>C. Ray and Tricky Dick
Mayor Ray Nagin's claim of "executive privilege" in his ongoing public records dispute with WWL-TV and reporter Lee Zurik harkens back to a similar claim by former President Richard Nixon at the height of the Watergate scandals. When special prosecutors demanded all of the infamous White House audio tapes, Nixon refused to turn them over. Instead, he initially offered to let conservative Mississippi Sen. John Stennis hear them privately and summarize them — an offer that was rejected. He later produced for Congress a set of "redacted" transcripts of the tapes. The matter ultimately was decided in 1974 by a unanimous decision of the U.S. Supreme Court, which rejected Nixon's claim of executive privilege. The court acknowledged that the nation's chief executive does have a qualified privilege, but in order to prevail he must show "the valid need for protection of communications between high Government officials and those who advise and assist them in the performance of their manifold duties." Locally, Nagin is claiming a generalized "executive privilege" with regard to "redacted" portions of his 2008 calendar and emails (the few that still exist), which Zurik seeks in a public records request he filed on Dec. 3. Civil District Court Judge Rose Ledet must decide if Nagin's assertion of executive privilege, which has no basis in the Louisiana Public Records Act, trumps the public's right to see a public record. A year ago, Nagin turned over his 2007 calendar to Zurik without any redactions. When WWL aired a story critical of Nagin's light schedule, the mayor reacted angrily and threatened to beat up the station's news director. That threat proved to be yet another of Nagin's broken promises. — Clancy DuBos
BuSY BUSY BOBBY
It's been a hectic couple of weeks for Gov. Bobby Jindal, with appearances on 60 Minutes, Meet the Press, the Today show and Sean Hannity's Fox News program — not to mention his widely panned response to President Barack Obama's first address to Congress. Shortly after delivering the GOP rebuttal, Jindal took his family on vacation to Disney World, but managed to squeeze in a $500-a-ticket fundraiser at a private home in Orlando. After returning briefly to Baton Rouge, Jindal jetted to California for two days, attending another fundraiser in Malibu, followed by three more whistle-stop fundraisers in Palo Alto, Fairfield and San Diego. Already this year, Jindal has held fundraisers in at least five states: Arkansas, Mississippi, North Carolina, Florida and California.
Jindal still has the support of national talk-radio poobah Rush Limbaugh, who has talked him up as future presidential material, but on statewide conservative radio, it's a different story. Monroe-based conservative talk-radio host Moon Griffon (nicknamed the "Louisiana Limbaugh"), whose weekday program is immensely popular in north and west Louisiana, has been slamming Jindal for months, dubbing him "Campaign Bobby."
Not surprisingly, the Louisiana Democratic Party is trying to make hay with the travels of the peripatetic governor. "Louisiana's facing a $1.6 billion budget shortfall, but Gov. Jindal is more concerned with raising money for himself than trying to fix Louisiana's economy. The people of Louisiana deserve more than an absentee governor," said Chris Whittington, chairman of the Louisiana Democratic Party. But criticism is also coming from state GOP sources like radio host Jeff Crouere, former executive director of the Louisiana Republican Party, who said, "I think Gov. Jindal should refund to the state pro-rata money for all those days he is out of state on personal business." — Kevin Allman
Lawmakers are busy pre-filing bills for the legislative session that begins April 27. One bill represents a sequel to a controversial topic broached during last year's session. GOP Rep. Ernest Wooten, the former sheriff of Plaquemines Parish, has again introduced legislation that would allow concealed handguns on college campuses. University officials and student government associations packed committee rooms in opposition to the bill last year. More of the same is expected this go-round. Gun control groups such as the Brady Campaign have had the bill on their radar for weeks and are setting their sights on Wooton's HB 27.
HB 29 by Rep. Sam Little, R-Bastrop, would statutorily create "designated quiet zones" around day care centers, hospitals, nursing homes, churches, schools and similar locales. Little's bill defines "unnecessary and excessive noise" as that which "a reasonable person would not tolerate under the circumstances and that is detrimental to the life, health or welfare of any individual." It's also defined as "any sound or noise emanating from a sound amplification system which is audible at a distance of greater than 25 feet and which exceeds 85 decibels." The loudest parts of the bill, however, are the penalties: $400 for a first offense and no more than $600 for second and subsequent offenses.
A few of the other pre-filed bills include:
• HB 30 by Rep. Elbert Guillory, D-Opelousas, allowing inmates convicted of first-degree murder, second-degree murder, aggravated rape, attempted aggravated rape, forcible rape, aggravated kidnapping, aggravated arson, armed robbery, attempted murder and attempted armed robbery to participate in state-run work-release programs if they have served 15 years — but only during the last 12 months of their terms in prison. Persons convicted of these crimes are not now eligible to participate.
• HB 22 by Rep. Kay Katz, R-Monroe, removes state and local sales and use taxes from tickets sold by "little theater organizations."
• HB 25 by Rep. Joel Robideaux, I-Lafayette, creates a special sales tax holiday for hurricane-preparedness items or supplies during a state of emergency declared in response to a named tropical storm or hurricane. — Jeremy Alford
Basin Plan Moves Forward
The Atchafalaya Basin Program's Research and Promotion Board recently approved a master plan for the environmentally sensitive wetlands area, and the state Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority will consider the plan later this month. After that, the much-anticipated plan will need approval from the Louisiana Legislature. The plan calls for three new water management projects that will need funding in the next fiscal year, which begins July 1. In its current form, the plan continues five major projects at a total cost of $2.48 million — of which $1.5 million would be used to create the "Atchafalaya Basin Natural Resources Inventory and Assessment Tool," a process designed to determine if Basin projects are environmentally sound.
Scott Angelle, secretary of the Department of Natural Resources, says this is the first time a plan of this scale for the basin has been designed and advanced. Lawmakers approved the planning process (including public hearings) last year. "This was the first year of the new process, incorporating the best principles of transparency in government and applying science to environmental planning," Angelle says. "It represents an important step in the future of the environmental health of one of Louisiana's signature areas, one that highlights the best of our bountiful natural resources." — Alford