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What to know in New Orleans this week (March 13 - 19, 2018) 

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Photo by Alex Woodward

Council approves Entergy plant in N.O. East
Dozens of New Orleans East residents challenged Entergy's plan to build a 128-megawatt, gas-fired power plant in Michoud, but after six hours of public comments on March 8, the New Orleans City Council approved the utility's plan by a 6-1 vote.

  Council members hoped to remedy the city's inability to generate local power after routine power outages underscored the city's defective energy infrastructure. Opponents said construction of a new plant is not guaranteed to solve ongoing issues with outages, while residents will foot the bill for construction. Opponents also cite fears of pollution and other environmental impacts.

  District A Councilwoman Susan Guidry was the sole vote against the resolution. "I have watched Entergy drag their feet over and over again," said Guidry, adding that the utility has put the City Council in a corner when it doesn't agree to the Council's regulatory demands. "We have been given one option by Entergy: a fossil fuel plant."

  Guidry said rather than updating Entergy's transmission lines, which have been the cause of most outage issues, ratepayers instead will pay for the plant over the next few decades, while the technology it uses to generate power will become obsolete.

  The meeting underscored a disconnection between City Hall and New Orleans East residents who routinely feel ignored when it comes to policy decisions that play out in their backyard. Residents challenged the Council to consider whether it would approve similar plans in more affluent areas. They also asked why Entergy hasn't proposed renewable energy sources, especially in the wake of increasing awareness of coastal erosion and climate change and their relationship to carbon emissions.

  At-Large Councilwoman Stacy Head said the city can make the plant obsolete as demand grows for solar and other alternatives, but immediate issues of transmission reliability and local power generation make the plant's construction "the only rational solution." She also said the process and the burden on ratepayers is a "prime example" why changes should be made to the Councils' regulatory system, which relies on a network of advisors guiding the Council on regulatory decisions.

Quote of the week
"I think the people of Louisiana seem to think we have a fiscal cliff every Thursday. And frankly, they don't believe it anymore." — U.S. Sen. John Neely Kennedy, pooh-poohing the state's roughly $1 billion budget hole one day after a special session of the Louisiana Legislature adjourned without addressing the problem. Kennedy pinned the blame on Gov. John Bel Edwards; the senator is considered a Republican contender for governor in 2019.

Legislature returns this week with big headaches
With the collapse of the special legislative session last week without any solution to the state's budget problems, legislators from both parties are warning that all the bickering and mistrust will make it harder for them to come together on other important issues. Gov. John Bel Edwards said in a post-session news conference that House Speaker Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia, reneged on a promise in early February to deliver 40 GOP votes for proposals to raise $440 million of revenue. Edwards said Barras cut that offer down to $220 million when the session opened a week later without telling him and then failed to deliver on that.

  Edwards' assertion about Barras (who did not respond to a request for comment) is one example of the allegations of broken faith on both sides in what Edwards called a "totally dysfunctional" session marked by distrust and political maneuvering.

  On March 4, a last-ditch effort to find solutions to a projected $1 billion budget shortfall disintegrated when a majority of Democrats voted down a Republican bill to extend a quarter-penny increase in the sales tax out of fear that Republicans would renege on a compromise to support New Orleans Democrat Walt Leger's bill to limit income tax deductions.

  Edwards' statement came several days after Rep. Barry Ivey, R-Baton Rouge, and other Republicans said on the House floor that some Republicans were stalling action on tax reforms to prevent Edwards from having a "win" ahead of his 2019 re-election campaign. Edwards said while that mentality may not dominate the legislative body, it is hampering progress. "The level of acrimony and distrust is more than anything I've seen in my 10 years in state government," he said. He added that "some obstructionists" in the House were "hurting the state of Louisiana because we have a big problem to fix, and so long as they're motivated by [defeating Edwards], then they're not focused on fixing the problem."

  Lawmakers are facing nearly $1 billion in cuts when the regular session convenes this week, with key services including health care and higher education poised to take the brunt of cuts. The governor's doomsday budget, which assumes there will be no new revenue to replace an expiring penny sales tax, slashes the entire appropriation for the popular TOPS scholarship program, a $233 million hit, and cuts higher education institutions by nearly $26 million. Health care would lose 20 percent of its general fund budget, roughly $490 million, plus $1.5 billion in federal matching dollars.

  Legislators' options for cuts largely are limited to these two high-profile areas because they are the biggest discretionary spending pots in a budget bound largely to services and funds mandated by statute or the Louisiana Constitution. Talk of another special session already is brewing, as legislators cannot raise revenue in regular sessions during even-numbered years. Edwards said there's talk of shortening the regular session to convene another special session in mid-May. — MANSHIP SCHOOL NEWS SERVICE

With new book coming out, Landrieu goes on 60 Minutes
As of press time, Mayor Mitch Landrieu was scheduled to appear on 60 Minutes March 11 to discuss his controversial removal of four Confederate monuments last year. "Really, what these monuments were, were a lie," Landrieu tells correspondent Anderson Cooper in a preview clip. During the segment, Landrieu also shows Cooper the secret site where two of the monuments are being stored. 60 Minutes, which agreed not to disclose the location, refers to it as a "shed."

  The appearance seems to be coordinated with Landrieu's upcoming tour for his new book In the Shadow of Statues: A White Southerner Confronts History, which will be published by Viking March 20.

  Last week, Landrieu announced some plans for the sites where the monuments once stood, including the installation of an American flag on the spot where the Jefferson Davis statue stood in Mid-City, and "beautification work" at the former sites of the P.G.T. Beauregard and Robert E. Lee statues. Ultimate decisions about Lee Circle, Landrieu said, will be left to Mayor-elect LaToya Cantrell's administration. The pro-monument group Save Our Circle, meanwhile, blasted Landrieu in a press release, calling the mayor "delusional" and saying he used the monument issue "as a deflection from his failures in our city with the NOPD, the violent crime, the failing infrastructure, our streets, the S&WB, the flooding of our city and the way that our economy has been decimated by his many, many failed policies."

'March for Our Lives' gun control march set for March 24
A nationwide coalition of students, teachers, parents and supporters join March for Our Lives March 24 in calling on elected officials to adopt gun control measures after the 17 killings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. This week, students will participate in a nationwide school walkout at 10 a.m. March 14 for 17 minutes.

  In New Orleans, Benjamin Franklin High School students Olivia Keefe and Louise Olivier organized with students from schools throughout the New Orleans area as well as local activist groups to promote gun control efforts on the state and local levels. The New Orleans March for Our Lives event begins at noon at Washington Square Park and goes through the French Quarter to City Hall.

  The Louisiana Legislature will consider several gun control measures in the coming months. State Rep. Patricia Smith, D-Baton Rouge, filed House Bill 473, which "prohibits the importation, manufacture, sale, purchase, possession, or transfer of a rapid-fire device and provides criminal penalties for violations of the prohibition." State Rep. Helena Moreno, D-New Orleans, filed House Bill 603, which "prohibits the sale and possession of assault weapons and high capacity magazines and requires those who currently possess such weapons to register or surrender their weapon."

  State Sen. Troy Carter, D-New Orleans, has filed two measures: Senate Bills 155 and 274, which aim to raise the minimum age for buying assault weapons as well as "any firearm or other instrumentality customarily used as a dangerous weapon" from 18 to 21.

Feminist Festival returns to Loyola
Feminist Festival, the annual celebration of women's history and gender equality, has returned to Loyola University New Orleans. Now in its third year, the fest (March 4-16) offers panel discussions, performances, lectures, painting workshops and film screenings during Women's History Month to encourage dialogues about inclusiveness and women's empowerment. This year there's also a crawfish boil and concert to close out the fest.

  Highlights of the event include an afternoon book talk March 12 with Kat Kinsman, author of Hi, Anxiety! Life with a Bad Case of Nerves. Notable women working in New Orleans' restaurant industry including Kristen Essig (Coquette) and Mary Sonnier (Gabrielle) speak on a panel about the challenges of working in their famously male-dominated field that same evening. On March 16, Martha Alguera of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America leads a discussion on how to get involved in the gun control movement.

  More information and a full schedule of events and locations are available at the festival website at www.loyno.edu.

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