Quotes of the Week
"Many Louisianians have encouraged me to run for U.S. Senate next year. I am discussing this opportunity with my wife and kids and will be making an announcement in the coming weeks.'' — Rep. Charlie Melancon, in response to media reports that he's already decided to challenge David Vitter in the 2010 Senate race
"Politics in New Orleans is the dominant industry, so I decided to get in. Besides tourism, politics dominates everything. I just think it's part of our legacy and our history. Politics is definitely a sport and something that the citizens pay attention to." — Mayor Ray Nagin, during an Australian radio interview.
"But the real star of today's show was the cold cash: the $90,000 wrapped in aluminum foil and shoved in a freezer that the FBI found in a raid of Jefferson's home. ... White-gloved hands held stacks of foil-wrapped cash tucked inside the cardboard containers of Pillsbury Pie Crust and Boca Burgers." — Dionne Searcey, covering the Bill Jefferson trial for The Wall Street Journal.
Judge Lombard for Mayor?
Political consultant Vincent Sylvain, who helped Judge Edwin A. Lombard win election to the state Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal in 2002, said last week Lombard would be a formidable candidate for mayor "if Ed Murray's campaign does not take off." Murray, a state senator and declared candidate for mayor, cannot begin campaigning in earnest until the Louisiana Legislature adjourns at 6 p.m. June 25. Louisiana's judicial canons prohibit sitting judges like Lombard from commenting on their nonjudicial political ambitions and speculations. A judge becomes a "candidate" for nonjudicial office when he or she "makes a public announcement of candidacy, declares or files as a candidate ... or authorizes solicitation or acceptance of contributions or support, whichever comes first," according to Canon 7. A judge must resign upon becoming a candidate for any nonjudicial office. Lombard's financial benefactors in his 2002 judicial campaign included lawyer Allen Usry and the late Jefferson Parish Sheriff Harry Lee. Lombard was the first black official in Orleans Parish elected citywide, taking office as Clerk of Criminal Court in 1974. Qualifying for the mayor's race is Dec. 9-11. The primary is Feb. 6, 2010. Any runoff will be March 6. — Allen Johnson Jr.
Studying the Outsiders
The House Commerce Committee adopted legislation last week that could help peel back the layers of challenges facing Louisiana citizens without full access to banking services. "Unbanked individuals" refers to a diverse group of people who do not have checking or savings accounts and are essentially outside the banking mainstream. "Underbanked parties" consist of people or businesses with poor access to mainstream financial services such as banks, but use alternative services that target low-income consumers such as check cashers, loan sharks and pawnbrokers. Arguing that bank accounts provide a gateway for households to enter a more secure financial system and acquire assets, Rep. Rosalind Jones, D-Monroe, is pushing House Resolution 80 to prompt the state to study of the situation. The resolution directs "all departments, boards, agencies, officers and institutions of the state" to cooperate with the House Commerce Committee in completing the study. In theory, the endgame would be a set of recommendations that could be addressed during the 2010 regular session. Nationwide, there are 28 million unbanked individuals and almost 45 million underbanked individuals, according to the resolution. Jones says these individuals face various barriers to entering the marketplace, including a lack of understanding of the banking process, expectations for having a bank account, past negative experiences, no identification, unstable living situations, cultural conflicts and regulatory restraints. — Jeremy Alford
Gov. Bobby Jindal has defended a proposed bailout of the troubled Pilgrim's Pride chicken processing plant in Farmerville, a major employer in north Louisiana. Recent employer filings with the Louisiana Workforce Commission show other layoffs looming around the state. Among them: Slidell-based Waste Management of St. Tammany, 55
workers on July 1; UTLX Manufacturing Inc. at Alexandria, 159 workers on July 10; Continental Structural Plastics of Sarepta, 108 workers on July 15; and Boise Paper Holdings, a paper mill at DeRidder, 105 workers on Aug. 9. On June 26, Lockheed Martin Space Systems in eastern New Orleans is expected to lay off at least 66 workers. (See "When Pink Slips Fly," p. 9.) State commission spokesman Greg Anders says the federal WARN Act requires notification of certain elected officials before a layoff of 50 workers or more. In New Orleans, the mayor's office is the designated contact for pending layoffs, Anders says. — Johnson
Scenic Rivers Appealing
As the legislative session began to wind down, lawmakers put the finishing touches on a new appeals process for Louisiana's Natural and Scenic Rivers Program. Overseen by the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, the program currently includes 52 rivers, bayous and streams that collectively run more than 1,700 miles. Waterways in the program are eligible for resources that preserve, protect, develop, reclaim and enhance. The program also opens local communities to channels of money not already available, including dollars for cultural efforts, tourism, rehabilitation and possibly even economic development. A management plan with regulations for land and water uses, as well as ownership guidelines, likewise covers all bodies of water in the program. But sometimes, when businesses or individuals apply for certain approvals, the management plan causes them to be denied. House Bill 234 would create — for the first time — an appeal process. The bill originally called for all appeals to be channeled to the 19th Judicial District Court in Baton Rouge, but many lawmakers objected because it would require some citizens to travel long distances just to file an appeal. "This takes government further away from the people," says Sen. Francis Thompson, D-Delhi. "And I just like home cooking better." Thompson was successful in stripping that provision out of the bill and changing the legislation so individuals filing appeals can choose between the Baton Rouge courts and those in their own areas. — Alford
Checks totaling more than $52,500 made out to various city agencies are gathering dust in Baton Rouge, according to a Gambit check of unclaimed property rolls kept by state Treasurer John N. Kennedy. The biggest single check — for $12,607.91 — is made out to the "Mayor's Office of Urban Development." At least $500 has been sent to the headquarters address for the New Orleans Police Department. There are also payments of $78 for the Vieux Carre Commission and $1,548 for the Orleans Levee District. City officials can dowload claim forms from the treasurer's Web site, (www.treasury.state.la.us) or call toll free for more information (888-925-4127). — Johnson
Not in the Zone
Although there's still a chance the proposal could be resurrected during the current legislative session's final days, the bid to make Ascension the 20th parish in the coastal zone appears dead. The Senate rejected Ascension's bid by an overwhelming vote of 7-27 last week, and Ascension Parish lawmakers decided against bringing it up again for reconsideration. House Bill 423 by Rep. Eddie Lambert, R-Gonzales, would have placed Ascension on the same level as Orleans and St. Bernard parishes when it comes to issues such as levees, floodgates and land loss. Lambert says Ascension deserves to be in the fold because of flooding and conservation problems, including saltwater intrusion in the Blind River area, eroding cypress trees and tidal surges from lakes Pontchartrain and Maurepas. By becoming part of the coastal zone, Ascension would be eligible for special assistance from the state. There already were concerns among coastal lawmakers that Ascension's inclusion would mean a smaller piece of the financial pie for their own parishes, but most were willing to go along to help address Ascension's flooding problems. When the Senate first took up the bill, Sen. Rob Marionneaux Jr., D-Maringouin, amended the legislation to include Iberville Parish as well. Bringing yet another parish into the mix was more than coastal lawmakers were willing to give, and the Senate rejected the entire legislation. In an earlier interview, Louis E. Buatt, assistant coastal secretary at the Department of Natural Resources, said the exact impact of adding Ascension to the coastal zone is unknown, but he added that some impact would be felt by parishes already in the zone. — Alford
11th hour push
With just days left in the legislative session, critics of the proposed $1.2 billion LSU/VA medical complex are mounting a grassroots effort to get legislators to reconsider a property-rights bill. A coalition of lower Mid-City residents and business owners late last week placed advertisements in the Alexandria Town Talk and Baton Rouge Advocate, urging lawmakers to revive House Bill 780. The measure would require LSU to provide a detailed financing plan before seizing homes and businesses in the 67-acre footprint using the legal instrument of "eminent domain." Authored by Rep. Rick Nowlin, R-Natchitoches, HB 780 passed the House 94-2 but was tabled in the Senate Education Committee. One ad shows a cluster of "Stop" signs over the message: "Stop Eminent Domain: The state should not take private property without a plan to fund its projects." Mid-City businessman Mickey Weiser, owner of Weiser Security Services and a co-sponsor of the protest ad, says he fears that if LSU begins seizing and razing property before securing funding for the $1.2 billion project, "all that will remain of my business and this neighborhood will be a bunch of empty parking lots." LSU has $300 million for the project. The university also is appealing FEMA's recent decision rejecting its $498.1 million claim for federal replacement costs of Charity Hospital, which has been closed since Hurricane Katrina in 2005. LSU and other project proponents have said property owners in the 67-acre footprint would receive fair market value and relocation costs for homes or businesses expropriated for the project. As for HB 780, the Legislature must adjourn by 6 p.m. June 25. — Johnson