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Scalise Ducking Debates?
Apparently freshman Congressman Steve Scalise's campaign schedule is too full to include a debate with his Democratic opponent, businessman Jim Harlan, hosted by the League of Women Voters (LWV) of St. Tammany. Sandra Slifer, president of the LWV of St. Tammany, says she left phone messages and sent email requests to the Scalise campaign starting last Monday (Oct. 6). She finally reached a Scalise representative on Wednesday and was promised an answer soon. The next day, Scalise scheduler Caitlin Songy called Slifer and told her that the incumbent's calendar was fully booked.

This marks the second time that Scalise has turned down a League-sponsored debate. During the special election to fill the First District seat in May, Scalise agreed to a debate with Democrat Gilda Reed, only to cancel the appearance later. Stephanie Stanley, a Harlan spokesperson, says Harlan agreed to the LWV debate "as soon as we got the message." As of press time, the New Orleans Press Club was also trying to book a Scalise/Harlan debate. "I'm still waiting on the Scalise people," says press club board member Danae Columbus. — David Winkler-Schmit

Another Storm Session
Louisiana's leading economists are predicting an economic downturn in the state during the next two years because of several factors, including the nation's credit woes, unstable oil prices, hurricanes and the loss of residents. Hurricanes Gustav and Ike left behind at least $8 billion in physical damage to Louisiana, and the cost could already be $20 billion. Fortunately, the federal government has stepped up to the plate to help cover Louisiana's 25 percent share of those expenses.

Before that decision was made last week, it was a top concern for the Legislature's money committees, according to Rep. Joe Harrison, a Republican from Napoleonville and a member of the budget-drafting House Appropriations Committee and the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget. Harrison wonders why President George Bush's home state of Texas was given preferential treatment. "After [Ike] blew through, the president stepped up and covered 100 percent of Texas," Harrison says. The situation makes state officials nervous, he says, adding that parish presidents are beginning to fret about other expenses, especially in light of the bite that Wall Street's latest scandal could take out of credit markets. In response to the anticipated crisis, Harrison says the state's budget committees will soon form individual task forces to look at restructuring government, possibly trimming state employment rolls and other cutbacks. "It's a big project to take on in a short period of time," Harrison says. "But once the storm numbers come in, I think we're going to have to address all of this, maybe in a special session." — Jeremy Alford

One Singular Disaster
Paul Rainwater, executive director of the Louisiana Recovery Authority, requested last week that FEMA consider Hurricanes Gustav and Ike as one disaster in Louisiana. State officials hope the designation will help cut down on duplicative paperwork and save money.

"A "single disaster' approach significantly eliminates duplicated administrative efforts, both on a local and federal level," Rainwater wrote in a letter to FEMA. "This, in turn, is a more efficient approach to recovery, as well as a more cost-effective use of taxpayer dollars." Rainwater also says he requested the consolidation of the two storms because of the effects the 2008 storms had on many parishes that had not yet recovered fully from Katrina and Rita. — Alford

Charter Captains: New Reporting Requirements
If you ask old-timers down the bayou, they'll tell you that some of the best coastal fishing happens in the wake of a storm. Stu Scheer, the longtime captain of Cocodrie Inside Charters, says there's never been a better test of that maxim than now, a month after Hurricanes Gustav and Ike. "I haven't seen it like this in better than 40 years," Scheer says. "We've really been catching some fish."

But just because Scheer is seeing a resource rebound doesn't mean that biologists with the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (WLF) agree with his assessment. For verification, WLF might have to ask Scheer and Louisiana's other charter captains — from Orleans Parish to north Louisiana — to begin reporting detailed information about their trips.

Actually, the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission agreed last week to do just that, setting in motion a voluntary reporting program for charter boat license holders. Currently, the department collects limited trip data from roughly 10 percent of the state's charter captains. WLF uses that information to manage the sector and respond to its needs during natural disasters, such as hurricanes. More information will help in that task, and the proposed change could also aid the department in tracking species that may be in decline. While there will be no additional costs to the captains, officials say there will be more paperwork. Still, captains seem encouraged by the voluntary program. "If it's beneficial to the fisheries, I don't care what they ask me to do," Scheer says. "I'll live with it."

Gary Harp, who operates Lewis and Harp Coastal Fishing Guide Service in the Fourchon-Grand Isle area, says he has participated in a voluntary offshore reporting program for several years and doesn't have a problem with paperwork — especially if it gives the state better information. He also says the new reporting rules could help curb abuses in delicate fisheries such as red snapper, where recent arrests have revealed egregious violations.

Lawmakers approved enabling legislation earlier this year, but the Wildlife and Fisheries Commission must develop and implement the voluntary reporting program. The program could go online next year. — Alford

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