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DA Awaits 'Report Card'
Interim Orleans Parish District Attorney Keva Landrum-Johnson is waiting on the final report of a management audit of her office by the standard-setting National District Attorneys Association. "She will probably release the final draft once she reviews it," Dalton Savwoir Jr. , a spokesperson for the DA, said in an email last week. Landrum-Johnson has promised to make the report's findings public. At the urging of the Metropolitan Crime Commission, former DA Eddie Jordan invited the national group to review his troubled office last summer. Jordan announced his resignation Oct. 30, and Landrum-Johnson took over as interim DA. The NDAA review team consisted of five district attorneys from jurisdictions outside Louisiana. The New Orleans Police & Justice Foundation is paying for the study. Qualifying for DA and a slew of Criminal Court judgeships in the fall elections runs July 9-11. — Johnson

 

Tackling Gas Prices (Sort of)
Fueling your ride gets more expensive every day, and now some lawmakers want you to know they feel your pain. Rep. Wayne Waddell, R-Shreveport, has filed House Concurrent Resolution 74 to suspend a portion of the state gas tax for three months this summer. It's sure to be popular, but Waddell's temporary approach won't offer any long-term effects. Meanwhile, Sen. Troy Hebert, D-Jeanerette, offers Senate Bill 771, which would allow Louisiana motorists to tool around on streets and highways in tiny Japanese minitrucks. Other states (including Texas and Mississippi) allow minitrucks, known as Kei-class or K-class vehicles, which look sort of like golf carts with extended truck beds. They sport 660-cubic-centimeter engines, which is less than half the size of what you'll find in a Honda Civic. "And they're about the size of a little, small compact car," Hebert says. "They get about 45 to 50 miles per gallon, and you can purchase them for $4,000 or less." Some lawmakers have voiced concerns about crash-test standards, but Hebert's bill would prohibit driving them on Louisiana interstates. The measure has already passed the Senate and is awaiting introduction to the House. Waddell's HCR 74, meanwhile, is pending in the House Ways and Means Committee. — Alford

Keeping It Local
A House committee last week voted to allow local levee districts and other public entities to continue handling in-house restoration and rehabilitation projects that cost $1 million or less. The House Transportation Committee approved Senate Bill 14 by Sen. Reggie Dupre, D-Bourg, unanimously. The bill renews a current law that lets levee districts and other agencies use their own equipment and manpower to work on levees that are not funded by federal money. The law has been on the books for two years but is set to expire Dec. 31. Dupre's legislation would extend the bidding exemption until Dec. 31, 2010. Dupre told lawmakers that his legislation provides levee districts with much-needed elasticity, especially during times of emergency. The proposed law also allows the local district and other entities to eliminate the profit margin added by some contractors, thus saving taxpayers money that can be diverted to other needs, Dupre added. The bill now heads to the House for further debate, where it has been placed on the "local and consent calendar," which means the measure is not controversial and should pass without trouble. — Alford

NOPD: Not So Sick or Hurt
Struggling to police a city with at least 200 fewer cops since Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, Police Chief Warren Riley has whittled down the number of officers who are unable to work due to illness or injury. Riley recently said there were 81 officers on the list. "Not bad. That's a benchmark," said local criminologist David Kent, a former assistant superintendent of NOPD from 1978 to 1982. "It took me four years to get [the list] down from 215 to 55," Kent added, noting that he did it by purging malingerers through stricter, internal regulations. Over the last decade, the NOPD has rarely, if ever, reported that the number of sick and disabled officers — including those injured in the line of duty — had dropped below 100. So, how did Riley achieve his benchmark? NOPD did not respond to a written request for information by press time. But one observer suggested that a vetting of the sick and injured list by the NOPD's Public Integrity Bureau has contributed to more officers reporting for duty. — Johnson

Overflowing Emotions
A capacity crowd last week heard lawyers for Tulane University and Newcomb College alumni argue before the Louisiana Supreme Court over the legacy of an endowment left by Josephine Louise Newcomb in 1886. However, the real fireworks came in a nearby overflow room, where a graying but vocal pro-Newcomb crowd watched the hearing on a monitor — sometimes cheering, but more often gasping when Tulane attorney Phillip Wittmann defended the post-Katrina merger of Newcomb and Tulane in 2006. When Wittmann argued that Tulane, not Newcomb, has always conferred undergraduate degrees, one white-haired woman in the room hissed, "That's a lie!" The nonprofit activist group Future of Newcomb College maintains that Newcomb became the first degree-granting coordinate college for women in the United States when the college opened in 1887. Wittmann created another stir when he estimated that only $118,000 remained of Mrs. Newcomb's original legacy. The Future of Newcomb values Newcomb's endowment at $44 million. Daniel Caruso, an attorney for the pro-Newcomb plaintiffs, said the Tulane Board of Administrators has "always played fast and loose" with the Newcomb endowment, "but always paid it back." The court is not expected to issue a ruling in the case until the summer. — Johnson

Broome: Focus on Women
Senate President Pro Tem Sharon Weston Broome has sent a symbolic tap on the shoulder to Gov. Bobby Jindal, reminding him to pay attention to women's needs in his emerging workforce development plan. The Baton Rouge Democrat recently authored and passed Senate Resolution 33, which requests that the Republican governor designate a special office within his proposed Louisiana Workforce Commission from which women could receive information about workforce training and related issues. The Women's Council of Greater Baton Rouge and its workforce efforts should serve as a model, according to the resolution, which also suggests focusing on the technology workforce. Research has demonstrated that although women have made encouraging gains in science-related fields, especially at the high school and college levels, women receive a small percentage of computer and engineering degrees. Broome says economic growth in Louisiana will likely rely on such degrees, thanks to the emergence of biotechnology, new media, and computer software and hardware development. "The under-representation of women in these technology fields will contribute to extending the disparity in earnings between men and women," Broome says. Her resolution, which is non-binding, has been adopted by the Senate and sent to Jindal. — Alford

Irons Has Debts and Cash
Civil District Court Judge Paulette Irons will be the guest of honor this week at a re-election fundraiser for her Section "H" campaign this fall. Meanwhile, her latest campaign finance reports, dated Feb. 14, show the incumbent judge has both funds and debts left over from two previous races — her successful 2004 campaign for the bench and her strong third-place finish for mayor in 2002. Irons' judicial campaign reported a war chest of $32,746 on hand with $7,100 in debts by the end of last year, according to Marseah Delatte, chair of Irons' judicial campaign. Meanwhile, Irons' campaign for mayor reported $18,593 left from her 2002 race, with $25,969 in debts owed two Washington D.C.-based political consulting firms — $20,000 to Laguens Hamburger Strategies and $5,969 to Lake Snell Perry Mermin & Associates. — Johnson

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