NOLA students join gun control push
New Orleans area students are joining a national movement to pressure lawmakers to support stronger enforcement of gun control measures following the shooting deaths of 17 people at Parkland, Florida's Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Feb. 14. Groups across the U.S. have organized rallies for March 24. A New Orleans event is tentatively scheduled to meet at the U.S. District Court building at 500 Poydras St.
"No longer will we stand idly by as the lives of our nation's youth are taken," the group wrote in a statement on social media. "Legislators are busy promoting their personal agendas."
Last week, U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond of New Orleans demanded the House's Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul hold hearings to explore "mass shootings as the domestic terrorism they are and figure out what we can do to stop them." In a letter to McCaul, Richmond wrote, "These shootings were carried out by real people, with real guns, firing real bullets that did real damage to bodies, took real lives, and caused real terror in communities across the country. The people of America deserve real action to prevent them from happening in the future. The very least we can do is hold a hearing. If we are not willing to even do that, why are we in Congress?"
On his monthly radio show Feb. 21, Gov. John Bel Edwards said he supports banning "bump stocks" as well as stronger background checks on people buying guns.
Prospective medical marijuana dispensary ready to open by September
After state lawmakers approved measures to make some forms of medical marijuana available in Louisiana, one company says it could be ready to open its doors as soon as product from state-approved manufacturers is available. The Rx Greenhouse — among eight applicants vying for the one allotted medical marijuana dispensary in the New Orleans area — received preliminary approval from the state's Board of Pharmacy and is prepared to open its doors at its Metairie office as soon as September, CEO Dr. Sajal Roy told Gambit.
Legislation allows Louisiana State University and Southern University to develop a marijuana crop, which will be processed by two companies (GB Sciences and Advanced Biomedics) to be manufactured into oil and pill forms. Current law doesn't allow for smokeable product. Rx Greenhouse likely will be among the nine licensed dispensaries throughout the state to distribute the medicine for people with recommendations from physicians for a limited set of ailments: cancer, HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, Crohn's disease, cachexia and epilepsy.
Last week, Sensible Marijuana Policy for Louisiana urged the Board of Medical Examiners to include chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder to the list of conditions eligible for marijuana treatment.
Council to vote on new
power plant March 8
The New Orleans City Council's Utility Committee voted 4-1 to support construction of a $210 million natural gas-fired "peaking" power plant in New Orleans East. District A City Councilwoman Susan Guidry was the only "no" vote following more than a year of debate and several hours of public comment Feb. 21. The full Council is expected to approve the resolution at its March 8 meeting.
The proposal follows the decommissioning of Entergy's Michoud steam- and electric-power facility, leaving New Orleans without a significant local power generation plant and dependent on power sources outside the parish. Council advisors urged the Council to consider Entergy's proposal for a gas-fired 128-megawatt facility, which officials say will be able to meet "peak" demand and stabilize an energy infrastructure at risk of cascading outages and blackouts. Opponents said Entergy hasn't invested enough in renewable and alternative energy sources or upgrades to its distribution lines.
Guidry said the council shouldn't "settle" for the options presented by Entergy and should look at other power-generating resources in the market. "We tell them the need, we tell them our constraints, and they come in and tell us ... 'Here's what we can do for you,'" she said. "It's happening elsewhere. I just can't imagine it can't happen here."
Council President Jason Williams said the plant ultimately will have the "smallest footprint" as the city and company manage immediate risks that tropical storms and other weather events pose to the infrastructure. District D Councilman Jared Brossett said he's "not comfortable doing nothing."
Medicaid recipients lack access to behavioral health care, report says
Despite an overall increase in funding for specialized behavioral health services, Louisiana's Medicaid recipients aren't able to adequately access appropriate care, according to a February report from the Louisiana Legislative Auditor.
The report says the state's Office of Behavioral Health hasn't ensured "comprehensive and appropriate" behavioral health care for Medicaid recipients, following an increase in funding from $213 million in 2012 to $445 million in 2016.
According to the report, 60 percent of 2016's expenditures were for "psychosocial rehabilitation and community psychiatric support and treatment, which are not evidence-based services." Health care organizations that oversee the state's Medicaid program reported only 7.4 percent of its patients had a behavioral health diagnosis, but those groups haven't developed "enough accessible community-based services in Louisiana to meet the need" of behavioral health patients outside those networks.
The report also noted that the state has only two public psychiatric hospitals, which don't serve children, and closures of other state hospitals have created significant waiting lists. Care also is limited among prisons and nursing facilities — roughly half of the more than 4,000 people with a behavioral health diagnosis in nursing facilities didn't receive any specialized behavioral health services.
Jeff Parish enacts
restrictions for STRs
Short-term rentals in residential areas of Jefferson Parish are prohibited under new restrictions unanimously approved by the Parish Council Feb. 21. The new rules restrict those types of rentals to commercial and mixed-use areas throughout the parish. They also must be at least 300 feet from all residential zones.
Current short-term rental operators in Jefferson have up to 12 months to take down listings and cease operations, and operators in commercial and mixed-use areas have the next six months to comply with the new regulations, which call for a $750 license, background check, inspections and a sales tax on each rental.
The rules are in sharp contrast to the Airbnb battle in New Orleans, where the New Orleans City Council and the City Planning Commission frequently mull spot zoning changes in residential areas to allow commercial uses for short-term rentals — after a suite of changes to citywide laws creating an infrastructure for short-term rental regulation was adopted last year.
Ferry riders balk at
new terminal, pedestrian
A public meeting at Algiers Auditorium Feb. 19 revealed ongoing frustrations among Algiers residents about the forthcoming ferry terminal redevelopment, which includes a new terminal and accompanying pedestrian bridge over the New Orleans Public Belt Railroad tracks on the East Bank by the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas.
Residents say they're confused by design elements of the terminal and the location of the bridge, fearing exposure to rain, heat and crowds along the riverfront. Some faulted New Orleans Regional Transit Authority (RTA), saying the transit organization hadn't done enough to consult ferry riders about their needs.
Defending the project, architect Ray Manning pointed out that the bridge itself was added and funded in response to public feedback. Manning confirmed that designs for the terminal have been finalized and the project should be out for bid within 60 days. Designs for the bridge are still in process and will be released at another public meeting in approximately six weeks.
Ferry service will remain fully operational throughout the 12-to-14-month project construction period.
French Quarter Festival announces music lineup
Irma Thomas, Jon Cleary, Chocolate Milk, Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Cyril Neville and Swamp Funk and Lost Bayou Ramblers are among the more than 300 bands and artists performing at the 2018 French Quarter Festival, returning for its 35th event April 12-15.
Following repairs on Bourbon Street, a stage on the 100 block will feature performances by Kid Simmons New Orleans Jazz Band, Paulin Brothers Jazz Band and the New Orleans Jazz Vipers. There's also a stage on the 700 block of Bourbon Street. The Helis Foundation will present free performances at Preservation Hall. A stage highlighting Louisiana songwriters will be in Big Mama's Lounge at House of Blues.
The festival will release the full schedule March 15. Admission is free.