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State officials to no longer delay New Orleans flood control funding over city's abortion views

The Sewerage and Water Board's facility Uptown.
Travis Lux
The Sewerage and Water Board's facility Uptown.

After a two-month delay, the Louisiana Bond Commission cleared the way for the city of New Orleans to receive $39 million in funding for drainage infrastructure. Many of the state’s top Republican officials had threatened to withhold the funds over the city’s abortion policies but the board eventually advanced the funding request.

In the weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, allowing Louisiana’s near-absolute ban on abortions to take effect, the New Orleans City Council, District Attorney Jason Williams and Mayor LaToya Cantrell all issued statements saying they would not prioritize enforcing the trigger ban.

That drew the ire of Attorney General Jeff Landry and other top Republican officials in the state.

In July, Landry successfully persuaded his fellow members of the state bond commission to keep the New Orleans Sewerage and Water Board’s request for a $39 million line of credit from advancing to the next step of the state’s lengthy financing process.

The funds would go toward the construction of a new power plant to operate the pumps that drain city streets and provide drinking water to the parish as part of a larger $120 million overhaul of the aging system. City officials said delaying the $39 million targeted by Landry could derail the whole project.

The commission, which is dominated by Republican officials who oppose abortion rights, voted to delay the funding request again in August.

But that coalition dissolved during Thursday’s meeting and the commission advanced the funding request on an 11-1 vote. Angelique Freel, director of Landry’s civil division and his designee on the committee, cast the lone no vote.

“The city of New Orleans must be held accountable for blatantly refusing to enforce validly enacted laws,” Freel said.

Many officials, including the commission’s chair – Republican state treasurer John Schroder – blasted the move as a political stunt that put long-sought improvements in jeopardy. Schroder added that it made little sense to single out and delay the Sewerage and Water Board’s request even as the commission advanced requests for hundreds of millions of dollars for other Orleans Parish projects.

Others pointed out that abortions had effectively ended in Orleans Parish after its last abortion clinic permanently closed last month, and city officials could not be accused of failing to enforce a law that had not been violated.

“I’m still not hearing what law they broke,” House Speaker Clay Schexnayder said.

While the July and August votes to delay the request were largely symbolic – commission members could still get the project on track before the 2023 legislative session – some state lawmakers on the panel said they were running out of time to do so.

“We need to quit messing around with this and go ahead and approve it,” said Sen. Bret Allain (R-Franklin), a prominent member of the Senate Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Committee.

Now that the project has advanced, the legislature still has the discretion to include or exclude it from its construction budget next year.

Paul Braun was WRKF's Capitol Access reporter, from 2019 through 2023.

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