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Quick hits: Louisiana news briefs for Friday, July 24

The Louisiana State Capitol in Baton Rouge, La.

Legislative Auditor identifies $16.4 million in questionable spending overseen by GOHSEP

The Louisiana Legislative Auditor has identified $16.4 million in questionable spending in programs the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness oversees during the second half of last year.

Issues in the Hazard Mitigation and Public Assistance programs included paying for work outside a project’s approved scope, reimbursements not supported by proper documentation, and failing to comply with applicable federal regulations.

GOHSEP says it is working with its subgrantees to resolve the issues prior to closing out the various projects. For the Hazard Mitigation program, LLA questioned about 3 percent of total spending, down from about 5 percent during the previous reporting period and about 10 percent the year before that, GOHSEP noted.

Louisiana Supreme Court rules campaign chairman can qualify on behalf of hospitalized judge

On the last day of qualifying for this fall’s elections, the Louisiana Supreme Court ruled that District Judge Chip Moore’s campaign chairman can sign his certificate of candidacy to run for reelection while Moore is hospitalized with COVID-19.

Candidates do not have to qualify in person but generally are required to sign their own certification. The ruling overturns a lower court decision made Thursday.

In its decision, the state Supreme Court noted “highly unusual circumstances” related to the COVID-19 pandemic and cited a prior ruling that found that “election laws must be interpreted to give the electorate the widest possible choice of candidates.”

Moore has been a judge for Baton Rouge’s 19th Judicial District since 2005.

Work on Formosa Plastics’ $9.4 billion St. James project partially on hold

Formosa Plastics affiliate FG LA LLC can begin work on its planned $9.4 billion plant in St. James Parish but will put some construction work on hold under an agreement reached Thursday. Environmental and community groups have sued to block construction, saying the project would greatly increase pollution in a predominantly Black area and disturb land that may contain the grave sites of former slaves.

“Now that Formosa Plastics has agreed not to disturb graves and wetlands on the site through February 2021, we can focus on this project’s deeply flawed approval process,” said Julie Teel Simmonds, a senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity.

“The Sunshine Project,” as the company calls it, would create 1,200 new direct jobs with an average salary of $84,500 plus benefits and indirectly create about 8,000 new jobs in the River Parishes and surrounding regions, according to Louisiana Economic Development. Widening of Highway 3127, utilities relocations, soil testing, placement of test piles, and a pipeline removal all are permitted to move forward, while construction of the contractor dock has been postponed.

“As part of this agreement, FG will flag sensitive areas and provide monthly activity reports to the plaintiffs,” said Janile Parks, director of community and government relations for FG. “These further protections demonstrate FG’s stewardship in protecting sensitive areas.”

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