Former Police Chief Eddie Compass may have exaggerated reports of widespread rape in the chaotic aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, but subsequent media reports discounting officials' reports "went to the other extreme," according to Judy Benitez, executive director of The Louisiana Foundation Against Sexual Assault (LAFASA), a nonprofit statewide network of rape-crisis centers based in Hammond. In fact, Benitez says, an epidemiologist at LAFASA has compiled a database of 46 "verifiable reports" of rape in the aftermath of Katrina, and the majority took place in New Orleans. "Most of the rapes seemed to have happened in neighborhoods before people were able to get out or get to shelters at the Convention Center or the Superdome," Benitez told Gambit Weekly. Most of the local victims were attacked by strangers and many suffered additional violence, such as beatings, she says. In addition, the group also has collected reports of women evacuees who were allegedly raped in Baton Rouge and elsewhere around the state. "I personally talked to one woman who was raped in a Red Cross shelter in Monroe," Benitez says. LAFASA has been working with law enforcement and disaster experts since the storm to improve protection for women during the current hurricane season. Anyone with information on hurricane-related rapes is urged to contact the group at www.lafasa.org or toll free at (888) 995-7273. -- Johnson
Put Me in, Coach!
Congressman Bill Jefferson, under intense pressure by some fellow Democrats to give up a powerful committee seat amid an ongoing federal corruption probe, apparently can still play on the party's baseball team. The Democrats play the Republicans at the 45th annual congressional baseball game benefiting Washington charities on June 29 at RFK Stadium. Apparently Jefferson's problems off the field will not affect his place in the Democratic dugout, according to team spokesperson Matt Dinkel. "If he's not in the lineup, it will be of his own volition; nobody's talking about kicking him off the team," says Dinkel, who doubles as press secretary for new team manager Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.). Jefferson has played first base for the Demos in recent years, but Dinkel says Doyle has not yet made any decisions about field positions or batting lineups. In a published interview recently, Jefferson, 59, suggested that baseball has provided him with a respite from the relentless federal investigation. But perhaps not for long. The Republicans clobbered the Democrats 19-10 last year and have dominated the annual event since its founding by Roll Call magazine. -- Johnson
Moving on Up
With embattled New Orleans Congressman Bill Jefferson facing a slew of legal problems, the already weakened Louisiana congressional delegation could be losing another seasoned member. The possibility looms ever larger that Jefferson's corruption case could cause him to leave office involuntarily. If that happens, another Bayou State Democrat may stand to benefit, according to a report in Roll Call, a respected Beltway newspaper. Roll Call says Congressman Charlie Melancon of Napoleonville is on the short list to replace Jefferson on the powerful Ways and Means Committee now that Jefferson is being forced off the panel. Jefferson says he intends to remain in office and on the committee. -- Alford
Jindal: No Slack for 'Dollar Bill'
While other members of Congress bitch and whine about the recent search conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation on the Capitol Hill office of Congressman Bill Jefferson, another Louisiana House member is going the other way. Congressman Bobby Jindal, a Metairie Republican, told supporters in an email earlier this month that he was "very disappointed that some of my colleagues" were complaining about the search, which is connected to an ongoing corruption investigation. Some have complained that the separation of powers is being trampled. Jindal, however, thinks the search was fine. "I sent a letter to the Speaker of the House last week urging him to oppose any policy that would prevent court-approved search warrants or otherwise treat elected officials more leniently than everyone else," he writes. "The American people expect and demand that their elected officials serve with honor." -- Alford
Louisiana is still operating under a state of emergency as a result of last year's hurricane season. Gov. Kathleen Blanco issued the declarations on Aug. 26 before Hurricane Katrina and another on Sept. 20 before Rita. They both have been renewed on a monthly basis ever since, thrusting Louisiana into its longest state of emergency in recent history. "Many of the devastated areas are still far from normal," says Roderick K. Hawkins, deputy press secretary to the governor. He adds that the declarations are needed to continue with recovery efforts, and there's no specific timeline for each state of emergency. The declarations also help the governor take actions she wouldn't be allowed to take under normal circumstances, such as commandeering the use of land to begin flood-protection projects. This has already been done for the 17th Street Canal, Harvey Canal walls and others. -- Alford
Tax Holiday Impact Growing ... and Growing
Lawmakers are trying to find ways to repeat the popular sales tax shopping holiday that debuted in December. The three-day weekend offered people an opportunity to restore their quality of life after the hurricanes without paying state sales tax on many items. Sen. Derrick Shepherd, a Marrero Democrat, is pushing a bill that would allow the governor to declare a "Louisiana Purchase Day" at will. It's not expected to pass because of time constraints -- the session ends next Monday (June 19) -- but testimony on the bill last week revealed that the impact of the December holiday is still being calculated. Originally, last year, the Legislative Fiscal Office estimated that the holiday would cost the state $10.2 million. In March, officials with the Department of Revenue told Gambit Weekly that the tally was closer to $12 million. Well, the latest report has the number slightly higher. Kimberly Robinson, a revenue spokesperson, told lawmakers it would cost the state "another $16 million" if the December sales-tax holiday were to be duplicated. -- Alford
Help for Kids Coming
A state-run facility for severely troubled children and adolescents is expected to reopen in Uptown New Orleans this week, nine months after Hurricane Katrina devastated the state and local mental-health-care system. The Louisiana Legislature recently found funding to reopen half of the 30 beds at the state-run New Orleans Adolescent Hospital (210 State St.), hospital administrator Shelby Price confirmed. "We are also looking at providing outpatient services for children and adolescents here as well as a location in Algiers," Price says. Sarra Woodard, a spokesperson for Friends of NOAH, a nonprofit advocacy group that helped lobby lawmakers to reopen the facility, said more work remains. "There are so many children who need mental services; these are the children with serious mental-health needs," Woodard says. Katrina closed all 126 state-run psychiatric beds in New Orleans, including 96 adult beds at Medical Center of Louisiana (Charity Hospital). The city also lost dozens of mental-health professionals in the storm's wake, including 89 percent of its psychiatrists; only 22 psychiatrists remain. -- Johnson
Help for Adults Sought
The state Office of Mental Health is considering proposals to open an adult crisis intervention unit (CIU) and up to 20 adult psychiatric beds at NOAH, one of the few state buildings in the city to escape serious storm damage, says Sarah Hoffpauir, chair of the New Orleans Mental Health and Resilience Task Force. The task force is a local volunteer group formed in the wake of Katrina with support from the federal Centers for Disease Control. An adult crisis intervention unit at NOAH would provide a 23-hour period for mental-health-care professionals to help "stabilize" people suffering from symptoms of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, suicidal thoughts and mental illnesses. "People are having a lot of stress reactions and there is no facility to stabilize them," Hoffpauir says. The Louisiana Public Mental Health Review Commission recently estimated that more than 260,000 Louisianans are "on the verge of developing post-traumatic stress syndrome" in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina (Aug. 29) and Rita (Sept. 24). Half of them are still living in the state. Left untreated, the commission reports, the mental health of those afflicted will likely deteriorate, resulting in lower worker productivity and more expensive mental-health treatment in later years. -- Johnson