Axios New Orleans

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Hello. It's Tuesday. Seize the moment.

☀️ Today's weather: Nice and sunny with a high near 67.

🎂 Happy birthday to our Axios New Orleans member Virginia Miller!

🎧 Sounds like: "Work Song" by Hozier, who co-headlines Jazz Fest on May 3.

Today's newsletter is 873 words — a 3.5-minute read.

1 big thing: Crime special session begins

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Louisiana legislators returned to Baton Rouge yesterday for a crime-focused special session.

Why it matters: Gov. Jeff Landry's crime initiatives would reverse course on former Gov. John Bel Edwards' criminal justice reforms, which are credited with Louisiana shedding its title as the No. 1 most incarcerated state in the world.

State of play: Landry outlined in his executive order calling for the special sessio two dozen focus areas for legislators.

  • They include stricter parole standards, tougher penalties for carjackings, an expansion of execution methods for death row inmates and dropping penalties for carrying a concealed weapon without a permit.
  • Landry also hopes to reverse the decadeslong precedent of shielding juvenile records and lowering age limits for when a person can be tried as an adult.

The intrigue: State legislators passed a package of criminal justice reforms with bipartisan support in 2017. At the time, Landry called the changes a "reckless approach."

  • Within a year, those reforms were credited with helping drop Louisiana's imprisonment rate from No. 1 to No. 2 in the nation.
  • But Landry's goals, which overall aim to keep jailed people in prison longer, would expand the prison population.

By the numbers: Louisiana's all-time prison population hit a high in 2012 with 39,867 incarcerated people, according to a 2018 Pew report.

  • By 2022, the imprisoned population had dropped to about 27,000, a decrease driven largely by a drop in people imprisoned for nonviolent offenses, according to Pew.
  • Without the reforms, the report says, the state would have been on pace to see a prison population of 36,541 by 2027.

Meanwhile: Officials also expect details for Troop NOLA, the new force of Louisiana State Police troopers expected to be stationed in New Orleans, to be hammered out during the session.

Go deeper

2. 🗳️ Primary registration deadline nears

The George Rodrigue "Blue Dog" sticker says this person is a voter. Photo: Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

The deadline to register in person or change party affiliation to vote in Louisiana's 2024 presidential election primary is Wednesday, Feb. 21.

  • Online registration will remain open until March 2.

Why it matters: The state has a closed primary for its presidential elections, meaning only registered Democrats can vote in the Democratic presidential primaries, and only registered Republicans can vote in the Republican presidential primaries.

State of play: Louisiana made headlines earlier this year for closing some of its primaries and changing up how unaffiliated voters participate in them — but those changes don't impact this election.

  • That's because the state's presidential elections were already closed prior to the 2024 election updates, and those changes don't kick in until 2026 anyway.

Worth noting: Super Tuesday, the day when most states hold their presidential primaries, is March 5, which means nominees are pretty well determined by the time Louisiana votes.

What's next: Louisiana's presidential primary is scheduled for Mar. 23.

  • Early voting begins March 9.

3. Fully Dressed: 🙏 Pardoning of the crawfish

Somebody get Sherbin the crawfish another beignet! Illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios

🦞 Lt. Billy Nungesser will pardon Sherbin the crawfish today in Breaux Bridge. The lucky mudbug will live out its days in Lake Fausse Point State Park. (Axios New Orleans)

🥢 TV star Padma Lakshmi visited New Orleans last week and immediately headed to Dong Phuong with chef Nini Nguyen and comedian Punkie Johnson. She chronicled their meal on Instagram. (See the post.)

The NOPD officer who allegedly assaulted an L.B. Landry marching band student during a Mardi Gras parade is also under investigation for payroll fraud and has "a length history of misconduct complaints." (NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune 🔒)

Gov. Jeff Landry's decision to decline extra federal funds for summer EBT programs remained in place as Thursday's deadline passed despite calls from regional religious leaders, activists and other politicians for him to reconsider. (WWL)

🌀 National forecasters are "on watch" for the return of La Niña, with chances increasing deep in hurricane season. That spells bad news, because the weather phenomenon stirs up favorable conditions for more and stronger storms. (Axios)

4. 🛸 Out-of-this-world sightings

👽 Reported UFO sightings per 100k residents
Data: National UFO Reporting Center, U.S. Census; Map: Erin Davis/Axios Visuals

The New Orleans metro area had 23 UFO sightings per 100,000 residents between 2000 and 2023, according to National UFO Reporting Center data.

  • That's far below the national average of 34.3 sightings per 100,000 residents.

Why it matters: Discussion and reports of UFOs — or the more modern term, UAPs (unidentified anomalous phenomena) — have been going more mainstream in recent years amid a push for answers from lawmakers and others.

  • Some view UAPs as a national security concern — what people are seeing out there could be experimental craft from Russia, China or other U.S. adversaries. (Those fears were accelerated by last year's dramatic Chinese spy balloon encounter.)
  • Commercial and military pilots have also been increasingly public about their inexplicable sightings. That's a sea change from decades past when pilots who talked openly about such matters were often ostracized.

The bottom line: If the data is to be believed, then maybe the truth really is out there ... in Cameron Parish.

Full story on how sightings correlate with dark sky locations

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5. 🐧 Photo to go: Baby penguin at Audubon

This African penguin chick is among the world's most endangered penguins. Photo: Courtesy of Audubon Nature Institute

Audubon Aquarium has a brand new baby African penguin. It's the first chick for parents Ritz and Saltine, officials say.

  • The chick is in the nest with its parents, who are taking turns caring for it and keeping in warm.

What's next: Audubon is testing the penguin's shell to determine its sex before it's named.

📚 Carlie is so glad school is back in session after that looooooong Mardi Gras break.

📝 Chelsea is thinking it's time to actually write her toast for her sister's wedding in two weeks.

🦞 Tell a crawfish to subscribe.

Thanks to our editor Fadel Allassan and copy editor Carlin Becker.