Legislature ponies up funds for hospital

Deidre Cruse
State Sen. Rob Marionneaux Jr. and State Rep. Karen St. Germain give the Iberville Chamber of Commerce an overview of the just-completed 2010 legislative session.

Despite the state's budget shortfall, the Legislature included $3 million in its capital outlay budget to help Iberville Parish restore River West Medical Center or build a new hospital, state Sen. Rob Marionneaux Jr. told the Iberville Chamber of Commerce last week.

Marionneaux and state Rep. Karen St. Germain recapped the recent 90-day legislative session for a breakfast meeting of the Chamber's membership at The Island. Iberville's other representative, Alton Aubert, has just undergone back surgery and was unable to attend, St. Germain said.

Marionneaux said the state's budget has been trimmed from $31 billion in 2009-10 to $26 billion for the new fiscal. The legislature approved a $5.5 billion capital construction bill, which includes funds for the hospital, he said.

Parish President J. Mitchell Ourso Jr. and the Iberville Parish Council explored the idea of purchasing and renovating the defunct River West. When Westside Physicians LLC refused to sell the property for the appraised price, the highest the parish could offer, they decided to build a new, smaller facility and pledged much of the $44 million in Hurricane Gustav recovery money toward the project.

“The state is pitching in $3 million toward that effort,” Marionneaux said.

The state senator also pushed through a bill reducing the size of the Iberville Parish School Board starting with the 2014 elections.

He initially proposed a five-member board, with four members elected from single-member districts and one at large parishwide. In a compromise with the School Board, he raised the number to nine, with eight from single-member districts and one at large.

The measure also limits School Board members to three consecutive terms.

Gov. Bobby Jindal has signed the measure into law.

St. Germain said that, for the moment, the Baton Rouge Loop Project is out of the state budget.

“A lot of groups that were to be affected were adamantly opposed to it,” she told the Chamber.

St. Germain said she was torn over the project because Iberville Parish officials opposed it for the absence of a new Mississippi River Bridge in Iberville Parish, while West Baton Rouge officials, whom she also represents, were for the project.

Two days after a community meeting on the project in Addis, an assistant to East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President Kip Holden told here that the southern part of the Loop project was dead, the representative said.

St. Germain said her problem was solved when Loop planners   decided to use the U. S. 190 bridge at Port Allen as part of the northern loop, but could not agree on widening the narrow bridge.

“The west side is not being taken care of like it should have been in the Loop project,” she said.

St. Germain said she favors expanding and extending La. 3127 from Boutte north through Iberville Parish in place of the southern portion of the Loop that had been discussed. The state already owns much of the right of way, and acquisitions would be on sparsely-populated agricultural lands, she said.

“We could do it for a third of [the cost of] the northern part of the loop,” she said, and would provide economic advantages to the west side.