Budget woes, protest, Rapides Parish divided

Louisiana Politics

POSTED: Thursday, March 24, 2011 - 5:46pm

UPDATED: Friday, October 14, 2011 - 8:56am

Lots of hot topics at the State Capitol today. First, the marathon battle over the budget is showing some progress, but not enough to some.

State Treasurer John Kennedy says the current draft of the $25 billion state budget is starting to take shape. The changes include minimized cuts to higher education and health care, which is partially due to the elimination of 4,000 state jobs. Those jobs will not require cuts or layoffs, because they are already vacant positions.

But one the biggest issues for some is the possible privatization of state prisons. Opponents believe this is only a temporary fix that could be harmful in the long term.

"A junkie can sell his iPod, or his stereo, or his TV to generate money for his next fix, and it will get him through his next fix, but soon or later, if that junkie is going to get well, that junkie is going to have to face his addiction. And we as a state government need to face our addiction with spending."

Kennedy believe reducing 10 percent of state consulting contracts is a stronger solution than privatization.

State prison workers also expressed their concerns with the proposed plan to generate money, and today, they took their concerns to the steps of the capitol.

"We will not stand for that. This is a monumental occasion again," was the rally cry heard just before noon from hundreds of state prison workers.

Corrections officers from Avoyelles Parish spent the day at the Capitol. That's because the Appropriations Committee was given details regarding the sale of the Avoyelles parish prison and Dabadie prison in Pineville. Over two hundred people showed up to attend the meeting. Then, they brought their message to the steps.

"How can you guarantee that if you sell the prisons, that their jobs are going to be retained,” Leonal Hardman, President of the American Federation for State – Country – Municipal Employees, said to NBC33 News. “You can't guarantee that. They really are not looking at the fact that these employees who put tenure in, are about to lose it."

Around 500 employees will be affected by the sale of the prison. Their greatest concern is the loss of benefits, and potentially their job if the privatization occurs.

But the ultimate focus of today’s session meeting was to determine the district lines in Central Louisiana - a highly debated topic. Today the Senate voted to divide Rapides Parish into four districts.

The new district lines will split sister-cities Alexandria and Pineville into completely different districts. City leaders were available today to express their concerns. Mostly, they say it will make it harder for the two cities with close connections, to work together.

The House will vote on this same issue tomorrow. It was delayed after a representative had to be excused from the vote due to an emergency. They are expected to vote in the morning on Friday, March 25.

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