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."
Mike Harson's coffers show the advantage of incumbency.
The Lafayette City-Parish Council will vote on an ordinance for final adoption Tuesday that, if approved, would give the city the green light to take over a stretch of Verot School Road from the state Department of Transportation and Development.
The Louisiana Association of Educators filed a lawsuit challenging the $60 million in spending through Louisiana's public school financing formula.
He's been out of office for nearly a decade, but former U.S. Sen. John Breaux is back on the campaign trail, urging voters to support his one-time colleague, Democrat Mary Landrieu.
The unresolved fate of the ashes left behind after Ebola waste was destroyed in Texas highlights the problem U.S. hospitals and communities could face in disposing of their own waste.
While much of the talk was about whether New Orleans could win a big game — or any game, for that matter — on the road, the conversation in the Saints' locker room was about something completely different.
State health officials told thousands of doctors planning to attend a tropical diseases meeting this weekend in New Orleans to stay away if they have been to certain African countries or have had contact with an Ebola patient in the last 21 days.
Republicans are calling on Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu to apologize after she suggested Thursday that President Barack Obama's deep unpopularity in the South is partly tied to race.
Compared to the rest of the country, Lafayette has it pretty good when it comes to the cost and speed of our Internet.
Hello Kitty turns 40; police ambush suspect caught; Knicks surprise Cavs and more national and international news for Friday, October 31, 2014.
Friday's Blogs from the Bog!
The Lafayette City-Parish Council will consider on Tuesday a revised plan to the transform a block in Downtown Lafayette into a mixed-use residential-retail-commercial development that doesn’t include giving title to the property to the Lafayette Public Trust Finance Authority, an arrangement the council rejected earlier this month.
Trying to combat the national undertones of Louisiana's U.S. Senate race, Democratic incumbent Mary Landrieu is traveling the state this week on a sort of pork celebration tour, telling voters about the projects and aid she's delivered to Louisiana.
Ever thought that big, pink Gulf coast shrimp you ordered at the restaurant or bought from the store didn't taste juicy or salty enough? Maybe it wasn't from the Gulf.
The state treasurer won't sign financial documents needed for $200 million in borrowing or for a refinancing of existing debt until he believes they accurately explain the surplus disagreement.
Bill Cassidy voted for 97 percent of the bills signed by Barack Obama.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is joining South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley on her campaign bus tour.
A New Iberia man has been sentenced to life in prison for killing a 4-year-old girl and scalding her 3-year-old brother.
A district judge decided Wednesday against sanctioning attorney/school board candidate Dawn Morris for her behind-the-scenes role in a lawsuit against Mark Cockerham.
Secretary of State Tom Schedler says Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration may have improperly destroyed records in the state employee health insurance program, in the middle of a heavily-criticized rewrite of benefit plans.
Paper cites the former ADA's "experience as a prosecutor, his demonstrated integrity, and his ideas for reshaping the [DA's] office" in urging voters to support Keith Stutes Nov. 4.
Louisiana officials have sent a letter to the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene un-inviting members of the group who have recently been to ebola-affected West African countries from attending the group’s annual conference in New Orleans next week.
Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints have to find a way to win on the road if they plan to take over first place in the NFC South.
"It is obvious that Louisiana economic performance has not outperformed the South or the United States as a whole and, in fact, has substantially underperformed..."
A state district judge said he will rule Friday on a preliminary injunction to keep some charter schools from receiving $60 million through Louisiana's public school financing formula.