Louisiana Lawmakers Approve Levee Oversight Plan

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Louisiana's state legislature has approved plans to create a new board for overseeing levee projects across the southern part of the state, but it set aside a more far-reaching levee reform bill. Tuesday is the final day of a special legislative session to deal with fiscal problems caused by hurricanes Katrina and Rita.


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

When people talk about rebuilding New Orleans, many say they won't do anything until they know the levees are strong. This morning we'll have an update on the effort to improve the levees and serious questions about how they were maintained before Katrina. As we'll hear in a moment, some New Orleans residents say there was a warning that a safety barrier would fail. We'll start with NPR's Cheryl Corley, who's tracking a move by state lawmakers to oversee the levees.

CHERYL CORLEY reporting:

The levee plan approved by lawmakers came from Governor Kathleen Blanco. It sets up a statewide Levee Authority which could override any decision made by a parish or local levee boards if they didn't adhere to a statewide hurricane plan. It would also allow the state to speak in one voice instead of having individual levee boards seek money from Congress for levee and coastal protection projects. A more controversial plan that would have gone a step further and dissolved the local boards was killed. Mel Lagarde, the co-chairman of New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin's rebuilding commission, called it politics as usual.

Mr. MEL LAGARDE (New Orleans Rebuilding Commission): What has consistently interfered with streamlined administration of this state and this region has once again gotten in the way of what we need to do.

CORLEY: Lawmakers also approved a bill that allows the state to take over most of the public schools in New Orleans. It's an extension of the authority state education officials already have, which allows them to take over failing public schools. The bill goes next to Governor Blanco, who supports it.

Governor KATHLEEN BLANCO (Louisiana): The state Department of Education and the BESE board will be working together to try to establish a system that will create strong schools.

CORLEY: On the agenda for this last day of the special session are budget cuts that are needed to cope with the state's nearly $1 billion shortfall.

Cheryl Corley, NPR News, New Orleans.

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