Lower 9th Ward proposition advances

The Louisiana House on Tuesday endorsed a proposed constitutional amendment aimed at helping clean up the hurricane-devastated New Orleans Lower Ninth Ward.

House Bill 489 would allow the city of New Orleans to donate or sell, at a price that the Legislature might set, abandoned or blighted housing property to resident of the Lower Ninth Ward.

The change is necessary because the current state constitution prohibits the loan, pledge or donation of funds, credit, property, or other things of value of the state or a political subdivision. Bill sponsor state Rep. Stuart Bishop said anything that sells for less than fair market value is considered to be a donation which is hampering restoration efforts.

State Rep. Jay Morris, R-Monroe, said he worried creating the exception should lead to others. “Before you know it we will have poked a lot of holes in our fiscal requirements,” Morris said.

Bishop, R-New Orleans, said the situation in the Lower 9th Ward is “unique beyond any of the parish in Louisiana.”

In the nine years since Hurricane Katrina, Bishop said some 600 lots “have not moved... It’s an extraordinary problem that calls for an extraordinary solution.”

Morris sought assurances that once the property is disposed of that would be the end of the exception.

“It’s a specific bill for a specific portion of my district,” said Bishop.

The House voted 98-0 for the proposition and shipped it to the Senate for further action. If approved by both a two-thirds vote of the House and Senate the measure would go to voters for approval Nov. 4.

Companion statutory legislation to implement a constitutional change is pending in a state Senate committee.

Follow Marsha Shuler on Twitter @MarshaShulerCNB. For more coverage of the state capitol, follow Louisiana Politics at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog/.