Legislative Report

Senate committee agrees to jettison some state museums

by Caitie Burkes, Manship News Service

Sen. Eric LaFleur, D-Ville Platte, authored a bill that would remove several museums from the Department of State’s jurisdiction and revert their oversights to local governments.
Photo by Sarah Gamard

The Senate Education Committee on Thursday favorably reported to the full Senate a bill that would transfer five state museums — from New Orleans to Shreveport — to local jurisdictions, including one that never existed.

Authored by Sen. Eric LaFleur, D-Ville Platte, Senate Bill 230 would repeal a law that establishes that the Livingston Parish Museum and Cultural Center, the Louisiana Military Museum in Ruston, the Jean Lafitte Marine Fisheries Museum, the Shreveport Water Works Museum and the Spring Street Historical Museum fall under the jurisdiction of the secretary of state.

The legislation deletes statutory provisions governing those museums and their governing boards, moving the authority to local governments. Louisiana Secretary of State Tom Schedler has repeated requested these and other museum be removed from this budget.

“I think they’re tickled pink for not being under state control anymore,” said Deputy Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin.

Ardoin said, in many cases, being under state control stifled many museums’ ability to grow and fundraise. He described the bill as “cleanup legislation” for his department.

He explained how a miscommunication between the House and Senate made it appear as though the State Department had been “overfunded” in its museum division. When the clouds cleared, however, the department was actually $300,000 in the hole, a deficit from the previous year with which it had to deal in running the museums.

Ardoin said Schedler then began working with local governments and communities to move certain museums off the department’s books as soon as possible. SB230 represents the fruits of those efforts.

The department handed over the Spring Street Historical Museum, one of the oldest remaining buildings in downtown Shreveport, to the Shreveport Committee of the National Society of Colonial Dames in Louisiana, which now runs its operations.

Ardoin said his department also reverted the Shreveport Water Works Museum back to the city, which is working with the local Friends group to operate the last known steam-powered municipal water treatment plant in the United States.

The Louisiana Military Museum went to the city of Ruston and to a private organization. The Livingston Parish Museum and Cultural Center never actually existed.

“As you know, we have cut the budget of the secretary of state’s office to the point where, for the most part, I think he can at least handle elections for us,” LaFleur said. “In light of the amount of money that we’re giving them and the obligations that we have out there, it’s come to the point where they just can’t maintain some of these museums.”