Danae Columbus: Legislators want to hear from citizens, Sen. J.P. Morrell says

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Guy Williams, Diana Lewis, Brandan “BMike” Odums and Sen. J.P. Morrell at the Committee for a Better New Orleans Citizen’s Participation Awards. (Danae Columbus)

In a recent speech to the Committee for a Better New Orleans, or CBNO, outgoing state Sen. J.P. Morrell urged attendees to talk with legislators statewide about issues important to them.

“Legislators want to hear from the public,” said Morrell. Sometimes a legislator might not have a great deal of information about a specific bill and has not made a decision how to vote. When they hear from citizens – especially those who are directly impacted by the legislation or the problem it would solve – their decisions are better informed. “You can change legislators’ minds by talking to them,” Morrell explained.

Morrell made his remarks at CBNO’s 10th Annual Diana Lewis Citizen Participation Awards where internationally acclaimed visual artist Brandan “BMike” Odums and the nonprofit Nola4Women were honored. Founded in 2016, Nola4Women celebrates the vital contributions of women in creating a vibrant city while also securing a better future for every woman and girl.

Florence Andre of Nola4Women accepts the Citizen Participation award for the group. (courtesy of Committee for a Better New Orleans)

During his 13 years in the Louisiana Legislature as a state representative and state senator, Morrell has authored or co-authored more than 100 pieces of legislation that have significantly improved New Orleans’ quality of life. “Sen. Morrell has been a constant advocate for policies that place people first and has been a singular advocate for those whose interests are frequently overlooked,” said Keith G.C. Twitchell, CBNO President.

Among Morrell’s most notable achievements was the passage of an historic package of laws to increase protections for the survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence and a constitutional amendment to require unanimous jury decisions in felony trials. “Sen. Morrell was also very involved in the successful effort to restore the right to vote to convicted felons who have served their time,” Twitchell said. “What more basic, vital form of citizen participation is there than voting?”

New Orleans’ citizen participation in the legislative process becomes even more important after new legislators – including lots of first-termers – are sworn in on Jan. 13, 2020 along with Gov. John Bel Edwards.  While Edwards will continue to be an important ally for Mayor Cantrell, the legislature is becoming more conservative which could foster another anti-New Orleans environment. Many pieces of legislation that the New Orleans delegation seeks to pass such as pay equity are not popular in other parts of Louisiana.

The support of outgoing Senate President John Alario and powerful senators including Morrell has often been critical. Yet incoming Senate President Page Cortez, a Republican from Lafayette, and his Republican super-majority in the state Senate might not be as receptive to New Orleans’ more progressive desires.  The Louisiana House of Representatives is also leaning harder to the right. In this new reality New Orleans legislators and citizen lobbyists will have to work more diligently to achieve their goals.


Gov. Edwards will begin Inauguration Day by attending a Mass at St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Baton Rouge and then proceed to the State Capitol for the swearing-in ceremony. Public seating will be available on the Capitol Grounds. Gov. and Mrs. Edwards will not host the traditional inaugural ball that evening because of the national football championship game, which will be played at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.


Chalmette High School’s award-winning choir will be performing at several French Quarter locations including St. Louis Cathedral, Antoine’s Restaurant and The Historic New Orleans Collection on Dec. 12. The period-costumed troupe will sing at St. Louis Cathedral at 1 p.m. followed by a special 1:35 p.m. luncheon performance at Antoine’s.  At 4 p.m. the singers will present classic Christmas music and time-honored carols in the courtyard of The Historic New Orleans Collection, 520 Royal St. This is the third year that the students have sung in the French Quarter.

Danae Columbus, opinion columnist

Danae Columbus, who has had a 30-year career in politics and public relations, offers her opinions on Thursdays. Her career includes stints at City Hall, the Dock Board and the Orleans Parish School Board and former clients such as District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro, City Councilman Jared Brossett, City Councilwoman-at-large Helena Moreno, Foster Campbell, former Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, former Sheriff Charles Foti and former City Councilwomen Stacy Head and Cynthia Hedge-Morrell. She can be reached at swampednola@gmail.com.

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