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I-10: Ten Things to Know in New Orleans this Week (March 21, 2017) 

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1. ADDING SAME-SEX COUPLES TO STATE DOMESTIC VIOLENCE STATUTES
Proposed legislation by state Rep. Pat Connick, R-Marrero, aims to close a longstanding loophole in Louisiana's domestic violence statutes by including same-sex couples. Connick has prefiled House Bill 27 for the annual spring session, which begins April 10.

  The bill would alter the state's civil and criminal statutes by increasing potential penalties for abusers in same-sex cohabiting relationships and by providing key public welfare assistance options to same-sex victims.

  The bill simply removes the phrase "of opposite sex" from the state's definition of a household member, a definition that forms a foundation for domestic abuse battery and domestic aggravated assault charges, as well as support services for victims.

  Louisiana law defines domestic violence as violence perpetrated against family members, such as spouses or household members. State law identifies a household member as "any person of the opposite sex presently or formerly living in the same residence with the offender as a spouse, whether married or not ..." Louisiana and South Carolina are the only states that include "opposite sex" distinctions in their domestic violence statutes.

  Connick said he filed the legislation on behalf of the Jefferson Parish District Attorney's Office, where Assistant District Attorney Sunny Funk is spearheading the change. Connick said that office handles domestic violence cases daily and understands the community's needs. Society is evolving, Connick added, and the legal change is necessary to ensure the state is doing its best to protect all of its residents. "Everybody needs to be protected no matter what your sexual orientation," Connick said. "Everybody needs to be protected from abuse." — KATIE GAGLIANO | MANSHIP SCHOOL NEWS SERVICE

2. Quote of the week
"Today we learned that the President's FY 2018 budget blueprint proposes the elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts. ... We understand that the President's budget request is a first step in a very long budget process; as part of that process we are working with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to prepare information they have requested. At this time, the NEA continues to operate as usual and will do so until Congress enacts a new budget.

  "We expect this news to be an active topic of discussion among individuals and organizations that advocate for the arts. As a federal government agency, the NEA cannot engage in advocacy, either directly or indirectly. We will, however, continue our practice of educating about the NEA's vital role in serving our nation's communities." — Official statement from the National Endowment for the Arts, March 16. Among the other agencies facing total funding elimination are the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Institute of Museum and Library Services. The Washington Post called it "the worst-case scenario for arts groups."

3. LSP Superintendent Edmonson retires amid controversy
Col. Mike Edmonson, who's led the Louisiana State Police (LSP) since being appointed by Gov. Bobby Jindal in 2008, last week announced his retirement as of March 24. Edmonson had come under scrutiny after a report in The Advocate revealed several high-ranking LSP members had driven to a San Diego conference with taxpayer-paid stops along the way in Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon. In 2014, Edmonson was embroiled in controversy after a piece of legislation that would have substantially increased his pension was attached to an unrelated bill on the last day of that year's legislative session (he backtracked quickly and said he would not accept the windfall).

  Gov. John Bel Edwards, who had reappointed Edmonson, said in a statement, "Together, we believe this is the best approach for the department. Throughout many natural and man-made disasters, Col. Edmonson has been a steady hand and strong leader for the people of Louisiana." In his own statement, Edmonson said, "The Governor has never asked that I step down. As our discussions continued today, I have come to believe that my moving aside will permit the governor and the state to move forward. ... I've known since childhood that God's Plan runs perfect and that His Will be done. I am excited for what He has in store for me."

4. New low-barrier homeless shelter
Following debate among city officials and residents over the placement of a proposed low-barrier homeless shelter, Mayor Mitch Landrieu announced on March 15 low-barrier homeless services at the former Veterans Affairs Hospital on Gravier Street. The inclusion of 100 new low-barrier beds — at no cost, with no sobriety test, and open 24 hours, in the same building with nearby health and housing services — "can be critical as we seek to connect even more homeless to the necessary services they need to get into stable housing," Landrieu said.

  Landrieu originally pressed for its construction on Erato Street in Central City. District B City Councilmember LaToya Cantrell had pushed the city to look for an alternate site, including the former Temporary Detention Center on Perdido Street, part of the former jail complex, as well as the VA. Cantrell told Gambit she had been "shut out" of discussions about the location.

  Later that year, the Landrieu Administration considered Israel Meyer Augustine Middle School and the VA as alternative sites. Cantrell said her objection to the Erato location "was never about NIMBY," but about access to health care, case management and other services.

  According to a city press release, the VA location ultimately was chosen "due to an improved timeline for transfer of the building back to city control, proximity to the homeless population and service providers, and with input from partners and stakeholders."

  The city has budgeted $1.5 million in 2017 to help pay for the shelter, and partnering organization the Downtown Development District will pay an additional $1 million and match funding in the future. Annual costs are expected to be $750,000, paid by the city.

5. It's 3 a.m., and the doors may stay open
A controversial anti-crime plan rolled out by Mayor Mitch Landrieu earlier this year met criticism for a rule to force bars citywide to close their doors at 3 a.m. Last week, the city announced it would drop the idea "due to other public safety issues that may have resulted from reduced capacity and fire exits in bars," according to Ryan Berni, deputy mayor of external affairs.

  The plan focuses largely on the French Quarter and Bourbon Street, where street sweepers (with police escort) would hit the streets at 3 a.m. (and two more times before 10 a.m.). The "3 a.m." rule didn't plan to "close" bars — just their doors — while the New Orleans Police Department and other agencies "sweep the streets," according to New Orleans Police Superintendent Michael Harrison, speaking at a January press conference.

  The $40 million plan also adds 200 cameras to "hot spots" in neighborhoods across the city. Images from the cameras will be streamed to a command center. In a statement, the Music and Culture Coalition of New Orleans said it fails to see "what much of this plan has to do with crime reduction at all — rather it looks to be a form of 'disaster capitalism,' using the fear of crime to force through policies that will be widely unpopular."

6. Vandalism at Uptown church
A brick was thrown through the window of an Uptown church during its March 12 Sunday service — just two days after it hosted a town hall responding to violence against transgender people. The March 10 meeting at Unitarian Universalist Church was among the first citywide meetings organized entirely by transgender women of color to have the attention of several New Orleans City Council members as well as New Orleans Police Department brass. The brick "shattered more than ornamental glass, but the feeling of safety all people should feel in a place of worship," according to the Rev. Alisan Rowland of Metropolitan Community Church.

  At-Large City Councilman Jason Williams — who spoke at the meeting — said "this type of cowardly violence, perpetrated against such a welcoming space, is an incredibly hateful act."

  NOPD has not linked the damage to the town hall. Earlier this year, transgender women Ciara McElveen and Chyna Gibson were killed in New Orleans, and Jaquarrius Holland was killed in Monroe. Violence against transgender people in 2017 follows two of the deadliest years for transgender people in the U.S., including several deaths in Louisiana.

7. Thank God it's Friday
Former U.S. Attorney Kenneth Polite quoted the 1995 stoner comedy Friday the morning after he announced his resignation: "I feel like Craig from Friday. I voluntarily resigned, but then I got fired! #howyougetfiredonyourdayoff"

  Polite had submitted his resignation that week, to be effective March 24, but President Donald Trump, through the U.S. Department of Justice, had requested the 46 U.S. Attorneys who remained on the job following his inauguration step down immediately. Duane Evans, who previously served as first assistant U.S. Attorney under Polite, is the acting U.S. Attorney. Trump has not named a successor. Polite said in a statement that he will soon announce "his future endeavors, in both the public and private sectors."

8. Fresher options at corner stores
New Orleans will begin a pilot program adding fresh foods and fruits and vegetables to five corner stores (of more than 150 in the city) in several neighborhoods. As part of the city's Fresh Food Retailer Initiative, which provides small grants to stores looking to renovate to add fresh foods, the incoming Healthy Corner Store Collaborative will work with small, minority-owned businesses and aim to erase stereotypes about fresh food. Those stereotypes include: people don't want it; it costs too much to store and sell; and it can't compete with other demands.

  Each store will have one-on-one "mentorships" with Propeller developers and be connected with a supply chain from Liberty's Kitchen.

9. Facebook's Sandberg coming to New Orleans
Sheryl Sandberg, the high-profile Facebook COO and author of the ostensibly feminist career coaching tract Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead, will appear in New Orleans later this spring. She's in conversation with Mary Matalin at Academy of the Sacred Heart's Nims Fine Arts Center on May 9.

  In Lean In, Sandberg argues there aren't as many women in the highest levels of business in part because they begin "opting out" of more demanding assignments in anticipation of pregnancy and child care. The book sparked backlash from critics who pointed out that Sandberg has resources like nannies, housekeepers and significant wealth to support an ambitious career — assets which aren't available to many women.

  Sandberg reevaluated some of her Lean In arguments after the sudden death of her husband. Her new book, Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resistance and Finding Joy, details how her family recovered from that loss and how she copes with being a single parent.

  A ticket, which includes a copy of the new book, is required to attend the event sponsored by Garden District Book Shop. It's from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.

10. 'Recall Yenni' gives up the ghost
Leaders of a petition campaign to recall Jefferson Parish President Mike Yenni announced last week that they were folding after failing to secure 90,000 signatures, which would have forced a vote that could remove Yenni from office. With less than a month to go, the group led by Jefferson Parish Attorney Robert Evans had just 50,000 signatures.

  Last year, Yenni admitted to sending what he called "improper texts" to a then-17-year-old gay teen, but apologized and insisted it had nothing to do with his performance as parish president.

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