- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Recent editorials from Louisiana newspapers:

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May 4

The Alexandria Daily Town Talk on National Small Business Week:

Have you shopped at a small business lately? We’re talking about a locally-owned, mom-and-pop style business. Not a national chain big-box store, or the online equivalent.

If you haven’t, this is the week to get back into that habit. May 1-7 is National Small Business Week, a time to recognize and celebrate the vital contributions small businesses make to the economy. According to the Small Business Administration, more than half of Americans either own or work for a small business, and they create about two out of every three new jobs in the U.S. each year.

This is the 53rd year the nation has formally celebrated National Small Business Week, and this year the national festivities get an added Louisiana flavor with Sen. David Vitter serving as the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship. The theme for this year’s celebration is “Dream big, start small.”

Administrator Maria Contreras-Sweet, the head of the U.S. Small Business Administration, noted, “There are more than 28 million small businesses serving as the economic engine of our country, employing half of the private sector and creating two out of three net new jobs. If our small business sector was a country, its output would rank number three above Germany and Japan.”

While everyone should know what a small business is, you may not realize just how big a role they play in the state and local economy. According to the Louisiana profile from the U.S. Small Business Administration, citing numbers from 2013, there are 427,290 small businesses in the state - that’s 97.3 percent of all Louisiana businesses. Combined, they employ 903,281 workers, which is roughly 53.5 percent of the total state workforce.

Firms with fewer than 100 employees have the largest share of small business employment. The report indicates 17.7 percent had 1-19 employees while 19.5 percent had 20-99 workers on the payroll. Looking at economic numbers, the SBA report shows the median income for individuals who were self-employed at their own incorporated businesses in Louisiana was $50,270 in 2014.

And, in keeping with the theme of thinking big, small businesses in Louisiana are willing to look beyond their local communities for customers. The SBA report notes a total of 3,825 companies exported goods from Louisiana in 2013. Among these, 3,243, or 84.8 percent, were small firms; they generated 34.5 percent of Louisiana’s total known export value.

While there are many success stories, it’s important to keep in mind that starting a small business is hard, and not everyone survives. Again citing numbers from the SBA, in the second quarter of 2014, 2,414 establishments started up in Louisiana and 2,443 exited. Startups generated 12,932 new jobs while exits caused 10,153 job losses.

When you think about all the challenges small business owners face every day, it makes it even that much more remarkable when you visit a local business that has been operating for many years. The Town Talk started as a small local business more than 133 years ago, when two Irish immigrants had a big dream and started a small newspaper. Today, as it was back in 1883, local small businesses make up the majority of the advertisers you see in our products.

Small businesses are the backbone of our local economy. They are owned by and employ hard-working individuals who are experts in their fields. While national chains and big box stories have their merits, you simply can’t beat the knowledge and support you will find in a local small business.

As we celebrate Small Business Week, we encourage everyone to support your local small business merchants. Supporting them supports Central Louisiana.

Online:

http://www.thetowntalk.com/

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May 3

The Courier of Houma on the state budget:

Our officials in Baton Rouge are dealing with a budget crisis that took years to build. And they are making another one worse.

Rather than restrict spending to the amount of tax revenue that was coming into the state’s coffers, legislators and then-Gov. Bobby Jindal continued to spend above their means.

Finally, the bill has come due. Lawmakers and Gov. John Bel Edwards are facing the possibility of a second special legislative session later this year to address an estimated $600 million shortfall in the budget for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1.

But even with this painful reminder of the cumulative damage of financial irresponsibility hanging over their heads, our lawmakers seem unwilling to learn the lesson they should have learned years ago: Kicking the can down the road just makes the eventual fix all the more difficult.

There is no evidence in the ongoing discussion of a raise for state retirees that our lawmakers have any concern for fiscal responsibility.

The raise - which will cost around $385 million - sailed through the state House by a vote of 92-0 and through the Senate by a 35-0 vote. Meanwhile, an attempt to rein in the $20 billion debt the state owes in retirees gained no traction and was eventually withdrawn by the lawmaker who had proposed it.

Louisiana has a law on the books - passed just two years ago - that controls when state retirees get cost-of-living adjustments.

One of the conditions that must be met is the inflation rate, but inflation was not high enough last year to trigger the raises.

State officials, apparently, are more eager to dole out raises than they are to run a tight fiscal ship.

Politically, the appeal of giving retirees more money is undeniable. Practically, though, there are other questions, such as, “Did the cost of living actually increase?”

The answer, the economic numbers tell us, is no.

Prices on some goods and services have increased, but others, most notably the cost of gasoline, have actually seen substantial decreases.

This is not the time for raises, particularly when the conditions for those raises aren’t even met.

Now is the time for financial discipline. While the $385 million cost of the raises will not affect the overall state budget, the government would be much better served addressing the massive, long-term debt it owes its retirees rather than continuing its long tradition of spending.

Louisiana is facing a crisis that came from spending when the government should have been saving. That is a lesson that should be put to use in the current debate over retiree raises.

Online:

http://www.houmatoday.com/

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April 29

The Times-Picayune on “banning the box” for criminal history on applications:

No state needs to “ban the box” for criminal history on applications more than Louisiana. No other state, actually no other nation in the world, locks up more people per capita than this one does. And as inmates get out of prison, they find it particularly difficult to get a job here.

That isn’t good for thousands of families who need the income or for the state, which bears health and other costs for unemployed residents. The inability to find work also makes it more likely that an ex-inmate will commit another crime and return to prison.

It’s a negative cycle that Louisiana must break.

A surprising coalition in the state Legislature took a step toward doing that Tuesday (April 26). The House voted to eliminate the requirement that everyone applying for unclassified state jobs must disclose felony convictions by checking a box on their employment application. That check mark can eliminate an otherwise qualified candidate before there’s even a chance to compete for the job.

Under House Bill 266, criminal history could still come into play but not until after an interview or, if there is no interview, a conditional job offer is made. The nature and gravity of the applicant’s crime, the length of time since it occurred and the duties of the job opening could be considered in making the final hiring decision.

“This is a first step for allowing people the opportunity to get to an interview process,” said state Rep. Denise Marcelle, a Baton Rouge Democrat, who sponsored the bill.

Classified state employees are not included in the bill, although Louisiana Civil Service said it might consider changing employment forms for all state government jobs if HB 266 passes. Private business would not be affected.

The city of New Orleans removed the criminal history box from government job applications in 2013 and Baton Rouge did so last year, but the Legislature has been reluctant to do the same.

The vote Tuesday was the result of work by both Black Caucus members and conservative Republicans aligned with the Family Forum. That alliance is encouraging. If lawmakers can see past their usual differences to work together for the good of Louisianans, the state will be better for it.

“I can tell you this. We must do something,” said Republican Rep. Rick Edmonds, a Southern Baptist minister in Baton Rouge. “Let’s put some of these men and women back to work.”

The state employs tens of thousands of people, and ensuring that jobs are open to former inmates could make a significant difference. Applicants would still be subject to background checks, and their criminal history could be deemed to disqualify them. But they should stand a better chance of having their skills considered if their criminal record isn’t the first thing a manager sees.

In New Orleans, the numbers are especially stark. One in seven black men are in prison or on parole or probation, and more than 50 percent of working-age black men in the city are unemployed. For an ex-offender who is unemployed, the recidivism rate is 42 percent in the first three years after release from prison, according to city statistics. The rate jumps to 48 percent for those who don’t find a job for five years.

“Right now in America, especially in New Orleans, once you have a felony conviction, irrespective of the severity of it, that gets to be an economic death sentence,” Mayor Mitch Landrieu said when he announced the city’s new policy in December 2013. “And so what you’re doing then is only giving them one alternative, which is to go back out and commit a crime. We are trying to change that trajectory.”

The city employs roughly 4,300 people, and many of those jobs could be good options for the ex-inmates returning to the city after prison.

The old city policy was to ask applicants whether they had ever been convicted of anything more than minor traffic violations. Some people didn’t even apply, thinking that their criminal backgrounds automatically disqualified them, Mayor Landrieu said.

That no doubt happens with state job openings as well. If the Senate passes HB 266, and it should, ex-offenders shouldn’t have to worry about that any longer.

Online:

http://www.nola.com/

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