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Abortion fight delays funds for critical New Orleans project

1 month 1 week 2 days ago Saturday, August 20 2022 Aug 20, 2022 August 20, 2022 12:47 PM August 20, 2022 in News
Source: Associated Press
Photo: Sewerage & Water Board of New Orleans via Facebook

BATON ROUGE (AP) — Debate over Louisiana’s abortion ban seeped into a state Bond Commission meeting as members have voted once again this week to withhold approval of a future $39 million credit line — for a critical New Orleans area power plant project — amid city leaders’ opposition to enforcing the ban.

Thursday’s vote was the latest development in a tense political tug-of-war, between Republicans in Baton Rouge and Democrats in New Orleans over enforcement of the ban, which is currently in effect.

While some described the decision by the commission as overreach, state Attorney General Jeff Landry argued that a message needed to be sent to New Orleans officials he believes may be malfeasant in upholding the law.

“This is about the fact that there are elected officials, not only in the state but around this country, that seem to thumb their nose at the laws that are coming — and think they can pick and choose which laws they want to follow and those that they don’t,” Landry said.

After the U.S. Supreme Court decided to end constitutional protections for abortion in June, Louisiana’s ban — which does not have exceptions for rape or incest — went in effect. The legislation bans all abortions except if there is substantial risk of death or impairment to the patient if they continue with the pregnancy and in the case of “medically futile” pregnancies — when the fetus has a fatal abnormality.

In New Orleans, a blue city in a reliably red state, the mayor, city council, sheriff and district attorney all have vowed to oppose the ban. In July, the city council passed a resolution directing police and prosecutors not to use city funds to enforce the ban.

Landry, who is considered a likely 2023 gubernatorial candidate, described city leaders’ opposition as a “dereliction of duty.” On Thursday he argued that the bond commission, which he sits on, should “use the tools at our disposal to bring them to heel, quite frankly” and defer funding for the New Orleans project until city officials reverse course.

While Matthew Block, the governor’s executive counsel on the panel, argued that the point is moot since Louisiana’s three abortion clinics are not performing procedures, Landry pushed forward.

At the forefront of the debate is a preliminary authorization of the line of credit for a power plant project of the New Orleans Sewerage and Water Board. The plant is critical to power drainage pumps that remove rainwater in New Orleans, a city that faces chronic flood problems. Currently, the pumps are powered by outdated turbines, which also powers the city’s water and sewage system.

Louisiana is currently in the midst of hurricane season. Forecasters have predicted there will be 14 to 20 named storms this year, including six to 10 hurricanes.

“Find something nonessential to go after,” Paul Rainwater, a lobbyist for New Orleans, told the commission. “Not the Sewerage and Water Board, not the power station, not the pumps.”

The city and Entergy New Orleans are paying for the majority of the project’s cost, but Rainwater said state funding will be necessary to keep the project on track to be completed in 2024. While approval of a future line of credit would not immediately release project funds, the approval would send a “critical signal” to contractors that funds would be available to finish the project.

“We’re talking about a project that’s protecting 384,000 people,” said state Sen. Jimmy Harris, a Democrat who represents New Orleans. “A plant that will be responsible for keeping the turbines moving. A plant that will be responsible, so we don’t have boil water advisories, so people can have fresh drinking water and bathe in safe water.”

This is the second consecutive month that the commission voted to delay approval. The item will likely be on the agenda again next month.

City Council President Helena Moreno condemned the commission’s vote in a statement: “In my opinion, all that has been accomplished by some members of the Bond Commission is to show that they do not care for the people of New Orleans, nor do they care and have compassion for women who are facing incredibly tragic circumstances.”

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