Opposition grows to Baton Rouge toll bridge fund

Opposition grows to Baton Rouge toll bridge fund

Gov. John Bel Edwards’ plan to sock away $500 million in pandemic relief dollars for a new Baton Rouge toll bridge is drawing opposition from legislators, including the powerful chair of the House committee that writes the state budget. Lawmakers are questioning the sticker price, the lack of specifics surrounding a project that is years away from even starting, and note that other priorities could take precedence. The Advocate’s Will Sentell reports

Edwards’ chief lieutenant in the House, Democratic Caucus Chairman Sam Jenkins, of Shreveport, said caucus members are asking how a $500 million commitment for the bridge would affect other spending priorities, including paid family and medical leave, which carries a $30 million pricetag. “That is what the hesitation is all about,” said Jenkins, whose caucus post was previously held by Edwards. “If there is another source we could go to to help those programs then we may not necessarily have a huge problem with the amount of money set aside for the bridge,” Jenkins added.

A Recovery Agenda for Louisiana lays out numerous ideas for how Louisiana can use its unprecedented financial windfall to prioritize people and communities that suffered the most in the economic downturn – including how $30 million could lay the foundation for paid family and medical leave programs for state workers and participating employers with a small, one-time investment.

Religion and resilience for American teens
A lot has been written in recent years about the rapid increase in “deaths of despair” – from opioids, alcohol and suicide – among American men, particularly from working-class backgrounds. New research from Tulane University Professor Ilana M. Horwitz found that working-class boys who grow up in religious households fare considerably better in school than those who do not. The reason, she found, is the role of religion in helping teens develop the social capital that affluent teens can get elsewhere. She explains her findings in The New York Times

Religious boys are not any smarter, so why are they doing better in school? The answer lies in how religious belief and religious involvement can buffer working-class Americans — males in particular — from despair. … Religious communities keep families rooted to a place and help kids develop trusting relationships with youth ministers and friends’ parents who share a common outlook on life. Collectively, these adults encourage teenagers to follow the rules and avoid antisocial behaviors.

A leaderless criminal justice committee 
The House Committee on Administration of Criminal Justice is meeting on Thursday with no chair – a role that became vacant when Rep. Ted James of Baton Rouge resigned his seat to join the Biden administration. To complicate matters, vice chair Tony Bacala is bucking recent tradition and considering controversial bills during the first week, including legislation to turn carjacking by minors into a racketeering crime. The Advocate’s Mark Ballard explains how the uncertainty and behavior of the committee has advocates worried that some of the most divisive language will sail through before they can mount a defense. 

“Bacala has been rushing this deal and there are a bunch of bills on the agenda,” said Will Harrell, senior public policy counsel for VOTE, Voice of the Experienced, a New Orleans-based group advocating against what they call overly harsh prison sentences and was instrumental in the Louisiana Justice Reinvestment Package, which works to reduce prison populations and invest in rehabilitation programs. … Harrell said the early weeks of sessions are when advocates like him sit down with law enforcement and prosecutors to figure out what both sides can agree to and hammer out, where possible, language that can be approved and doesn’t run afoul of what’s already in the law.

Shoring up Louisiana’s levees and coast
The Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority sent its $1.35 billion plan for coastal restoration and hurricane risk reduction to the Legislature on Wednesday. If lawmakers approve the plan, it will be the first time in 15 years that Louisiana has spent more than $1 billion on hurricane levees and restoration projects. The Times-Picayune | Advocate’s Mark Schleifstein breaks down the CPRA’s plan: 

The plan, which would be entirely funded with state money, includes construction funds for 92 projects, engineering and design money for another 41 projects, and planning money for nine projects. In southeast Louisiana, 58 projects would be funded, including major wetlands restoration projects along Lake Borgne and in the LaBranche wetlands along Lake Pontchartrain. The Spanish Pass increment of the Barataria Basin ridge and marsh restoration project in Plaquemines Parish would also be funded, according to the plan. 

Number of the Day
$50 million
– Proposed investment in weatherization and restoration assistance. This would provide grants that people with low incomes could use to weatherize their homes and repair damages from recent hurricane seasons, reducing costs to homeowners and making Louisiana families more resilient when future natural disasters strike. (Source: A Recovery Agenda for Louisiana