LAKE CHARLES—Three of seven candidates running for the office of governor spoke Thursday morning to Louisiana School Board Association members about their views on public education. A fourth candidate appeared via video (Landry). The candidates — state Sen. Sharon Hewitt, Attorney General Jeff Landry, attorney Hunter Lundy and state Rep. Richard Nelson — appeared during the association’s annual convention, held this year at Golden Nugget Casino Resort.
“People ask me all the time, ‘Why are you running?’ Well, our two sons went to out-of-state colleges, they’re working for companies out of state and they will probably never move back to Louisiana because there weren’t opportunities here for them,” Hewitt said. “What I want is a Louisiana where our families want to work here, and live here and retire here. Our sons were born and raised here and it breaks my heart that there aren’t opportunities here for them in Louisiana. As governor, I’m going to change that.”
The Lake Charles native and Barbe High School graduate said she has five areas she wants to focus on if elected governor — creating a world-class education system rich in technology to build “the workforce of tomorrow”; growing the economy with strong infrastructure and a tax system that “respects your hard-earned tax dollars”; affordable and reliable insurance and energy; safer neighborhoods and communities; and protecting personal freedoms. Hewitt said Senate Bill 222, which she sponsored, passed two years ago and goes into effect next year.
“This bill establishes for the first time in state history a uniform way of reporting how well students are reading,” she said. “We’re going to be checking that three times a year and there will be processes in place and opportunities for parents to know how well their children are reading. We are also teaching students who are studying higher education in higher education institutions the science of reading so they are ready to hit the ground running when they come into your school systems. These are all things are actually happening.” Hewitt said by the end of her first term as governor, all kindergarten through third grade students will be reading.
She also vowed to bring computer science courses to every grade level to get Louisiana students ready for the global economy. “Louisiana students are getting left behind,” she said. “Louisiana is 49th in the percentage of high schools offering a computer science class. To show you how much of an opportunity we are missing, last year in Louisiana we had 5,441 job openings per month in the computer field, and we only had 568 graduates in computer science. We have tremendous opportunities and yet we’re not filling the pipeline.” Hewitt also said she supports education savings accounts. “I am an advocate for public schools; I’m a product of public schools, my kids are, my mom was a teacher. That’s always where my priority is going to be,” she said. “But for those children that do not succeed in a public school environment, I do believe we should give them options. It’s important to give parents choices, and parents options.”
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>> Senator Hewitt creates Louisiana STEM initiative
>> Gubernatorial candidate and Lake Charles native Sharon Hewitt shares her vision
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By Jeff Palermo - Louisiana Radio Network
State lawmakers have approved legislation that sets up a 45-million dollar incentive fund that will be used to bring more insurance companies to Louisiana that will offer homeowners coverage. Senate Insurance Chairman Kirk Talbot says the goal is to reduce the number of Citizens Property Insurance policyholders who face a 63-percent rate hike this year.
“People need help, we need to respond and we are here to solve problems, in my opinion we need to pass this bill and give relief to people who need it,” said Talbot.
The bill passed on a 37-to-1 vote in the Senate on Friday. Bossier City Senator Barrow Peacock was the lone no vote as he questioned whether the incentive fund would actually lead to more insurers who can supply homeowners coverage.
“Why would any insurance company want to take on a risk of a policy in Citizen or in the coastal parishes two months before hurricane season starts,” said Peacock.
Slidell Senator Sharon Hewitt says this is not the silver bullet to Louisiana’s insurance crisis and lawmakers will need to continue to address the problem even more in the regular session that starts in April.
“So that Louisiana is a place where insurance companies want to work and where are families and businesses can afford the insurance they need to be successful,” said Hewitt.
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By Crystal Stevenson
LAKE CHARLES, La (American Press) - Lake Charles native and Barbe High School graduate Sharon Hewitt said she brings a different set of skills to the table in her race for Louisiana’s next governor.
The Republican state senator, who is based in Slidell and represents District 1, spoke with the American Press editorial board via phone to share her vision of what the state could become under her leadership.
“I come from an energy background and no one is going to navigate the energy business and protect energy jobs better than I will,” she said. “I have a legislative background; not everyone in the race has served in the Legislature. I’ve been on the finance committee. I know the budget, I know where the money is, I know which agencies are performing well and which ones have challenges and what the opportunities are to correct those. I’ve been a volunteer for many years. I’ve been the PTA president more times than I can count and received the National Lifetime PTA Achievement Award because of the work that I did, which has been very consistent with my legislative work — focusing on technology jobs, better curriculum and higher standards for our students.”
As a wife, mother and now grandmother, Hewitt said she understands the difficulties families are facing with balancing their budgets when they’re looking at $5 now for a dozen eggs. “Families are having to walk away from their homes because they can’t afford it,” she said. “The high cost of insurance, mortgages, interest rates, flood insurance, I understand all that and I understand the heartache when your sons move away from the state of Louisiana after being born and raised here because they can’t find opportunities in Louisiana in their chosen fields.” Hewitt said all of those things have helped prepare her to lead the state.
“I bring a different set of skills and I think it’s exactly the set of skills Louisiana needs at this point in our history.”
Individual and corporate income taxes have already been reduced and the 0.45 sales tax increase of 2018 goes off the books in 2025. Hewitt said she plans to reduce taxes even more.
“What we did last year in the Legislature and with the constitutional amendment our citizens passed put our state on a path to get to zero state income tax,” she said. “Most people don’t even realize that that’s what we did. We lowered the tax bracket on personal income tax from 6 percent, 4 percent, 2 percent to 4.25 percent as the top bracket and the other two were adjusted down also. Then we put a trigger in the law that says in years of exceptional revenue — and it defines how that is determined — that we would automatically reduce the tax brackets down and they can never go back up. The idea and the goal and what people don’t seem to realize is we are committed in the state of Louisiana to getting to a zero state income tax.” She said legislation approved by lawmakers and voters to do just that kicks in this year.
“Personal state income tax is a $4 billion line item in the state budget; the state’s part of the budget is around $20 billion, the federal piece of it is $20 billion. A $4 billion hit to a $20 billion state-funded budget is a significant piece so we couldn’t do that in one fell swoop. We had to do it step by step in a prudent way.” Something else she’d like to fix if elected governor is the state’s complicated tax code.
“Part of the problem with political solutions is that you kind of just Band-Aid over what was previously bad tax policy and just keep Band-Aiding over it,” she said. “We really need to be able to take it to a clean slate. One of the solutions that has been talked about a lot that I support is holding a constitutional convention that allows you to basically look at all the different ways that we fund government and look at not only simplifying our tax code but also restructuring the relationship between state and local government in terms of how they are funded and how decisions are made. We need to be able to push more authority toward local governments and provide opportunities for them to raise their own revenue so that everything doesn’t have to funnel through Baton Rouge.” Hewitt said Louisiana’s tax code is complicated because the state generally has higher tax rates that are often offset to make the state more competitive with hundreds of tax exemptions and credits.
“What happens is when site selectors look at our state, compare us to other states and look for places to relocate businesses or establish a corporate headquarters, they put just a big question mark next to Louisiana when they’re trying to evaluate that company’s forward-looking tax liability because it’s so complicated and it’s very difficult to predict. We have to flip off the Band-Aids and look at all the different ways both state and local government is funded so that we can level the playing field a little bit and make our state more attractive to businesses and families.” Hewitt said the state has been spending a lot of one-time money on infrastructure and it’s something she would like to continue. “When you look at roads, bridges, ports and airports, our wish list and needs are not fully funded,” Hewitt said. “That’s a great way to invest one-time dollars because we have such a backlog and those things are creating jobs, which helps rev up the economic engine. I’d like to see some more investments in courts, and I’d like to see us focus on smaller, locally owned bridges.”
Hewitt said there are thousands of bridges around the state that need to be repaired or replaced before they get to the point that they’re unsafe and need to be shut down. Case in point: the Interstate 10/Calcasieu River bridge. “That bridge is important to me because I grew up in Lake Charles,” she said. “I’ve been driving on that bridge for a very long time. When I got my driver’s license, the crowning achievement on the last day of class was to drive over that bridge without having a heart attack.” She said there aren’t many routes to get across a body of water so bridge closures cause families and the trucking industry to make 30- or 40-mile detours to find alternate routes.
Hewitt said the best way to grow the state economy is to provide better and higher-paying jobs. “You reduce your taxes, you increase the high-paying jobs and the secret sauce to doing that is to have a more educated workforce — one that has the skills that the businesses in our state need,” she said. “When you have a company like Boeing tell me that they have 200 job openings that they cannot fill and they’re having to go to other states to fill those openings, that breaks my heart. We’re hearing those stories all around the state.” She said much of the work she has championed in the Legislature helps to address that, including establishing STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) centers around the state. “The job of these centers is to connect the dots between what are the skills industries in that area need to make sure that our educational institutions are aligned so that we are providing the skills that students in Louisiana need so they can go to work with Louisiana companies and stay right here in our home state and businesses don’t have to look elsewhere for the talent that they need,” she said. Hewitt said she’s done a lot of work in providing alternate pathways in high school for students to concurrently earn a high school diploma along with an industry-based certification, apprenticeship or two-year degree. “They can go directly into the workforce upon graduation from high school, in many cases making $60,000 a year starting salary,” she said. “These are things not like the traditional welding and air conditioning repair like it was back in my day, but things like Cloud computing and computer coding and nursing and EMT — the kinds of opportunities that are being made available in many of our high schools. We have to prepare our workforce for the technology needs of the global economy and I’ve focused a lot on computer science and computer coding in our schools.” She said in Louisiana, only 30 percent of high schools offer computer science courses. In the states surrounding Louisiana, that number is 90 percent. “We’re falling behind,” she said. “Whether our students go into technology fields or not, everybody needs a basic understanding of technology these days to just survive on an everyday basis.” Hewitt said she’s also passionate about literacy, citing half of Louisiana’s third-graders are reading below that grade level when they move on to fourth grade. “If we could do one thing and only one thing in education it should be to teach our kids to read,” she said. “We need to be acting like our hair’s on fire on this issue.” Louisiana State Superintendent of Education Cade Brumley said Hewitt’s Reading Education Savings Account Program legislation, which was passed last year, was the “most significant literacy bill in recent history.” The law creates an account for parents of students struggling to read to use to improve their child’s education outside of the public school system. Students who are not reading at grade level by second or third grade would be eligible for the accounts funded with the per-pupil state allotment for qualified education expenses, which include tuition, fees, textbooks, instructional or tutoring services, curriculum, and technological devices. She also championed a bill the year before that requires public schools to create and develop a literary assessment for every K-3 student. It would be given within the first 30 days from the beginning of school, and the results would tell teachers and principals the percentage of students reading below, at or above grade level. If a student is found to be below the reading level for that grade, the school would have to notify the parent or guardian in writing within 15 days. The school would also have to provide the parent or guardian mid-year and end-of-the-year updates as well as suggest tools to use at home to increase the student’s reading level. “Many times, parents are caught off guard and don’t realize their child is behind,” Hewitt said. “If you are not reading by the time you leave third grade, you are destined for a lifetime of challenges. We don’t teach reading in the fourth grade, we’re assuming you know how to read and now you’re reading for comprehension to learn science and social study. We’re doing a huge disservice to our readers by not getting them reading long before the third grade.” Hewitt said in the upcoming legislation, she plans to take on the math challenges students face. “Our students are not where they should be performing on math skills, either, because we’ve gotten away from the basics,” she said. “We’re not teaching the basic addition and multiplication facts, for example. I think it’s time for us to take education and say, ‘We’ve had enough. We can’t just keep tweaking around the edges. We have to be completely committed to getting our kids where they need to be so they can compete in a global economy.’ ”
Hewitt, who earned a mechanical engineering degree from LSU and went on to become one of the first female executives in a major oil and gas company, said no one will be a stronger advocate for oil and gas jobs in Louisiana than her. Before becoming a legislator, Hewitt took charge of Shell’s central deepwater assets situated in the Gulf of Mexico, a division of more than 160 employees with a budget in excess of a quarter of a billion dollars a year. In that position, she said she oversaw roughly 10 percent of the oil production in the United States and was trusted with managing billions of dollars in assets. “Shell was the No. 1 company on the Fortune 500 list when I was there,” she said. “I say that because I learned my leadership skills with some of the best leaders in the world. I learned ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’ from Stephen Covey himself. Not only was I given great opportunities for formal leadership training but also through the job that I was given and the opportunities that I had there. I started out as all new young engineers do on a drilling rig for a year. There weren’t women offshore. There were unique challenges because many people did not think that women belonged in the oil industry. Fast forward 20 years and I was managing Shell’s central deepwater Gulf of Mexico business.” Hewitt said her background makes her the best person to help Louisiana navigate and open its doors to other energy businesses. “There’s tremendous interest in our state, certainly in LNG,” she said. “I’ve done a lot to help fund some of the research required for other energy businesses in our four-year institutions so that Louisiana will be well-positioned to be an energy leader in all aspects of energy. Oil and gas is not going away and I’m going to stand up for Louisiana in fighting those bad policies coming from the federal government that will hurt Louisiana and will hurt jobs. There’s nothing more important to our state than being energy independent and not dependent on those countries that are bad actors or not friends of the United States and no one can do that like the state of Louisiana.”
CLICK HERE to watch Sharon Hewitt's announcement video.
Senator Sharon Hewitt, Republican District 1, joins Newell to talk about the announcement that she's running for governor of Louisiana.
>>CLICK HERE to watch Sharon Hewitt's Governor campaign announcement video.
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By Allison Bruhl
BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) — Republican Senator Sharon Hewitt announced Friday she will be running for Louisiana governor.
“Politicians have failed our state for decades, saddling us with a failing tax code, struggling schools, and rising crime in our cities,” Hewitt stated. “It’s time for a governor who will get things done. That’s why I’m running to lead this great state I love.”
Hewitt has served in the state senate since 2016. She led efforts in the redistricting session in 2022 and has passed multiple bills focused on election integrity. Before her time in the state legislature she was an engineer for Shell on an offshore oil rig.
State Treasurer John Schroder, Attorney General Jeff Landry and Hunter Lundy are also in the race for governor.
“Louisiana politics is famous for big characters who talk a big game,” Hewitt said. “But it isn’t the talkers who make things happen… it’s the doers.”
In her announcement, Hewitt said she would put her experience in business “to work” to grow the state’s economy, cut taxes and create more opportunities in the state.
Click here to watch Hewitt's announcement video.
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By Sam Karlin, Staff Writer, NOLA.com, January 13, 2023 —
State Sen. Sharon Hewitt, a Slidell Republican, announced Friday she will run for governor, capping a week of highly anticipated entries into the race to succeed Gov. John Bel Edwards.
Hewitt announced Friday she intends to compete for the open seat, which is being vacated because Edwards, a Democrat, is term-limited.
As chair of the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee, Hewitt led the Senate GOP’s redistricting efforts last year, and had influence on voting issues, gubernatorial appointments and legislative affairs. She is also chair of the Senate GOP delegation. She was first elected to the Senate in 2015.
Hewitt said in a statement she's running to cut taxes and grow the economy, touting her business background. In a biographical spot released Friday, Hewitt played up her background working for Shell on deepwater rigs after graduating from LSU. Hewitt says she was one of the first women executives of an oil major.
She decried “big characters who talk a big game,” casting herself as a “doer” who would improve education, support the oil industry and “reject anti-police, soft-on-crime policies.”
“Politicians have failed our state for decades, saddling us with a failing tax code, struggling schools, and rising crime in our cities,” Hewitt said. “It’s time for a governor who will get things done. That’s why I’m running to lead this great state I love."
She joins Attorney General Jeff Landry and Treasurer John Schroder, both Republicans, in the field of declared candidates. The field is expected to get crowded after U.S. Sens. John Kennedy and Bill Cassidy and Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser all opted out of the race.
U.S. Rep. Garret Graves, R-Baton Rouge, is also considering a bid. He said in a radio interview this week that his phone has been “absolutely blowing up” since Kennedy announced he wasn’t running. Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne, a Republican who ran fourth in the 2015 primary, said Friday he is not running this time despite getting calls encouraging a bid. State Rep. Richard Nelson, R-Mandeville, is mulling a bid.
Hunter Lundy, an independent trial attorney from Lake Charles, also announced his candidacy this week. Lundy ran for Congress in 1996 as a Democrat, losing to Chris John in a runoff.
On the Democratic side, Edwards’ transportation secretary, Shawn Wilson, state Democratic Party chair Katie Bernhardt and East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore all say they’re considering bids. If Democrats coalesce around one candidate, many observers expect the Democrat to be a lock for a runoff. Louisiana has a unique jungle primary system where all candidates face off in the primary, regardless of party, and the top two vote getters advance to a runoff if no one hits 50%.
If elected, Hewitt would be the state’s first woman Republican governor. Former Gov. Kathleen Blanco, the only woman to serve as the state's chief executive, was a Democrat.
At this point, Landry holds a big fundraising edge over his competitors, and he also wields an unusual early endorsement from the state Republican party. But challengers hope to capitalize on Landry's tendency to be a polarizing force in state politics, which stems from his eagerness to wade into divisive cultural issues and engage in public spats with other elected officials.
The next campaign finance reports are due in February, but Landry’s campaign said he will report $6.5 million on hand between his campaign and PAC. Hewitt had about $288,000 on hand the last time she reported, about a year ago, while Schroder had about $2 million on hand.
State legislators are at a disadvantage in a gubernatorial race for a couple reasons, said John Couvillon, a Republican pollster. They have a smaller constituency of people who know them than statewide officials, and as a consequence, they tend to have a harder time raising money.
But Edwards was a little-known state representative in 2015 when he ran for governor, and he caught fire, amassing significant money on his way to a shocking upset over then-U.S. Sen. David Vitter, a Republican who many saw as the frontrunner.
Couvillon said the summer months are crucial for candidates to spend money getting their name out and introducing themselves to voters. He also said it remains to be seen whether any Republican candidate will seek to carve out what Couvillon called a “swim lane” in the middle of the field.
Read full article: https://www.nola.com/news/politics/elections/northshore-republican-sharon-hewitt-gets-in-governors-race/article_a910bb8e-58b6-5aab-9406-348a23998754.html
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BATON ROUGE, La -- President Biden’s moratorium on offshore leasing and his determination to end onshore exploration and production of fossil fuels is a colossal mistake. Production from the Gulf of Mexico (GOM) has fueled our nation’s energy security and independence.
Since the first offshore well was drilled 70 years ago, 90% of the crude oil produced in the United States has been produced from the GOM. Today, the GOM accounts for 17% of the crude produced in the U.S. As the number one oil producer and the number two gas producer in the OCS, Louisiana delivers more revenue from offshore production to the federal treasury than any other state, in excess of $7 billion per year. In addition to its contribution to the U.S. economy, the oil and gas industry, including pipeline and refining activities, has a $70B annual impact on the Louisiana economy and pays $2 billion per year in taxes and fees (Dr. Loren C Scott, 2014 and 2018 studies).
Furthermore, not only is Louisiana an Energy State, but we are known as the Sportsman’s Paradise largely because of our relentless effort to balance offshore oil and gas operations with environmental stewardship. A prime example of the symbiotic relationship between the oil and gas industry and the sports fishermen is the Louisiana Artificial Reef Program. In this program, oil and gas platforms with no future utility are decommissioned and converted into artificial reefs to provide new habitats for fish and marine life. Oil and gas companies donate one-half of the realized savings over the cost of a traditional platform removal into the Trust Fund, which is used to build and monitor the inshore, nearshore, and offshore artificial reefs.
Thirdly, energy production in the Gulf of Mexico is critical to saving Louisiana’s coast and our coastal communities through revenue-sharing programs like the 2006 Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act (GOMESA). In this program, a portion of the federal royalties paid by oil and gas operators on offshore production is shared with the coastal states, in recognition of their contributions to the nation’s energy security and independence. In Louisiana, funding from GOMESA is dedicated to coastal restoration and protection projects at the state and local level and is expected to be $118 million in FY2020.
The Land & Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) was established by Congress in 1964 to fulfill a bipartisan commitment to safeguard our natural areas, water resources, and cultural heritage, and to provide recreation opportunities to all Americans. This fund invests earnings from offshore oil and gas leases and has funded over $4.2 billion for more than 43,000 conservation projects throughout the nation since its inception.
Looking ahead, while multiple sources of energy will continue to be needed to advance the world’s growing energy demands, the demand for oil and gas is projected to still constitute more than 50% of the world’s energy needs in 2040, according to the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) New Policies Scenario. Without an additional investment of roughly $10 trillion, the IEA forecasts that there will be an 88 MBOPD shortfall in 2040 due to the expected decline of the existing well production. This would be the long-term impact of an offshore leasing moratorium. Conversely, expanding the current federal leasing program will allow the United States to meet this growing demand for not just power and fuel, but for consumer goods such as electronics, medicines, plastics, and clothing that are manufactured from fossil fuels.
Onshore Louisiana operators are contributing to our nation’s energy security as well by providing significant volumes of clean, natural gas from the Haynesville shale for developing liquefied natural gas (LNG) export businesses in south Louisiana.
In addition, the Louisiana legislature this past session continued work on a framework for the solar and carbon capture industries to establish businesses in our state that are environmentally responsible and meet the growing demand for clean energy in our country. I am proud to have funded in this year’s budget a $1 million study for LSU and the Louisiana Geologic Survey to map geologic formations that are prime candidates for carbon capture and underground storage (CCUS).
It is my hope that the Biden administration will recognize and respect Louisiana’s critical role in meeting the energy and manufacturing needs of our country and in the rebuilding of our coastline. Furthermore, I am confident that Louisiana energy companies will lead the way, as we have always done in the past, to develop the technologies needed to make alternative forms of energy economical, predictable, and environmentally responsible. President Biden and his administration should collaborate with energy companies, not proclaim us the enemy.
Aug 1, 2021 - SOURCE: LOGA Industry Report - Summer 2021
>>> Louisiana's Hewitt promises to shut down coastal lawsuits
>>> State Senator Sharon Hewitt looking to bring bold leadership to governor's seat
>>> Gubernatorial candidate and Lake Charles native Sharon Hewitt shares her vision
Guest Column by Senator Sharon Hewitt: The Advocate
Louisianans across the state wake up every morning to go to work and do their jobs. Why, then, isn’t the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources doing its job in Baton Rouge to ensure that our coast and other natural resources are being protected?
More than three years ago, private lawyers working on behalf of Jefferson and Plaquemines parishes filed lawsuits claiming some oil and gas companies violated the terms of their state-issued coastal use permits under the State and Local Coastal Resources Management Act of 1978. The suits demand billions of dollars from companies to pay for alleged violations of permits that are issued, regulated and enforced by DNR. The parishes’ attorneys say they have evidence of widespread permit violations, which they claim contributed to coastal erosion in South Louisiana.
Since 2013, similar lawsuits have been filed on behalf of three other parishes—Cameron, Vermilion and St. Bernard. Local officials and district attorneys in two other parishes—Lafourche and Iberia— have also “lawyered up” and are considering filing suits.
After taking office earlier this year, Governor John Bel Edwards directed DNR to intervene as a third-party plaintiff in the parish lawsuits. Last month, Gov. Edwards also sent letters to local officials across the coast encouraging them to hire more lawyers to file more lawsuits. If they choose not to do so, the governor said he will direct DNR to file lawsuits on their behalf.
DNR’s new role as a plaintiff in this litigation is remarkable because DNR issued the permits over which they are now suing. They have significant enforcement powers to ensure that all oil and gas activities conducted in Louisiana are done so in accordance with state law. They also have an obligation to protect our natural resources. This is the very reason DNR exists. Yet, DNR officials recently testified at a committee meeting that they have not conducted one single independent investigation to identify violations or enforce compliance of the terms of coastal use permits that are now at the center of litigation.
Under questioning from lawmakers, DNR officials offered a variety of explanations. First, they suggested the department has suffered from a “regulatory blind spot” that has handicapped officials managing the department over the last 36 years. This “blind spot” was cured only recently when they joined the parishes’ litigation and reviewed their research. Are department officials really suggesting the parishes and their private lawyers have better abilities to monitor and regulate state-issued permits than they do? Given that DNR operates on an annual budget of over $64 million, let’s hope that is not the case.
In another remarkable statement, DNR officials claimed they don’t have the resources to investigate the alleged permit violations, enforce compliance or even attempt to identify if there has been unpermitted activity in the coastal zone, as is alleged in the lawsuits. They offered this explanation in spite of state laws that require all of the department’s enforcement costs to be paid by the responsible party. In other words, if DNR determines a company has violated the terms of its permit, state law requires that company to pay all the fines and penalties levied by the department. State law also enables DNR to force companies to pay for compensatory mitigation and restoration projects—no matter how much it costs. And state law requires companies to pay the department for every dime of enforcement costs incurred.
The bottom line is the state has all the information, resources, and authority it needs to act. Instead, Gov. Edwards and DNR are choosing endless litigation over enforcement action claiming that lawsuits are more efficient and convenient That’s disappointing.
Lawsuits should not be a first step, but a last resort when all other remedies have been exhausted. In fact, a state district court judge recently dismissed one of the first coastal lawsuits filed by Jefferson Parish for this very reason. In his ruling, 24thJudicial District Court Judge Stephen Enright found “in the absence of an exhaustion of administrative remedies, it is yet to be determined whether civil damages exist.” The Court further held that Jefferson Parish and DNR should pursue and exhaust the administrative remedy process prior to suing in court for civil damages.
Rather than following the judge’s ruling and taking administrative enforcement action, Gov. Edwards and DNR requested another court hearing. This is the wrong approach.
The department has a rigorous administrative process in place for enforcing the terms of state-issued permits. Any issues or concerns regarding permit compliance can be addressed by DNR now without the excessive delays and exorbitant legal costs that come along with litigation. There is no question that using existing state regulations is the most efficient and effective way to protect Louisiana’s coast and our vast natural resources.
The path forward could not be clearer. DNR needs to do its job.
Senator Sharon Hewitt
State Sen. Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell, is a member of the Senate Committee on Environmental Quality and the Select Committee on Coastal Restoration and Flood Control.