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Morial Seeks Federal Probe of Danziger 7
Former Mayor Marc Morial is calling for a federal civil rights investigation of the fatal police shootings at Danziger Bridge in the days after Hurricane Katrina. Morial, now president of the National Urban League, a civil rights group based in New York, last week sent a letter to the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus urging the federal representatives "to do all in its power to seek a full civil rights investigation of this case by the Justice Department." Two African Americans -- including a mentally retarded man -- were killed and four others were wounded by police gunfire Sept. 4, 2005, as cops responded to reports of officers being fired upon. Morial's letter also called for "congressional oversight" of the state criminal case now before Criminal Court Judge Raymond Bigelow. Morial's letter also blasts "the additional injustice perpetuated by the court by allowing the police officers charged with first-degree murder to be released on bond, and the police department's decision to allow the officers charged to return to work." NOPD police Sgt. Donovan Livaccari, a spokesperson for the local Fraternal Order of Police, said FOP would welcome a federal probe. "We feel confident that a federal investigation would clear the officers, just as we feel the criminal justice process will clear the officers." Four of the seven indicted cops are black. FOP has set up a legal defense for the defendants at black-owned Liberty Bank. -- Johnson

 


Rival Hospital Plans
Gov. Kathleen Blanco will clash with advocates of reopening Charity Hospital before a joint legislative budget hearing at 10 a.m. Friday (March 2) at the state Capitol. Blanco is seeking legislative approval for $74 million for land acquisition and planning for the proposed LSU/VA Hospital. An additional $226 million request will be contingent upon a business plan for the LSU hospital. "This state-of-the-art teaching and research facility will play a significant role in our efforts to redesign Louisiana's health-care system (post-Katrina)," Blanco says. But Brad Ott, a New Orleans appointee to a statewide panel set up to advise Blanco on health-care reform, plans to testify against the governor's request. Ott says the governor has ignored a House resolution passed last year that calls for the state to continue to provide medical services for the needy at "Big Charity" while plans for a new hospital proceed. "We should not have to wait for a new hospital in order to get care now," says Ott, who was appointed by state Sen. Diana Bajoie, D-New Orleans, to the Region 1 Health Care Consortium. The House resolution also seeks an "independent architectural and engineering evaluation" of Charity, which was damaged by Katrina. There are conflicting opinions as to how severely the historic hospital was damaged by the storm and its floodwaters. -- Johnson

 


You've Got Mail
The Louisiana House of Representatives has redesigned its Web site with new fonts, sharper images and -- most importantly -- more information. In particular, the House now details how representatives vote on mail ballots. Previously, that information was available only by traveling to Baton Rouge. Mail ballots often deal with important issues, such as money related to the rebuilding of south Louisiana. Gambit Weekly reported on the lack of access in August of last year, uncovering low participation by many lawmakers and detailing the disparate treatment given to mail votes versus floor votes. To see the House's compilation of mail ballots, go to www.house.louisiana.gov, look under "General Information" and click on "Interim Meeting Ballot Results." The Senate still does not post its mail ballots online. -- Alford

 


Field Trip Report
A group of lawmakers from south Louisiana traveled to Florida earlier this month on a "fact-finding" mission and discovered some new insurance ideas that might, or might not, work back home as the state continues along an exhausting path of recovery in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Sen. Reggie Dupre, a Terrebonne Parish Democrat who attended the taxpayer-funded trip to Tallahassee, says two days were spent meeting with Florida lawmakers and insurance representatives. Dupre says his own expenses totaled $434. The key meeting was held with Florida state Sen. Bill Posey, a Republican who recently sponsored a far-reaching insurance reform measure. As chair of the Florida Senate's Committee on Banking and Insurance, Posey guided legislation that lowered rates for homeowners. It came as welcome relief to the hurricane-prone state, but Floridians will only continue to enjoy the decrease if the state doesn't see another devastating storm. At that point, premiums on homes and cars would rise as the state deals with mountains of claims through its insurer of last resort. Dupre says insurers in Louisiana might not buy into the whole plan, but bits and pieces of it may surface during the legislative session that convenes April 30. "They took a big risk with that legislation, but companies kept pulling out of the state," Dupre says. "The same thing is happening to us and we have to do something. It might not be as extreme as Florida, but we may be able to find something in the middle. We also don't have the comfort of time like they did." Dupre says a few lawmakers are expected to file comprehensive insurance bills, while others will pursue only bite-size chunks of the law. There will also be another push to eliminate Louisiana's Insurance Rating Commission, which regulates insurance rates, as well as bills for various consumer protections. The Legislature's insurance committee will also see a few versions of Florida's so-called "catastrophe fund," he adds, which was created to sustain the state's insurance claim-coverage capacity in the aftermath of a disaster. It serves as a reinsurance program that reimburses insurers for a portion of catastrophic hurricane losses. Representatives from the governor's office and insurance department attended the fact-finding mission, as did New Orleans Sens. Ed Murray, a Democrat, and Julie Quinn, a Republican. -- Alford

 


NOPD Number Cruncher Leaving

The highest-ranking woman on the New Orleans Police Department is leaving the force for a post at City Hall. Deputy Chief Courtney Bagneris, a civilian, will start working for city Chief Administrative Officer Dr. Brenda Hatfield in March. A former employee of the city Finance Department for nine years, Bagneris moved to NOPD in 1998, when Richard Pennington was the chief of police. Pennington appointed her chief financial officer and put her in charge of preparing NOPD's annual budget for City Council review and approval. A replacement for Bagernis has not been named. With her departure, the highest ranking women at NOPD will be several female captains on the force. -- Johnson

 


Wanna Get Elected?
The Louisiana Center for Women and Government at Nicholls State University will host a workshop on the basics of running for political office March 9 at the Old State Capitol in Baton Rouge. The one-day event will feature lectures from veteran campaign consultants Raymond Strother, Roy Fletcher and Jason Hebert, as well as Ron Faucheux, a former New Orleans legislator and the former publisher and editor of Campaigns & Elections magazine. The event is open to anyone interested in running for office. Registration is open until March 5. For more information, call (985) 448-4770 or visit www.nicholls.edu/lcwg/home_programsevents/springcampaigninstitute/. More Light, Less Crime Post-Katrina New Orleans can be a safer city -- if the lighting is right, says Elizabeth Mossop, director of LSU's renowned School of Landscape Architecture. "Certain lighting looks spooky," said Mossop. The school is offering to help the city design well-lit parks, playgrounds and other public spaces. In addition, outdoor areas with security cameras require specific lighting for the cameras to be effective, Mossop says. Mounted security cameras are a key part of Mayor Ray Nagin's plans for curtailing crime. But Mossop, who previously directed Harvard University's School of Landscape Architecture, says she has had difficulty finding ways for the LSU School to assist in the city's recovery despite her own volunteer work with the Mayor's Bring New Orleans Back Commission. A police department spokesperson said Mossop's offer and contact information would be passed on to City Hall. In December, a leading journal in the design profession ranked LSU's undergraduate landscaping program as the nation's best among more than 40 schools nationwide. The school's students and faculty already have worked on several local recovery projects, including redesigning playgrounds at four public schools and teaming with a local nonprofit to renew a blighted stretch of St. Claude Avenue. -- Johnson

 


Animal Watch 2007
First, Louisiana's senior U.S. senator came forth with legislation to ban the slaughter of horses for human consumption. Now, Sen. Mary Landrieu's name is on a bill (along with those of Sen. David Vitter and Congressman Rodney Alexander) to permit the domestic sale of baby turtles, which could be an economic boon in some parts of Louisiana. In 1975, the Food and Drug Administration banned farmers from selling small turtles as pets within the United States because of the risk of salmonella, a harmful bacteria that attacks the stomach and intestines. The regulation crippled farms in Louisiana and elsewhere, forcing domestic harvesters to move their product overseas. China, which reportedly buys more American-bred baby turtles than any other foreign country, has launched an aggressive push in recent years to corner the market. And it's not alone. Global production has flooded the marketplace and prices have plummeted. It's another in a long line of Louisiana products that have been hammered by foreign competitors. Commercial crawfish processors and shrimpers were able to get special tariffs placed on their overseas counterparts in recent years, and crabbers have been considering a similar move for some time. Landrieu says the proposed change would require farmers to treat their turtles for salmonella prior to a sale. If approved, it could help an industry that has remained somewhat dormant for decades. Turtle prices, like those of any other livestock or fisheries, have been all over the place, peaking at $1 per turtle in 2003 and leveling off recently at roughly 30 cents. There are about 56 turtle farms in Louisiana that generate $9.4 million in turtles, according to the LSU Agriculture Department. -- Alford

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