FOUR MAYORS AT LOYOLA
Three of New Orleans' five living mayors, as well as Mayor-elect LaToya Cantrell, appeared April 5 at Loyola University's Roussel Hall to discuss "One New Orleans: Five Perspectives" with Gambit Political Editor Clancy DuBos.
Mayor Moon Landrieu (1970-1978), Mayor Sidney Barthelemy (1986-1994), Mayor Mitch Landrieu (2010-2018) and Mayor-elect LaToya Cantrell. Marc Morial, mayor from 1994 to 2002 and now president of the National Urban League, had to cancel his appearance; DuBos joked he was visiting former Mayor Ray Nagin, who is serving a sentence in a Texas federal prison.
Cantrell said the best piece of advice she's gotten since winning the election was to pay attention to her 10-year-old — "to not lose focus on my child as I focus on the needs of every child." Her answer, which seemed to catch the audience by surprise, was greeted by applause. Asked who her most formidable opponent had been in politics, Cantrell got a laugh by saying, "Don't get me started." After a moment, she added, more seriously, "I don't see an opponent. I see the machine."
Moon Landrieu said, "Whether you're the mayor of New Orleans or the mayor of Tickfaw, you're on the job 24 hours a day." Both he and the younger Landrieu agreed that running a major American city was a more difficult job than state or national office.
Asked if he had any advice for the incoming mayor, Mitch Landrieu advised her to pick her battles, saying his father had taught him sometimes "the juice is not worth the squeeze."
Quote of the week
"They're not getting enough done to get fatigued." — Gov. John Bel Edwards, speaking about state legislators, as quoted in LaPolitics.com.
Sex ed bills die in Baton Rouge — again
Louisiana has one of the highest rates of sexually transmitted diseases (STD) among people ages 15 to 24. The state also has the seventh-highest rate of teen pregnancies. But repeated attempts to change state laws to incorporate comprehensive sex education programs to remedy those statistics — or at least anonymously ask young people if they've engaged in the kinds of behavior that would produce those kinds of statistics — have failed.
On April 4, after pushback from conservative Christian lobbying groups, a pair of bills to support comprehensive sex ed in public schools died in the state House Committee on Education.
State Rep. Patricia Smith's House Bill 499 would require comprehensive sex ed in public schools — a program that promotes abstinence but also includes information about preventing pregnancies and STDs and understanding sexual abuse. It follows an "age-appropriate, medically accurate" guideline promoting healthy relationships, stress management and communication. It also would allow parents or guardians to opt out.
Smith's House Bill 554 would allow high school students to participate in an anonymous survey that asks whether they've had sex and whether they have ever been forced to perform sex acts. The survey is conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Louisiana students already receive it with questions related to drug and alcohol use, smoking and other health and risk behaviors, but state law forbids asking students about sexual health and activity. That bill also would allow parents and students to opt out from taking the survey.
State Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, has sponsored a similar bill in the Senate. That bill won approval from the Senate's Committee on Health and Welfare and now heads to the full Senate for a vote.
Smith said without any data to show what kinds of risk behaviors students experience, lawmakers and program directors can't adequately address the health crises among young people.
In 2017, the Louisiana Public Health Institute launched the statewide campaign Geaux Talk, promoting sex ed in schools and at home. It largely is powered by the results of a statewide survey asking parents and caregivers whether sex ed should be a part of the curriculum. Nearly 75 percent of respondents said it should be required.
Bill to let 19- and 20-year-olds drink gets spiked
State Sen. Eric LaFleur, D-Ville Platte, last week withdrew one of the most talked-about bills of the legislative session — his proposal to allow 19- and 20-year-olds to drink legally — amid fears it could cause the state to lose federal highway funds.
LaFleur said he thought his bill, which would have required parental consent and alcohol education courses, would have led to more responsible drinking. But state officials and other lawmakers said the state risked losing up to $600 million in highway construction funds under federal laws meant to encourage safer driving. LaFleur said he didn't think the bill would have increased drinking at all and instead would have encouraged responsible drinking, citing the alcohol education courses young adults would have to take to obtain the certificate.
Because the bill technically would not lower the drinking age, LaFleur said he didn't think it would be a problem meeting federal highway fund requirements. But several committee members, and Juana Marine-Lombard of the Louisiana Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control (ATC), voiced concerns that the federal government might pull highway funds. "ATC, as far as federal funding, is just the tip of the iceberg," Marine-Lombard said. "State Police receive way more money in the highway safety grant, and Department of Transportation (DOT) has something like $600 million to lose. When we're sitting on a fiscal cliff and you're talking about risking millions over this, where does the money come from to fund DOT, ATC and State Police?"
LaFleur said his bill contained a provision that would have nullified the plan to let 19- and 20-year-olds drink legally if it resulted in the DOT losing federal highway dollars. He added he would continue to work on the bill and likely will propose it again next year. "Change like this sometimes takes a little while," LaFleur said. — RYAN NOONAN & KAYLEE POCHE | MANSHIP SCHOOL NEWS SERVICE
Hazing may become
a felony in Louisiana
Louisiana House members last week unanimously supported a bill that would make hazing a felony. The "Max Gruver Act," named after the 18-year-old Louisiana State University fraternity pledge who died from alcohol consumption at a fraternity event last fall, would upgrade hazing from a misdemeanor to a felony in an effort to stop the worst abuses. The anti-hazing bill passed by a House vote of 87-0. The bill now heads to the Senate.
Individuals convicted in cases of hazing-related deaths could receive up to five years in prison and fines up to $10,000. Current law allows those guilty of hazing to receive a fine between $10 to $100 and a maximum 30 days in jail. "This bill will deter, punish, and raise awareness, and that's what we have criminal statutes for," bill sponsor Rep. Nancy Landry, R-Lafayette, said.
Maxwell Gruver, an LSU freshman from Roswell, Georgia, died from alcohol intoxication and aspiration after he was summoned to the LSU Phi Delta Theta house by fraternity members to participate in a pledge activity. His autopsy revealed a blood alcohol content of 0.495, almost six times the legal limit for driving.
An East Baton Rouge grand jury recently indicted one of Gruver's fraternity members for negligent homicide, a felony, and three others on misdemeanor hazing charges. The four charged are no longer students at LSU. — DREW WHITE | MANSHIP SCHOOL NEWS SERVICE
Council vote could mean more short-term rentals in residential areas
The New Orleans City Council last week approved a measure that could open the door to more year-round short-term rentals (STRs) in residential areas.
The April 5 decision came after a week of reports of STR platforms refusing to submit data to the city for review and enforcement — despite City Hall's assurance that STR platforms planned to cooperate with the current measures. The council vote also follows a report from housing justice organization Jane Place Neighborhood Sustainability Initiative, which illustrated how a handful of operators are using dozens of properties for commercial listings.
The City Council also narrowly denied zoning changes at properties owned by Christian Galvin on Jackson Avenue that would change two plots of land from residential to business; both were recommended for denial by the City Planning Commission. "We are getting dozens of these types of applications," said District A Councilwoman Susan Guidry, pointing to recent reports from Jane Place. "This is just a continuing issue and we need to address it. ... We have to abide by our own rules, and this is against our rules."
Mayor-elect and District B Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell also authored a measure allowing two commercial STRs, available year-round without limits, in commercially zoned properties in residential areas, with additional STRs subject to a conditional use process. Council members Nadine Ramsey and Jason Williams voted against the measure.
The Legislature and guns
A bill to raise the age for purchasing assault weapons in Louisiana narrowly passed a state Senate committee April 3, following debate among legislators, gun rights advocates, teachers, students and law enforcement officials including New Orleans Police Chief Michael Harrison. It now heads to the full state Senate.
Meanwhile, lawmakers tabled two bills promoting guns on school campuses.
House Bill 274 from state Sen. Troy Carter, D-New Orleans, would prevent people under age 21 from purchasing so-called assault weapons, including guns with high-capacity magazines. Among the hundreds of murders and shootings in New Orleans since he became police chief, Harrison said there hasn't been a single instance of someone using an assault weapon to defend themselves — but "a large percentage" of shootings were committed by a person firing an assault weapon.
State Rep. Bodi White, R-Baton Rouge, and a spokesperson with the National Rifle Association, claimed the bill infringes on people's Second Amendment rights and punishes law-abiding gun owners.
Raising the age limits for gun purchases is among the policy demands from the student-led March for Our Lives platform, which also calls for stronger background checks, the repeal of the NRA-backed Dickey Amendment preventing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from work that promotes gun control, and an end to the NRA and other lobbying groups' influence in politics. A House bill from New Orleans Rep. Helena Moreno also seeks to place restrictions on assault rifle sales.
Several bills in this year's legislative session have promoted teachers and staff carrying guns on campus. State Rep. Julie Emerson's House Bill 836 would allow students with concealed carry permits to carry guns on college campuses, but on April 4 she agreed to defer the bill. House Bill 271 from state Rep. Ray Garofalo of Chalmette. The House Criminal Justice Committee voted April 4 to table Garofalo's bill, which was opposed by the Louisiana State Police and the Louisiana Sheriff's Association.
Labor day: House votes to expand inmate labor
Without any debate April 2, the Louisiana House of Representatives approved a bill to expand state inmate-provided labor. State Rep. Kenny Havard's House Bill 84, which has the support of Gov. John Bel Edwards, allows the governor's office to decide whether incarcerated people within the state's Department of Corrections can perform work outside the department's headquarters.
Currently, inmate labor is used for projects throughout the state Capitol. Havard's bill ensures that it's performed legally. Incarcerated people can earn up to 70 cents an hour performing the work, but opponents say their earnings afford them little if any support in prison or in saving for their release, and the disparity in race among prisoners likens the practice of inmate labor to slavery.
The measure now heads to the Senate.
Bike to Work Day returns April 11
Cyclists, rejoice: Bike Easy's annual Bike to Work Day is scheduled for Wednesday, April 11.
Now part of a month-long cycling challenge hosted by the cycling advocacy organization, Bike to Work Day is designed to encourage bike commuting from different neighborhoods throughout the city. On that morning, bike trains depart from sites in Algiers, Uptown, Gentilly, Bywater, Mid-City, Broadmoor and Metairie at 7:15 a.m. for a meetup in Duncan Plaza from 7:30 a.m. to 9 a.m. Free coffee, breakfast and bike tune-ups will be available.
More information is available at www.bikeeasy.org.
Legislative advocacy day for women in Baton Rouge April 11
Advocates from around the state will convene in Baton Rouge April 11 for "Justice for Louisiana Women," a lobbying and legislative advocacy day centered around women's issues. More than 20 organizations will attend, meeting with legislators, hosting forums and participating in discussions about equal pay, reproductive rights and criminal justice reform.
Other topics include sex education in schools, gun control and protections for survivors of domestic violence. A great number of bills during the current legislative session pertain to these issues, including at least five bills related to abortion access and a package of bills regarding equal pay and a minimum wage increase that faltered in the state Senate.
The lobbying day takes place at Capitol Park Welcome Center (702 N.River Road, Baton Rouge). For more information and to register, visit www.liftlouisiana.org.
Senate to vote on medical furlough for people
convicted of murder
Among several bills undoing parts of a bipartisan criminal justice reform package passed last year, Senate Bill 458 from state Sen. Ryan Gatti aims to prevent people convicted of murder from taking medical furlough. It was narrowly approved by the Senate's Judiciary C Committee April 3 and it heads to the full Senate for a vote.
The furlough practice allows a prison to temporarily release people for treatment if they have a terminal illness or are permanently disabled. If they're well enough to return to prison, they do; if they remain in hospital care, they are in custody with supervision. The bill also requires families of people in nursing homes to be notified whether a furloughed prisoner has moved into the home.
The expense of inmate medical care was among the selling points of last year's package of criminal justice reform bills. The state spent nearly $80 million on prisoner health care in 2017.
2018 Ridenhour Prize
The Nation Institute, the Fertel Foundation and the Stewart R. Mott Foundation last week announced winners of the 2018 Ridenhour Prizes, presented each year to people "who persevere in the act of truth-telling that protect the public interest, promote social justice or illuminate a more just vision of society." The award is named for the late investigative journalist Ron Ridenhour, who exposed the My Lai massacre in Vietnam 50 years ago and later worked at Gambit.
This year's winners include Tarana Burke, who popularized the #MeToo movement; Carmen Yulin Cruz Soto, mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico; Lauren Markham, author of the book The Far Away Brothers; and Joe Piscatella, director of the documentary Joshua: Teenager vs. Superpower.
The awards will be presented April 18 at the National Press Club in Washington D.C.
Joe Biden coming
to the Saenger
Former Vice President Joe Biden will bring his "American Promise" tour to the Saenger Theatre June 5. The lifelong politician is on tour for the release of his 2017 memoir Promise Me, Dad: A Year of Hope, Hardship and Purpose. At the event, he'll discuss "big political moments of his career, the life-altering choices he made and the key traits that have helped him persevere through challenges," according to a press release.
Though this is ostensibly a book tour, it's hard not to see it as a teaser for a potential 2020 presidential campaign for the 75-year-old Biden. One recent poll suggests his candidacy would be supported by 84 percent of Democrats.