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."
State Rep. Joel Robideaux, R-Lafayette, surprised few in the Hub City Wednesday afternoon when he made (semi) official what most of us have known for months: He is running to replace Joey Durel as city-parish president.
Louisiana's first black Republican state senator since Reconstruction — who was a Republican before he was a Democrat before he was a Republican again — is accusing Democratic U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu of using the black community for votes and providing nothing in return.
LSU's governing board has backed new hospital privatization contracts that give hospital managers greater ease to leave the deal and fewer restrictions about must-have services.
U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu is courting young voters in several appearances across Louisiana this week, talking about her support for legislation that could lower students' college costs.
Coton de tulear joins Westminster; Paypal splitting from Ebay; first US Ebola diagnosis and more national and international news for Wednesday, October 1, 2014.
Wednesday's Blogs from the Bog!
Stage 4 vet takes on cancer and reminds us all what it really means to get involved.
Is Mary fading as Vitter solidifies his lock on the fourth floor?
Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration has renegotiated contracts for six LSU hospital privatization deals, hoping to reach a compromise with federal health officials that will keep Medicaid dollars flowing to the privatized patient services.
Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu is defending her record on gun rights, seeking to rebut sharp criticism from the NRA in a state where the right to bear arms is given special constitutional protection.
Citizens, you have less than a week to register to vote in the Nov. 4 election. Remember, if you don’t vote you can’t complain about the outcome. Well, you can but it’s kind of hypocritical.
After being forced out by its former landlords last year, the community garden has a new location and a 10-year lease.
The party says it has hit a milestone, reaching 10,000 registered voters in the state.
Defensive captain Junior Galette is disgusted by the Saints' sluggish start.
The use of $60 million in Louisiana's public school financing formula to pay for nearly three dozen charter schools violates the state constitution, a statewide teachers' union claimed Monday in a lawsuit.
February trial date indicates parties were unable to negotiate a settlement.
There was a time when United Ballot had a political stranglehold so tight on Lafayette’s black community it was nearly unbreakable, but that grip might be loosening.
The race for Lafayette city marshal may not be the most exciting of this year’s local political contests, but it could prove the most historic.
With the DA’s race too close to call and negative media coverage of Mike Harson on the ebb, will challenger Keith Stutes take the gloves off?
Gov. Bobby Jindal has been viewed as a health care policy wonk, and he's tried to build on that image ahead of a likely 2016 presidential campaign, positioning himself as the candidate with substantive ideas.
Jerry Jones watched what he called the best effort he's seen in 25 years as owner of the Dallas Cowboys in the first half, and that was before Tony Romo had the longest scramble of his career and DeMarco Murray finished off yet another 100-yard game.
Two of the most recognizable women in Republican politics, Sarah Palin and Mary Matalin, have been heavily involved in Louisiana’s current election cycle.
Even though the Louisiana Democratic Party has thrown its support behind former Gov. Edwin Edwards’ congressional bid, national Democrats are not expected to follow suit.
“[Mike] is no longer the energetic ADA that his recent ad is trying to portray. I just think Mike needs to get the hell out.” — Kermit Harson, DA Mike Harson’s brother
The New Orleans Saints have listed Jonathan Goodwin as questionable for Sunday night's game in Dallas, raising the prospect that second-year pro Tim Lelito will start at center for the first time.