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Cell Divisions: Stem Cell Research

  On March 9, President Barack Obama issued an executive order reversing an eight-year-old Bush administration policy that banned federal funding on embryonic stem-cell research. Reaction to Obama's decision followed predictably partisan lines among Louisiana politicians. Republican U.S. Sen. David Vitter immediately issued a statement saying he is "saddened that President Obama has chosen to set aside the views of so many Americans and reversed these restrictions that were put in place to protect these valuable human embryos, especially when our most promising scientific potential has been seen in adult stem cell research."

  Gov. Bobby Jindal, who voted twice against expanding stem cell research during his tenure in the U.S. House, told the Associated Press he saw the issue as akin to abortion — echoing the Louisiana Republican Party's 2008 platform, which states, "We oppose all procedures in research and medicine that involve the intentional destruction of innocent human life. We also oppose ... the use of human embryos in research for purposes other than advancing their own health and safety."

  Sen. Mary Landrieu has signaled her support for stem-cell research in the past. In 2004, Landrieu had joined 42 other Democratic senators and 14 Republicans in signing a letter to then-president George W. Bush, urging him to reconsider the federal funding policy. In a statement this week, she said, "I support the President's actions to move away from the restrictive policies of the past, but I strongly believe that NIH guidance and laws passed by Congress must still recognize the need for appropriate ethical and moral boundaries on embryonic stem cell research. That is why I have supported laws that would limit this research to excess embryos from fertility clinics that would otherwise be discarded."

  Meanwhile, Louisiana law is clear on embryo rights. In 1986, the Legislature passed a law protecting in vitro fertilized (IVF) embryos and awarding an embryo the status of a "juridical person," meaning, among other things, an embryo has the right to be represented in court by an attorney. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Louisiana is the only state that specifically prohibits research on IVF embryos (Illinois and Michigan also prohibit research on live embryos). Louisiana also made news in the weeks after Hurricane Katrina's landfall when doctors and staff from the Metairie-based Fertility Institute performed a search-and-rescue operation for more than 1,000 frozen embryos at flooded Lakeland Hospital in eastern New Orleans. — Kevin Allman

New Credits For Wind And Solar?

  If you purchase and install a wind or solar energy system for your residence, the state is bound by law to provide you with a nonrefundable tax credit. But if you do the same thing for your business or other commercial property, the only thing you'll get is lower energy bills. The sole exception is for owners of rental apartments. If Rep. Franklin J. Foil, R-Baton Rouge, gets his way during the upcoming legislative session, however, the same tax credits would be available to the business community as a whole. His House Bill 32 would create a new commercial credit equal to 50 percent of the first $25,000 of the costs associated with the project, as long as it was purchased and installed on or after Jan. 1, 2008. It also stipulates the credits can be used in conjunction with any other federal tax credits earned for the same system. If adopted by the Legislature and signed by the governor, Foil's proposed tax credit would apply to costs incurred beginning Jan. 1, 2009. The session will convene on April 27. — Jeremy Alford

Voting Rights Act Decision Could Thwart Challenges

  Challenges to election districts under the federal Voting Rights Act just got harder to win. By a 5-4 vote last week, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that parties challenging new district lines under the Voting Rights Act must first prove the minority population in each affected district is greater than 50 percent. The decision in the case of Bartlett v. Strickland is noteworthy for Louisiana and other Voting Rights Act states on several levels. First, it likely will change the political dynamics of the next round of redistricting after the 2010 census. Second, it probably reduces the number — if not the viability — of challenges to any new districting plan based solely on allegations that the new districts dilute black voting strength. Such challenges have been a staple of Voting Rights Act cases for decades. In the past, black lawmakers and civil rights advocates pressed not only for the creation of black-majority districts, but also for districts with a black near-majority — the latter offering opportunities for blacks to form coalitions with like-minded white "crossover" voters to elect black officials. The Supreme Court's latest decision makes it clear that states need not draw lines to create the latter type of districts.

  Former state Rep. Peppi Bruneau, who wrote redistricting legislation in Louisiana for most of the past 30 years, says the court's decision "marks a very new trend" in reapportionment cases. "For years we heard arguments about fracturing black voting strength from one district to the next," Bruneau says. "We had to do all kind of geographical gyrations in order to get one district to be 38 or 40 percent and let the other one go. I think this is a major shift at the Supreme Court. I think the logical extension of that is that you do not have to make a district black by gerrymandering that district. That's not what the decision says per se, but that's the logical extension of that decision. I think in the future they will rely more heavily on geography than on race — not that race won't be a factor, or that it shouldn't be a factor, but it won't be the overriding factor in these cases." — Clancy DuBos

Targeting Federal Mandates

  State Sen. A.G. Crowe, R-Slidell, says he will file a resolution in coming weeks urging the federal government to stop imposing mandates on the states for purposes not listed in the U.S. Constitution. Crowe says "proposed power grabs" by the federal government, such as gun control laws and the Freedom of Choice Act, have increased dramatically over the last few decades. He says such efforts nullify numerous laws passed by the Louisiana Legislature. "Many U.S. citizens around the country have been calling on their state legislators to pass resolutions similar to this one," Crowe says. "Citizens are very clearly beginning to see evidence of a central government trying to increase power and control." He says Louisiana has its own personal experiences with such "overreaches by the federal government." Crowe cites the No Child Left Behind program, which conflicted with a similar state initiative. Crowe says the basis for his argument can be found in the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which states, "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people." More than 30 states have already filed or passed similar measures. — Alford

AG Favors School Cameras

  Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell recently trumpeted the idea of schools installing cameras in hallways and around their perimeters. Caldwell made the remarks during a keynote address to a crowd of superintendents, principals and educators at the 2009 School Climate Safety Summit in Alexandria. He says if someone knows that cameras are watching, they're less likely to do something illegal. "We can't have kids learning anything if they've got bullets flying over their heads, or they're worried about getting bullied or (about) gangs in our schools," Caldwell said in a news release. "We need to get back to the basics." With a legislative session just around the corner, some are wondering if Caldwell will pursue legislation mandating cameras in schools. Tammi Arender, Caldwell's press secretary, says the attorney general prefers the initiative be a grassroots effort. "He'd like to see school boards do it on their own," she says. — Alford

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