News Briefs

Blanco's hardball, wiretap dance at the Lafayette Police Department and more


Gov. Kathleen Blanco made national headlines for her recent comments about sticking it to the feds. "It's time to play hardball, as I believe that's the only game Washington understands," she told lawmakers at the beginning of this month's special session. What Blanco meant by "hardball" is her refusal to sign off on future federal offshore oil and gas royalties from Louisiana's coastline. Although the state contributes more than $5 billion to the federal treasury each year from offshore drilling, it only gets back about $39 million annually. Yet states such as New Mexico get back upwards of 50 percent of the oil-and-gas revenue they send to the federal government; Blanco wants the same.

But Gary Strasburg, a spokesman for the Minerals Management Service, told The New York Times that Blanco's approval of the leases is only an "intergovernmental courtesy" and wouldn't stop the feds from getting their cash. Additionally, even if Louisiana were to get a greater share of offshore royalties ' partly for coastal erosion ' the fund to hold such dedicated monies wouldn't be ready. A constitutional amendment defining the fund was supposed to face voters in late April, but lawmakers have voted to move it to the fall due to the disorder caused by the storms. ' Jeremy Alford


One UL Lafayette student and another former student have died of meningitis in the past three weeks, prompting the university to conduct thousands of vaccinations and sending a ripple of fear through the community. Leave it to the Times of Acadiana to handle the situation in its usual thoughtful manner; the paper's headline on its meningitis-related item last week read, "Meningitis Got Me Down." ' Scott Jordan


One day after a story appeared in The Daily Advertiser announcing a federal inquiry into illegal wiretapping within the Lafayette Police Department, the department's spokesman abruptly said he is leaving his position. Mark Francis, LPD's Public Information Officer for the last eight years, said last Thursday he would be stepping down as department spokesman in order to take a position within Crimestoppers, which offers cash rewards to residents providing crime solving tips to LPD and the Lafayette Sheriff's Office.

The day before, Francis was quoted in The Advertiser saying that federal investigators were looking into whether phone lines "surrounding" the office of Chief Randy Hundley were illegally tapped. The story left open the possibility that the phone lines in question belong to Hundley or Hundley's secretary, Veanette Luque, a 25-year veteran of the department. Francis confirmed the wiretap inquiry this week, deferring any further comment to the office of U.S. Attorney Donald Washington.

Francis says his departure as PIO is not connected to the wiretapping investigation or the story that appeared in The Advertiser. Beginning next month, Francis will be replaced by Jennifer Taylor, who now serves as assistant training director for the department. ' Nathan Stubbs


Health care issues were skipped over during the most recent special session, but a recent survey of New Orleans physicians offers a brief overview of some of the areas that might be taken up in the regular legislative session beginning in March. The poll, conducted by Opinion Research Corp., reveals that the overall situation may be worse than originally thought.

Fifty-four percent of the physicians polled, all practicing within a 75-mile radius of New Orleans, believe that it will take five or more years for the health care system to return to its pre-Katrina state. The survey also conveyed very real concerns including inadequate staffing, lack of government assistance, care of the uninsured and return of the population. As for whether state government will answer the call in a meaningful way, only 32 percent believe that would happen. The poll was commissioned by the Touro Infirmary Foundation and cosponsored by the Louisiana Hospital Association. ' JA


According to a new report by FairVote, a nonprofit elections think-tank, Katrina and Rita will have wide-ranging effects on the upcoming midterm congressional elections ' not surprising news. But the Maryland-based group goes as far as to name two members who they say will have a difficult go at it: Reps. Charlie Melancon, D-Napoleonville, and Richard Baker, R-Baton Rouge. The displacement of the Democratic population in the 3rd district could potentially make it difficult for Melancon, the report states, while the doubling of constituents in Baker's Baton Rouge 6th district will water down Republican votes.

While it's a bold analysis, FairVote officials admit it's still early in the election season. "Democracy itself is now a disaster area," says David Moon, program director. "But unlike when the storm hit, if we act now, we will have enough time to prepare a solution to the representation problems Louisiana faces." Among other prescriptions, FairVote recommends redistricting, even though that would mean a premature and unreliable mid-decade census. For the full report, visit ' JA