La. Officials Focus on New Orleans Future
By DOUG SIMPSON
The Associated Press
Sunday, February 5, 2006; 2:19 PM
BATON ROUGE, La. -- Gov. Kathleen Blanco is facing rebellious lawmakers as she opens the second special legislative session she has called to address Louisiana's recovery from last year's hurricane season.
Blanco planned to kick off the session Monday by taking legislators on a bus trip to New Orleans so they can see the hurricane damage, but a number of them said they've already seen the destruction and wouldn't take the trip. Others found the idea offensive, saying the emphasis five months after Hurricane Katrina should be law making, not sightseeing.
It's also unclear how many legislators would even attend the governor's opening day speech, to be delivered Monday evening at the New Orleans convention center instead of the traditional setting at the state Capitol.
Some lawmakers complain that the speech site was inappropriate, given the suffering that evacuees went through when thousands of them were housed at the center in the days following Katrina.
"It is a sad day in our history when a governor chooses to make a press backdrop out of the building that symbolizes so much suffering for our citizenry," said state Rep. Juan LaFonta of New Orleans.
Denise Bottcher, a spokeswoman for Blanco, did not immediately return a call for comment Sunday.
The unrest extends past the opening day arrangements to the session's agenda.
Blanco faces likely opposition to a plan she is backing to streamline the New Orleans area's system of separate, locally operated levees and to her push to consolidate the city's government, which has two sheriffs, two court systems and seven property tax assessors.
Some New Orleans lawmakers see the plans as a state plot to dismantle the city's government. LaFonta described Blanco's agenda for the session as "a bull's-eye with New Orleans' picture on it."
LaFonta and other New Orleans legislators _ Democrats, like Blanco _ have complained that the governor's plan for the special session does not include ideas for helping displaced people find permanent housing, so they can move out of hotel rooms and government trailers.
"I'm concerned the governor's focusing on politics, not people," LaFonta said.
Lawmakers from elsewhere in Louisiana said they looked forward to trimming the New Orleans government _ something they have tried to do in the past without success because of opposition from the city's large legislative delegation.
Slashing the city's bureaucracy makes sense because its population has plummeted, said state Sen. Gerald Theunissen, who represents rural southwest Louisiana.
"Give me a break. You know New Orleans is going to be downsized, whether they want to be or not," said Theunissen. "That type of layering of government, of bureaucracy, is sinful."
In the first special session devoted to hurricane recovery, in November, lawmakers restructured Louisiana's more than $18 billion budget to account for the $959 million drop in state tax income caused by the hurricane. They also approved a package of business tax breaks to spur economic recovery, a statewide building code and takeover of New Orleans schools.
This special session must end by Feb. 17.
On the Net:
Louisiana Legislature: http://www.legis.state.la.us/