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What to know in New Orleans this week (April 3 - 9, 2018) 

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MINIMUM WAGE, EQUAL PAY BILLS FAIL IN STATE LEGISLATURE
The Louisiana Senate last week failed to pass three bills designed to close gender-based pay disparities and lift families out of poverty. The defeated measures included a bill increasing the minimum wage by $1.25 an hour.

  New Orleans Democratic Sens. J.P. Morrell and Troy Carter sponsored a package of bills — one extending equal pay protections to women working with state contracts, a second establishing a state minimum wage of $8.50 by 2020, and another prohibiting employers from firing workers for discussing wages. The measures narrowly passed a Senate committee earlier this month but couldn't muster a majority of the full Senate.

  Morrell's extension of the Louisiana Equal Pay for Women Act, which currently applies to state workers, would apply to businesses with state contracts. It failed by a vote of 18-20. Louisiana's wage gap among men and women workers is among the highest in the U.S. The Institute for Women's Policy Research estimates that gap won't close until the year 2115.

  Republican Sens. Danny Martiny and Sharon Hewitt argued against the measure, which Hewitt believes already is addressed by federal law. Hewitt said the remedy is women entering "higher-paying careers."

  "This is a lawyer's bonanza," said Martiny, adding that because businesses would "have to deal with the equal pay for women issue," they would end up saying they'd "rather hire the man."

  "I'm really embarrassed to be a citizen in the state of Louisiana," said state Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, who added she was nearly moved to tears after hearing comments from Martiny and Hewitt. Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said, "A vote against equal pay is a vote against fairness, progress and against the hardworking women of our state who deserve to be compensated the same as their male counterparts for the same job."

  A few days after the state Senate rejected the minimum hourly wage increase, state Rep. Joe Bouie, D-New Orleans, proffered a bill to bring it up to $15 by 2019 — the first-ever attempt in the Louisiana Legislature for a $15 minimum wage. The House Commerce Committee rejected Bouie's proposal, with only three representatives voting in support. The same committee also rejected a House bill to extend the state's equal pay protections to women who work for state contractors.

Quote of the week
"When I went to sleep, Mitch Landrieu was the mediocre mayor of New Orleans, facing lethargic public support and intense local disapproval. When I woke up, he was a future leader of the Democratic Party and a 2020 presidential contender. In New Orleans, many dissatisfied Democrats like me are now watching his ascension and wondering what the hell is going on." — Michael Stein writing in The New Republic, adding, "If Mitch Landrieu has emerged as a player on the national stage, it's because there is a yawning void where exciting young Democrats should be."

'Bulletproof backpacks' bill clears hurdle in Baton Rouge
Two days after students, teachers and parents marched across the U.S. for stronger gun control measures, a bill allowing Louisiana students to wear "bulletproof backpacks" cleared its first legislative hurdle. The bill — filed in the wake of nearly 300 school shootings across the U.S. since the killing of 20 children at Sandy Hook Elementary School — was unanimously approved by the Louisiana Senate's Judiciary C Committee March 26.

  That committee also narrowly rejected a separate bill that would allow schools to hire military personnel or reservists, as well as retired teachers and parents, as armed campus security. The committee voted 4-3 to shelve that measure.

  Teachers and students told committee members that schools need supplies and access to mental health and other health services on campus — not more weapons. Several parents and teachers argued the presence of more guns in schools likely will make students feel less safe.

  "What are we doing now?" said state Sen. Neil Riser, R-Columbia, who sponsored the bill. "What's transpiring? Nothing. To sit here and do nothing is not the answer."

  State Sen. Mike Walsworth, R-West Monroe, introduced the bulletproof backpack measure but admitted feeling uneasy about its passage. "It at least gives our children some kind of protection," he said.

  The bills are among several pieces of legislation dealing with guns. State Reps. Ray Garofalo, R-Chalmette, and J. Rogers Pope, R-Denham Springs, have filed similar bills allowing certain school employees with concealed weapons permits to carry guns on school grounds. Both bills are pending in House committees. State Sen. John Milkovich, D-Shreveport, has proposed the "Safe Schools Act," giving schools authority to remove students they believe to be a threat. Meanwhile, New Orleans Reps. Gary Carter and Helena Moreno, both Democrats, have proposed banning the sale of assault-type weapons in Louisiana or selling to people under 21 years old.

State Senate bill would ban abortions after 15 weeks
As a legal battle rages over neighboring Mississippi's recent ban on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, similar legislation and a lawsuit demonstrate ongoing tensions over the right to obtain an abortion in Louisiana. The Louisiana Senate Judiciary C Committee soon will consider two bills that could further restrict abortion access in the state, including a 15-week ban that mirrors Mississippi's.

  During the current legislative session, state lawmakers will take up two bills filed by state Sen. John Milkovich, D-Shreveport, who cites "fighting abortion" as one of his signature issues. Senate Bill 325 would enhance district attorneys' powers to permanently close clinics that provide abortion services after certain violations, including violations of recordkeeping laws. If enacted, his Senate Bill 181, proposing a ban on abortions after 15 weeks, would match Mississippi as the earliest-term ban in the country. (Louisiana already bans abortions in most cases after 20 weeks; that law was signed in 2012 by then-Gov. Bobby Jindal.)

  It's not yet clear how much support these bills will garner among Louisiana legislators, but Milkovich has a key ally: Gov. John Bel Edwards. Though Edwards, a Democrat, has made a point in this session to support women's causes (such as equal pay), he opposes abortion and announced on his monthly radio program that he'd likely sign a 15-week ban if the bill made it to his desk.

  "The idea that Gov. Edwards would say he was inclined to sign it is shocking," says Rochelle Tafolla, vice president of communications and marketing for Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast. "That is just a show of how extreme some politicians have become, and willing to cast aside the health care needs of the people in the state — and women in particular."

  According to the Guttmacher Institute, a research and policy organization that tracks reproductive issues, there were seven clinics that performed abortions operating in Louisiana in 2011; today there are three.

Coulter, Breitbart News to hold 'town hall' in Metairie April 5
Ann Coulter will be among panelists when Breitbart News holds a "town hall" at Andrea's Restaurant in Metairie April 5. The event's title: "Masters of the Universe: Big Tech vs. Free Speech and Privacy."

  Breitbart News Editor-in-Chief Alex Marlow will moderate the event. Other panelists include author Peter Schweizer (Clinton Cash, Throw Them All Out) and Robert Epstein, senior research psychologist at the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology. The event is sponsored by Free Our Internet, a group "whose mission is to educate citizens about how Silicon Valley giants like Google, Facebook, and Twitter have been banning, blocking, and censoring conservative speech online," according to a statement on the nonprofit's webpage.

  Attendance is free, but those interested in going must RSVP via email. The town hall also will be streamed on Facebook Live.

Report details short-term rental effects on New Orleans
A lengthy report released last week by housing advocacy group the Jane Place Neighborhood Sustainability Initiative (JPNSI) says that less than 20 percent of short-term rental operators in New Orleans control nearly half of all listings.

  "Short Term Rentals, Long Term Impacts: The Corrosion of Housing Access & Affordability in New Orleans" follows extensive media reporting and debate over the impact of STRs in New Orleans, which spiked in the wake of a package of city laws that provide a legal framework to allow them to operate. City officials hailed it as a model compromise with the industry while extracting tax revenue from an already-existing practice. But JPNSI found that 18 percent of all operators control roughly half of all STRs in New Orleans. Gambit's recent review of licenses issued by the city found the top 10 operators — including Sonder, Hosteeva and Stay Alfred — hold more than 400 licenses, with several operators holding several listings per license. JPNSI says those top 10 operators have 568 listings.

  "What is happening in New Orleans is not home sharing but the hotelization of residential housing," JPNSI program manager Breonne DeDecker said. "The data is clear — our city's permissive STR laws have enabled and encouraged intense disruption in the housing market due to speculative investments and spillover costs for residents, due to higher rents, higher purchase costs for homes, and higher property values."

  In a statement to Gambit, Airbnb press secretary Laura Rillos said the study uses "unreliable scraped data to make false conclusions about our community, when the reality is the vast majority of New Orleans hosts are sharing the homes in which they live." Rillos also said Airbnb has removed roughly 3,000 illegal listings from its platform.

Landrieu to receive 'Profile in Courage' award
Mayor Mitch Landrieu has been named the recipient of the 2018 John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award "for his leadership in relocating four of the Confederate monuments in New Orleans while offering candid, clear and compassionate reflections on the moment and its place in history," the Kennedy selection committee announced last week.

  In a statement, Jack Schlossberg, grandson of former President Kennedy, said, "Mayor Landrieu turned a difficult and divisive issue into an opportunity to reflect on our nation's history and to recommit ourselves to our founding principles of equality and justice. The Mayor explained what the monuments represent — a dark chapter in our history that should neither be forgotten, misunderstood nor glorified."

  Landrieu, who has been on a book tour for his memoir In the Shadow of Statues: A White Southerner Confronts History, will receive the award May 20 at Boston's John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum.

'Fossil Free Fest' highlights environmental justice issues
A week of film screenings, panel discussions, performances and guided tours will highlight environmental justice and New Orleans' seemingly inextricable link to oil and gas and how to move away from it. Fossil Free Fest debuts April 2-8, with a series of free film screenings April 2-5 at The Broad Theater and discussions and performances at the Joan Mitchell Center and Grow Dat Youth Farm April 6-8.

  The entanglement of oil and gas with art and culture creates a "silencing effect," giving companies a social license to operate as the region faces climate change-related environmental crises, organizer Imani Jacqueline Brown says.

  The theme for events on April 6 is "Equity" with a focus on "entrenched injustice" and moving beyond an extraction-based economy to a sustainable and equitable society, Brown says. April 7 discusses "Complicity," discussing the region's social contract with oil and gas, how artists and cultural groups rely on funding from those industries and foundations, and the responsibility to address those things through art and education. April 8 discusses a "Vision to Action." There's also food provided each day and an after-party at the Ace Hotel April 8.

  Visit www.fossilfreefest.org for a schedule and more information.

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