1. CROSS-ING CANAL STREET
Much of downtown New Orleans will become a giant set March 20 (Palm Sunday) when Fox broadcasts The Passion, a live musical about the final days of Jesus Christ, in the streets between the Superdome and Woldenberg Park. A 20-foot illuminated cross will be carried to the riverfront, where a ticketed audience of thousands will watch the finale of the passion play. New Orleans native Tyler Perry will narrate and produce, and performers include Seal, Trisha Yearwood, Chris Daughtry and Jencarlos Canela as Jesus (pictured). The city hasn't issued traffic advisories and street closures yet. The show begins at 8 p.m. on Fox.
2. Wanna buy a used lege?
"Some people around here, if they were used car salesmen, would go broke because they could never seal a deal. I'm worried about that." — State Sen. President John Alario, in an interview with Jeremy Alford of LaPolitics.com. Alford reported that "the excruciatingly slow pace of progress [of the recently concluded special session] was unprecedented compared to sessions from recent memory." For more on the session and what's to come, see our cover story (p. 16).
3. A few more cents for cigs
Louisiana's cigarette smokers will be paying a few cents more starting next month after Gov. John Bel Edwards signed into law a bill raising the cost of a cigarette pack by 22 cents. The hike, effective April 1, is expected to bring in $11 million for the remainder of this fiscal year and $46 million annually starting July 1. It raises cigarette taxes from 86 cents to $1.08 a pack. Despite the tax increase, Louisiana's cigarette taxes still rank among the lowest in the country. The latest tax hike raised us from 16th lowest to 18th lowest. New York has the highest cigarette taxes in the country, at $4.35 a pack.
Edwards also signed into law a measure to raise certain taxes on booze, expected to bring in $4.7 million for the remainder of this fiscal year year and $19.2 million a year thereafter. Those new taxes kick in April 1.
4. Connick and the mortarboard
Harry Connick Jr. will be this year's commencement speaker at Loyola University's commencement, which will be held May 21 in the Superdome. Loyola will present Connick with an honorary doctorate of music at the ceremony. Connick, a musician and actor, will add talk show host to his resume this fall when his new daytime program, Harry, debuts in September.
5. Vitter backs off hold on Flint aid
U.S. Sen. David Vitter, who had placed a hold on a $100 million federal aid package to Flint, Michigan, lifted his hold last week, saying his concerns had been addressed. Vitter's objection had centered not on Flint's lead-tainted water problem but on concessions he sought in a related bill for fishing in the Gulf of Mexico. "I'm working with my colleagues to ensure that my language to help promote fishing opportunities for anglers in the Gulf is not neglected in the process," Vitter said in a statement. Thousands of children in Flint were exposed to dangerous levels of lead in the city's water after officials switched the water supply to save money, and the city now is using bottled water for the indeterminate future.
6. SWB payments overdue, IG office says
New Orleans Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux issued a report last week saying nearly half the payments owed to the city's Sewerage and Water Board (SWB) were overdue. In the three-month period of the study, the SWB had more than $10 million in uncollected funds. SWB Executive Director Cedric Grant said the agency is moving to a new billing system in late 2016. Last year, Quatrevaux's office found the SWB overpaid millions of dollars in overtime in 2013.
7. Short-term rentals get state law
While New Orleans officials have yet to weigh in on a local measure to regulate short-term rental services such as Airbnb, state lawmakers have moved forward. State Rep. Helena Moreno, D-New Orleans, authored a new law that extends the 4 percent statewide tax on hotel rooms to short-term rentals as well as bed-and-breakfasts. The measure is effective July 1. The bill also directs renters to collect information, including the number of nights that rooms or homes are rented and for how much. It applies to rentals with six or fewer rooms and includes Airbnbers renting the other half of a double as well as traditional B&Bs.
According to the New Orleans City Planning Commission (CPC), New Orleans has 2,400 to 4,000 short-term rentals, and 70 percent are whole-unit rentals, charging an average nightly rate of $250. The CPC submitted to the City Council its recommendations for regulating, permitting and collecting fees and fines related to short-term rentals. The council is expected to vote on those recommendations in the coming weeks, though no date has been set.
8. Jazz returns to Armstrong Park
The lineup for this year's Jazz in the Park has been announced. The free concert series runs 4 p.m.-8 p.m. Thursdays from April 14-June 9 in Armstrong Park. Performers include Kermit Ruffins and the BBQ Swingers, Davell Crawford, Amanda Shaw, Preservation Hall Brass Band, Colin Lake, Stephanie Jordan, Rockin' Dopsie Jr. and others. The events also feature food and craft vendors.
There also will be a three-day Treme Art and Music Festival May 6-8. The lineup includes Soul Rebels, Little Freddie King, Walter "Wolfman" Washington and the Roadmasters, Treme Brass Band, Corey Henry and the Treme Funktet and others. The festival features performances by marching bands from area high schools. For more information, visit People United for Armstrong Park at www.pufap.org.
9. Oil and gas protest
More than 40 million acres of the Gulf of Mexico are up for lease from the federal government this month. On March 23, a Gulf lease sale at the Superdome opens up new drilling territory for oil and gas companies, but dozens of protesters plan to circle the Dome, calling for the immediate hiring of 1,000 jobs to improve oil drilling safety and cleanup, as well as the eventual end of drilling in the Gulf. The protest begins at 7 a.m. and includes environmental groups 350 Louisiana, Louisiana Bucket Brigade, Bridge the Gulf, Vanishing Earth, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, Sierra Club, Oil Change International, Indegena, Rainforest Action Network and the Center for Biological Diversity and Rainforest Action Network.
10. Louisiana black bear: No longer endangered
The Louisiana black bear was taken off the U.S. Department of Wildlife & Forestry's endangered species list last week. The animal was formally protected by the Endangered Species Act in 1992, when there only were three known breeding subpopulations of the bears. Louisiana black bears are one of 16 subspecies of American black bears, which at one time populated nearly all non-desert habitats in North America.