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Louisiana Leads With Accountability (Seriously)
Despite the perception some might have of Louisiana politicians, the Pelican State finds itself in a unique position among its coastal neighbors when it comes to spending billions of dollars in new oil and gas royalties recently approved by Congress. Officials in Alabama, Mississippi and Texas are preparing to spar over what to do with their share of the loot. Federal law restricts usage to coastal restoration projects, but it also allows for certain "onshore infrastructure projects," meaning officials could be tempted to use the conservation money to build roads, bridges and anything else that can be connected to a coastal concern. Bill Walker, executive director of the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources, recently told the Associated Press the situation was becoming very "tempting" to pork-minded lawmakers. Here in Louisiana, voters passed a constitutional amendment last year limiting the incoming federal revenues to coastal restoration only. "That's the only thing we will use this money for," says Sydney Coffee, the governor's advisor on coastal activities. "Our constitution has to be followed." While the question of how the money can be used is somewhat easily answered, who will try to use the cash in the future is a whole other issue. The Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, which was formed after the 2005 hurricane season, oversees drilling money coming into Louisiana, but there are virtually no safeguards against lawmakers raiding the fund for local projects via the state's budgeting process. -- Alford

 

Stragglers Report Cash
In a news story last week, we highlighted the fundraising efforts of the illustrious field of contenders running for governor. Two announced candidates -- Anthony "Tony G" Gentile, an Independent from Chalmette, and T. Lee Horne, a Franklin Libertarian -- were briefly mentioned, but details of their campaign finance reports were not available at press time. Horne chose not to file electronically, which delayed the release of his report. He raised $15,555 last year, according to his report. Gentile filed his own report two days late; it showed $3,068 in contributions made to his campaign during 2006. Neither man will likely reach the $3 million mark many of the front-running candidates could surpass this year, but they still have a message. "I'm sure the Ethics Board hasn't stopped laughing yet!" Gentile wrote in an email interview after reporting his own meager sum with the state. -- Alford

 

Hands Off My DNA!
As if taking a cue from a Philip K. Dick novel, Congressman Charles W. Boustany Jr. , a Republican from Lafayette, has recently taken up the plight of American workers discriminated against in the workplace due to their genetic makeup. As far as sci-fi goes, the issue isn't as sexy as it sounds, but it does reveal a new level of privacy being overlooked by the federal government. Since researchers at the National Institutes of Health announced in 2000 that they had successfully completed a "rough map" of the human genome, a public policy discussion has been ongoing as to who should have access to such information. Knowing what an individual is likely to get, from cancer to diabetes, could play a major role in health-care treatment, insurance coverage and even employment decisions. Boustany, a retired cardiothoracic surgeon, is a cosponsor of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, which would protect employees against genetic discrimination when it comes to employment and health insurance decisions. "Genetic testing has extraordinary potential for scientific research, but it cannot be realized as long as patients are wary of the terrible consequences that currently result when employers and insurance companies misuse personal medical information," Boustany says. The legislation is starting to receive serious media attention, provoking medical studies and prompting Ivy League law professors to stand up and cheer. Expect more hoopla when the bill passes. It's already flown through several committees without a hiccup. -- Alford

 

And the Honorees Are
Four Louisiana women -- including three from the New Orleans area -- will be inducted Saturday (March 10) into the Louisiana Center for Women and Government's Hall of Fame at Nicholls State University. Since 1994, the annual ceremony has recognized women who have made significant contributions to the state. The 2007 honorees are U.S. District Judge Mary Ann Vial Lemmon, former Lt. Gov. Melinda Schwegmann, former Public Service Commission Chair Irma Muse Dixon, and the late Pinkie Wilkerson, a former state representative from Grambling, La., who is being honored posthumously. Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, who last year was named one of the nation's top five governors by TIME magazine, will be the keynote speaker at the luncheon awards ceremony. The event begins at 11:30 a.m. at the Hilton Baton Rouge Capitol Center. Tickets are $40 and are available at www.nicholls.edu/lcwg. -- Johnson

 

Politically Motivated?
The upcoming Hall of Fame ceremony will be the crowning event of the second annual meeting of Louisiana's Women Leaders, founded by Gov. Kathleen Blanco. A daylong campaign workshop offers expert advice for politically motivated women who one day may be inductees. (Men are also invited.) The annual "Spring Institute" sponsored by the Louisiana Center for Women and Government features a range of experts on political topics, including Kathleen Allen, general counsel to the Louisiana Ethics Commission (campaign finance); Secretary of State Jay Dardenne (election laws); national campaign consultants Ron Faucheux, Roy Fletcher and Raymond Strother; and author Bob Mann, a former communications director for retired U.S. Sen. John Breaux. The program runs from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday (March 9) at the Old State Capital in Baton Rouge. The $150 fee includes lunch and a book. For more information, call (985) 448-4770 or visit the www.nicholls.edu/lcwg. The weekend of events is cosponsored by the Governor's Office on Women's Policy, the Louisiana Commission on Women's Policy and Research, the Louisiana Legislative Women's Caucus and the Louisiana Women's Foundation. The office of U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu is providing "special assistance" for the weekend events. -- Johnson

 

Mystery Krewe?
City Park officials were eager to show a reporter the park's renovated amusement area, which was scheduled to reopen over the weekend for the first time since Hurricane Katrina. The kiddie rides and attractions provided 13 percent of the struggling park's $10 million operating budget pre-Katrina. However, John Hopper, director of development for the state-owned park, is admittedly less enthused about a rusting trailer -- bedecked in Carnival beads -- that suddenly showed up near an empty swimming pool in the vicinity of Marconi Drive and the former site of Criminal Sheriff Marlin Gusman's Halloween haunted house. "It just showed up a week or two before Mardi Gras," Hopper sighed. "Somebody spent a lot of time on it." The heavy trailer rests on wooden wheels made from old industrial cable spools. Inside the contraption is a small bass drum. The beads are neatly arranged. Most bear the medallions from the krewes of Zulu and Tucks. Already facing a long to-do list in the wake of Katrina, Hopper said officials have no immediate plans for the Mardi Gras mystery. -- Johnson

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