Saturday, July 08, 2006

Legiswatch 7/07/06

July 7, 2006

From: Robert Brown
Vice Chancellor for Governmental, Community and Diversity Affairs

Now that the dust from the session is fully settling we can begin to see what the true results were. On the whole, it wasn’t a disaster of a session, certainly not as bad as so many of us feared while suffering through the post-Katrina confusion and mismanagement, the hubbub of a New Orleans mayoral election and, last but not least, the daily struggle of trying to rebuild lives, homes and neighborhoods. In fact, the huge windfall of sales, gambling and oil and gas taxes made for happy times in the Capitol—boatloads of money for legislators to appropriate and no shortage of state agencies, municipalities, parish governments and other public entities (along with a host of special “projects and programs”) delighted to scarf up every dollar thrown their way. And, in fairness, there were responsible measures taken with some of the new-found cash. For example, $430M was set aside to pay the state portion of FEMA disaster relief and $169M was earmarked for future hurricane evacuation costs. And, of course, a much-needed and welcome pay raise was passed for K-12 teachers and college faculty. (I had mentioned some of the other higher ed-related appropriations in my June 23rd LEGISWATCH.)

There was also finally some progress on reforms in New Orleans city government, namely consolidation of the assessors and a modified consolidation of the court system. One hurdle remains for the assessors legislation—a constitutional amendment which will be submitted to the voters for approval.

One of the more important bills for higher ed was triggered by the unfortunate deaths of two ULL students, and the illness of a Loyola student, from meningococcal disease (meningitis). Representative Mike Strain of Covington sponsored legislation requiring immunization of all college students in Louisiana—at public and private institutions alike, as a condition of registration. In addition, each institution must provide detailed information on the risks from infection and the availability and effectiveness of recommended vaccines. In the absence of proof of immunization, students (or the parents or guardians of minors) would be required to sign a waiver. Here are the rubs. First, there are not nearly enough doses of the most common vaccine to cover all college-going students in Louisiana (about 30,000 doses versus nearly 270,000 students). Second, we face a huge challenge in devising a fool-proof system for insuring that the students have received (and presumably read) the information. And third, students will scream to the heavens when they discover that the shot (if and when available) costs upwards of 100 dollars. UNO’s student health services and IT teams are working with the Board of Regents, the Office of Public Health and health service professionals at other universities to develop a plan that works.

And, finally, on a somewhat related note, we are beginning to move forward again on our new student housing project. Later this month we are going before the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget for approval of a Cooperative Endeavor between the LSU Board of Supervisors and the UNO R & T Foundation that will lead to the construction of a new housing complex between Franklin High School and the HPC. The two buildings will provide 749 additional beds for UNO students, along with a pleasing array of amenities. There could not be a more welcome addition to our campus. More on that as time goes along.

NOTE: I will be inviting other university leaders to take turns as guest columnists in LEGISWATCH. Watch for their by-lines.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

It only took three phone calls and a month, but he's finally got it right...

Dear Ms. T,

I have recently learned that you received a letter from me that incorrectly identified your position on the Federal Marriage Amendment. I am deeply sorry for this mistake and wish to assure you that this is not a common occurrence, but it is one that I strive to correct as soon as possible.

Thank you for contacting me in opposition to the Federal Marriage Amendment. As you may know, the Marriage Protection Amendment, states, "Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman. Neither this Constitution or the constitution of any State ... shall be construed to require that marriage or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon any union other than a man and a women." This legislation amending the U.S. Constitution would require passage by two-thirds of both the House of Representatives and Senate, and also ratification by three-quarters of the states.

I believe marriage to be a union between one man and one woman. The Marriage Protection Amendment removes the debate regarding the definition of marriage from the hands of the courts and judges and returns this decision to the American people, where I feel it belongs.

Once again, thank you for contacting me to share your thoughts on this issue. Please continue to contact me in the future about other issues important to you.

Senator David Vitter
United States Senator

P.S. Please visit my webiste to sign up for E-Updates and receive regular email updates from me on the issues important to Louisiana families.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

A Potpourri of Thoughts

I've spent the last week and a half taking care of my grandma, who was recently released from the hospital after breaking her hip. I've been keeping up on the Louisiana blogosphere, but I haven't had much time to comment or write up anything myself. I should be home sometime in the next few days and I'll be back to my regular posting schedule.

I get Huffington Post briefings in my e-mail every day, and I was interested to find this sitting in my inbox when I woke up this morning. Most of it is a synopsis of the information we already knew, but there seems to be some evidence that indicates that the order came from the very top of the Bush administration.

More of my coverage on the Plame Game can be found here.

Amazingly enough, there was an excellent editorial in the Times-Picayune today regarding the removal of the Voodoo helicopters. I understand completely that the rash of wildfires across the country has made these helicopters indefinitely invaluable. However, New Orleans has limited resources for fighting fires at the moment, and the helicopters are, in my humble opinion, needed much more here than they are elsewhere, where full staff and full utilities are available to the fire departments. To read the editorial click here.

I hope everyone has an excellent 4th of July.