1. Lege session ends in chaos; new session underway
State lawmakers failed to meet the June 8 deadline for adopting an operating budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1, and now they are meeting in a special session that will only deepen the state's fiscal hole.
In the final half-hour of the session, Democrats and a handful of Republicans in the House of Representatives attempted to force a vote on a compromise budget bill that state senators were prepared to pass, but despite getting a 53-vote majority in the mostly GOP House to support that idea, the budget never came to a vote. (For more on the session, see Clancy DuBos' annual "Da Winnas and Da Loozas" column, p. 10.)
Instead, the session ended chaotically and seemed to harden partisan feelings among members of both political parties. There were whispers of a move to oust GOP House Speaker Taylor Barras of New Iberia, but the House quickly adjourned until Monday right after gaveling in the special session. Barras came under fire recently for allegedly being controlled by ultra-conservative GOP state Reps. Cameron Henry of Jefferson and Lance Harris of Alexandria. Henry ran for speaker last year but could not muster a majority; Barras was installed as a compromise speaker. Harris chairs the Republican Legislative Delegation.
After the regular session ended, Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, called the House's meltdown "an epic failure in leadership." He added, "We're now headed into an unnecessary and costly special session where the options before them won't be any different than they were this time."
The special session, which costs about $60,000 per day, must end by June 19.
2. Quote of the week
"Now I can go down to my overpriced Capitol Hill grocery this afternoon and choose among about six different types of mayonnaise. How come I can't do that for my kid?" — U.S. Sen. John Neely Kennedy, addressing U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos during a Senate Appropriations committee last week in the latest memorable Kennedy sound bite. Like DeVos, Kennedy is a proponent of taxpayer-funded school vouchers for private schools.
U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut, answered Kennedy's question shortly thereafter. "With all due respect to my colleague from Louisiana, education is not mayonnaise,'' Murphy said. "Frankly, the day we start treating the education of our children like the marketing of our condiments is the day we have given up on our kids." (USA Today reported that Murphy's explanation came too late; Kennedy already had left the committee hearing.)
3. Domestic violence bills head to governor's desk
Louisiana legislators took steps to broaden and strengthen the state's anti-domestic violence laws last week. House Bills 27, 223 and 509 soon will become law.
HB 27, by state Rep. Pat Connick, R-Marrero, accords protection to domestic abuse victims who are involved in same-sex relationships. HB 223, by state Rep. Helena Moreno, D-New Orleans, expands the state's domestic violence laws to cover dating partners. Current law restricts the criminal charge to offenders who are married or living with the victim — and it only covers victims of the opposite sex from the offender. Offenders who are not living with or married to their victim can only be charged with simple battery. Moreno's bill also provides for stronger sentences for strangulation, burning or the presence of a firearm, as well as access to domestic abuse intervention programs.
HB 509, by state Rep. John Schroder, R-Covington, enhances penalties for violators of protective orders for offenses committed with or without violence. A first-time violator breaching an order without committing violence could be fined up to $500 and imprisoned for up to six months. On a second offense, the criminal could be fined up to $1,000 and imprisoned between two weeks and two years.
The bill takes an even stronger stance against offenses involving violence, including imprisoning the offender for three months to two years on a first offense and from one to five years on subsequent offenses. Additionally, the bill bars defendants from contacting victims or their family members while a case is pending. — KATIE GAGLIANO | MANSHIP SCHOOL NEWS SERVICE
4. Schroder steps down from Legislature to run
for state treasurer
After nine years of representing St. Tammany Parish, state Rep. John Schroder, R-Covington, resigned from the House last week to run for state treasurer. Others expected to run include state Rep. Julie Stokes, R-Kenner, state Sen. Neil Riser, R-Columbia, and former Commissioner of Administration Angele Davis.
Schroder told colleagues he didn't want there to be questions about where his attention lies. He hinted at the impending ramp-up in his campaigning, touching on issues he's advocated in the Legislature and his personal efforts to improve the budget process.
Schroder's resignation takes effect at the end of the special session, which means he will be part of the budgeting process for the fiscal year that begins July 1. State lawmakers failed to adopt a budget by the end of the regular annual session last week, so they now must meet in a special session to do that part of their jobs.
Qualifying for the treasurer's race is July 12-14. The primary will be held Oct. 14, with a runoff (if necessary) Nov. 18. — KATIE GAGLIANO | MANSHIP SCHOOL NEWS SERVICE
5. The rent is too damn high, says national report
Eighteen dollars and 54 cents per hour. That's what the average worker now needs to earn to afford a "modest" two-bedroom apartment in New Orleans, according to Out of Reach: The High Cost of Housing, a national survey released last week by the National Low Income Housing Coalition and the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center (GNOFHAC). Louisiana as a whole fell in the middle of housing affordability rates, with wage earners needing $16.16 per hour to pay for a two-bedroom house or apartment. (The most expensive state is Hawaii, where renters need to earn $35.20 per hour.)
The report gauged rental affordability as 30 percent of a worker's income. "In no state can a person working full time at the federal minimum wage afford a two-bedroom apartment at the Fair Market Rent," the report said. "In only 12 counties can a full-time worker earning the prevailing federal or state minimum wage afford a one-bedroom rental home."
"It is becoming harder and harder for musicians, restaurant workers, and other tourist industry professionals to live in our city," GNOFHAC Executive Director Cashauna Hill said in a statement. "New Orleans needs innovative solutions, like the Smart Housing Mix policy in front of the City Council, to ensure wage-earners aren't pushed out."
In the recently concluded Louisiana legislative session, an attempt to set a minimum wage higher than the national dictate ($7.25 per hour) once again was shot down.
6. 'State of the city'
address set for June 14
Mayor Mitch Landrieu will deliver his annual "State of the City" address at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, June 14 at the Civic Theatre, at a time when violent crime is spiking and his administration has been under criticism from various quarters, including District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro's office, Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry and even former New Orleans Police Department Chief Ronal Serpas, whose Twitter account of late has been highlighting violent crime. (Serpas, now a professor of criminal justice at Loyola University, is said to be mulling the race for Orleans Parish Sheriff.) Previous state of the city addresses have launched programs like Landrieu's much-vaunted "NOLA For Life," which attempted to bring all the city's crimefighting strategies under one large umbrella. No advance word about what Landrieu will focus on during this year's speech. The term-limited mayor leaves office next year.
7. Suckers for seersucker
Wondering why you saw U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein in a blue seersucker jacket last week at the Congressional hearing of former FBI Director James Comey? It was National Seersucker Day, an initiative re-introduced into the U.S. House of Representatives in 2014 by then-Rep. Bill Cassidy, and continued by Cassidy in the Senate after his election there.
Cassidy sent out photos of U.S. Sens. Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker of Mississippi, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Johnny Isakson of Georgia and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia all wearing their seersucker best last Thursday. "It's fun for me because we get to celebrate something invented in New Orleans," Cassidy said.
National Seersucker Day originally was introduced in 1996 by then-Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi. True to Washington D.C.'s conservative dress, however, all of the senators wore traditional blue, rather than donning Easter-egg pink or yellow seersucker at the Capitol.
8. Moreno to head
State Rep. Helena Moreno, D-New Orleans, was elected last week to chair the Louisiana Legislative Women's Caucus, a nonprofit comprising women legislators whose aim is to prepare and develop women leaders. The new board, which will be installed July 1, also includes state Rep. Barbara Carpenter, D-Baton Rouge as vice-chair (taking the spot currently held by state Rep. Julie Stokes, R-Kenner).
Moreno, who has announced her intention to run for a New Orleans City Council At-Large seat in the fall elections, has advocated women's rights in the Legislature and authored bills addressing equal pay, domestic violence and other issues.
There are 22 women serving in the Louisiana legislature out of 144 total seats.
9. Voodoo Fest
Kendrick Lamar, Foo Fighters, The Killers, LCD Soundsystem, DJ Snake, The Head and the Heart, Kehlani, Prophets of Rage, Cold War Kids, Marian Hill and The Afghan Whigs are some of the 70 bands headlining the 2017 Voodoo Music + Arts Experience, which will take place in New Orleans City Park Oct. 27-29. Among the local acts on the bill are Flow Tribe and Unicorn Fukr.
Voodoo also is promising large-scale art installations, along with food booths from New Orleans restaurants and an "interactive haunted house."
The 19th annual festival has three levels of ticketing this year, with three-day general admission starting at $140 and three-day "Loa VIP" tickets starting at $400. New this year is a "platinum level" ticket ($1,050 for three days), which includes complimentary catered meals, an open bar, shuttle transport between stages and "air-conditioned, flushable restrooms." Tickets are on sale now at www.voodoofestival.com.
10. Two music tours
cancel New Orleans stops
Two big music tours — both set to come to the Shrine on Airline in late June and early July — were canceled last week.
The Outlaw Music Festival, a summer all-star tour of roots musicians led by Willie Nelson, will not be kicking off at the Shrine on Airline July 1 as previously announced; instead it will begin in Dallas July 2. The explanation: a "scheduling conflict." The New Orleans stop was to include Nelson, The Avett Brothers, Sheryl Crow and Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real. More dates have been added to the original six-stop Outlaw tour, but a reschedule in New Orleans isn't among them.
Also a no-go: the Vans Warped Tour of hardcore, punk and metal bands, which was set to play the Shrine on Airline June 28. Refunds for both shows are available at the point of purchase.