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I-10: Ten Things to Know in New Orleans this Week (May 2, 2017)

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1. ZYDECO HALL OF FAME BURNS DOWN
The world of zydeco music lost one of its seminal clubs to a mysterious fire the night of April 25 in Lawtell, a small town near Opelousas, the self-described zydeco capital of the world. Current owner Dustin Miller called the club "Miller's Zydeco Hall of Fame," but acolytes knew the dance hall, once called Richard's, as zydeco's version of the Grand Ol' Opry. Opened in 1947, Richard's occupied a must-stop address on the famed "chitlin circuit." Both B.B. King and John Lee Hooker played there, expanding the club's legacy beyond zydeco.

  Dance hall researcher John Sharp says perhaps only a few other clubs claim the singularly cathedral air boasted by Richard's: The Offshore Lounge (nee the Gin Side Inn) in Lawtell, Dauphine's in Parks, Slim's Yi-Ki-Ki in Opelousas and Hamilton's Place in Lafayette. All of those are closed. Richard's was the last of that vintage of country Creole dance halls.

  The building is said to be a "total loss" either from direct char or heat damage. Miller says he is mulling whether to rebuild.

  St. Landry Parish fire officials say the blaze began sometime around 11 p.m., not long after a local band finished a rehearsal. Firefighters returned Wednesday to tackle a fire that resparked in the attic.

  "If there was one place that was the history of zydeco in a handful," Sharp says, "it was that place." — CHRISTIAAN MADER

2. Quote of the week
"The truth is, the fate of that bill was decided long before it became available." — Gov. John Bel Edwards, at a press conference after state Rep. Sam Jones, D-Franklin, pulled the governor's commercial activity tax (CAT) bill from consideration last week. Edwards had proposed the CAT as a way to stanch the state's longstanding budget woes, but pushback from business interests and many Republicans in the House Ways & Means Committee effectively killed its prospects. Edwards has challenged GOP leaders in the Legislature — particularly the House — to put forth their own proposals.

3. Medical marijuana available in La. next year?
The lucrative nature of marijuana sales was at the center of a House Committee on Agriculture, Forestry, Aquaculture and Rural Development discussion April 27 about a law that puts the state into the marijuana distribution business.

  Louisiana State University and Southern University are the two schools allowed to grow and distribute medical marijuana under legislation approved last spring. LSU's operation alone is estimated to cost between $10 million and $15 million, and lawmakers were warned it will take seven to eight years for the operation to become profitable. That poses a problem for potential contractors, because the contract as currently discussed would terminate in less than five years.

  The law requires the product, which cannot be shipped outside Louisiana, to be grown indoors and away from LSU's campus in an undisclosed, non-LSU operated building, a facility that Richardson predicted will be "one of the most secure facilities, probably, in the state of Louisiana."

  Marijuana remains illegal under federal law, creating obstacles for acquiring the materials to grow the product in the first place. But Richardson said he hopes to have a product on pharmacy shelves before the end of 2018. — SARAH GAMARD | MANSHIP SCHOOL NEWS SERVICE

4. Reaction as city takes down first of four monuments
As the city took down the first of four Confederate-era monuments last week — a move that sparked national headlines — reaction on both sides of the issue was furious. Leaders of Take 'Em Down NOLA, a group advocating for removal, decried the timing of the removal of a monument commemorating the Battle of Liberty Place, which was done in the wee hours of April 24 (the city cited threats for not doing it during daylight).

  Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser, a monument proponent, announced his support of several bills in the state Legislature that would "preserve these symbols of our state's history and prevent this from happening again." Scott McKay, publisher of the Baton Rouge website The Hayride, wrote in The American Spectator that the removal was "destructively stupid" and that Mayor Mitch Landrieu had entered into league with a "gaggle of race-hustlers, wannabe intellectuals, beatnik neo-Communists, and dashiki- wearing blowhards" supporting monument removal. Meanwhile, a few people on Twitter attempted to launch a #BoycottNOLA hashtag, vowing never to visit the city again, but as of press time it had received only a few dozen tweets.

5. 'Sanctuary cities' bill back in Legislature
A bill targeting "sanctuary" cities in Louisiana — a measure supported by Republican state Attorney General Jeff Landry — won narrow approval from the state House Committee on the Administration of Criminal Justice April 26. House Bill 135 by Rep. Valarie Hodges, R-Denham Springs, defines "sanctuary" policies as laws or local law enforcement guidelines that prohibit cooperation with federal immigration authorities. Hodges authored a similar measure last year but failed to get enough votes in the Senate. Committee Chairman and state Rep. Sherman Mack, R-Albany, cast the tie-breaking vote, sending Hodges' latest measure to the full House for debate.

  Under Hodges' bill, "sanctuary" cities could lose state funding. New Orleans' Director of Federal Relations Zach Butterworth echoed Mayor Mitch Landrieu's repeated argument that New Orleans is not a sanctuary city, quoting Landry's 2016 Congressional testimony that Louisiana "no longer [has] any jurisdictions [prohibited] from communicating with federal authorities."

6. Short-term rental enforcement gets Jazz Fest grace period
Airbnb announced last month that more than 20,000 people booked rooms and houses in New Orleans in time for the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. The website advertised "Going to New Orleans Jazz Fest in New Orleans? Book unique and authentic rentals for Jazz Fest in New Orleans" and listed more than 1,000 properties and rooms for rent.

  By April 27, the city had only issued about 700 licenses under a new municipal ordinance governing short-term rentals. The city will begin enforcing the new law May 15 — days after Jazz Fest concludes. Data-scraping platforms estimate there are some 5,000 short-term rentals in the New Orleans area. After June 1, Airbnb says listings that don't have a license number will be removed from the site.

7. Let our balconies go: 'Air rights tax' dead
The city will no longer charge an "air" tax. After the Landrieu administration's controversial push to charge residents for the use of balconies and porches that allegedly encroached on sidewalks and public rights of way, city Chief Administrative Officer Jeff Hebert explained to the New Orleans City Council's Governmental Affairs Committee April 27 that it will end the practice of collecting "air rights taxes," a policy that has been on the books for years but only recently enforced.

  Under a new policy, the city will review building features on a case-by-case basis unless they're historic structures in a historic district. Owners and developers of new construction will have to enter lease agreements with the city.

8. Domestic violence  protection moves forward in House
The House Committee on the Administration of Criminal Justice passed without objection two bills extending domestic violence protection to same-sex couples and to dating partners. The bills now move to the full House, where debate is expected next week.

  House Bill 27 by state Rep. Pat Connick, R-Marrero, would amend the definition of household member to include all couples, and the phrase "opposite sex" would be eliminated.

  The proposed legislation covering dating partners, House Bill 223 by Rep. Helena Moreno, D-New Orleans, saw no resistance. "It closes a big loophole we have within our domestic violence laws," Moreno said. — WILLIAM TAYLOR POTTER | MANSHIP SCHOOL NEWS SERVICE

9. Senate bills would exempt some products from state sales tax
The Senate Committee on Revenue and Fiscal Affairs sent two bills to the full Senate April 24 that would exempt diapers and feminine hygiene products from state sales tax. Both bills are by Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans. Senate Bill 24 would grant the exemption by statute, and Senate Bill 27 would do so by constitutional amendment. The latter would require a statewide referendum after a two-thirds favorable vote among lawmakers.

  Under state law, diapers and feminine hygiene products are subject to the current 5 percent sales tax rate until June 30, 2018, and a 4 percent tax rate thereafter.  — ROSE VELAZQUEZ | MANSHIP SCHOOL NEWS SERVICE

10. Political consultant Luntz speaks at Loyola
Frank Luntz, pollster and political consultant, was the guest at the annual Loyola University Institute of Politics Ed Renwick Lecture last week, and he had no reassuring words for a country divided on many levels. "I'm afraid that this is the election cycle that kills our democracy," the nationally known pollster and commentator told the crowd, which included Gov. John Bel Edwards. "The level of anger, the level of instability in this country right now, is so out of control. It is so frightening," Luntz said, adding later, "This is not how democracy is supposed to work, because the reaction to [President Donald] Trump will be something even more extreme."

  Gov. John Bel Edwards, who was in the audience, agreed, but had a more nuanced view. "Like Frank, I'm concerned about our country, but I'm not as pessimistic," Edwards said. "We're going to have a generation of politicians who are going to try to run for office emulating what we saw last year, and that's not good for our country."

  "You will do more good on the local level than any Washington politician will ever do," Luntz said, gesturing to Edwards while closing his speech.

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