
According to the law, the institute’s purpose is “to promote and encourage the clarification and simplification of the law of Louisiana and its better adaptation to present social needs; to secure the better administration of justice; and to carry on scholarly legal research and scientific legal work.”
The institute receives $1 million annually from the Legislature for its operations, including permanent staff and meetings of its council and research committees. A legislative committee is meeting Monday to consider the institute’s budget.
Many of the Law Institute’s 20 committees do meet in Baton Rouge. The panels research and prepare draft legislation in areas ranging from the code of evidence and civil procedure to adjudicated property, expropriation, divorce law and the Children’s Code. Those committee reports are presented to the Law Institute’s council for its consideration at the New Orleans meetings.
For the current fiscal year, the institute will hold 63 committee meetings at a cost of $31,041 through June 30. The number includes actual expenses through March 31 and projected costs for the remainder of the fiscal year, the records show. The costs for the prior two fiscal years were $27,217 and $23,703.
Committee members are paid mileage costs as they travel to the Law Institute’s Baton Rouge offices for meetings. Members get lunch — sandwiches and salads ordered from Jason’s Deli. The committees hold one-day meetings.
“I am constantly amazed at the faithfulness of committee members to take a whole day out of their practice to come to Baton Rouge and meet four to six hours without pay,” Crawford said.