Gov. John Bel Edwards has decided to veto the congressional maps approved last month by the Legislature, which failed to add a second majority-minority district in a state where one-third of residents are Black. Mark Ballard reports for The Advocate:
“I have vetoed the proposed congressional map drawn by Louisiana’s Legislature because it does not include a second majority African American district, despite Black voters making up almost a third of Louisianans per the latest U.S. Census data,” Edwards said in a prepared statement… “This map is simply not fair to the people of Louisiana and does not meet the standards set forth in the federal Voting Rights Act. The Legislature should immediately begin the work of drawing a map that ensures Black voices can be properly heard in the voting booth. It can be done and it should be done.”
Edwards said he plans to sign the new maps for the Board for Elementary and Secondary Education and the Public Service Commission. The maps for the State House and State Senate will not be signed, but will be allowed to become law, despite suffering from the same issue of racial misrepresentation as the congressional map. The governor’s official statement explains that he didn’t want wrangling over the legislative maps to overshadow the upcoming lawmaking session:
“I do not believe the Legislature has the ability to draw new state House and Senate maps during this upcoming legislative session without the process halting the important work of the state of Louisiana. At a time when we face unprecedented challenges, but have unprecedented opportunities to make historic investments in our future, the Legislature should be focused on the issues in the upcoming session and not concerned about what their own districts will look like in the 2023 elections.”
A new bipartisan budget – with no disaster relief
While likely not in time to avoid a brief government shutdown, the House of Representatives passed a bipartisan omnibus budget bill on Wednesday despite last minute challenges related to clawbacks of American Rescue Plan funds for a national Covid response package. But as Mike Smith reports for the Advocate, the bill excludes desperately needed disaster relief for Lake Charles and Southwest Louisiana:
State and local officials saw the bill as perhaps their final shot at getting more long-term disaster relief for the Lake Charles area following the dual hurricanes that devastated the region in 2020. But the effort faced a tough battle given the number of urgent matters facing the country, including aid for Ukraine and more money to deal with continuing fallout from the pandemic… Rep. Garret Graves, R-Baton Rouge, sought an amendment to include $3 billion for 2020 and 2021 disasters, but the proposal was rejected.
The omnibus now moves on to the Senate where passage is expected to come this weekend; to avoid a government shutdown, the House also passed a four-day funding measure that the Senate is expected to take up more immediately, according to reporting by Sarah Ferris, Nicholas Wu and Jennifer Scholtes of Politico.
Oil, gas and foreign flags
Oil and gas vessels in the Gulf of Mexico, owned by some of the most profitable and powerful corporations in the world, often operate under the flags of foreign nations. This allows them to avoid U.S. labor and environmental regulations and endangers the lives and health of their workers. Sara Sneath, writing for Floodlight and the Huffington Post, found that a result of this, U.S. agencies have significantly undercounted offshore worker deaths:
At least 138 offshore oil and gas workers died on the job between 2007 and 2020, according to aggregated public records from the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement and the U.S. Coast Guard. However, the BSEE disclosed only 53 fatalities during that time period. That’s in part because the agency has excluded deaths that occur on the way to or from drilling rigs and those from causes like heart attacks, which might be treatable if workers weren’t so far from civilization. Of the offshore fatalities where Floodlight and HuffPost were able to determine the flag of the ship, about 40% occurred on vessels flagged in other countries, including the Deepwater Horizon explosion that killed 11 men.
There have been efforts to close some of these loopholes, including a recent bill introduced by Senator Bill Cassidy, but these reforms have drawn consistent opposition from the oil and gas industry.
The pandemic is not over
New guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued in late February has prompted states, localities and other institutions – including Louisiana’s colleges and universities – to roll back Covid-19 protections.As JC Canicosa notes for the Louisiana Illuminator, public health experts warn that this rollback is happening far too quickly:
“Universities need to be ready to pivot,” Hassig said. “They cannot assume that, just because things are better now, it’s going to stay better.” The coronavirus will inevitably mutate, maybe in a more problematic or less problematic way, and another surge can happen at any given moment, Hassig said. “We have been through five surges in Louisiana,” she said. “Each time we came off the backside of a surge, everybody talked about the pandemic being over. The pandemic is not over.”
Number of the Day
138 – The number of offshore oil and gas workers who died on the job in American waters between 2007 and 2020. (Source: Aggregation of data from Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement and the U.S. Coast Guard by Floodlight and Huffington Post)