- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Recent editorials from Louisiana newspapers:

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Sept. 19

The Advocate on the state’s financial health:

One of the country’s biggest disasters of this decade is another blow to Louisiana’s financial health, as households will struggle to recover and government revenues will face new pressures.

It’s not as though Louisiana’s state government had not been in trouble before.

The budget crisis left by outgoing Gov. Bobby Jindal overwhelmed the State Capitol earlier in the year, with three sessions of the Legislature convening in succession. Lawmakers were compelled to raise a number of taxes, including an emergency one-cent increase in sales taxes.

It wasn’t enough, as agencies were directed to cut more than $300 million from planned spending at the beginning of the fiscal year, July 1.

As tax revenues lagged expectations earlier in the year, the experts forecasted a shortfall in the fiscal year that ended June 30. Once those books are closed, some believe the state will owe another $200 million to balance its accounts.

Thus, new budget cuts are quite likely, just as the need for discretionary spending is greatest because of the August flooding.

There might be a temporary uptick in sales taxes, as people buy new refrigerators and other goods for their homes, but the economic impact of more than $8 billion - and counting - in property damage and the disruption of businesses large and small should not be underestimated.

The good news? So far, Wall Street is not turning on Louisiana.

After a $187 million bond sale for state construction projects, the state’s financial advisors and Treasurer John N. Kennedy said they were pleased at the interest rate received: “Because of the uncertainty with the flooding, housing and other losses, I really thought our rate would be higher,” Kennedy said after that meeting.

Uncertainty, though, is going to be chronic for a while.

Gov. John Bel Edwards and the state’s delegation in Congress secured presidential approval for the federal government to bear 90 percent of the disaster response costs, up from the typical 75 percent in disasters. That goes a long way for both state government and local bodies like cities and school boards.

But in every case, the local match for aid is going to cost the state. Louisiana is far from out of the woods, even if the high water has receded most places. “Somebody asked me, ‘What do you anticipate the price tag to be?’ I said, ‘God, I haven’t even gotten to that, the total,’” said House Speaker Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia, whose district received flood damage.

The Bond Commission met again Thursday to approve short-term borrowing of up to $400 million - a payday loan for state government.

The short-term bank loans will be drawn down as needed and must be repaid by August 2017. The governor’s representatives, Kennedy and legislative leaders all agreed to the borrowing.

It is another sign that the flooding aftermath is going to be challenging for the state, no matter how you slice the budget numbers.

Online:

http://www.theadvocate.com/

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Sept. 16

NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune on poor inmates in Louisiana:

As New Orleans works to reduce the number of people held in the parish jail, several statistics from a new Court Watch NOLA report stand out. In 2015, judges in the city locked up 2,482 people because they couldn’t pay fines and fees owed to courts. It could have been worse. The courts issued 6,078 arrest warrants because of failure to pay fines and fees, according to the report.

Thirty-eight percent of defendants in 2015 were held in jail until trial in part because they couldn’t afford the bond set for them. In addition, 1,453 people spent more than 35 days in jail awaiting trial because they couldn’t bond out.

That is a lot of time to be locked up just because you are short on cash.

Without looking at each case, it is hard to say how many of those suspects could have been released on a lower bond or not held at all. But certainly many of them could have been.

These types of cases should help Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration as it looks for the best ways to shrink New Orleans’ jail population.

The number of inmates has dropped dramatically since Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Before the disaster, the city had 7,000 inmates locked up. When Mayor Landrieu took office in 2010, the inmate count was down to 3,400. And it is less than half that now, with about 1,600 prisoners being held at the Orleans Justice Center.

The city achieved those reductions by changing arrest policies for some nonviolent offenses, limiting the size of the new jail, improving screening and other changes. The MacArthur Foundation is providing $1.5 million to help the city find additional ways to cut the number of people who are locked up.

The foundation grant will help the city put reforms in place to “help reduce the misuse and overuse of jails and make a more functional justice system for our residents,” Mayor Landrieu said in April.

Even with the reductions post-Katrina, the city’s incarceration rate is almost twice the national average. The cost is huge, both to the city’s budget and in human terms.

People booked into jail can lose their jobs, their homes and even custody of their children.

“The vast majority of people in New Orleans’ jail have not been tried or convicted and many are low risk,” the Vera Institute of Justice, which is part of the city’s effort, said in a recent report. “Thousands of days in jail could be avoided and millions of taxpayer dollars saved” if low-risk inmates were released while their charges are pending.

A large number of people who are jailed in New Orleans never make it to trial. Almost 650 people who were held at the Orleans Justice Center between January and March were eventually released, Vera Institute’s researchers found. Prosecutors either decided not to take them to trial, or they were given probation or a sentence of time-served.

Those inmates spent a total of 30,508 days in jail over the course of three months, the report showed. They were held at a huge cost to the city, which pays an average of $113 per day to hold one person in jail.

Jails are designed to hold people who are a danger in some way. Violent and other high-risk inmates ought to be locked up before trial.

But the courts shouldn’t be in the habit of holding people merely because they are poor.

Online:

http://www.nola.com/

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Sept. 15

The Advertiser on allegations posed against U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany in a new book:

For proof or personal accountability, allegations posed against U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany, R-Lafayette, in Ethan Brown’s “Murder in the Bayou” come up reed thin, especially given the flurry of public response attached to them.

That’s what makes Brown’s book, released this week, and the standard of proof for allegations in it seem inherently unfair to Boustany, a candidate for U.S. Senate. By denying the allegations, which seem absurd on their face, Boustany can only draw attention to them.

Brown’s book, released this week, uses its last of 13 chapters to link Boustany to the Boudreaux Inn in Jennings, a fleabag eatery and motel, long closed, connected to the murders of sex workers who frequented the place between 2005-09.

Unnamed sources cited in the book suggest Boustany frequented the inn and met with prostitutes there. But no living, identified person makes those accusations. The author himself suggests the reports are “credible,” but says they can be challenged.

Or can they? If your accusers are anonymous, how can you rebut their allegations? How can you question the foundation of their accusations? If your accusers are faceless, how can people ascertain their character or credibility?

It seems cruel and wrong that a person can build a reputation over the course of a lifetime, then have it publicly assailed by people who never show their own faces.

Only a single, identifiable person suggests Boustany was ever at the Boudreaux Inn - and that was for a campaign event. Suzette Bouley Istre, a manager, recollected Boustany visited once for a political meeting, fielded political questions, and continued on to his next campaign stop. A Boustany spokesman said he had no record of that event.

More credible is the book’s assertion that a former Boustany worker, Martin Guillory, had a business interest in the property. Boustany’s office said he was unaware of that connection, but the congressman is responsible for Guillory’s hire.

Credibility of the people making grave accusations matters. So does the timing of the book’s publication, shortly after Labor Day as Louisiana’s Senate campaign heats up. The book was five years in the making; the last interviews were as late as May and the book has been moved - hurriedly, by its reading - into print.

This newspaper received notice of the book’s allegations last week, but declined to publish the most lurid until this week, after the Boustany, John Kennedy and John Fleming campaigns issued statements about “Murder in the Bayou” and circumstances connected to it. That’s because the book’s unnamed sources would not have met The Daily Advertiser’s standards for publication.

Higher, ethical standards for verifying accusations ought to be the norm for publication. So should reason.

Boustany’s wife, Bridget, this week sent to Boustany’s supporters an emailed statement testifying to her husband’s character and reputation. That should not have been necessary, based on the shaky foundation on which this book’s accusations rest.

If there was “Murder in the Bayou,” it appears decency was one victim.

Online:

http://www.theadvertiser.com/

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