1. SKIRMISH AT JEFFERSON DAVIS MONUMENT ON MAY DAY
Five people were arrested May 1 when the self-proclaimed "monument defenders" who had been camped out in front of the Jefferson Davis statue in Mid-City were met by dozens of counterprotesters, who favored removing the monument. Things got tense; bottles and eggs were thrown, insecticide or pepper spray was used on at least one counterprotester, and New Orleans police took several people into custody.
Eventually NOPD escorted the Confederate defenders away from the monument. With the Confederate defenders gone, NOPD cleared the area, sending about 200 onlookers away. About 11 p.m., more cops arrived with barricades, to the cheers of the crowd that assumed the action meant the statue was coming down. But the monument remained, now guarded by barricades and cops. A chain-link fence was added two days later.
After the May 1 skirmish, Mayor Mitch Landrieu said the Davis memorial and two others would come down, though probably not until after the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival ends May 7.
"The Civil War is over," Landrieu said.
2. Quote of the week
"We need prosecutors who will work with us so that we can build trust. ... District attorneys must promise to listen to the needs and desires of crime victims and never ever arrest a survivor who is too scared to testify." — Deborah "Big Red" Cotton, in an essay that ran in The New York Times two days after she died May 2 at the age of 52. (See Commentary, p. 12.)
3. Louisiana GOP House members vote to repeal Obamacare
All five Louisiana Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives — Ralph Abraham, Garret Graves, Clay Higgins, Mike Johnson and Steve Scalise — cast votes May 4 to repeal key provisions of the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare). The final vote was 217-213.
Republicans failed to push through a repeal of the ACA in March, a bill the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated would result in the loss of coverage for 24 million people, a report that crippled the bill's chance of successful passage. The CBO didn't have enough time to score the latest bill before a vote.
U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond — the only Louisiana Democrat in the House — was also the only no vote from the state delegation. The legislation now moves to the U.S. Senate.
4. DOJ won't bring federal charges against Alton Sterling cops
Department of Justice (DOJ) officials announced May 3 that they won't bring federal civil rights charges against two Baton Rouge police officers in the July 2016 killing of Alton Sterling. The case now is in the hands of Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry to determine whether the state will bring criminal charges.
Louisiana officials and attorneys for the Sterling family expressed disappointment in the DOJ's decision and called for transparency in the state case. "While the standards for federal charges are extremely high, standards under state law are broader and may be more easily applied to the facts of this case," U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond said.
5. St. Charles streetcar to get ADA compliance — of a sort
Attorneys representing three wheelchair users successfully challenged the city to make the St. Charles Avenue streetcar line compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The city and the Regional Transit Authority (RTA) have entered into a consent decree, approved by U.S. District Court Judge Lance Africk, to do just that.
A 2011 Gambit cover story profiled Jonah Bascle's campaign for the RTA to make the St. Charles Avenue line ADA-accessible. RTA officials told Gambit the RTA had a "waiver" that exempted the streetcar line from making any changes to accommodate wheelchair users because of its National Register of Historic Places status. Attorneys argued the RTA did not have a waiver.
The city and RTA will make six streetcar stops wheelchair accessible, including stops at Napoleon, Louisiana and Jackson avenues, plus a stop near Riverbend. The RTA also will run one new ADA-compliant streetcar with a wheelchair lift. The city's historic green Perley Thomas cars won't be updated.
6. Shreveport pol's bill seeks to prevent Confederate monument removal
A bill from a Shreveport Republican aimed at preventing the removal of Confederate monuments won a legislative committee's support in Baton Rouge May 3. It now heads to the full House for a vote.
State Rep. Thomas Carmody's House Bill 71 prohibits altering, destroying or moving statues, street names and other memorial markers named "in memory of or named for any historical military figure, historical military event, military organization, or military unit." It doesn't list the Civil War among those events, but rather the "War Between the States." Any decision by a local government to alter or remove such monuments would have to be approved by voters in a local referendum.
The bill was approved by a vote of 10-8 from the House Municipal, Parochial and Cultural Affairs committee.
State Rep. C. Denise Marcelle, D-Baton Rouge, said the state would lose any legal challenge from New Orleans, which is in the process of removing Confederate monuments, if the bill is passed. "The question is, are we passing something as a feel-good legislation?" she said. "If you put your name on this legislation, understand you're signing on for us to pay for this litigation."
7. Former N.O. Police Chief Richard Pennington dies
Richard Pennington, a former superintendent of the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) who won wide praise for reforming the NOPD in the 1990s and later lost the 2002 mayor's race to Ray Nagin, died last week in Atlanta at the age of 69. Pennington suffered a stroke in 2010 after retiring as Atlanta's police chief.
Pennington was named the city's top cop in 1994 by then-Mayor Marc Morial, who campaigned on a promise to reform NOPD. It took the new mayor months to find and recruit Pennington, who arrived when the city's annual murder rate topped 400. Pennington made headlines by promising the City Council his reforms would cut the city's murder rate in half within five years. He succeeded and then some when the death toll dropped to 158 in 1999 — thanks to Pennington's reforms and vastly increased federal funding for programs such as Community Policing.
During Pennington's tenure as NOPD chief, more than 340 city cops were either indicted, fired or replaced — while the city's violent crime rate declined.
8. Lack of access to child care costs Louisiana parents and employers, study says
A wide-ranging survey of families with children age 4 and under in Louisiana found that lack of consistent access to child care is hurting workers, cutting into state tax revenues and costing Louisiana employers $816 million a year via absences and employee turnover.
The study, which was released May 1 by Louisiana Policy Institute for Children (LPIC) and Louisiana State University's Public Policy Research Lab, is the first of its kind to focus on workplace productivity as it relates to child care in the state, its authors said. Its findings describe a landscape in which half of survey respondents are relying on their child's parent or another family member to provide child care during the work day. One in six study respondents had quit a job as a result of child care issues; many who answered the survey described leaving full-time employment to pursue part-time employment or turning down promotions due to problems with child care.
In a news release accompanying the study, LPIC Director Melanie Bronfin said state legislators could help remedy this problem by restoring funding to the Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP), which subsidizes child care payments for low-income households. (The program's funding has been cut in recent years.) She also suggests an expansion of the School Readiness Tax Credits, which provide tax credits from the state for child care costs. Similar solutions are on the table in Washington, D.C., where access to child care is said to be a signature issue of President Donald Trump's daughter Ivanka. Last week, the White House released a tax plan that proposed an expansion of federal tax credits for child care expenses, though some have criticized that plan as benefiting higher-earning families more than middle-class and poor families.
9. Evacuteer seeks volunteers for test of city evacuation plan
New Orleans Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (NOHSEP) and Evacuteer are calling for hundreds of volunteers to join them in a test of the city-assisted evacuation plan. Volunteers will participate in a program from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesday, May 17 at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center. Lunch and parking will be provided for participants. Volunteers should register in advance.
In the event of a hurricane requiring a mandatory evacuation, thousands of New Orleanians — including many elderly people and people with special needs — rely on the city to bring them to safety. Testing is needed, the city says, to make sure the plan works well.
Hurricane season begins June 1.
10. Ponderosa Stomp announces lineup, venue change
The Ponderosa Stomp announced the lineup for its Oct. 5-7 festival, which moves to The Orpheum Theater from Mid-City Lanes Rock 'n' Bowl. The festival celebrates early rock 'n' roll, swamp pop, one-hit wonders and more. This year's lineup includes garage rockers The Mummies, rock, blues and R&B singer Gary U.S. Bonds, Texas psychedelic rocker Roky Erickson, Louisiana country fiddler Doug Kershaw, singer and guitarist Barbara Lynn, singer Roy Head, R&B singer Archie Bell, rockabilly star Deke Dickerson and many others.
The festival also features a music conference and a record show at Ace Hotel. For more information, visit www.ponderosastomp.com.