Louisiana

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Solution Hub: New Orleans actively releases videos of police shootings. Is it paying off with trust?

Since 2016, the NOPD, at one time among the most brutal and corrupt police forces in the country, has quickly and proactively released camera footage of police shootings and other critical incidents. The logic of the policy is simple: The videos are there for clarity, and transparency is the cornerstone of building community trust.

11 min read
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Category: News + Notes

Coronavirus trends match up with the indicators of Lafayette’s summer surge

The gist: Following a predictable curve, a rapid spike in hospitalizations has followed a doubling in the number of tests coming back positive. Health officials are warning a third surge is imminent. 

3 min read

Acadiana reported 121 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 Wednesday. That’s a 50% increase over the last week. The region had the third-most Covid hospitalizations, behind only the Shreveport and Monroe areas as of Tuesday. 

Official positivity for Lafayette Parish is above 10%. LDH reports positivity — the number of positive tests — on a lag. The most recent figures reflect the week of Nov. 5 through Nov. 11, and more than doubled the previous positivity report. 

The trends mirror the second surge that saw Acadiana and Lafayette lead the state. Increases in test volume and positivity preceded a dramatic increase in cases in June and July, followed by peak hospitalization of 304 and the deadliest period of the pandemic recorded for Lafayette Parish. Once again, urgent care centers in the area are beginning to see higher test volumes and higher positivity. 

“Based on the July surge, it was a good indicator of future Covid hospitalizations,” Oschner Lafayette General spokeswoman Patricia Parks Thompson says of the testing and positivity trends in the system’s network of urgent care clinics. “It also seems to be the case with what is highly suspected to become a third surge.”

Healthcare workers are beleaguered by months of pandemic ebbs and flows. Staffing remains a big problem, not physical capacity. Hospital reps have pushed back at the suggestion that the medical community has a facilities problem, made flippantly last week by Mayor-President Josh Guillory who has resisted enforcing the state’s current restrictions. 

Anxious. Overwhelmed. Sad. Numb. Local healthcare workers are telling us the predictable rise is taking its toll on them, even with upbeat news about the incoming prospects of a vaccine. With Thanksgiving around the corner, families are making difficult decisions about if and how to gather, echoing anxieties around Easter earlier in the pandemic. 

“Masks are all we have right now, and it is most effective if we all use them,” a frontline worker in healthcare administration wrote to us. “Healthcare providers face burn out and loss of income when we have surges. We are a vital part of the economy in Lafayette and need consideration when people want a thriving economy.” 

Are you a healthcare worker? Tell us how you’re feeling. What would you like Lafayette to know?

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Category: Arts + Culture, News + Notes

Costs and the coronavirus could spur change of venue for Festival International in 2021

Festival staff members are sketching out alternatives that would allow the internationally acclaimed event to function in a socially distanced environment. That could even mean hosting Festival out of city limits or in scattered locations.

6 min read
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‘A rare point of consensus’ — both city and parish voters pull the plug on CREATE

The gist: Preserving CREATE was an uphill battle for supporters who staged a social media campaign to urge “no” votes on a ballot proposition to rededicate the property tax that supports the cultural economy initiative. While CREATE was generally thought to be more popular inside city limits than elsewhere in the parish, the rededication push won out decisively across the entire parish. 

5 min read

Parish and city precincts voted “yes” at about the same clip, says Christie Maloyed, a professor of political science at UL. The rededication was supported by 52% of city voters — in effect ending CREATE — compared with 55% of voters elsewhere in the parish. It’s hard to get a clean picture of the breakdown because of the huge turnout of early voters, which are reported without precinct data. But 58% of early voters supported the rededication, which split the $500,000 property tax in two to pay for rural fire protection, and parish roads, bridges and drainage. 

“Anyway you slice it, it looks like a rare point of consensus between the city and the parish,” Maloyed says. 

It’s not uncommon for city voters to behave differently than elsewhere in the parish. A 2018 tax renewal supporting the parish library system was pushed through by overwhelming support from parish voters, while voters in city limits voted to keep the tax in place. The ill-fated school sales tax in 2017 was walloped by parish voters, but city voters broke at higher numbers for the tax. At least a narrow majority of city voters backed Carlee Alm-LaBar over Mayor-President Josh Guillory in 2019. A handful of precincts that straddle city limits throws a little uncertainty into the math. But the sense that city voters and parish voters had different priorities was a key driver of the Fix the Charter campaign that successfully created separate city and parish councils.  

CREATE was born into controversy. Former Mayor-President Joel Robideaux tacked the measure onto a drainage tax, outraging many voters who felt coerced into supporting the cultural economy tax. Parish Council Chairman Kevin Naquin, who advocated for the rededication, says his constituents didn’t reap the benefits of the program and watched it accumulate a fund balance while parish money problems mounted. 

“They’re paying for CREATE and they don’t have anything that’s benefiting from it,” Naquin says. That view inverts a refrain among CREATE supporters that the rededication would tax residents across the parish to pay for a service that only benefits unincorporated Lafayette, two years after voters there defeated a new tax proposed to pay for rural fire service. CREATE did fund some recreation projects in parish parks, but the initiative moved little money on the whole, not just outside city limits.

Saving the CREATE tax may not have saved CREATE. Guillory campaigned on shifting public dollars out of cultural investments, taking particular aim at CREATE. Once he was in office, the program was mothballed and Kate Durio, a Robideaux assistant who ran the initiative, left the administration. Guillory resisted calls to use the $890,000 accumulated in CREATE’s fund balance to plug budget holes that supported signature cultural programs like the Heymann Performing Arts Center and the Lafayette Science Museum. Ultimately, the councils and the administration agreed to use $300,000 in CREATE dollars to soften the budgetary blow on the science museum, which faced insolvency when Guillory stripped it of city funding. 

“I honestly take comfort in the fact that [Guillory] doesn’t have that money to waste,” Durio says. From her vantage point, the odds of survival were stacked against the program, which she maintains was still in its infancy. Faced with a hardening political message in local government that culture and recreation are not worth funding with public dollars, CREATE was swimming upstream, she says. Durio mostly expected the result. 

“I’m surprised that many people voted ‘no,’” she says. 

What happens now? Seventy percent of the CREATE millage will now fund rural fire protection. The other 30% will chip away at a parish infrastructure backlog in the tens of millions of dollars. About $500,000 of the CREATE balance remains, Parish Councilman Josh Carlson says, and there are no immediate plans for what to do with it. Naquin, meanwhile, is on a mission to shore up parish finances overall. He tabled a measure to propose a small parishwide sales tax to help parish government claw its way into financial stability. Naquin argues the funding pulled from CREATE, while small, will make a meaningful difference in improving fire ratings in the unincorporated areas. Both Naquin, a musician, and Carlson, who served on the Heymann Center board, push back on the assertion that ending CREATE is an assault on the arts. Given the dire financial situation in the parish budget, Carlson says, every bit counts. 

No, this doesn’t solve everything. But $500,000 goes a long way when there is very little money to begin with,” Carlson says. 

What to watch for? Whether private dollars do step in where public investment recedes. Guillory telegraphed a shift away from government funding for cultural programs, signing a pledge with arch-conservative backers to carve “nonessential” spending out of the budget, and that goes well beyond CREATE. But with the economy still broadly depressed by the pandemic, private dollars may not be able to pick up the tab.

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Category: Election 2020, News + Notes

Lafayette voters turn in no surprises on president, top races; race for marshal and some judicial seats head for a runoff

The gist: The president matched his margin in 2016 and the rest of the ballot followed from there. Some races will go to a runoff. 

4 min read

As expected, turnout was big. Lafayette Parish turned out nearly 71% of registered voters in the presidential election. Donald Trump is still very popular in Lafayette. His margin diminished only slightly on the higher turnout. He claimed 61% of the vote in Lafayette Parish, down from 65% in 2016. 

Rep. Clay Higgins and Sen. Bill Cassidy handily won re-election. The Republican incumbents were never really in danger. Both faced longshots of hitting a runoff. 

Don Landry thumps Danny Landry for district attorney. Here’s the part where I say “no relation.” Don Landry ran away with the tri-parish race, sweeping Danny Landry 63% to 37%. The race between Republicans turned bitter in the final weeks. 

Two district court races are headed for a runoff.

  • Democrats Valerie Gotch Garrett and Travis Brousard will face off in December for Div. B. Garret narrowly missed winning the race outright at 49%. 
  • Royal Colbert (44%) and Amanda Martin (41%), also Democrats, take a tighter race for Div. D to a runoff. 
  • Republican Michele Billeaud (56%) handily bested two other Republicans in a race for Div. K. 
  • Republican Susan Theall (54%) also safely won the Div. M family court seat. 

Kip Judice takes a strong lead into a runoff with Reggie Thomas. The Duson police chief, a Republican, took 44% of the vote. Reggie Thomas, a no party candidate and Lafayette Police Department veteran, has a lot of ground to make after claiming 26% of votes in that contest. 

Michelle Odinet defeated Jules Edwards by a wide margin for City Judge Div. A. The Republican finished with a commanding 57% to 43% win over the longtime district court jurist. 

CREATE rededication passed easily. The .25 mill property tax, controversial when passed as a tack-on to a drainage measure, will be split into funds that pay for rural fire protection and parish roads and bridges. Voters said “yes” 56% to 44%. 

Lafayette school renewal also passed without trouble. Recent renewal defeats cast an air of uncertainty around this property tax funding public school maintenance, infrastructure and construction. It passed 60% to 40%. 

Voters cast their lots with Sports Betting. On the ballot separately in all 64 parishes, the measure cashed out in Lafayette Parish 63% to 37%. The measure is picking up  

Five of the seven constitutional amendments look likely to pass easily. Lafayette Parish voted with the rest of the state on all but Amendment #3. There are still some precincts outstanding elsewhere in Louisiana. In the meantime. Here are the statewide margins. 

  • Amendment #1 enshrining no right to an abortion in the state constitution is headed to a strong finish 65% to 35%
  • Amendment #2 changing how oil wells are taxed is on its way to passing 58% to 42%
  • Amendment #3 allowing more flexible use of the state’s rainy day fund is trending toward to passing 54% to 46%
  • Amendment #4 setting harder limits on state spending growth is unlikely to overtake a 45% to 55% margin
  • Amendment #5 creating a new tax incentive tool to attract industry is all but dead in the water 38% to 62%
  • Amendment #6 raising the income threshold on an assessed property value freeze for seniors will likely pass handily 62% to 38%
  • Amendment #7 creating a trust fund unclaimed property is breezing 65% to 35%
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Speaking their language: How NOLA advocates connected Spanish speakers to healthcare during the pandemic

It’s no surprise most of Louisiana’s Spanish speaking community fell through the cracks, but coronavirus showed just how big those cracks are and what it’s going to take to mend them.

13 min read
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