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."
The Lafayette superintendent insists the budget is illegal and vows to fight on.
"I am not a scientist," Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell has said numerous times, a response that other members of his party have parroted.
Republicans are running strong races against endangered Democratic incumbents in states such as North Carolina, Colorado, Arkansas, Louisiana and Alaska. Republicans are also looking to replace retiring Democrats in Iowa and West Virginia with a GOP lawmaker.
Republican congressman Vance McAllister is trying to make up to Louisiana voters for getting too close to a married former employee.
You may not like all of “it,” but U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, unlike many of her colleagues, isn't sitting around twiddling her thumbs in Congress.
Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro says he "can't wait" to play against Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
The heat keeps rising for Iberia Parish Sheriff Louis Ackal as a new slate of corruption allegations surfaced this week.
If opposing defenses sell out to stop the Packers' passing game, they risk being gashed by powerful running back Eddie Lacy, a New Orleans-area native.
At the horn the officiating crew trotted to the tunnel and left security personnel to clean up after them.
Friday's Blogs from the Bog!
Sign "ninjas" cleaning up clutter; NYC doctor positive for Ebola; Ferguson grand jury decision nears; and more national and international news for Friday, October 24, 2014.
We can safely assume incumbent Chief K.P. Gibson isn’t too worried about this challenger.
Nationally, Republicans must gain six seats to win Senate control. The most competitive races, many in states where Obama lost in 2012, remain too close to call.
The Baton Rouge Republican has repeatedly battled a perception within his own party that he perhaps wasn't the best choice to carry the GOP banner.
Even if Jimmy Graham's production dips while the star tight end recovers from a shoulder injury, it looks like Drew Brees won't have much trouble finding other targets.
A former campaign manager for Senate candidate Rob Maness is striking at the Republican contender's tea party support, saying Maness only sought to appeal to conservative organizations because he needed money for his campaign.
Ninety-two percent of public school teachers were rated either effective or highly effective in a report the state issued marking the second year of a new statewide evaluation process.
School board members Mark Babineaux, Hunter Beasley and Tehmi Chassion can vote to fire Cooper — because we all know that’s exactly what they’ll do.
District 2 school board candidate Simon Mahan is hoping to unseat first-term incumbent and former Carencro Mayor Tommy Angelle in the Nov. 4 election.
District Attorney Mike Harson is showing his desperation by falsely attributing quotes to his opponent and blocking journalists from his social media.
The governor is traveling the country laying the groundwork for a possible 2016 presidential campaign, but his approval ratings at home hover well below 50 percent.
State District Judge Bob Downing extended the order and delayed a planned Wednesday hearing about a permanent injunction while negotiations continue between Attorney General Buddy Caldwell and the waste disposal site operator.
New Louisiana higher education commissioner Joseph Rallo will be paid more than his predecessor.
Elijah McGuire and Alonzo Harris each had four rushing touchdowns, and Louisiana-Lafayette rolled to 419 yards on the ground in a 55-40 victory over Arkansas State on Tuesday night.
Bill and Hillary Clinton are the validators-in-chief for Democrats struggling through a bleak campaign season in states where President Barack Obama is deeply unpopular.