Gov. Edwards speaks on unemployment benefits, legalizing marijuana and election reform

By: - May 19, 2021 7:55 pm

Gov. John Bel Edwards speaks with CPRA Chairman Chip Kline after a press conference on Coastal Day. (JC Canicosa/Louisiana Illuminator)

Gov. John Bel Edwards announced several coastal restoration projects along Southeast Louisiana Wednesday afternoon, which he said would “make our coastal communities and our land more resilient.” And in a separate radio show later that afternoon, Edwards discussed his opinions on some of the more controversial bills moving through the Louisiana Legislature, including bills addressing legalizing marijuana, concealed carry of firearms and election reform.

Governor announces Southeast Louisiana restoration projects

The governor announced three major coastal restoration projects “to restore more than 2,900 acres of beach, dune, marsh and ridge in four parishes in Southeast Louisiana.” The projects will address “significant land loss due to coastal erosion” by the Spanish Pass marsh near Venice, the West Grand Terre barrier island near Grand Isle, and the Golden Triangle marsh east of New Orleans and Chalmette.

“They will combat erosion, subsidence, salt water intrusion and create nearly five square miles of land on some of our most valuable and vulnerable coastlines,” he said in a press conference at the Center for Coastal and Deltaic Solutions Riverfront Gallery.

The projects will be funded using $256.6 million of funds from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Edwards said he’ll take a look at ending statewide weekly unemployment benefits

Edwards said on his monthly radio show that he’ll take a look at the state’s $300-per-week unemployment benefits and determine if there’s “a net benefit or a net cost to continue to receive these benefits.”

A coalition of business organizations Wednesday asked the governor to end the state’s weekly unemployment benefits, which they claim are causing worker shortages statewide. The weekly benefits are slated to end Sept. 6, as of now.

While multiple Republican-led states have ended those benefits, Edwards said, “none of the states that have done it already are as dependent upon tourism to sustain their economies as we are,” and tourism levels haven’t come back to anywhere near pre-pandemic levels, he said.

Not now, but marijuana will eventually be legalized in Louisiana, Edwards said

Speaking the day after the push to legalize marijuana for recreational use in Louisiana died Tuesday in the Louisiana House, Edwards said he expects recreational marijuana to be legalized in Louisiana “eventually.”

“I’m not quite comfortable yet,” he said, “but I understand we’re likely to get there in the next several years.”

Edwards said before legalized marijuana happens, he wants to make sure Louisiana leadership learns from other states that have already legalized the drug and see “what mistakes they made, what they got right, how we can minimize any adverse impact (and) how we can maximize any benefits.”

The Republican sponsor of the efforts to fully legalize marijuana, Rep. Richard Nelson of Mandeville, rejected the idea Tuesday that more studies are needed: 

“We all love studies,” Nelson said shortly before his marijuana tax bill failed. “We all love doing nothing.” In an interview Tuesday evening, he said, “I want to get rid of that idea that we always have to be last.” 

Edwards opposes concealed carry without a permit

A Senate Bill that would allow residents to carry a concealed gun without a permit cleared the House Administration of Criminal Justice Committee on Wednesday, but Edwards reiterated on the radio that he will not support it.

“I’ve got a long record on this type of legislation. I’ve never supported it as a legislator or as governor,” he said.

Edwards said he believes the concealed carry laws Louisiana has now “have the right balance … So that if you want to engage in concealed carry, you can do that. But you go get a permit.”

He said the permit provides safety assurances that citizens who do engage in concealed carry “know what the safety measures are” and that they have the appropriate training and marksmanship.

Edwards opposes laws he said will add voting restrictions

Edwards said he won’t support any bills that “would make it harder for people to register to vote or to actually cast a vote.” 

He said, “I’m not aware of a single credible case in Louisiana over the last number of years where there has been any impropriety of fraud on any scale that would warrant a change in our election laws.”

Edwards said while many are convinced of widespread election fraud from the 2020 Presidential Election, “I think somewhere close to 90 courts, state and federal, have said that that didn’t happen.”

Edwards will work with both sides on redistricting

When asked by a caller about what he and other Democrats are doing to prevent Republican gerrymandering during next year’s redistricting, Edwards said he’s going to work with lawmakers on both sides “to make sure that we have a fair process.”

“Too often, you have people who are elected choosing who their voters are going to be rather than the voters choosing who is going to represent them,” he said.

Edwards said to expect a special session of the legislature either “late this year or early next year where all the districts will be redrawn” according to the 2020 census data that has yet to come out.

Edwards discusses his future in politics

Edwards said he doesn’t plan on working in government after his current term as governor ends in 2023. 

“I have a lot of contributions I want to make, and there are other ways to make them,” he said.

Edwards said if he were offered a cabinet position from President Joe Biden, “It’s something you have to consider. And you have to have a compelling reason not to do it.” He said he’s had no discussions with anyone in the Biden administration regarding a cabinet position.

Edwards, an attorney, said, “I’m looking forward … to going back into the private sector.”

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JC Canicosa
JC Canicosa

JC Canicosa is an award-winning journalist at The Louisiana Illuminator. Canicosa has previous experience at Investigate-TV and The Loyola Maroon and earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Loyola University New Orleans. At Loyola, he was the senior staff writer at The Maroon and the president of the school's chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Off the clock, Canicosa enjoys playing basketball, watching movies and dabbling in comedy writing.