Louisiana news briefs
Lafourche council nearly doubles president’s pay
THIBODAUX (AP) — The Lafourche Parish Council has nearly doubled the parish president’s salary beginning in January 2016.
The council voted 7-1 Tuesday to approve an ordinance that will establish the parish president’s salary based on the average salary of the sheriff, Clerk of Court and the assessor.
Parish President Charlotte Randolph earned $70,899 in 2013. That salary will increase 84 percent to about $130,000 at the beginning of the next term.
Councilman Daniel Lorraine was the lone dissenting vote and said he believes the parish president’s current salary is fair.
State getting $300,000 to fight feral swine
BATON ROUGE (AP) — The National Feral Swine Management Program is giving Louisiana $300,000 to help reduce the animals’ damage to farms, wetlands and other areas.
Word of the allocation came from U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu. She says reducing the feral pig population is crucial to Louisiana’s wetlands.
State wildlife veterinarian Jim LaCour told the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission last week that feral swine damage wildlife, native plants and agriculture, and carry several dangerous diseases. He says there are about 500,000 in Louisiana, and they multiply rapidly.
Judge: State must provide info on vouchers to U.S.
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A federal judge has ordered Louisiana education officials to provide federal lawyers with regular reports each year on students and schools involved in a state voucher program that provides public funding for some students attending private schools.
The Justice Department has sought to review the state’s assignments of voucher students to make sure they don’t promote segregation in violation of an order from a 1971 desegregation case.
U.S. District Judge Ivan Lemelle’s order, released Tuesday, requires that the state provide federal officials with lists of voucher applicants and information including whether they were approved for private-school funding and which school they will attend. The lists will have to be provided 10 days before the student’s families are notified of their voucher eligibility.
Oil & gas suit lawyers make new payment proposal
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Lawyers for a south Louisiana flood control board say they’ll change their contingency fee contract in a suit accusing 97 oil and gas companies of contributing to coastal erosion if the companies will pay them as part of a settlement.
The lawsuit, which Gov. Bobby Jindal opposes, seeks to hold the industry accountable for damage done by dredging for pipelines and canals and other activity in fragile coastal wetlands.
“The oil and gas industry has used the rhetoric of ‘greedy trial lawyers’ to distract from the true facts of this case that show these companies played a role in the coastal erosion of south Louisiana. This proposal puts an end to that distraction,” said Gladstone Jones, lead attorney for the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East.
A state Senate committee has approved a bill that would invalidate the attorneys’ contract, which would give them a percentage of any money won for the board and nothing if they lose. The bill would require the governor’s approval before state flood protection authorities hire outside lawyers — and would make that requirement retroactive.
Sheriff’s major arrested for drugs
PORT ALLEN (AP) — A West Baton Rouge Parish sheriff’s major has been arrested on drug-related charges.
The sheriff’s office says Maj. Jerome Fontenot was jailed Monday on charges of possession with intent to distribute drugs, including Oxycodone, codeine, crack cocaine and valium, and malfeasance in office.
Officials say Fontenot resigned prior to his arrest. He had been on suspension since Friday due to an internal investigation for a related matter.
Fontenot was head of the parish’s response team and worked in the computer technology department. He had worked for the sheriff’s office for 17 years. Before that, he worked for the Pointe Coupee Parish Sheriff’s Office for about 15 years.
Caps on payday loan fees rejected
BATON ROUGE (AP) — Lawmakers in the House opted for mild changes to the payday loan industry Tuesday by passing a bill to give borrowers an extended payment plan option and rejecting proposals to limit the number of payday lenders and the annual interest rate lenders can charge.
A House committee killed a proposal by Rep. Regina Barrow, D-Baton Rouge, to keep Louisiana from licensing new payday lenders, with opponents saying they do not want to limit the free market.
“I just don’t think it’s a good idea to set a precedent like this,” said Rep. Gene Reynolds, D-Minden.
Barrow said the bill would address the high concentration of storefront lenders in working class communities, which she said make it harder for residents living paycheck to paycheck.
Public school funding short $55M this year
BATON ROUGE (AP) — State financing for Louisiana’s public schools is short $55 million of what is needed to cover all the state’s students this year, Superintendent of Education John White told lawmakers Tuesday.
White said $35 million of this year’s shortfall is tied to having higher-than-estimated student enrollment for the 2013-14 school year. The rest of it he described as a “cash-flow issue” that he said Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration could explain.
However, a statement from the governor’s chief budget adviser suggests the issue isn’t about cash flow, but instead about a disagreement between Jindal’s Division of Administration and the Department of Education about how many students are enrolled in Louisiana’s schools.
“While DOA is prepared to account for updated student enrollment projections and adjust accordingly, DOE appears to be indicating that there is a growth of more than 7,000 students after it had previously indicated a growth of more than 3,500 students,” Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols said in the statement.
“We are working with DOE to better understand the revised cost estimates,” she said.
Whatever shortfall exists in the $3.5 billion school financing formula must be closed before the fiscal year ends June 30.
The education money gap came up as the House Appropriations Committee continued its agency-by-agency review of the governor’s budget recommendations, with Tuesday focused on elementary and secondary schools.
Under questioning from lawmakers, White also told the committee that Jindal’s 2014-15 budget proposal is short $50 million of what’s needed to cover the school financing plan submitted by the state education board for next year.
Appropriations Committee Chairman Jim Fannin, R-Jonesboro, said the education department needed to do a better job of providing lawmakers with accurate student counts. Fannin said the gaps that show up each year in the public school funding formula are large and leave lawmakers scrambling to fill gaps.
“We’ve got to get a real budget out, and we’ve got to do it without putting so much of a burden mid-year,” he said.
House budget analysts say the budget has been short of what was needed to pay for the school funding formula for all six years of the Jindal administration, with midyear gaps ranging from $23 million to nearly $54 million annually.
Lawmakers are required to cover the costs of the formula. They’ll debate how to fill this year’s shortfall as part of the larger, ongoing budget negotiations for the legislative session.