Louisiana House advances constitutional amendment to prevent spending unclaimed money

By David Jacobs | The Center Square

A day after the measure fell three votes short, the Louisiana House of Representatives on Friday advanced a possible constitutional amendment that would stop lawmakers from spending unclaimed money.

The state’s unclaimed property fund consists of abandoned financial assets such as old checking and savings accounts, unpaid wages, securities, life insurance payouts, uncashed checks, and the proceeds of safe deposit boxes. Historically, lawmakers have spent money left in the fund at the end of the fiscal year.

Last year, State Treasurer John Schroder announced he would not turn over the money, saying state government is only a caretaker for the assets and has no right to spend it. His refusal prompted Gov. John Bel Edwards’ administration to file suit on the grounds that the legislature, not the treasurer, has the constitutional right to dictate spending.

House Bill 536, the statute that passed the House Thursday, and House Bill 445, the constitutional amendment, would create a trust fund for unclaimed property. State lawmakers could not spend the principal unless the total exceeds the state’s total liability, though any interest earned would go to the state general fund.

House Speaker Clay Schexnayder is the author of both bills. Rep. John Stefanski, a Crowley Republican, said the state’s accumulated liability is more than $800 million.

Both measures have moved to the state Senate. Passage of the constitutional amendment would require approval by at least two-thirds of the senators and a majority of voters.

The House began its day Friday with a tribute to Rep. Reggie Bagala of Lafourche Parish, who was killed by COVID-19. “Amazing Grace” was played on bagpipes, and Rep. Bryan Fontenot dedicated passage of his bill establishing an “LSU National Champions” license plate to Bagala, who was an LSU graduate and fan.

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