1. A SOUTHERN KNIGHT'S LAST SONGS
The late Allen Toussaint's final recordings are coming. American Tunes, a new studio album, had been completed shortly before the singer-songwriter's death in November 2015, according to Nonesuch Records, which is releasing the album. It consists of two sets of recordings: one made in 2013, the other in October 2015, just a month before Toussaint died.
The album includes solo performances of Professor Longhair tunes and band arrangements of songs by Duke Ellington, Fats Waller and Paul Simon.
Toussaint was honored and remembered at an all-star performance at the Orpheum Theater last November, and the New Orleans City Council declared Jan. 14, 2016 "Allen Toussaint Day" in New Orleans. American Tunes will be released June 10.
2. Payton: 'I hate guns'
In the aftermath of the April 9 shooting that killed former New Orleans Saints defensive end Will Smith, Saints coach Sean Payton gave a frank interview to USA Today's Jarrett Bell, in which Payton stated "I hate guns. ... I've heard people argue that everybody needs a gun. That's madness. ... They [city officials] don't want to kill tourism. But right now, it's like the Wild, Wild West here.
"I just know this," Payton concluded. "Our city is broken."
3. Edwards orders LGBT employment protections
Gov. John Bel Edwards signed an executive order April 13 protecting state employees, employees of state contractors and people receiving state services from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, following previous failed attempts by legislators to include LGBT protections in nondiscrimination laws. Edwards' order creates protections from discrimination on the "basis of race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, political affiliation, disability, or age," and extends that protection to services provided by state agencies. It's the first state protection for transgender people.
The order came one day after state Rep. Mike Johnson, R-Bossier City, got committee support for his "Pastor Protection Act," which opponents say opens the door for LGBT discrimination beyond the altar. (Johnson failed to pass his 2015 "Marriage and Conscience Act" to preempt U.S. Supreme Court's landmark ruling allowing same-sex marriages.)
Edwards also rescinded former Gov. Bobby Jindal's "Marriage and Conscience Act" executive order, filed in the wake of the SCOTUS ruling. Edwards said Jindal's order did "nothing but divide our state and forced the business community, from Louisiana's smallest businesses to large corporations, like IBM, to strongly oppose it."
Senate Bill 436, by state Sen. Troy Carter, D-New Orleans, and House Bill 925 by state Rep. Joe Bouie, D-New Orleans, would provide the same protections for LGBT Louisianans in the private sector. Both are before legislative committees.
4. Medical marijuana bill expanded
Despite objections from Louisiana sheriffs and district attorneys, the Senate Committee on Health and Welfare unanimously approved Senate Bill 271 from state Sen. Fred Mills, R-Parks, April 13. The bill tweaks Mills' medical marijuana measure that passed last year by adding several diseases for treatment — including cancer, cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, and any disease (or treatments) that have symptoms of cachexia, seizures epilepsy and severe muscle spasms, Crohn's disease or multiple sclerosis.
5. Equal pay, "raise the age" pass Senate committees
The Louisiana State Senate passed an equal pay measure April 12 to require most private employers to pay men and women equally for the same work. By a vote of 28-10, Senate Bill 254 by state Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, extends the mandate for state employers to all workers≈at businesses with 50 or more employees. It now heads to the full House.
Morrell also cleared the first hurdle for his measure to raise the age for consideration as a juvenile in the state's criminal justice system from 17 to 18. Senate Bill 324 now heads to the full Senate.
6. Edwards, Dardenne propose budget cuts
Gov. John Bel Edwards and Commissioner of the Division of Administration Jay Dardenne outlined deep cuts to more than a dozen agencies last week when the presented the governor's proposed budget. The Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH) faces more than $400 million in cuts, and hospitals serving poor and uninsured or underinsured patients in Alexandria, Bogalusa, Houma and Lake Charles could close.
Edwards also proposed cutting TOPS by $183.2 million, which could reduce the number of students eligible for scholarships by more than half (or reduce individual scholarships by nearly 70 percent across the board). The state Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism faces more than $5 million in cuts, which could mean several state museums and historic sites could close.
The Department of Education faces $52 million in cuts under Edwards' proposed budget. Special schools also face cuts of up to $1.5 million (including a 50 percent cut at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts).
7. Public hearing on short-term rentals
Proposed short-term rental regulations were mulled by members of the New Orleans City Council last week, but the council isn't yet convinced the city can effectively regulate Airbnb-style rentals. At the April 13 meeting of the Community Development Committee, short-term rental advocates stressed their importance to tourism and opposed the City Planning Commission's recommendation to ban whole-home rentals (more than 70 percent of homes on Airbnb and other sites are for entire homes). Other members of the public also cited short-term rentals' negative impact on neighborhoods, from displacement and evictions to higher rents and other quality of life issues. The full City Council will take up the issue in coming months, but no date has been set.
8. Monuments bill stalls in Legislature
House Bill 944 by state Rep. Thomas Carmody, R-Shreveport, would have made it mandatory to get an official waiver to remove many longstanding monuments in Louisiana — including New Orleans' controversial Confederate monuments — but Carmody's "Louisiana Heritage Act" stalled in committee last week when seven Republican members voted for it, while seven Democrats voted against it. Three other lawmakers were absent when the vote was taken.
The bill is not officially dead for the session because it could be reconsidered by the House Committee on Municipal, Parochial and Cultural Affairs. Carmody says he may try a procedural maneuver to revive the measure, which would have created a new board within the Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism to rule on proposed monument removals.
9. Bike to Work Day Wednesday
NOLA Bike to Work Day now will be Wednesday, April 20, after rain forced a delay of last week's activities. On that day, riders can join groups departing from their neighborhoods and meet in Lafayette Square from 8 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. to meet other cyclists and talk about bike commuting.
10. Hokie Gajan, 1959-2016
"Not that I'm trying to sound corny, but they're the most optimistic people I've ever been around." — New Orleans Saints radio announcer Hokie Gajan to Gambit's Scott Jordan in 2003, describing the Who Dat Nation.
Gajan died April 11 at age 56 due to complications from liposarcoma, a rare form of cancer. Gajan had been a running back and a scout for the Saints before ascending to the broadcast booth in 2000.
In that interview, Gajan noted, in a notable Hokie-ism, "You're going to have your fans out there that you can't make 'em happy if you hang 'em with a new rope. They're gonna bitch about everything."