News & Politics

Monday, May 21, 2018

Council members, business leaders call for health care, 'fairness' for hospitality workers

Posted By on Mon, May 21, 2018 at 5:18 PM

From left: District B Councilmember Jay Banks, New Orleans City Council President Jason Williams, District C Councilmember Kristin Gisleson Palmer, New Orleans & Company senior VP of public affairs Cheryl Teamer. - PHOTO BY KAT STROMQUIST
  • PHOTO BY KAT STROMQUIST
  • From left: District B Councilmember Jay Banks, New Orleans City Council President Jason Williams, District C Councilmember Kristin Gisleson Palmer, New Orleans & Company senior VP of public affairs Cheryl Teamer.

At a news conference that was thin on specifics but signaled support for rank-and-file workers in the city's most prominent industry, New Orleans City Council President Jason Williams issued a "clarion call" for health care for local hospitality workers.

Joined by New Orleans Tourism Marketing Commission (NOTMC) President Mark Romig, Cheryl Teamer of New Orleans & Company and Districts B and C Councilmembers Jay Banks and Kristin Gisleson Palmer, Williams pledged to work with stakeholders to develop a plan to provide cost-accessible health care services for industry workers and to help them better share in the bounty of the profitable New Orleans tourism industry.

"For the first 300 years of this city's history, hospitality has looked one way. ... It has to look different for our next 300 years," Williams said. He called workers the "backbone" of the tourism industry, saying they're "the person [tourists] see first, last and in the middle" of visits to New Orleans.

"Tourism dollars that come to this city have to be shared with the folks who give so much of themselves. ... [To workers], I hear you, I see you and we will do our part to take care of you," Williams said.

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New Orleans City Council to consider new restrictions on short-term rentals, will direct City Planning Commission to further study impacts

Posted By on Mon, May 21, 2018 at 3:50 PM

PHOTO BY ALEX WOODWARD
  • PHOTO BY ALEX WOODWARD

The New Orleans City Council will consider a new interim zoning district that prohibits new commercial and temporary short-term rentals in many neighborhoods for listings on platforms like Airbnb.

The City Council also will consider rescinding a motion directing the City Planning Commission (CPC) to study the impacts of the year-old STR laws established by the previous administration, but it will request a new, broader study building on what the CPC already has reviewed. The new study will also direct the CPC to look at New Orleans' laws and STR presence compared to similarly sized cities like Austin, Charleston, Nashville and Savannah, and whether those cities' laws could work in New Orleans. It also will review STRs' contributions to the city's affordable housing funds.

A new "Short Term Rental Interim Zoning District" will end new licenses as well as renewals for temporary STRs and ends renewals for commercial STRs in historic core and historic urban zoning districts, "neighborhoods feeling the greatest impact," says District C Councilmember Kristin Gisleson Palmer. That interim zoning district remains in effect for one year.

Palmer, who filed both motions, stresses that the legislation passed by the City Council last year was, in their words, "a first step."

"Now it's been over a year," Palmer told Gambit. "The reason why you have the study is so the individual that feels the way the neighborhood looks now has actual information to determine whether that feeling is correct. Housing, places, neighborhoods you have an emotive connection to. We want to make sure it's based in fact when we start legislating."

The City Council will vote on those motions Thursday, May 24.

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Friday, May 18, 2018

Women's groups call on Edwards to veto 15-week abortion ban

Posted By on Fri, May 18, 2018 at 2:05 PM

The Louisiana State Capitol. - CREATIVE COMMONS/FORMULANONE
  • CREATIVE COMMONS/FORMULANONE
  • The Louisiana State Capitol.

At a press conference at the Louisiana State Capitol Building May 18, representatives from several Louisiana women's advocacy groups called on Gov. John Bel Edwards to veto a controversial ban on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy and blasted legislators for their failure to pass woman-friendly policies this session.

The conference, which was streamed on Facebook Live, was a last push by advocates to try and stop Senate Bill 181 (the 15-week ban) from becoming one of the nation's most restrictive abortion laws and triggering a near-certain legal battle over its constitutionality.

""Make no mistake — a 15-week abortion ban is an unconstitutional law and our legislators were told that repeatedly," Ellie Schilling, an attorney who works on reproductive rights issues and Lift Louisiana board president, said. "[This law] will do nothing but waste taxpayer money on costly litigation."

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New Orleans City Council to open Entergy investigation into 'astroturfing' campaign

Posted By on Fri, May 18, 2018 at 11:45 AM

Member of the New Orleans City Council at a May 18 press conference announcing its Entergy investigation into the "astroturfing" campaign for the New Orleans East power plant construction. - PHOTO BY ALEX WOODWARD
  • PHOTO BY ALEX WOODWARD
  • Member of the New Orleans City Council at a May 18 press conference announcing its Entergy investigation into the "astroturfing" campaign for the New Orleans East power plant construction.

In the wake of Entergy’s admission of an astroturfing campaign leading up to the approval of a power plant in New Orleans East, the New Orleans City Council will change public comment cards and introduce legislation to require lobbying groups register with City Hall.

The City Council will undertake its own investigation of Entergy’s hiring of a firm that enlisted a company to bring paid actors into City Council hearings on construction of the plant — an investigation from The Lens uncovered the depth of that campaign, and Entergy admitted it had hired a company to generate “grassroots support” for the project.

“This body has deemed it necessary and appropriate that we do a formal and complete investigation of the use of paid actors,” said Council President Jason Williams. “It is an act that can affect every single thing we do, from development and land use issues and on and on and on. It was a perversion of our public process. The use of paid actors was clearly an attempt to pervert the true process of public comment on matters before the council.”

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Thursday, May 17, 2018

Louisiana to restore voting rights to people on probation and parole for felonies

Posted By on Thu, May 17, 2018 at 10:25 PM

PHOTO BY DAVID MCNEW
  • PHOTO BY DAVID MCNEW

After an hourlong debate over the definition of “incarceration,” the parables of Jesus, and whether a person’s time in prison is enough to pay their “debt to society,” Louisiana is poised to restore voting rights to potentially thousands of formerly incarcerated people convicted of felony crimes.

The state House already had approved the measure last week. But when the bill returned to the House from the Senate to approve a set of amendments, the bill faced nearly an hour of pushback and debate from conservative lawmakers, threatening to kill the bill despite backing it a week before.

On May 10, the bill passed the House — on its third try — by a vote of 59-42; it later passed the Senate by a vote of 24-13.

The House approved the amended bill May 17 by a vote of 54-42 and it now heads to Gov. John Bel Edwards, who’s expected to sign it.

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Lawmakers urge Louisiana Department of Health to study kratom: why?

Posted By on Thu, May 17, 2018 at 12:30 PM

PHOTO BY THOREPORRE
  • PHOTO BY THOREPORRE

The Louisiana Department of Health has been tasked with studying kratom, the over-the-gas-station-counter supplement with a cult following, to determine whether it should be classified as a “controlled dangerous substance.”

Without any debate or line of questions May 16, the Louisiana House unanimously approved a resolution from state Rep. Frank Hoffmann directing the department to study the plant and products containing kratom. The resolution directs the department to submit a report to the House Committee on Administration of Criminal Justice no later than two months before the beginning of the 2019 legislative session.

Processed from a southeast Asian plant, kratom products (as an herb or in pills or tea) are commonly used as a painkiller and sedative or stimulant — it targets opioid receptors and largely impacts neurological and cardiovascular functions. It’s been used as a natural alternative to treat chronic pain, anxiety and other issues, including withdrawal symptoms.

There are no approved uses for it under the Food and Drug Administration, so it exists largely in a legal limbo with several states banning or looking into banning it while the feds mull over its future and warn against its use as an opioid alternative. But locally, it's only a minor issue on health officials' radar — while they may be skeptical of the science of its medicinal use, its impact isn't as dire as federal warnings suggest.

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Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Lawmakers support bill to help Louisiana renters recover more of their security deposits

Posted By on Wed, May 16, 2018 at 6:30 PM

PHOTO BY ROBERT LINDER
  • PHOTO BY ROBERT LINDER

Losing out on security deposits is a familiar, frustrating rite of passage for many renters in Louisiana, which has few legal protections for renters. The Louisiana Legislature even issued a resolution in 2014 that recognized the lack of those protections. More than half of all residents in New Orleans rent, and for many of those renters, a deposit is another burden adding to the costs of housing, often expected to never be seen again.

Senate Bill 466 would allow renters to collect a slightly larger check from negligent landlords that have illegally held on to a security deposit, along with all or part of the security deposit. Last week, the bill cleared its final legislative hurdle in the House by a 56-23 vote and now heads to Gov. John Bel Edwards' desk for approval.

Effective Aug. 1, the bill from state Sen. Ed Price would raise the maximum penalty that renters can recover from a landlord that illegally withheld a deposit to up to twice the amount of the deposit.

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15-week abortion ban heads to governor, other abortion bills pass House

Posted By on Wed, May 16, 2018 at 5:29 PM

An abortion rights proponent sits at Duncan Plaza at a 2017 rally supporting Planned Parenthood. - PHOTO BY KAT STROMQUIST
  • PHOTO BY KAT STROMQUIST
  • An abortion rights proponent sits at Duncan Plaza at a 2017 rally supporting Planned Parenthood.

On one of the last days of their regular legislative session, Louisiana lawmakers voted to finally approve or hurry along several bills that are poised to constrict abortion access in the state.

Supporting a bill that already has stoked controversy and spurred heated opposition from women's advocates, the state Senate voted 24-1 May 16 to forward one of the nation's most restrictive abortion laws to the governor's desk. Senate Bill 181 by state Sen. John Milkovich, D-Shreveport, bans abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

As reported by The Advocate, Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat who has often stated his opposition to abortion, said on his monthly radio call-in show that he leans toward signing the ban.

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Rep. Julie Stokes to run for Louisiana Secretary of State

Posted By on Wed, May 16, 2018 at 11:21 AM

Rep. Julie Stokes, R-Kenner, testifies during the 2017 special legislative session on the House floor. - PHOTO BY SARAH GAMARD
  • PHOTO BY SARAH GAMARD
  • Rep. Julie Stokes, R-Kenner, testifies during the 2017 special legislative session on the House floor.

State Rep. Julie Stokes, R-Metairie, has announced plans to run for Louisiana Secretary of State in a fall election to replace the office held by Tom Schedler, who resigned this month following allegations and reports of sexual harassment. Schedler's interim replacement is Kyle Ardoin, who was sworn in last week. Stokes is the first announced candidate in the race.

Stokes halted plans to run for state treasurer in 2017 after she announced her breast cancer diagnosis. (She announced earlier this year that she now is cancer-free.) She has held her seat in the Louisiana House of Representatives since 2013.

In a campaign announcement video, Stokes says she's running to "protect the integrity of our elections, and to defend it from illegal voters and cyber attacks, because good government never flows from corrupt elections."

Here's her announcement statement:
“With the blessings and encouragement of family, friends, constituents, and doctors, I am announcing my candidacy to become our next Secretary of State. I have tremendous respect for the proud history of this office, its role in protecting the integrity of our election system, and the service it provides to entrepreneurs. I will strive to improve upon what I can, remove the obstacles that drag the office back, restore morale across the entire department, and ensure that our elections are fair, honest, secure, and carried out with professionalism. Being a CPA, small business owner, and reform-minded legislator, I am prepared for this challenge and expect to take this office to new heights for the citizens of Louisiana.”

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Friday, May 11, 2018

New Orleans organizers help bail out mothers from jail in time for Mother's Day

Posted By on Fri, May 11, 2018 at 4:10 PM

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A national campaign to help release Black mothers from local jails arrives as Mother’s Day approaches.

Groups in 20 cities across the U.S. are participating in the second annual National Black Mamas Bail Out to raise funds to help bail out incarcerated women from local jails in time for the holiday — while raising awareness of the costs of incarcerating women simply because they’re unable to afford bail, from the costs of separating mothers from children and families and jobs to their heightened risk of trauma and abuse behind bars.

According to the Vera Institute of Justice, since 1970, the number of women in local jails in the the U.S. rocketed from fewer than 8,000 to nearly 110,000 in 2016 — nearly 80 percent are mothers, and nearly 60 percent are women of color. More than 18,500 people are in local jails around Louisiana; 7.6 percent are women, according to the Louisiana Department of Corrections.

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