Washington Briefs: Richmond files liability bill 

With the effects of Hurricane Katrina still looming over southeastern Louisiana, U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans, on Friday filed the Army Corps Accountability Act of 2013 to make the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers more culpable for its flood-protection failures.

Legal wrangling could still remain over the impact the corps’ maintenance of the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet navigation channel had on increased flooding and Richmond wants the Corps of Engineers to be held accountable and financially liable.

“Eight years later, these communities are still struggling to pick up the pieces of their lives, and we owe them a debt to ensure that this never happens again,” said Richmond, whose district stretches up the Mississippi River from New Orleans through Baton Rouge.

“The Army Corps of Engineers must be held accountable for its gross negligence and failure to properly operate and maintain the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet. This legislation ensures that the Army Corps can never again hide behind discretionary provisions that ultimately impede our recovery and prevention efforts.”

In 2009, a federal judge decided the Corps of Engineers’ gross negligence was the ultimate cause of catastrophic damage in New Orleans’ 9th Ward and St. Bernard Parish. But, last year, an appeals court reversed the ruling and agreed with the corps’ position that it was protected from liability under the “discretionary function” exception from the Federal Tort Claims Act liability.

Richmond wants the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the case.

His bill would remove the corps from the FTCA exception and make the corps accountable for its actions.

Although his bill is unlikely to go far because it would cost the federal government billions of dollars, Richmond is pressing on.

Cassidy pushes to end funding

Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, is making a push to end government-funding for oil paintings of government officials.

Cassidy is seeking to have such language included in the next federal budget and, on Thursday, he filed the Eliminating Government-Funded Oil-Painting Act.

He noted that the government paid nearly $40,000 for a commemorative portrait of outgoing Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson, of New Orleans, and more than $20,000 for a portrait of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

“At a time of trillion-dollar deficits, these portraits are a ridiculous and unnecessary luxury. Americans have been complaining about this practice for decades and it’s time we finally do something about it,” Cassidy said in a prepared statement.

“This bill would prohibit the use of taxpayer dollars for portraits of members of Congress and federal administration officials. As Americans tighten their budgets and cut excess, their government should do the same. Lisa Jackson can borrow my camera for free.”

The White House has argued it spends less on portraits than did previous administrations.

FEMA awards sewer grants

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is sending $27 million in federal grants to New Orleans and St. Bernard Parish for sewerage system repairs pertaining to Hurricane Katrina.

The grants are part of FEMA’s assistance program to improve the infrastructure for providing proper sewerage and water quality to southeastern Louisiana.

Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., Richmond announced the grants that will benefit many individual neighborhoods.

“We learned important lessons after Hurricane Katrina, including the importance of investing in our infrastructure,” Landrieu said. “(Thursday’s) grants are for a basic service, but one that is critical for the public health and safety of our residents in New Orleans and St. Bernard Parish.”

The $13.5 million for New Orleans will benefit the Filmore, West End, Dillard, Gentilly and St. Roch Ward neighborhoods.

“Nearly eight years after Hurricane Katrina, we are working to close out necessary funding decisions for repairs to damage left by the storm. FEMA continues to be an important partner in our city’s recovery.” Mayor Mitch Landrieu said.

The other $13.5 million for St. Bernard Parish will go toward repairs to its sewage collection system. St. Bernard Parish suffered severe wind and flood damage in 2005, extending to its critical utilities, such as the gravity-flow sanitary sewer collection system.

Floodwaters entered the buried sewer pipeline system, carrying debris and sediment that had no route of discharge.

Compiled by Jordan Blum, chief of The Advocate Washington bureau. His email address is jblum@the advocate.com.