A true benchmark arrived when the state budget was amended during floor debate at the hands of two Terrebonne Parish lawmakers to include coastal restoration projects. Rep. Gordon Dove, a Republican, shifted $18 million around to fund a barrier island maintenance project, and Sen. Reggie Dupre, a Democrat, dedicated another $150,000 to a levee elevation program. Lawmakers not only approved the changes by overwhelming margins, they did so with barely any debate ' even though amendments placed on centerpiece legislation are traditionally hammered out in numbing detail.
"That is virtually unheard of," says Republican Rep. Loulan Pitre, who represents portions of both Lafourche and Jefferson parishes. "But it's a big given now that coastal restoration and flood control are a priority for the state."
Hurricane Katrina changed the way levee bills are heard in the Legislature; otherwise mundane levee measures that would have never received a second look before last autumn were scrutinized closely. One bill that allows levee districts to take on construction projects in-house if the value is less than $1 million was nearly gutted on the House floor because it would have allowed the districts to abandon public bid law for these limited circumstances. The concept almost failed because the knee-jerk reaction was that anything dealing with public bid law and levees is automatically controversial.
Placing such matters under a microscope is a positive change, according to Republican Rep. Ernest Wooten, a former sheriff from Plaquemines Parish.
"The hurricane opened up everyone's eyes to the fact that there is a lot at stake," he says. "I'm just amazed that it took this long."
Longstanding geographic differences were shelved, for once. Baton Rouge Republican Sen. Jay Dardenne sponsored legislation during the session directing some of the state's tobacco settlement money to coastal restoration, and Morehouse Parish Republican Sen. Robert Barham is slowly earning a reputation stumping for coastal issues. While both were early bloomers in the coastal debate, it's a sign that more will eventually join the ranks.
"Representatives and senators from non-coastal parishes are beginning to realize that storm surges can impact inland areas and even further," says Rep. Gary Smith, a Norco Democrat and member of the Acadiana Delegation. "They are starting to see the need to get involved, and it is changing the debate."
Coastal restoration has also gained momentum further west along the shoreline in the wake of Hurricane Rita; legislation was adopted during the session to implement local restoration programs in Vermilion Bay. And there's been a quiet push for an aggressive ' if not outrageously futuristic ' project dubbed the "Louisiana Intracoastal Highway."
The proposal, sponsored partly by the Acadiana Delegation, calls for a 255-mile seawall that stretches from New Orleans to just beyond the Texas state line. The seawall would double as a major transportation route, and tolls would help pay for its construction. The Legislature passed an unrelated bill this month that gave solace to proponents of the seawall project ' it would allow gap funding or seed money for toll projects around the state using donations or gifts or other creative sources. (Texas has a similar program that uses funds from increased traffic fines and bonds.)
The one major coastal item left hanging from the regular session was the creation of a standing committee for coastal issues. Lawmakers overwhelmingly supported forming a panel to pass and recommend legislation, but the legislative leadership turned the enacting bills into one-year studies. There are high hopes, however, that the committees will be formed in time for the 2007 session.
"That would really put the issue into stone here," says Morgan City Democratic Rep. Carla Blanchard Dartez.
Above all, lawmakers say the momentum the matter has earned over the past few years cannot be lost. That political propulsion may be the only thing that will push the issues farther along the statewide agenda ' a critical need, given the risk of further hurricanes. "We're going to have to see more and more of this," says Sen. Joel Chaisson, a Democrat from St. Charles Parish. "It has to continue. We have to focus as much as possible on these issues."
Here's your daily look at late-breaking national and international news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Wednesday, March 12, 2014:
So far the Democratic agenda includes proposals to expand Medicaid; increase the minimum wage; offer equal pay to women; heighten regulations on predatory lending practices, like payday loans; and add more transparency in the governor’s office.
Hot-button education issues ranging from Common Core to charter schools have some lawmakers pushing to scrap the appointing process and go back to electing the state's super.
Police say the handcuffed man fatally shot himself in the back, but his family isn't buying the story.
Gov. Bobby Jindal offered a budget proposal that suggests new education and health care spending, pay raises for state workers and an incentive fund to encourage colleges to enhance their science, engineering and technology training.
Hopefully he’ll be better prepared today than he was in that Feb. 20 deposition.
They came by the hundreds, arriving from all regions of the state to gather on the steps of our Capitol in protest of the Legislature’s long tradition of giving industry the go-ahead to abuse our air, our water and our coastline, all in the name of good economics.
Gov. Bobby Jindal’s recent rhetoric against President Barack Obama has failed to boost his standing among the conservative base.
Louisiana's annual legislative session begins.
The state has hired marksmen to shoot feral hogs from helicopters at two wildlife management areas in south Louisiana.
The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education has stalled action on a $3.5 billion annual school funding formula due to state lawmakers by March 15.
The New Orleans Saints have yet to make it official as of this writing, but popular wide receiver Lance Moore has reportedly been cut by the team to free up salary-cap space on the roster.
While two medical marijuana bills are slated for the upcoming legislative session, what some Louisianans might not know is that the plant was approved for therapeutic use by state lawmakers in 1991.
The agenda is shaping up to be lighter than in previous years. But Jindal is term-limited, with fewer than two years remaining in office, and he saw his last big initiative — a proposed rewrite of Louisiana tax law — collapse without getting a vote in 2013.
Sharper has been held without bail because of an arrest warrant issued by Louisiana authorities accusing him and another man of raping two women.
Two Lafayette men have been revealed by police as the infamous duo behind a caper that shook our fair city to its core.
The Lafayette Parish School Board has received a second letter of demand related to last year’s insurance debacle, this time from Key Benefit Administrators claiming it’s owed $93,000 from the school system.
The Louisiana coastline is vanishing faster than mappers can keep track.
A bill that would have overridden local ordinances prohibiting public and private employers from discriminating against lesbian, gay and transgender people has been pulled within less than a week of being filed.
The panel that selects nominees for a controversial New Orleans area flood control board — a board that is suing more than 90 oil, gas and pipeline companies — is set to discuss legislation affecting its independence.
State prison officials cannot keep secret the seller and manufacturer of the two drugs purchased for executions at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.
State lawmakers will not appeal a judge's ruling that it was improper to use $3.7 million from a probation and parole officers' retirement fund to balance the state's operating budget.
Conservatives have been losing their minds over this satirical bit on the Colbert Report.
The Lafayette Parish School Board leaves a lot to be desired, but is scrapping the election process in favor of an appointed board the answer?
The House approved legislation Tuesday night to roll back a recently enacted overhaul of the federal flood insurance program, after homeowners in flood-prone areas complained about sharp premium increases.