“This is a tremendous setback for an opportunity the convention center would have to make the area even more attractive for national and international visitors ... and change the face of the riverfront for the better.” House Speaker Pro tem Walt Leger III, sponsor of the vetoed convention center bill
Among the vetoes of legislation issued late Friday, Gov. Bobby Jindal axed a measure that would have led to major enhancements along New Orleans’ riverfront.
House Bill 516 would allow the Ernest N. Morial-New Orleans Exhibition Hall Authority to borrow money for projects outside the convention center’s current footprint. The governor said HB516 could hamper the state’s ability to borrow money by affecting the state debt limit.
Bill sponsor House Speaker Pro tem Walt Leger III reacted angrily. “I’m livid. I’m upset. The convention center thing is out of left field. I cannot be more shocked. It’s a real setback for the hospitality and tourism industry.”
Leger said the Convention Center is a political subdivision of the state and has its own revenue stream. “It does not impact the debt limit of the state,” he said.
“This is a tremendous setback for an opportunity the convention center would have to make the area even more attractive for national and international visitors ... and change the face of the riverfront for the better.”
Leger said the veto “discourages private investment.”
The projects include the renovation or demolition of the World Trade Center building. The 33-story building once was home to offices and a rotating bar called Top of the Mart. The skyscraper now sits vacant at the end of Canal Street.
One proposal envisions a W Hotel and the addition of 280 luxury apartments, with a “Tricentennial sky wheel.” Another proposal calls for a riverfront park and a monument.
Upriver from the convention center is land that also could take on a new purpose. Convention Center Boulevard would get a makeover.
The governor also vetoed legislation designed to create a legal framework for surrogacy births in Louisiana.
Legislators spent hours wrestling with Senate Bill 162, which state Sen. Gary Smith filed after he and his wife turned to surrogates in other states to carry their biological children.
The measure would have created a legal framework to regulate payments and provide courts with guidance on everyone’s responsibilities in a parental contracts with a surrogate mother. The legislation was overwhelmingly approved by the House, on a vote of 85 for and 12 against and by the state Senate on a 32 to 3 vote.
But the powerful Louisiana Family Forum, which describes itself as the voice for traditional families, and the Louisiana Conference of Catholic Bishops opposed SB162. The groups argued that it could weaken anti-abortion legal positions, threaten the health of women and create a “wombs for hire” industry.
“Creating a state sanctioned regulatory structure for contracts pertaining to the birth of children has a profound impact on the traditional beginnings of the family and is an important topic worthy of heightened scrutiny and consensus. Given the range of opposition, I am not satisfied that the questions and concerns ... have been sufficiently studied and thoroughly,” Jindal wrote in his veto letter.
Gene Mills, who heads the Baton Rouge-based Louisiana Family Forum, issued a statement praising the governor for his veto.
Smith, D-Norco, said he attempted to find common ground with Family Forum but could not. “Every time we resolved one of their issues, they presented a new one,” Smith said.
He vowed to try the legislation again next year. “We’ve denied protections to our citizens with this veto,” Smith said.
House Bill 415 would get more highway signs in both English and French in south Louisiana. The governor, in his veto message, said the measure was amended to include any language, “which may or may not have a cultural connection to Louisiana.”
State Rep. Stephen Ortego, D-Carencro, sponsor of the plan, said he was glad to see that Jindal issued an executive order directing the state Department of Transportation and Development to ask federal officials to let the state erect highway signs in English and French.
“At least we are going in the right direction,” Ortego said.
Lawmakers could seek to overturn the vetoes in a legislative session, but that appears unlikely. Lawmakers have not held a veto session since the current Louisiana Constitution was enacted four decades ago.
For the second year in a row, the governor vetoed an attempt by Livingston Parish officials to divert state tax dollars for the Juban Crossing mixed-use development.
Jindal said Friday that Senate Bill 50 would direct state revenues “to a local real estate development.” He said supporters can turn to existing resources, such as the state construction budget.
“I’m obviously disappointed to the max, especially when the Legislature in two consecutive yeas has supported the Juban Crossing bill overwhelmingly,” said state Sen. Dale Erdey, R-Livingston and SB50’s sponsor.
The legislation would create the Juban Crossing Economic Development District Fund into which 1 percent of the state’s 4 percent sales tax generated on retail sales in the district would be deposited. A maximum of $45 million could flow into the fund that would be used to pay off government borrowing for roads, site preparation and other infrastructure.
Livingston Parish President Layton Ricks said Jindal “has turned his back on us. He says he’s for economic development. This would have been huge for Livingston Parish and huge for the state.”
Among other vetoes released Friday, the governor rejected bills that would have:
- Created a new exception to the state ethics code, allowing a member of a local governing authority in a town with 5,000 residents or less to do business with people who have contracts with the town. Jindal vetoed the same proposal last year, saying he saw no reason for the exception.
- Required the state to pay New Orleans for local fire and law enforcement services it provides to the land-based casino, which generates tax dollars for the state treasury. Jindal has vetoed the bill three times, though he’s agreed to pay the money through the budget.
Michelle Millhollon and Will Sentell of the Capitol news bureau and The Associated Press contributed to this report.