Report from Louisiana: Governor Wins another Challenge

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – As Covid cases across the nation soar, Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards is batting a perfect score so far on legal challenges to his statewide restrictions such as the mask mandate and tough limits on bars and restaurants.

Last week, a Baton Rouge judge sided with the governor in a challenge by House Republicans; Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry filed the petition by 65 of the 68 House Republicans which demanded the restrictions imposed by the governor be lifted:

Sixty-five of 68 House Republicans last month used an obscure 2003 law passed during the SARS pandemic to send a petition to Gov. John Bel Edwards directing him to cancel his virus restrictions. Morvant ruled the law in question violates the state Constitution because it doesn’t involve both chambers of the Legislature, instead allowing the House or Senate to act on their own.…Morvant said the governor’s emergency powers, granted to him by the Legislature, allow him to make decisions that have the force of law. To repeal, enact, or alter a state law, the entire Legislature — including the House and the Senate — must agree.

And so, we remain masked. That being said, Louisiana is not spiking in Covid numbers at the moment as quickly as the rest of the nation, although many feel that is coming. Numbers are rising; both case numbers and hospitalizations.

In a sign of the times, the hearing was held via Zoom; Republican lawmakers had been sharing the Zoom link on social media for days. Apparently the entire state was in the meeting and a couple of people managed to slip through the mute button and join in. The result was hysterical:

Such are the frustrations of high-stakes court hearings set in the year 2020. Morvant and the cadre of attorneys were arguing via the videoconferencing software Zoom, and only lawyers were supposed to have the ability to speak. Apparently, a member of the public had slipped through the cracks and unmuted himself. “Snide comments coming from the peanut gallery,” Morvant clarified, “are not going to be appreciated by this court.”

“Our state needs to be open,” the unidentified man said.

“If we were in open court, I would hold you in contempt and have you removed,” Morvant said, becoming agitated. “If you say anything else in this Zoom hearing, I will have you removed.”

The man kept speaking. Morvant made good on his promise. “Have that person removed,” he said. A staffer obliged.

As Morvant was taking up a series of procedural moves in the middle of the hearing, a strange noise emanated from the Zoom meeting, stopping everyone in their tracks.

“I don’t know what that was,” said Liz Murrill, Landry’s top deputy.

“I don’t either,” Morvant replied. “I wasn’t the one that invited the entire state to participate.”

Sign of the times.

As the holidays approach and numbers continue to climb, we are expecting more restrictions from our esteemed Governor and rumors about school closings are epic. I don’t want to speculate on that right now…I’ll wait and see. I feel like that’ll be coming down soon enough.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation. Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25 and Twitter @paustin110.

Report from Louisiana: Sticking our heads in the sand

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – Louisiana is a land of many quirky laws, and leave it to our state legislators to pull out one of those to force an end to Governor John Bel Edwards public health emergency executive orders.

House Republicans have been chafing over the mask mandate for months, along with many of the other restrictions put in place by Governor Edwards on crowd sizes and which businesses can open and under what capacity.

At the end of the special legislative session last week, House GOP lawmakers used a petition against these orders to have them nullified.

From KATC news:

A statement from the house reads, “At no time since the start of the pandemic has the governor taken meaningful steps to address legislative concerns in any substantive way,” the release states. “The Legislature will make no apologies for simply standing up for the people we collectively represent. The House has exhausted every available legislative remedy and has been left with no other option but to exercise its legislative right to terminate the Governor’s emergency order.”

Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landy issued the following statement:

“The emergency powers act and the emergency health powers act are written to outline what extraordinary powers are granted to the Governor during a declared emergency. A termination clause is included outlining a simple process for pressing the stop button. Immediately upon termination, the emergency powers cease and the Governor’s powers revert to the ordinary powers afforded the Governor as outlined by our Constitution and laws. The termination process is effective immediately, unless provided otherwise in the petition, when a petition is signed by a majority of the surviving members within either body of the Legislature, the Senate or the House. The termination of emergency powers does not require any additional action other than the signed petition. Upon completion of the signed petition, the Governor is directed to issue a proclamation informing the public of the termination.”

And so, controversy continues.

State Representative Alan Seabaugh spoke with KEEL Radio News, saying:

“A petition signed by a majority of members can end the public health emergency at any time,” Seabaugh says, referring to the process invoked, “Essentially, we’ve ended the public health emergency. John Bel (Edwards) doesn’t want to acknowledge that we have that power. He said at his news conference Friday, ‘I’m not going to give up my power.’ Well, it’s not his power, it’s our power (and) we gave it to him and we took it back.”

Governor Edwards calls the petition and lifting of restrictions reckless, and said “You know burying heads in the sand and just pretending that COVID isn’t a problem, isn’t going to help.”

With cases expected to rise in the coming cooler months, many are worried about the lifting of restrictions, but at the same time, people are weary of the mask mandate, the limited access to businesses, and business owners themselves are paying the price with decreased revenue. Many have had to shut down.

Governor Edwards is not expected to sign an acknowledgment of this petition and so the restrictions are still actually in place until he does, but it’s clear that we are now in some murky, gray legal area. If you are a bar owner, and you stay open after 11:00 p.m. and operate at full capacity, will you be shut down or not?  Stay tuned.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation. Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25 and Twitter @paustin110.

Report from Louisiana: Six Feet

By: Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – It does seem like COVID-19 is on the back burner now; with the riots and the protests, nobody is really worried about catching a virus anymore. That whole thing about “groups smaller than ten” and “groups smaller than fifty” sort of vanished.

Here, in Shreveport, we have seen several protests downtown, but they have been peaceful. Saturday, hundreds, maybe over a thousand people, marched through downtown while at the same time the ladies from the United Daughters of the Confederacy held their annual observation of Confederate Memorial Day at the Confederate monument in front of the courthouse. No words were exchanged at all, just everyone practicing their own Constitutional rights.

From a “man on the street” level, it seems that people are just “over” this virus business. Very few of the protesters wore masks and they were by far closer than six feet from each other.

Meanwhile, Governor John Bel Edwards (D) is doing his best to keep his thumb on his people. His restrictions for Phase Two reopening have raised a few eyebrows.

While he has allowed restaurants to reopen, for example, they have moved from 25% occupancy in Phase One to 50% occupancy in Phase Two. Live music is not authorized and dancing is forbidden. (But protests with hundreds of people are okay).

Casinos can reopen, although one of our casinos closed for good during the quarantine. Employees must wear masks but patrons don’t have to. What? One of our casinos has already reported a small Covid outbreak among employees.

Swimming pools can reopen as long as people remain six feet apart.

Apparently the only place that six feet apart rule does not apply is a mass protest in city streets.

There is no guidance whatsoever on the opening of school in August at this time. It is as if nobody needs to make plans or adjustments for this kind of thing. While the CDC has released some initial guidelines for schools, it is unclear whether this applies to schools currently open or if those guidelines are meant for schools opening in the fall. Either way, the guidelines are ridiculously impossible for the most part.

One of those guidelines includes students keeping six feet apart from each other in class and in hallways, which should all be one direction only.

I fail to see the logic in any of it.

If we are so worried about keeping people protected, how are we condoning these protests where all rules, ALL rules, are excluded?

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation. Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25 and Twitter @paustin110.

Report from Louisiana: Phase 2

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – Louisiana is expecting news today from Governor John Bel Edwards regarding moving into Phase 2 and reopening the state.

Whatever else this pandemic has been, it has certainly been the cause for many businesses and restaurants to close permanently. Maybe they were already on the brink of closure and Covid just pushed them over the edge—I don’t know. It seems now that people are just “over it.” I’m seeing fewer people wearing masks than I did a week or two ago. The rioters and looters on my television aren’t wearing masks, either, for the most part.

Louisiana State University has released their plans for reopening the college for the fall semester; plans include social distancing, increased sanitation measures, and random testing of the campus population:

Random testing between 10 and 16 percent of the populations of all LSU System campuses statewide for COVID-19 this fall. Participants would be selected randomly from lists of students and employees, and those selected would be encouraged to participate in the testing, although, not required. Anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 would be interviewed in an effort to determine who they have been with recently so that accurate contact tracing can be achieved. Every effort would be made to locate and test anyone believed to have been exposed. The goal of this plan is to determine the incidence of the virus on LSU’s campuses and to locate and mitigate any possible clusters of the virus.

The public school system in which I work has not yet released any specific plans, but the discussions sound much like everything else with social distancing and increased sanitation. I’m having a hard time envisioning my 15 and 16 year old students practicing social distancing in the hallways and the very small classrooms. On our campus there is just not a lot of room to spread out classes to keep kids six feet apart or have smaller classes.

Will they have to wear masks? Will I have to teach theme, symbolism, and literary analysis through a mask?

It is hard to imagine.

I have seen discussion in neighborhood social media groups with parents who will opt to home school rather than send kids back to “an environment of fear.” So be it.  That, too, will be interesting to monitor. For example, mine is a Title 1 school in a high poverty neighborhood and not many parents are interested in home schooling their kids. That is not to say none will or that all of our kids are in poverty; that’s not the case. There is a high percentage that are and many struggle just to have regular meals.

The virus numbers do seem to be leveling off, but our challenges are not.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation. Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25 and Twitter @paustin110.

Report from Louisiana: Contact tracing the new normal?

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – I was quite interested to read John Ruberry’s post on this blog this weekend in which he discusses the impact of Covid-19 in Illinois under the leadership of Governor J.B. Pritzker.  It all sounds so very familiar.

In Louisiana, we are waiting once again for Governor John Bel Edwards to move Louisiana to Phase One and reopen businesses. We expected this announcement two weeks ago, but Edwards surprised us all by extending our stay at home order until May 16, infuriating business owners, citizens, and a large number of Republican lawmakers.

As of last week, Louisiana’s unemployment rate was around 22%.

One of the components for reopening the state that Edwards will discuss today will be Contact Tracing.  Right now, Louisiana has 70 people trained for contact tracing which does NOT meet suggested guidelines, but Edwards plans to hire hundreds more.

Many are obviously suspicious about the concept of contact tracing and what information will be gathered, not to mention who will be gathering it. According to Governor Edwards:

The state’s plan considers people who have been in close contact with someone if they are:

Household members of the person who tested positive.

Intimate partners of the person who tested positive.

People who have provided care to you in the household or outside.

Anyone who has been in close contact – that is defined as someone who has been within six feet or closer for a time period greater than 15 minutes.

In New Orleans, Mayor LaToya Cantrell is taking this a step further by requiring shopkeepers to keep records of everyone who shops, or comes into, their stores.

It is all very “Big Brother” and many are suspicious of giving information to a contact tracer. One new contact tracer described her first day this way:

Some people are a little suspicious. Some people hang up after I ask for their date of birth and address. I understand that, the mistrust of the government, having grown up under communism. But it’s too bad. I feel like they can benefit from this information: how to quarantine themselves, how they can protect their families, and what kind of support is available. Probably 50%, maybe 60%, of the contacts that I call on my shift don’t answer. Some don’t have voicemail set up. But I leave a message when I can, and several people called me back yesterday.

NPR details how contact tracing works and how it has been used in other countries:

The idea behind this public health strategy is simple: Keep the virus in check by having teams of public health workers — epidemiologists, nurses, trained citizens — identify each new positive case, track down their contacts and help both the sick person and those who were exposed isolate themselves.

This is the strategy that’s been proven to work in other countries, including China, South Korea, and Germany. For it to work in the U.S., states and local communities will need ample testing and they’ll need to expand their public health workforce. By a lot.

And while Google and Apple would love to jump in and get a piece of this governmental financial pie, high tech is not really what works in this case:

It’s not super complicated to understand why technologists are having a hard time getting traction. Traditional contact tracing has been honed over decades of response to disease outbreaks. Officials ask patients where they’ve been and whom they’ve been near; they then suggest those people get tested for the disease and make sure they quarantine, if necessary. Quickly identifying and segregating people carrying the virus can slow the spread of a communicable disease. “It works by building a human bond between two people,” the patient and the contact tracer, says Tom Frieden, the former head of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the New York City Department of of Health and Mental Hygiene. “It means actually talking to someone and answering their questions, addressing their needs and concerns, and building, earning, and maintaining their trust and confidentiality.”

Contact tracing is not a new concept and has been used widely in many other outbreaks, but perhaps never to this extent.

At this point, we are all ready to get back to normal, or new normal, whatever that is. We broke out of quarantine as soon as Texas opened their border to Louisiana again and went to eat in a restaurant. We had to wait outside (in a crowd) for an hour to get in because they can only operate at 25% capacity. There were no salt or pepper shakers on the tables, nothing that has to be repeatedly sanitized. Menus are all paper and disposable. There were a lot of obvious changes.

The new normal will include a lot of changes that make us uncomfortable and perhaps suspicious. But by and large, America is ready to go back to work.

Let’s do this.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation. Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25 and Twitter @paustin110.

Report from Louisiana: Reopening Discontent

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – We broke quarantine yesterday and crossed the border into Texas.  With Louisiana still shut down and under stay-at-home orders for another two weeks, Texas looks pretty good right now.

For weeks the border has been closed to Louisiana residents, but now that has been lifted and Texas shops and restaurants are open, so we headed west.

We headed to Jefferson, Texas, a small, historic town in East Texas. Residents of Marion County supported Trump heavily in the last presidential election with a 71% strong vote over Hilary Clinton (27%).  Many of the people there are thrilled to see Louisiana customers back in Jefferson; the town has a quaint historic district filled with antique shops, specialty fudge shops, and eateries that have suffered financially since the closure. There are a couple of old, historic hotels and at less than an hour away from Shreveport, Jefferson is a popular day trip destination. People in Louisiana spend a lot of tourist dollars in Jefferson, so opening the state back up to travelers was a welcome move. They have been hit hard by the COVID closure.

Shopkeepers, bartenders, servers, residents, literally everyone we talked to, was thrilled that the state is open and people are coming back to spend money and browse the shops. We talked with several people who praised Trump’s COVID response and others who were firmly rooted in the belief that Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards is keeping Louisiana closed only for federal dollars.

The rhetoric in Louisiana circles is becoming more and more divided over the Edwards response. As it turns out, his stay-at-home order was very non-specific and would have allowed many businesses to stay open in some capacity, significantly reducing the large numbers of people forced into unemployment. The original stay-at-home order, issued March 22, specifically closed salons, gyms, tattoo shops, among others. Businesses not specified could stay open with restrictions, however that was never clear. As a result, places like Barnes and Noble, Ulta Beauty, sporting goods stores, craft stores, among others, closed when all along they could have stayed open with restrictions.

It has all been very murky and now the discontent is rising:

The catalyst is Gov. John Bel Edwards’ decision to extend Louisiana’s statewide stay-at-home order through May 15. The Democratic governor said the move is rooted in science and public safety. Republicans are bristling, preferring a parish-by-parish approach to loosening restrictions that have shuttered businesses and forced hundreds of thousands into unemployment.

At stake is “hundreds of millions of federal dollars in disaster aid for businesses and the state.”

Is Edwards playing it safe and only looking out for the health of Louisiana residents? Or is he parlaying the entire situation into a federal dollar windfall for the state? Has he been intentionally vague about his stay at home order? The answers depend on who you ask.

The bottom line is that the longer Louisiana stays closed, and with neighboring states returning to normal, the pressure on Edwards to reopen the state will increase. Louisiana dollars will be spent in the shops, restaurants, and hotels of other states.

Louisiana legislators return to Baton Rouge today, reconvening their session after a COVID hiatus and even the timing of the legislative return has been contentious.

Looks like the new normal in Louisiana is a lot like the old normal.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation. Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25 and Twitter @paustin110.

Report from Louisiana: Stay at Home

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – Finally, yesterday afternoon, Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards issued a “stay at home” order across the state. All “non-essential” businesses are shut down; restaurants are still open for curbside pickup and delivery, you can still take your dog to the vet, and liquor stores are open.

So, not much has changed under this order from what has been happening all week.

Via The Advocate:

Louisiana has the fastest growth rate of confirmed cases in the world, Edwards said, citing a University of Louisiana at Lafayette study. Louisiana ranks third in the nation — behind New York and Washington State — in per capita cases of people infected with the deadly novel coronavirus. The growth trajectory shows Louisiana increasing its confirmed cases on the same steep angle as Italy and Spain, where the virus has become exceptionally widespread.

Most of the cases in Louisiana are in Orleans parish with a known cluster of cases in an assisted living facility in New Orleans, but like everywhere, COVID-19 is spread throughout the state.

It is not likely to improve for a while as there are still far too many people that don’t appear to comprehend the gravity of what is happening.

Sunday, in East Baton Rouge parish, The Life Tabernacle Church hosted over 1,800 people at their Sunday morning service. Pastor Tony Spell said “if anyone in his congregation contracts covid-19 he will heal them through God.”

If anyone still doubts the severity of this virus, take a look at a viral Facebook post by Chicago resident Michael Bane.  He describes the progression of COVID-19 as it has attacked him after a “brief encounter” with someone who later tested positive for the virus. Bane wanted to put “a human face” on the virus and stress to people the importance of staying home.

The numbers in Louisiana continue to climb and as I write this, there is plenty of traffic I can still see outside my window. Our shut-down order doesn’t take effect until 5:00 p.m., and grocery stores (which will remain open) are packed with people clearing the shelves of whatever staples remain. As with much of the country, there has been no toilet paper, hand sanitizer, rice, dried beans, or bread for at least two weeks. If you catch it right, you can get milk or meat as stockers work frantically to keep shelves stocked.

On the plus side, random acts of kindness are on the uptick. One of my neighbors left a gallon of milk and a loaf of bread on my porch yesterday. Neighborhoods are pulling together to support one another, and people are getting creative in keeping the little ones entertained. One activity I saw yesterday was a “bear hunt,” where neighbors put a stuffed bear in their windows for kids to spot, or find, on walks with their parents.

I’m counting my blessings right now and staying inside.

Stay safe wherever you are, stay home, and wash your hands!

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation. Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25 and Twitter @paustin110.

Report from Louisiana: Governor Edwards breaks promise to teachers

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – Really, who is shocked by this?

Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards is giving pay raises to his staff appointees but not to teachers. During his recent campaign, Edwards promised teachers he would bring their pay up to the Southern regional average; he even gave teachers a $1,000 per year raise, the first in over a decade, to show good faith. But when his new budget proposal came out, nada. Nothing. Except for his political appointees.

From The Advocate:

The Democratic governor’s chief financial adviser, Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne, mentioned the raises in his presentation of Edwards’ budget recommendations for the upcoming 2020-21 year, describing it to lawmakers as a “small increase.” The AP received the list after asking Dardenne’s office for specific details.

Dardenne said the “unclassified employees” across Louisiana state government hadn’t received pay raises over the governor’s first term, even as other rank-and-file civil service workers did. He said most of the increases are 4%.

So, for example, Edwards’ attorney’s salary will bump from $180,000 to $187,200 and his deputy chief of progams and planning goes from $125,000 to $150,000. 

If I, as a teacher, got a 25K pay raise, I’d be pretty satisfied.

Edwards spokeswoman Christina Stephens said the pay hikes represent a “tiny fraction of the overall state budget.” She said they “were included as part of the governor’s budget proposal only after two years of budget stability and an improved economic outlook for the state.”

Teachers across Louisiana are livid. 

Teachers turned out for Edwards across the state, well, some of them did. Not all of us were fooled.

Instead, Governor Edwards is sending more money to local districts and telling them to fund their own pay raises from that, however, the amount for local districts is not nearly enough to fund pay raises.

The Advocate:

 A Louisiana teacher makes an average is $50,359 per year compared with $52,178 in the 16-state region, according to 2017-18 tabulations, the latest available. That’s about what a manager at McDonald’s makes. But managers also get cash bonuses, profit-sharing and stock options. Plus, teachers need a college degree. And the average college student graduates with a debt of $29,800.

Relying on public school math, it cost Louisiana taxpayers about $101 million for last year’s raise, meaning another $200 million is needed to bring this state’s teachers up to the regional average of 2018. But that’s a moving target. Texas boosted salaries by up to $9,000. Teacher pay rose by $3,000 in Georgia and $2,000 in Florida, according to the Southern Regional Education Board.

Louisiana radio host Moon Griffon pointed out last week that teachers are 10-month employees, and that a family of two teachers makes 100k a year, if they both make the average 50k. “That’s not bad,” Griffon said.  In Caddo Parish, one of the larger parishes in Louisiana, beginning teachers make $44k and don’t approach that $50k figure until about year ten. It isn’t that different in neighboring Bossier Parish, where a teacher with a BA degree with thirty years experience will max out at $59k.  In DeSoto parish, a beginning teacher makes $49k – zero years experience. By year ten, that teacher is up to $54k and by thirty, $61k.

None of these salaries are anywhere near what a staffer for John Bel Edwards is making, yet Edwards loves to point out how valuable teachers are.

Apparently only as long as he needs our votes. Then our value goes down.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation. Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25 and Twitter @paustin110.

Report from Louisiana: Why no tort reform?

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – You can not drive down any highway in Louisiana without being inundated with billboards encouraging you to sue someone. On I-20 heading into Texas you see a lot of “Truck Wreck?” billboards and as you go down south, along I-49 you see the same but also oil field accident billboards and maritime accident billboards.

Trial lawyers are in high cotton in Louisiana.

We need tort reform in the worst way. We pay the second highest auto insurance rates in the nation and trust me, it is crippling.

The litigation-happy environment in Louisiana is also crippling business and growth.

One series of billboards is particularly offensive to me in that they quote Bible verses (Matthew 5:5-9, for example), again, encouraging one to sue.

Even still, tort reform doesn’t seem to be on anyone’s agenda in the state legislature. Why is that? One answer: John Bel Edwards, himself a trial lawyer and with many cronies who are trial lawyers who have donated heavily to his war chest.

Attempts to introduce tort reform have gone nowhere. One example:

Last year, State Sen. Sharon Hewitt, a Slidell Republican, introduced a bill ridding the state of the seat belt gag law. Her bill would allow as evidence the role not wearing a seat belt played in the litigant’s injuries. The bill never made it to Gov. John Bel Edwards’ desk. Then Senate President and Republican in name only John Alario stacked the Senate Judiciary Committee with trial lawyers guaranteeing tort reform legislation died in committee. This saved Edwards the embarrassment of having to veto a bill that would have lowered insurance premiums for so many.

Good old John Alario who has been in control of the legislature for longer than some of you have been alive is retiring now, so will things change?

Dan Fagan from The Advocate:

It’s clear personal injury lawyers have more clout than the rest of us with those running our state. But it’s unfair to put this all on Edwards. The governor could very well bend to public pressure to lower insurance premiums and sign a tort reform bill if one were ever to make it to his desk. Favoring his big-money attorney donors over Louisiana motorists doesn’t go well with his campaign slogan, “people over politics.” But the Republican-controlled legislature hasn’t sent Edwards any tort reform legislation. Alario is gone. Republicans are running out of excuses…. In the House, Republican Clay Schexnayder has cut a deal with Edwards and Democrats to win his speakership. Did he promise to keep tort reform legislation off the governor’s desk? If tort reform doesn’t make it to the governor this year, we’ll know why. Enough Republicans like things just the way they are. High insurance premiums and all.

The regular legislative session convenes in March.

Meanwhile, we will have to put up with these absurd billboards for a while longer.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation. Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25 and Twitter @paustin110.

Report from Louisiana: A sampler

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – A sampling of news items from Louisiana this week:

John White:  Louisiana’s long-time State Superintendent of Education, John White, has decided to move on to other endeavors. I wish I could say I was surprised, but alas, Mr. White has been working without a contract for the past four years.

White became Superintendent in 2012 and his tenure has never been without controversy. He immediately instituted sweeping reforms, came under criticism for his position that the fault that Louisiana ranks so poorly in education is the fault of the teacher, and the fact that there has always been discussion as to whether or not he ever taught in the classroom.

One of the most controversial aspects of White’s tenure has been his implementation of the Louisiana version of the Common Core curriculum. White and Governor John Bel Edwards have always had a contentious relationship although they have managed to grudgingly work together; one of the Governor’s initial campaign promises was to replace White, but he could never quite get the votes of the education board to do so.

Personally, the current curriculum situation is one reason why I’m retiring at the end of the 2021 school year, and I’m not sorry to see White move on, however, I have real concerns about who comes next. I believe it will be critical for Governor Edwards and the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to listen to teacher voices and input as the next superintendent is selected.

Storms: Northwest Louisiana experienced an unusual violent weather system this past weekend as strong storms and tornadoes swept across east Texas, Louisiana, and on toward the east coast. Here, in our area, we had three fatalities and much property damage.

The storms rolled through just after midnight Friday, and into Saturday morning.

Benton Middle School lost part of their roof and classrooms were inundated with water.

We are counting our blessings that this did not happen during the school day.

National Championship:  New Orleans is rocking right now as Mardi Gras season is underway and LSU is in town to take on Clemson for the National Championship. LSU has had a beautiful, perfect season and quarterback Joe Burrow has been a joy to watch. Very exciting.

President Trump with be in attendance and will be watching the game in a suite with the Louisiana delegation. Security is amped up right now, obviously. Trump figures in to sever of the current prop bets, which you can see here, including whether or not he will wear a red tie. (I’m going with yes on that one).

I’m making gumbo for game day, of course.

Geaux Tigers!

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation. Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25 and Twitter @paustin110.