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A sampling of recent political stories that you may have missed — or didn't want to know about 

Louisiana State Items

Landrieu Shilling For Boxer — In an email during the recent holiday break, U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-New Orleans, asked supporters to donate money to U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, a fellow Democrat from California who is facing re-election this year. Landrieu wrote, "Barbara Boxer is a friend to me" and that a donation to her campaign would be considered "a personal favor to me."

  Boxer made history as the first woman chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, but she also played a key role in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita by leading tours through the stricken areas and fast-tracking legislation that remains critical to New Orleans' recovery efforts.

  For conservative supporters of Landrieu, however, the appeal might be a bit jarring. Boxer authored the Freedom of Choice Act of 2004 and was strongly critical of the Stupak-Pitts Amendment, which placed limits on taxpayer-funded abortions in the Senate health care bill that dominated headlines last month.

  For her part, Landrieu addressed those concerns indirectly. "While she and I do not always agree on every issue, Sen. Boxer always provides a respectful ear and the opportunity to find common ground," Landrieu writes.

  Session '09 Redux — Some special interests are already beginning to shake the bushes on issues that failed to pass during last year's legislative session. In particular, a Louisiana company is circulating data on the dangers of driving while using a smartphone, and a national nonprofit is playing defense on the issue of allowing concealed weapons onto college campuses.

  A Baton Rouge-based company, Cellcontrol, which bills itself as a "leading supplier of driving while distracted solutions," released a self-financed study last week showing that a majority of drivers still use their cell phones while on the road, "even though it's proven to be more dangerous than driving while intoxicated." The study was conducted in mid-December and, from a pool of 100 respondents, 88 percent of drivers admitted to using their cell phones to text, email, surf the Web or have a conversation in the past 12 months. Cellcontrol markets a device that prevents such use by employees, teen drivers et al. Many states have passed laws banning such activities behind the wheel, but Louisiana balked at similar proposals in 2009.

  Lawmakers also quashed a bill last year that would have allowed concealed weapons to be carried on college campuses. The Campaign to Keep Guns Off Campus recently issued a press release stating that roughly a dozen other states have shot down such proposals in the past year or so.

  Executive Director Andy Pelosi says, though, that the issue is far from dead. That's why he's urging lawmakers, parents, advocates, law enforcement officials and university administrators to "band together to strongly oppose the gun lobby which has vowed to push its extremist agenda even stronger in 2010." He wants the coalition to stay on lawmakers to beat back the gun lobby. "There needs to come a point where the gun lobby's agenda becomes too extreme for state lawmakers to support," Pelosi says.

  Mayoral Race On iPhone — Driving while texting may be dangerous, but there's nothing wrong with politicking on a cell phone. That's good news for the New Orleans-based PolicyPitch, which has launched a free iPhone application called "ElectionHub." The app allows anyone to follow the ongoing drama of this year's citywide elections, including the races for mayor and City Council.   

  Zach Kupperman, president of PolicyPitch, says the app will include up-to-the-minute stats, facts, news and information on each candidate. There is also a comments section for users to exchange ideas and participate in once-a-week polls. "ElectionHub brings a new dimension of information and media to the political landscape," Kupperman says. "It's an additional medium that can both inform citizens and facilitate a two-way dialogue between candidates and the people."

  DSS Screening Employees — If you want a job with a state-licensed facility that provides childcare or with the Department of Social Services, you may be screened under a new set of rules adopted last year by lawmakers. That applies also to people who already hold such positions.

  DSS now conducts national criminal history background checks on department employees with certain duties involving children. DSS also can use the state's central registry — a database of all child-abuse and child-neglect investigations — to screen both potential and current employees if their roles are connected to child services. "The major focus of our work is ensuring that children in our care and in facilities licensed by our agency are safe," says DSS Secretary Kristy Nichols. "This is our top priority."

  She adds that the new rules "will allow us to provide further safeguards for children to ensure that no individual charged with the care of a child has a prior history of abuse, neglect or maltreatment." Nichols estimates that more than 200,000 children receiving DSS services or enrolled in licensed childcare centers are protected by the new rules.

Jeremy Alford can be reached at jeremy@jeremyalford.com.

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