Louisiana Lawmakers Convene Again on Recovery

For the second time in six months, the Louisiana legislature holds a special session devoted to hurricane recovery bills. Gov. Kathleen Blanco kicked off the session with a speech in New Orleans, instead of state capitol Baton Rouge.

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For second time in six months, the Louisiana legislature is holding a special session devoted to hurricane recovery. Governor Kathleen Blanco started the session with a speech in New Orleans, instead of the state capital, Baton Rouge.

NPR's Audie Cornish was there.

AUDIE CORNISH reporting:

According to Governor Kathleen Blanco, lawmakers in Washington think Hurricane Katrina is yesterday's news and that Hurricane Rita never happened. And so state lawmakers need to work together to show a united front.

Governor KATHLEEN BLANCO (Democrat, Louisiana): We had all better put Louisiana politics aside and worry about Washington politics, or our people in our state will lose.

CORNISH: And so many of the key provisions Blanco is hoping to pass are aimed at proving to federal officials that the state is doing its part. For instance, the White House refused to back a proposal by Louisiana Congressman Richard Baker to create a housing redevelopment corporation for buying up damaged property. So now Blanco is introducing a state-level plan to do almost the same thing.

Governor BLANCO: Our plan is not designed to replace the Baker bill. We don't have the means to do that. But let's put the infrastructure in place while we continue to work for the funding.

CORNISH: Meanwhile, the Governor is also focusing her attention on getting a cut of the money the federal government receives from oil and gas companies for offshore drilling. Blanco says the state needs the money to rebuild the natural coastline protection the storm melted into the sea.

Governor BLANCO: If no effort is made to guarantee our fair share of royalties, I have warned the federal government that we will be forced to block the August sale of offshore oil and gas leases. It's time to play hardball, as I believe that's the only game that Washington understands.

(Soundbite of applause)

CORNISH: And in order to make sure the state gets more federal funding for future strengthening of its levees, she's pushing for the consolidation of the numerous local levee boards that currently oversee flood protection. During the last special session, the Governor and the state lawmakers walked away empty- handed when it came to this issue. This time, people like pro- consolidation activist Karen Knowles Buelly(ph), are putting on the pressure.

Ms. KAREN KNOWLES BUELLY (Levee Board Pro-Consolidation Activist): We need to prove to the rest of the country that we are going to do things differently in Louisiana, we are going to do the right thing, we are worth their investments, and this consolidation to one levee board can send that message loud and clear to Washington: you can trust us.

CORNISH: But not everyone aggress with the Blanco-backed levee proposal.

State Representative JIM TUCKER (Republican, Louisiana): The devil is in the details.

CORNISH: State Republican Jim Tucker says there'll be a lot of debate over how to accomplish the goals of this agenda.

State Representative TUCKER: We have to develop a levee plan in a 12-day period. We have to develop a housing strategy. We have to approve the Louisiana Recovery Authority. All of which are monumental tasks on their own. And I think that it's going to take a lot of hard work, and a lot of negotiation to get to where we need to be.

CORNISH: Blanco held her address in the city's Convention Center. Five months ago it was the overrun makeshift shelter for thousands of people stranded after the storm and floods. Today the floors are stripped, windows are still boarded up, and bright yellow police caution tapes waft around the columns in the hallway. It's a stark reminder of how much further the state has to go.

Audie Cornish, NPR News, New Orleans.

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