Remembering Hainkel and Bean
The deaths of Sen. John Hainkel of New Orleans and former Sen. Ron Bean of Shreveport came just four days apart this month. Hainkel was a legislative giant, uniquely serving as both Speaker of the House and Senate president. Bean was a nondescript lawmaker, but led a remarkable life before he arrived at the State Capitol.
In May 1973, Bean, a U.S. Army officer, was piloting Marine One, the helicopter that transported President Nixon. After Bean flew Nixon to Key Biscayne, Fla., the craft developed problems and crashed in the water. Bean was able to dive and help save six of the seven people still aboard the chopper, ingesting jet fuel that led to numerous health conditions.
Bean served three terms in the Senate, and Hainkel was a lawmaker for 38 years. Hainkel was the legislative force behind the TOPS plan, which was pushed by oilman Pat Taylor to help needy children go to college. The program didn't quite work as planned; Louisiana Office of Student Financial Assistance indicates most recipients of the scholarship program are in higher income brackets. The figures show that 40 percent of TOPS recipients are in families with incomes exceeding $75,000 annually. Thirty-four percent of the students are from families with incomes between $35,000 and $75,000. Only 23 percent of TOPS scholarships go to families earning below $35,000.
Rep. Bryant Hammett Jr., a state lawmaker closely tied to the Blanco Administration, has filed three bills calling for new local taxes on NFL tickets, Superdome concessions, rental cars and hotels. The measures are designed to pay for a Dome renovation and for annual state subsidies to the New Orleans Saints.
Gov. Blanco and team owner Tom Benson have been at odds over an agreement that former Gov. Mike Foster reached with Benson. Foster agreed to pay the team $186 million over 10 years, but the state was forced to borrow more than half of last year's $15 million payment.
Ferriday Democrat Hammett Jr. is chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee where the bills would be reviewed first in the legislative process.
AIMING AT ODOM
Some Republican lawmakers are taking aim at embattled Agriculture Commissioner Bob Odom in the session. A bill proposed by Republicans would strip the agricultural finance agency of $12 million in gambling money it receives annually. Another measure would require the agency to follow the public bid process to buy goods or services.
A senate panel has already voted to strip Odom of his authority to regulate a state law requiring gas stations to mark up their prices by at least 6 percent.
VITTER'S DAMAGE CONTROL
Sen. David Vitter informed the Federal Elections Commission last week that he failed to pay the expenses for a fund-raiser organized for him by Indian gambling lobbyist Jack Abramoff. A congressional panel is probing Abramoff's association with tribal clients, which resulted in $80 million dollars in fees. Melanie Sloan, who is executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, is accusing Vitter of a cover-up to conceal his association with Abramoff. "I think he's lying," Sloan said in the New Orleans Times-Picayune.
Vitter became the first elected Republican U.S. senator from Louisiana last November. Throughout his career, he has been a staunch gambling foe, a distinction that raised eyebrows when Abramoff's name appeared on an invitation to a Vitter fund-raiser in September of 2003.
NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT
When LSU Chancellor Sean O'Keefe quit as NASA chief earlier this year, he tripled his income. O'Keefe has now taken on a new and potentially lucrative additional responsibility. He's joining the board of the Sensis Corporation for an undisclosed sum. Sensis is located near Syracuse, N.Y., where O'Keefe once lived. The company provides sensors and information technology to airports, airlines, civil aviation authorities and the military. The chancellor says his duties in Syracuse won't interfere with his assignments at LSU.
JEFFERSON SWEET ON CAFTA
Louisiana's congressional delegation voted unanimously to get rid of the so-called death tax, which affects few residents of the state. But the delegation is splitting on the Central American Free Trade Agreement. The pact with five Central American nations would allow 2 million metric tons of sugar into the United States free of tariffs.
State sugar producers say the measure will depress their profits. Their concerns have made an impression on most members of the Louisiana delegation, but Congressman Bill Jefferson, D-New Orleans, says his district and the state will benefit from CAFTA.
Jefferson is backing CAFTA even though sugar accounts for 27,000 state jobs. He says his constituents will benefit from free trade, noting that port traffic in his district has quadrupled since the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement.