Mayor-elect LaToya Cantrell on Friday declared her opposition to a handful of bills moving through the state Legislature, hoping to head off new laws that might hem her in on a number of fronts just as she takes the reins at City Hall next month.
Among her targets: bills that would prevent a local housing policy the city is considering and that would charge the city interest when it fails to pay contractors in a timely manner.
For the most part, Cantrell has avoided getting deeply involved in Baton Rouge this year. She has, however, worked with state Sen. JP Morrell, D-New Orleans, on modifications to his bid to change the Sewerage & Water Board’s governing board, and separately she asked him to withdraw a bill that would have made it harder for the city to boot residents’ cars.
She wants the latter bill killed not because she opposes its purpose, she said Friday, but because she believes it’s the City Council’s job to craft city policy. To that end, an ordinance introduced at Thursday's council meeting would accomplish the same goal, and Morrell agreed to shelve his bill.
“There has been great collaboration with the delegation,” Cantrell said. “Although the transition team does not have a full comprehensive list of bills that we have pushed to be introduced, make no mistake about it … we have been working” on behalf of New Orleanians, she said.
The legislative session comes at an awkward time for Cantrell, who is in the home stretch of her six-month mayoral transition. Several committees she appointed are expected to make recommendations within weeks on solutions for a host of city problems, ahead of her inauguration a month from Saturday.
Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s lobbying team, recognizing that he would be out of office before the legislative session concludes, sought guidance from Cantrell on bills the city might introduce. But Cantrell sent the ball back into Landrieu’s court on that point.
Even though she hasn’t proposed new bills, she will seek to ensure that no attacks on the city’s autonomy are left unchecked, she said Friday.
For one, she opposes Senate Bill 462, an effort by Sen. Danny Martiny, R-Metairie, to block proposals to create so-called “inclusionary zoning” policies in New Orleans.
The council has for more than a year been considering such a policy, which would require residential housing developers to create a certain percentage of affordable housing units in exchange for certain incentives.
However, action on the plan, touted as a remedy for the city’s lack of affordable housing, has been stalled by disagreements over what type of incentives to offer and by strong opposition from some developers.
Even so, those problems are best solved at the local level, Cantrell said, and she and the council that will be sworn in next month intend to do just that.
“I do believe that we will be successful at passing the 'smart housing mix,' relative to inclusionary zoning, throughout the next four years,” she said.
She said another troubling proposal is Senate Bill 94 by Sen. Conrad Appel, R-Metairie, which would force cities to make timely payments on public contracts or be subject to 0.5 percent in daily interest payments, not to exceed a total of 15 percent.
Aside from the financial burden it would put on New Orleans, the bill would make it hard for the city to withhold payment from a contractor for poor performance, Cantrell said.
“We don’t need the browbeating as it relates to finances,” she said.
Appel said his bill would in fact apply only to invoices the city has already approved but hasn't paid, not a separate "retainage" sometimes withheld from construction contracts to ensure the work is complete and of good quality.
Martiny's and Appel’s bills are both up for votes in the full Senate on Monday.
Cantrell separately expressed concerns about House Speaker Taylor Barras’ proposal to regulate ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft on a statewide basis, which could trump rules the city passed for those services in 2014. That proposal is up for a House committee’s consideration next week.
Cantrell has worked with Morrell on two pending changes to city policy. At her request, his Sewerage & Water Board bill, Senate Bill 227, was changed last week to let Cantrell designate someone other than the city’s chief administrative officer to represent her at board meetings. It has been sent to a House committee.
Morrell also pulled Senate Bill 440, which would have forced city officials to stop placing boots on cars in cases where drivers have only one unpaid ticket. Councilman Jared Brossett this week introduced a local ordinance to the same effect.
The ordinance would let city crews immobilize cars only after drivers have accumulated three unpaid tickets. It’s unclear how much city revenue would be lost under such a policy.
Cantrell also has pledged to remove the city's traffic cameras, a program expected to generate about $16 million in revenue this year.
“We will deal with this locally and give (Morrell) the assurances that he needs to go ahead and relax” on this issue, Cantrell said. “Of course, I will always be in favor of removing burdens from our people.”