Quotes of the Week
"The mayor said cameras were repaired. ... What I am telling you is [Mayor Nagin] said the cameras were repaired — he was talking about the cameras that had been repaired by [Hurricane] Gustav. He didn't address operability or inoperability for service cameras for that month." — Ceeon Quiett, Mayor Ray Nagin's director of communications, explaining the difference between city crime cameras that are repaired versus crime cameras that actually work.
"I have heard the drumbeat behind me. The dice hall boys have won again." — State Sen. Rob Marionneaux Jr., D-Livonia, blaming the gambling industry for the defeat of his bill banning smoking in bars and casinos.
"I don't know. Dave Vitter seems to be surviving." — Rep. Barney Frank in GQ, in response to the question, "Do you think you'd have survived your scandal today?" — Kevin Allman
Tough Dad's Day for Some
Father's Day looms ominously for three Louisiana political families this Sunday (June 21). Former U.S. Rep. Bill Jefferson is on trial in Alexandria, Va., accused of engaging in bribery, racketeering, money laundering and other crimes in schemes to benefit himself, his wife and four adult daughters. Former Gov. Edwin Edwards, 81, continues serving a 10-year sentence in Oakdale, La., for his federal corruption conviction. His son, Stephen Edwards, who also was convicted in the case but was released from prison last year, is now installing awnings in metro Baton Rouge. U.S. District Judge Ralph Tyson, chief judge of the federal Middle District, has not yet ruled on a request by the younger Edwards to end his post-conviction sentence of three years supervised probation, records show. U.S. Attorney Jim Letten of New Orleans, who prosecuted the father and son, argues Stephen should remain on probation until completion of his seven-year sentence on March 6, 2011. Finally, businessman Michael O'Keefe Jr., who recently pleaded guilty to a federal housing scam, will be sentenced on July 22 by U.S. District Judge Ivan L. R. Lemelle. O'Keefe pleaded guilty after saying a trial would pose a hardship on his ability to care for his cancer-stricken father, twice-imprisoned former Louisiana Senate President Michael H. O'Keefe Sr. — Allen M. Johnson Jr.
The Final Countdown
The state's $28 billion budget is still in play as the legislative session lurches closer to its June 25 adjournment. During the next fiscal year, which begins July 1, the state is expected to receive $1.3 billion less in revenue, meaning programs must be cut or incoming dollars must be increased. There's a middle ground worth exploring, but lawmakers have avoided it since the session convened in late April. As an overview, Sen. John Alario, D-Westwego, dean of the Legislature, says the Senate has been prepared to generate money for the state through various tax changes, but the House has only been willing to consider reductions. As for Gov. Bobby Jindal, a Republican, Alario says the administration has been "directionless" and that the ongoing session is shaping up to be the most contentious he's seen since being elected to the Legislature in 1972. "In the past, we had a plan that we went by," Alario says. "It was generally a combination of revenue-raising measures and some cuts within the budget."
All of the uncertainty has lawmakers wondering how this session will end. Will Jindal veto lawmakers' many changes to his budget plan? If so, will lawmakers fire back with a veto override session? The one consensus is that education and health care must be saved from drastic cuts. Even that seemingly simple resolution remains elusive as Republicans question whether taxes are really needed and Democrats ponder the severity of cuts. "It's a difficult tightrope to walk," says Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge. — Jeremy Alford
Senate Fuels Budget Fires
As the 2010 operating budget left the Senate for compromise negotiations, the state's workforce was scheduled to shrink by 1,223 jobs. Critics contend it's a small figure, considering how bloated state government is and the economic forecasts predicting future budget shortfalls. Maybe that's why senators slipped in a last-minute amendment to House Bill 1 that directs the commissioner of administration "to develop a comprehensive study of the state workforce encompassing each department, agency and program of state." The amendment also calls for the commissioner to recommend further reductions to the state workforce based on the study. Because the next legislative session won't convene for another year, the administration must submit its findings to the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget by Nov. 1. If adopted by lawmakers and not cut by the veto pen of Gov. Bobby Jindal, the study would have to include a specific implementation plan for fiscal year 2011. Lawmakers will debate that budget next spring, but could get a head start this fall thanks to the amendment, which was inserted by the Senate Finance Committee. — Alford
Late last week, the Legislature was close to approving a measure that would encourage "angel investors" to continue doing business in Louisiana. Angel investors are typically wealthy entrepreneurs who don't mind gambling on early-stage or start-up businesses. Senate Bill 109 extends for an additional five years a credit that's already on the books. In short, the angel investor tax credit provides a break on income and corporation franchise taxes. While lawmakers in the Senate overwhelmingly endorsed the legislation earlier this month, sending it to the House for further debate, some senators did express interest in following the program more closely to see if it's worth the $1 million annual hit to Louisiana's coffers. Sen. Rob Marionneaux Jr., D-Livonia, the bill's author, says a review of the program's recent success has already been documented. "The Department of Economic Development has felt the program is warranted," he says. "This program, for example, has seen $1.8 billion in investments." — Alford
Just in time for hurricane season, the Legislature is poised to approve legislation that would allow volunteer physicians, pharmacists, nurses and other emergency medical personnel not licensed in Louisiana to offer assistance during an emergency. The House Health and Welfare Committee approved the measure last week to address why many volunteers were turned away from the impact zones of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005. Sen. Sherri Smith Cheek, R-Keithville, is the sponsor of Senate Bill 107, also known as the Uniform Emergency Volunteer Health Practitioners Act. More than a dozen other states have already enacted such laws over the past two years, including those with high elevations such as Colorado, Kentucky and Tennessee. The program would rely on a series of national databases. If a medical professional trying to enter the impact zone isn't registered in one of the databases, the legislation calls for a recognition system for health-related licenses. The proposal was drafted by the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws and is supported by organizations such as the Red Cross and the American College of Surgeons. — Alford