Louisiana News Briefs

By David Jacobs | The Center Square

Edwards announces $163M for 15 anti-flood projects

State officials will provide $163 million in federal money for 15 projects designed to reduce flood risk, Gov. John Bel Edwards’ office announced Tuesday.

The projects align with the objectives of the Louisiana Watershed Initiative and the federally approved state plan for $1.2 billion in flood mitigation funds, officials said. The initiative is meant to foster regional collaboration to reduce flood risk.

Ascension and Livingston parishes will get $42 million for LA 22 bridge construction and drainage improvements, the most expensive item on the project list.

Official: Public defenders facing $5M shortfall

Louisiana public defenders will need at least $3.9 million, and maybe as much as $5 million, above the $43 million Edwards has proposed spending in his executive budget, State Public Defender Rémy Starns told the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday.

The public defense system in Louisiana, like much of the justice system as a whole, is funded in part by fines and fees, which don’t always provide a steady funding stream. Convictions are down compared with before the COVID-19 pandemic, which means defenders are not collecting as many $45 conviction fees.

Some state lawmakers are trying to move away from funding the justice system with fines and fees. Beyond the lack of fiscal stability, critics said that approach creates perverse incentives and imposes costs on people who can least afford to pay.

BESE revises COVID-19 distancing policy to reflect new CDC guidance

Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education President Sandy Holloway has approved revisions to the state’s minimum COVID-19 health and safety standards for Louisiana school facilities.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued revised guidance for schools last week, saying students should maintain at least 3 feet between each other when everyone is wearing masks rather than 6 feet in an effort to control the spread of the coronavirus that causes the illness. BESE’s new guidelines reflect that change.

“As research and information related to COVID-19 mitigation continues to evolve, we will continue working to align policies with the latest recommendations from the Louisiana Department of Health and CDC as necessary and appropriate,” Holloway said in a prepared statement.