Louisiana board holds flood aid for New Orleans amid abortion battle



The abortion rights battle between conservative states and their liberal cities has claimed another casualty, after Louisiana state officials delayed storm aid to New Orleans even as the city was facing a flood advisory and forecast for an above-average hurricane season.

At the request of Republican Attorney General Jeff Landry, the State Bonds Commission voted 7-6 Thursday to temporarily freeze a $39 million line of credit to the city for a power plant to help with flooding in an area devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 until the Democratic mayor and council rescinded vows to defy the state’s new abortion ban. All of those who voted to delay funding were Republicans or their proxies, although some Republicans on the commission voted not to delay.

“New Orleans officials have been sworn to support and enforce our state’s laws, but they’ve decided some laws aren’t worth enforcing,” Landry said in a statement. statement posted on Facebook, condemning the city’s “open defiance of the will of the people of Louisiana” and calling for the vote, “another step toward ensuring that our state’s parishes and municipalities comply with our state’s laws.” Landry’s office declined to comment further on Friday, instead highlighting his past comments.

New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell remained defiant.

“I am disappointed, but not surprised, by the Attorney General’s fabricated crisis, which has once again delayed critical infrastructure funding in the midst of hurricane season,” Cantrell said in a statement. “I will continue to prioritize needed improvements to our city’s aging infrastructure, while fighting for the reproductive rights of all women.”

After the Supreme Court overturned Roe vs. Wade, Louisiana has enacted one of the strictest abortion bans in the country: banning abortion after the first 15 weeks of pregnancy with no exceptions for rape and incest; allow the procedure only when the life of a pregnant person is in danger. Opponents have legally challenged the measure, passed in 2006 in anticipation of the Supreme Court’s ruling. It was initially blocked in court, but was finally allowed to take effect last month.

As legal challenges failed and the state’s three abortion clinics announced plans to close and relocate out of state, the mayor, city council, sheriff and prosecutor of New Orleans have sworn to oppose the ban. City Council adopted a resolution directing officials — including police and prosecutors — not to use city funds to enforce it. New Orleans Police led officers not issue subpoenas or make arrests under the law. Similar actions have been taken by other Democratic cities in predominantly Republican states.

“Equal access to abortion care is essential for social and economic equality and reproductive autonomy,” the council’s resolution said, noting its “commitment to protecting the decision-making rights of its residents.” reproductive health, including abortion care”.

Landry – who is seen as a likely candidate for governor next year – said he viewed the council’s action as a direct challenge to state authority. He sits on the commission, and when it first considered funding for the city’s floods last month, its proxy opposed it, delaying a vote.

At Thursday’s meeting, Landry gave New Orleans council an ultimatum: Enforce the ban or lose flood aid.

“If they want this project to go ahead, rescind the resolution,” Landry said.

Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat who opposes abortion, had backed the city’s flood funding, and his board representatives voted in favor.

“The idea that you’re looking to punish everyone living in a certain area because you disagree with some of their elected officials, that’s not a reasonable approach,” Edwards said when the vote was delayed last month. last.

On Thursday, Edwards’ executive attorney Matthew Block appeared on his behalf as a member of the commission and argued before the vote that the city’s position was moot since it lacks the power to prosecute those who violate the ban and that abortion clinics in the state had closed.

“There are no abortions being performed in Louisiana, let alone in Orleans Parish, at this time,” Block said. “So this idea that because there were statements made and a resolution passed that somehow in the future there might not be enforcement – ​​that not happening right now.”

Block said the Legislature should decide whether city projects receive state funding, as it did in approving New Orleans officials’ request for flood aid, not the Board of Trustees. obligations.

State Sen. Bret Allain, a Republican who sits on the commission, told members it was “problematic” for the state board to target New Orleans over its position on abortion.

But Landry disagreed, saying, “We shouldn’t put off the ability to use the tools at our disposal to bring them into line.”

Jimmy Harris, a Democratic senator from New Orleans serving as a proxy for the commission, tells its members the funding would help protect approximately 384,000 people. Harris said he had just received a text about an ongoing storm that had triggered a flood advisory for the city.

“That’s what we’re dealing with. That’s what this particular project is trying to help us, where we don’t have to drown,” Harris said.

The historic peak of hurricane season is mid-September, with the busiest stretch from late August to mid-October. A given season averages 14 named storms, half potential hurricanes, but this year forecasters have predicted 14 to 20 named storms, including six to ten hurricanes.

Paul Rainwater, a New Orleans city lobbyist who is a Republican, advised Landry and other members of his party at Thursday’s meeting not to link the fight against abortion to flooding in New Orleans. Orleans. The rainwater was part of Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal’s response to and recovery from Hurricane Katrina, which killed nearly 2,000 people. He reminded the commission that New Orleans accounts for 25% of the state’s economy, home to iconic sites like the Superdome, the National World War II Museum and Audubon Park.

Rainwater said the city’s latest flood response project will update power to pumps that provide drinking water and sewer drainage amid storms. If funded, the project was on track to be completed by 2024.

“The situation the city has been through every hurricane season is a bit stressful in that you’re constantly testing the turbines,” of the electrical system, Rainwater said after the vote. “It’s not things that aren’t essential.”

Rainwater said he plans to bring the matter back to the commission when they next meet on September 15.

“It’s not like they don’t know the law – there’s no law that’s been broken. The city council has issued an opinion,” he said. “The city has a very strong vision on this.”

It was not immediately clear whether New Orleans officials would be asked to appear at next month’s commission meeting.

City Council President Helena Moreno condemned the commission’s vote and asked commission members to meet with her. She referenced reports from a Baton Rouge woman refused an abortion last month after doctors discovered her fetus was missing part of its skull and was unlikely to survive.

“It is disappointing to see the lack of compassion for women facing these horrific and painful circumstances,” Moreno said in a statement. “Having the City of New Orleans punished for its careful scrutiny of new state laws is troubling and inappropriate. The delayed project is a vital flood protection initiative to save lives, property and businesses in our city.

Cantrell, the city’s first female mayor, gained a political following by helping her hard-hit neighborhood recover from Hurricane Katrina. She said she and other city officials plan to continue to lobby the commission to approve public funding for the project. But she said reversing her stance against the abortion ban was not an option.

“I hope they do the right thing,” she said on Friday. “Our utility is in desperate need of an upgrade. It is over a hundred years old. It has not been able to keep up with climate change.

Similar clashes could be brewing in other states where Democratic city leaders have mounted resistance to new abortion bans that Republican leaders have championed. In neighboring Texas, Attorney General Ken Paxton sued last month to stop the Biden administration from forcing doctors and hospitals to perform abortions or lose federal funding, but he has yet to challenge cities that adopted measures opposing the state ban.

Additionally, Austin city officials voted last month to “decriminalize” abortion, redirecting the city’s budget to prosecute other crimes. The San Antonio City Council passed a similar resolution this month.

Dozens of prosecutors across the country — including at least five in Texas representing some of the state’s most populous counties — have vowed not to prosecute people who request or provide abortions.

In response, Texas lawmakers are crafting a new law they plan to propose when the legislature meets in January that “would empower district attorneys across the state to prosecute abortion-related crimes…when the local district attorney fails or refuses to do so,” wrote Rep. Mayes Middleton, chair of the conservative Texas Freedom Caucus.

In Missouri, St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones signed a bill to earmark $1 million in federal relief funds to support abortion access after deer was overthrown. Hours later, State Attorney General Eric Schmitt complaint lodged to block the new law, issuing a statement calling it “manifestly illegal”.

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