News for Wednesday June 17th, 2020a
Compiled by Dave Graichen’
As of noon Tuesday the state reported 24 new COVID-19 fatalities, more than the last three days combined. Total deaths: 2,930. Hospitalizations… up by 20, bringing the total to 588. Total cases: 47,706… up by 534 yesterday, but the Department of Health says 148 of those come from a testing backlog.
Louisiana has now seen three straight days of COVID-19 hospitalizations, the metric used by health officials to track the actual rate of community spread. Assistant Health Secretary Dr. Alex Billioux says their contact tracing data shows this is largely due to increased social interactions in recent weeks, and possibly because of Memorial Day.
Neighboring Texas and Arkansas have seen record-breaking increases in the last week. Billioux says that could be foreshadowing. The growth in cases has been largest in the Lake Charles, Alexandria, and Monroe regions.
A study from Scripps Research Institute indicates the strain of coronavirus circulating the United States appears to show mutations making the virus more stable and abundant than the original strain from Wuhan, China. LSU Health New Orleans molecular geneticist Dr. Lucio Miele says viruses that contain a mutated protein are approximately ten times more infectious.
Over the fierce objections of municipalities, Gov. John Bel Edwards late Monday night approved legislation that effectively invalidates local and parish ordinances restricting where a person can go with a firearm. Then on Tuesday afternoon Edwards signed a second bill that stops local officials from regulating gun sales during times of emergency. He signed a third measure Friday. That bill will allow anyone to carry a gun into a house of worship without having the get the permission of those in the congregation.
A change has been made to Louisiana's Phase 2 reopening guidelines, now allowing live music in Louisiana bars and clubs. This marks the first time since mid-March bars and clubs can offer live music legally. The change does not automatically permit all venues to host live music, however. Business owners must apply to the State Fire Marshal's Office for approval in conjunction with the Louisiana Department of Health. They also must meet certain safety criteria.
Governor John Bel Edwards vetoes a bill that would have provided companies impacted by COVID-19 a rebate for hiring or rehiring employees. Businesses would be eligible if they hired at least five people and added 40-thousand dollars in total payroll, but in the governor’s veto letter, Edwards said the program would create a large pool of eligible businesses and the potential cost to the state could be substantial.
The State Treasury Department will launch a 300-million dollar small business COVID relief grant program in July as a result of legislation signed by the governor. Treasurer John Schroder says to qualify your business must have fewer than 50 employees and can demonstrate COVID-19 related losses.
Governor John Bel Edwards signs a bill that greatly expands access to medical marijuana. Louisiana Association of Therapeutic Alternatives lobbyist Danny Ford says this measure allows any doctor in good standing to recommend medical cannabis to a patient suffering from a debilitating condition. Under current law, medical marijuana is only available to a patient suffering from a specific condition or disease.
Governor Edwards signs legislation barring residents from suing a restaurant, claiming they got the coronavirus from their business. Covington Senator Patrick McMath says it’s tough to prove where someone contracted COVID-19, but that wouldn’t stop someone from trying. But McMath notes that if restaurants refuse to follow COVID guidelines like mandatory mask wearing for employees they could still get sued.
The US Senate’s lone African American GOP member is set to unveil police reform legislation today in response to the George Floyd protests. The legislation limits use of chokeholds, requires officers to intervene if they see excessive use of force, and provides for more cameras. Senator Bill Cassidy says Tim Scott’s bill is a necessary conversation. Tuesday the President signed his own executive order blocking federal funds from heading to police departments that do not limit the use of chokeholds.
Personal finance website WalletHub finds a strong majority, 67 percent, of Americans think people who do not want to return to the office and would rather work from home should not see pushback from employers. WalletHub analyst Jill Gonzales says those that disagree tend to want direct action from employers against those workers. About a third of respondents also believe businesses should be held responsible for employees getting sick.
A onetime confirmed and admitted incoming LSU freshman who filmed himself screaming the n-word on camera along with other racist comments will not be attending the state’s flagship university in fall. LSU has refused to comment further on the subject citing privacy concerns.
A push is being led by a Lake Charles attorney for the removal of a Confederate monument at the Calcasieu courthouse has also received the support of a judge in that courthouse. Attorney Todd Clemons says when you are black and entering the courthouse, the monument sends a message that you don’t have equal rights, having a chilling and intimidating effect. Judge Ron Ware has also been vocal that it is time for the monument to come down.
The Iberville Parish Council voted unanimously Tuesday to remove a Confederate statue outside the parish's old courthouse building.
Taylor Energy has filed a lawsuit challenging the Coast Guard’s order for the New Orleans oil company to halt a more than 15-year-long oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico.
Filed in federal court in New Orleans on Monday, the lawsuit asserts that Taylor is not liable for the costs, penalties or damages related to collecting or halting the oil flowing from the site of its broken deepwater wells. Taylor also questions whether the high volume of oil the Coast Guard says is being collected from Taylor’s wells is actually oil from its wells. The Taylor Energy site has produced what many scientists say is one of the largest and longest-running oil disasters in U.S. history.