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Slots of Controversy

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A neighborhood organization opposed to slot machines at the Fair Grounds is gathering support for a grass-roots campaign blitz against the proposition on the Oct. 4 election ballot. A proposed parishwide proposition would allow the racetrack to add slot machines to its on-site offerings. The Faubourg St. John Neighborhood Association plans an anti-slots bayou-side rally in front of Cabrini High School at 4 p.m. Monday, Sept. 29.

Fair Grounds owner Bryan Krantz points out that video poker machines and an off-track betting parlor already operate at the track from 10 a.m. to midnight. The track, which sits in the middle of a Gentilly neighborhood, has always worked to maintain peace with its residential neighbors, he says.

But Vincent Booth, president of the Faubourg St. John Neighborhood Association, says slot machines would compound existing noise and traffic problems brought on by video poker at the Fair Grounds. He also cites the active support of the following neighborhood organizations for his group's "no slots" campaign: Bouligny Improvement Association, Carrollton/Riverbend Neighborhood Association, Faubourg Franklin Foundation, Friends of Jackson Square, Irish Channel Neighborhood Association, Pritchard Place Area Association, 7th Ward Association, and Vieux Carré Property Owners, Residents and Associates Inc. "The main thing is that we are trying to raise consciousness about the ballot," Booth says.

The Fair Grounds last week picked up the endorsement of the New Orleans Council of the New Orleans Regional Chamber of Commerce for its "Vote YES" campaign. Proponents say slots are essential for the Fair Grounds, which employs more than 2,100 people and generates about $18.5 million yearly in state and local taxes, to remain competitive with other tracks around the state that already offer slots 24 hours daily.

Krantz notes that a city ordinance precludes him from operating around the clock. But, when pressed, he would not rule out seeking an amendment to that ordinance should the slots proposition receive voter approval. -- Allen Johnson Jr.

Feeling Fines?

A veteran north Louisiana lawmaker who voted for a tough campaign finance reform bill may soon feel the bite of the new law himself, Gambit Weekly has learned.

State Sen. Charles D. "C.D." Jones, D-Monroe, an attorney first elected to the Legislature as a state representative in 1980, owes the public treasury more than $5,000 in fines for tardy campaign finance disclosure reports, according to lawyers for the Louisiana Ethics Board.

But Jones could face additional penalties if the board determines he violated a state campaign finance disclosure law, which he supported in the 2001 regular session. Act No. 1208 (formerly House Bill 2056) bans candidates and their campaigns from spending campaign contributions "for any purpose so long as the candidate owes a fine, fee, or penalty imposed by a final order of a court" or the ethics board. Violators "may be assessed a civil penalty not to exceed 200 percent of the expenditure or $1,000, whichever is greater," the law states.

Jones did not return our call to his legislative office for comment on his outstanding fines.

During the 2001 session, Jones was one of 35 senators who voted in favor of the measure, authored by state Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Metairie. (The bill passed 35-0.) At the time of Jones' vote, he already owed a $420 fine for the late filing of a report related to his 1999 re-election campaign, according to records and an ethics board attorney.

By Aug. 19, 2003 -- the date candidates statewide began qualifying for Saturday's primary election -- Jones' list of fines had ballooned to $5,220, swelled by tardy supplemental reports for his campaigns in 1987, 1991, 1995 and 1999, according to ethics board attorneys and records.

When qualifying ended two days later, Jones was without opposition and thus automatically re-elected to a fourth consecutive four-year term. If Jones used any of his campaign war chest for his re-election, ethics board attorneys say he would be subject to the additional fines laid out in Act No. 1208.

How much the senator may owe the state treasury is still an open question, however. Like all candidates for the Louisiana Legislature, Jones was supposed to file a campaign disclosure report with the ethics board by Sept. 4. But by press time, the senator had not filed the report, officials said.

"We would need to see a report to determine if he has made expenditures from his campaign contributions," says ethics board staff attorney Maris LeBlanc. "The fines have not yet been assessed because the report has not yet been filed, but the fines are accumulating."

Since Sept. 4, Jones has been fined $60 a day for his late report. -- Johnson

Who's Covered?

In Gambit Weekly's gubernatorial endorsement of Randy Ewing, we cited his support for expanding the popular children's health plan, LaCHIP, to cover prenatal care. Turns out that LaCHIP already did that, in January, when the state Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH) created its LaMOMS program especially for pregnant women. Ewing, despite his role in passing and implementing LaCHIP, evidently wasn't aware of LaMOMS.

There's no need to single out Ewing, says DHH spokesperson Bob Johannessen, because many of the candidates are not yet up to speed on health care issues.

That's an especial shame this year, after DHH took the extra step of putting a bright-red link entitled "Information for Candidates" on the top of their website (www.dhh.state.la.us). The link comes complete with a long and detailed letter from DHH Secretary David Hood, who lists the department's nine major accomplishments, such as "relentlessly attacking waste, inefficiency, and fraud and abuse" (number one) and "increased emphasis on rural health care" (number six). The very coverage that Ewing calls for in his campaign literature is found near the top, in accomplishment number two: "Significantly reducing the number of children and pregnant women who are uninsured." -- Katy Reckdahl

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