458 Still Missing
Statistics supplied by the Louisiana Family Assistance Center now show only 458 people remain on the Katrina "missing" list. That figure is down from more than 11,600 missing reports filed in the aftermath of last fall's floods. It is also a reduction in the number of missing people since last month, when about 1,000 people were still not accounted for. "They continue to work long days, trying to piece together information and evidence that someone might still be alive," says Dr. Louis Cataldie, the state's medical examiner. Every time a person is located, a large bell is rung in the center, although it is happening less these days. "Everyone at the center stops working and claps when they hear that bell," he says. "I know there are many who say to themselves a quick prayer of thanks when that sound rings out." Cataldie credits increased media attention about the toll-free telephone number with finding so many missing people in just six months. People who wish to report someone missing and those who have located someone who was believed missing should contact the Louisiana Family Assistance Center at (866) 326-9393. -- Alford

PANO Picks a President

The citywide elections are over, but the campaign for the presidency of a politically active police organization will be decided early this week. Lt. David Benelli, president of the Police Association of New Orleans, faces two fellow lieutenants in his bid for re-election. They are Lt. Michael Glasser, a 25-year veteran now assigned to the 6th Police District, and Lt. Jerome Laviolette, a 21-year veteran presently assigned to the 8th Police District. PANO is the largest and arguably most influential of the city's four police organizations. The election is Tuesday (May 23). Balloting will be from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. at PANO headquarters, 3443 Esplanade Ave., Suite 108. PANO elections are often lively events. Benelli, a 31-year veteran and commander of the sex crimes division, appeared in television campaign commercials for PANO-backed candidates during the recent elections, including criminal sheriff candidate Gerald DeSalvo, son of PANO attorney Frank DeSalvo. PANO supported Mitch Landrieu for mayor over incumbent Ray Nagin -- after backing Nagin over former Police Chief Richard Pennington in 2002. -- Johnson

Unscripted Humor
The joint appearance of former presidents Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush at Tulane University's first graduation since Hurricane Katrina provoked a few unscripted laughs that the nation missed. Flanked by university officials, Bush and Clinton walked up the center aisle, waving to some 6,000 cheering graduates. Midway to the stage, a student's hand suddenly shot out from the crowd -- and Clinton shook it. Bush quickly followed suit. By the time they reached the stage, the commencement had begun to resemble a campaign; both Bush and Clinton shook one hand after the other. "They're still politicians," someone in the stands yelled. Shortly after Bush and Clinton were seated onstage, a woman in the Newcomb College section shouted, "I love you, Bill!" The crowd laughed. A few minutes later, another woman echoed her. Several minutes passed, then a male voice yelled out, "I love you, Bill!" Those within earshot dissolved in laughter. Transcripts and tapes of both Bush and Clinton's commencement addresses are available on Tulane's Web site, a university spokesperson says. We doubt you'll hear what we heard, though. -- Johnson

When is a Fee a Fee?
The great fee debate -- as old as some members of the Legislature -- continues to rage. Regular sessions, such as the one currently underway, are referred to as "non-fiscal" in nature because they prohibit most tax measures. To get around that prohibition, and to raise revenues, some lawmakers file "fee" bills, because the constitution allows fees to be levied or increased by a two-thirds vote of the Legislature. The money generated, however, must be dedicated to a related program -- and only to sustain ongoing operations. If it generates funds beyond what's needed for the service that gives rise to the fee, then it's a tax. Rep. M.J. "Mert" Smiley Jr., a Republican from Port Vincent, has filed a resolution that calls for the legislative auditor to check various state agencies to determine the relationship between fees being charged and services rendered -- and whether they correspond. Any excessive fees would then have to be reported to the Legislative Audit Advisory Council and "appropriate legislative oversight committees" for further action. "This will allow us to take a look at what is going on," Smiley says. -- Alford

A Tale of Two Plans
One issue is already taking shape for next year's governor's race -- emergency response. Around the same time Gov. Kathleen Blanco released her evacuation plan and corresponding maps for southeast Louisiana, Congressman Bobby Jindal of Metairie issued his own 10-point plan to reform emergency response. Blanco, a Democrat, and Jindal, a Republican, faced off in the 2003 gubernatorial contest and are expected to go at it again next year. Jindal's plan calls for eliminating fraud, streamlining communications and establishing a long-term recovery office for Louisiana. Both plans come as the House Homeland Security and Transportation and Infrastructure committees passed a bill to strengthen government's response to disasters by reforming FEMA. Several of Jindal's action points are included in the national legislation. -- Alford

I Toll You So

How can Louisiana jump-start lagging transportation projects in coming years in the face of growing needs? Economic development boosters around the state are keeping a close eye on legislation by Rep. William Daniel, a Baton Rouge Republican, which would create the Transportation Mobility Fund. The measure would provide gap funding or seed money for toll projects around the state, based on transportation needs and other factors. Where the start-up money might originate is still unknown, but the bill contemplates donations and gifts, among other sources. Texas has a similar program that uses funds from increased traffics fines and bonds. Tolls are favored in some quarters because they are self-generating. "It's the wave of the future," Daniel says. Several toll projects in the New Orleans area are cited as examples for the Lafayette Metropolitan Expressway, an interstate loop around Baton Rouge and an evacuation route from the coastal parishes. -- Alford

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