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Louisiana 2023 Congress Members Focus on Oil, Insurance, Weed

The state’s one Democratic and seven Republican members are also focused on local issues, such as a new Veterans Administration facility in Baton Rouge, reallocating infrastructure funds to traffic reduction projects.

(TNS) — Battling higher flood insurance premiums, reviving offshore drilling, decriminalizing marijuana and reinstating troops who refused COVID shots are among the various goals for Louisiana's senators and representatives in Congress going into 2023.

The state's one Democratic and seven Republican members are taking on more power come Jan. 3, when the 118th Congress is sworn in.

Rep. Steve Scalise, the Jefferson Republican who was minority whip in the Democratic House, is set to be number two as majority leader now that Republicans are in control. Sen. Bill Cassidy of Baton Rouge becomes the ranking Republican on the Senate committee overseeing health. Rep. Troy Carter, a New Orleans Democrat, is the second vice chair of the Congressional Black Caucus.

All must consider the national issues and politics of the day.

But local needs won't be neglected, said Rep. Garret Graves, the Baton Rouge Republican in line to chair the House subcommittee overseeing the nation's airports.

For instance, Graves said that after five years of effort, he and other delegation members hope to clear the way for a new Veterans Administration facility with expanded services in Baton Rouge.

"We've ultimately eliminated the last obstacle of us getting a new consolidated VA clinic," he said.

Graves says another priority is changing how money is spent under the Biden administration's $1.2 trillion infrastructure act, which is aimed at fixing the nation's aging highways, bridges, railroads, ports and airports. It also provides money for high-speed internet in mostly rural areas that aren't profitable for private companies to expand into.

Graves contends the formulas used to fund projects favor Democratic regions at the expense of GOP-dominated Louisiana and other Gulf Coast states — a claim the law's supporters deny.

Graves said now that the GOP has the tiller, House Republicans want to reprioritize spending to increase money going to roads and bridges. One example, he says, is taking money slated for building electrical vehicle charging stations and redirecting it to relieve the bottleneck caused by traffic crossing the Mississippi River bridge in Baton Rouge.

"The federal government has no business funding EV charging stations," Graves said. "I don't view this as a government responsibility. The government didn't pay for gas stations. They don't need to be paying for EV charging stations."

The entire Louisiana delegation, regardless of party or political posts, seems to agree on flood insurance rates.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency recalculated National Flood Insurance Program premiums, saying it needed to bring revenue closer to the amount paid out to repair damaged homes and businesses.

Some Louisiana home and business owners got lower rates, but for most, flood insurance now costs more — and for a few, the premiums are so high that they can't buy it.

"What good is flood insurance if you can't afford it?" said U.S. Sen. John N. Kennedy, R- Madisonville.

Louisiana's delegation complains across the board that FEMA hasn't fully explained its Risk Rating 2.0 computer algorithm, which weighs various conditions to set flood insurance rates.

Carter is on board with demanding that FEMA officials answer questions about how the new rates are calculated.

But Carter, who represents heavily Democratic sections of New Orleans and Baton Rouge, has priorities that his Republican colleagues don't share. Alone in the Louisiana delegation, Carter supported a bill requiring all states to recognize same-sex marriages legally performed in other states.

Carter says he also wants to expand mental health services and see about decriminalizing marijuana on the federal level. President Joe Biden in October pardoned all those convicted on federal charges of simple marijuana possession. Democrats are now looking at full decriminalization.

A hot topic for Louisiana's Congressional membership is energy. Concerned about global warming caused by fossil fuels, the Biden administration has turned to rules such as limits on flaring vented methane gas from production facilities.

Cassidy argues that deep-in-the-weeds requirements have essentially shut down drilling offshore. The Gulf of Mexico fulfills 27 percent of U.S. energy needs, and that production is way down, he said.

Scalise likewise targets Biden energy policies.

"House Republicans will pass bills to reverse Biden's radical anti-American energy agenda and also pass bills to unleash American energy production and restore our energy independence," Scalise said. "There is no reason we should be relying on hostile foreign dictators for oil when we have the resources we need here in Louisiana to produce our own affordable energy, which provides vital coastal restoration and flood protection dollars to our state through revenue sharing."

Rep. Mike Johnson, of Benton in northwest Louisiana, sits on the Armed Services Committee and is vice chair of the Republican Conference, a leadership role for GOP members of the House.

Johnson said one priority is reinstating troops who were "wrongfully terminated" for refusing the COVID vaccination. Some GOP members see that as a next step after a recent agreement with Democrats to drop the military's COVID vaccination mandate.

But the White House and the Pentagon have pointed out that the troops who were discharged had disobeyed an order, which can't be tolerated. And Democrats in Congress have voiced no interest in bucking the military on the issue.

Johnson said the GOP will use its majority status to investigate certain issues.

"We will also resume Congress' important oversight responsibilities by pushing for answers on everything from COVID's origins to the failed Afghanistan withdrawal," he said.

Rep. Julia Letlow, a Republican from Start in northeast Louisiana, sits on the powerful House panel that controls spending.

"My top priority is to keep working on the House Appropriations Committee to ensure we're making targeted, substantial investments in Louisiana," Letlow said.

But her key legislative initiative, backed by the GOP House leadership, is her "Parents Bill of Rights" bill, which she says would give parents a "seat at the table" in deciding what their children are taught.

The bill would require local school boards to publicly post the curriculum for each elementary and secondary school grade level. It also would mandate that schools notify parents of their rights, including the ability to oppose a curriculum or budget. Critics say the bill is meant to appease angry parents who claim some courses are designed to shame white children over the country's history of slavery and racial discrimination.

Republican Rep. Clay Higgins, who represents the Lafayette and Lake Charles areas. didn't respond to requests for comment on his legislative priorities for 2023.

(c)2023 The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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