- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Recent editorials from Louisiana newspapers:

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July 5

The Times-Picayune of New Orleans on Louisiana Secretary of State Tom Schedler announcing the state won’t turn over voter information to the presidential commission determining whether fraud was committed during the 2016 election:

Secretary of State Tom Schedler announced Monday (July 3) that Louisiana won’t turn over voter information to a presidential commission charged with determining whether fraud was committed during the 2016 election.

“The President’s Commission has quickly politicized its work by asking states for an incredible amount of voter data that I have, time and time again, refused to release,” Mr. Schedler, a Republican, said in a written statement.

Last week, Mr. Schedler’s staff had said state lawyers were reviewing the election commission’s request and promised the office would protect voters’ personal information. That is essential.

The Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity has over-reached with its request to states, which includes a demand for partial Social Security numbers and dates of birth.

Louisiana law prohibits the release of Social Security numbers. Information the state makes available to the public on voters also excludes their dates of birth and mother’s maiden name, as well as other personal details.

If the president’s commission wants the basic voter information that Louisiana commonly makes available — such as addresses, party affiliation and whether (but not how) they voted — it can purchase it, as political parties do, Mr. Schedler said.

Many states have pushed back against the commission’s broad request. At least a dozen other states, including Mississippi and Tennessee, have refused to provide any information.

Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, a Republican, hadn’t even received the official request when he said Friday that he would refuse it. Mr. Hosemann won a court fight over a similar request in 2014 from a group called True the Vote, whose efforts President Donald Trump has cited as a basis for his examination of votes.

If the advisory election commission created by President Trump sends him a request, “My reply would be: They can go jump in the Gulf of Mexico, and Mississippi is a great state to launch from,” Mr. Hosemann said.

That is likely to be the most colorful refusal the commission gets.

In addition to states that have denied the request for voter information, at least 22 states are only agreeing to provide partial information. The Georgia secretary of state’s office will provide its publicly available voter list. “As specified in Georgia law, the public list does not contain a registered voter’s driver’s license number, social security number, month and day of birth, site of voter registration, phone number or email address,” the office said.

President Trump, who lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton, set up the commission after he alleged that as many as 5 million people voted illegally in November. There has been no credible evidence that is true.

Politifact recently examined one claim about widespread non-citizens voting and found it false. The fact-checkers looked at state audits, among other research, which showed very few cases of improper voting.

“North Carolina’s 2016 post-election audit showed a few dozen noncitizen voters out of 4.8 million votes cast. Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted announced in February that since he took office in 2011, he has identified 126 noncitizens who cast ballots,” a June 22 Politifact story said.

In January, Mr. Schedler refuted the president’s claims of fraud, at least here. “Louisiana did not have any widespread irregularities or allegations of fraud” during the 2016 presidential election, he said. The state has “many layers of legal protection to shield us from voter fraud,” including a requirement for a photo ID, he said.

Donald Trump won 58.1 percent of the vote in Louisiana, with almost 1.18 million votes. That is slightly better than Republican Mitt Romney’s 57.8 percent with 1.15 million votes in 2012. In 2008, John McCain won 58.6 percent of the Louisiana vote. That is very consistent, which argues against President Trump’s fraud theory.

The vice chairman of the president’s commission has acknowledged that the group has no power to force states to provide voter information.

In announcing his decision, Mr. Schedler said he didn’t want the commission to play politics with Louisiana’s voter data. Good for him.

Online: http://www.nola.com/

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July 5

The Advocate of Baton Rouge on how the Alton Sterling shooting investigation is in Louisiana attorney general Jeff Landry's hands:

Although there have been no charges against officers involved in the shooting of Alton Sterling, who died one year ago today, the U.S. Department of Justice investigation appears to have been sharply critical of the actions of the two Baton Rouge Police Department officers who killed him on July 5.

But that is not the final word. The investigation is now in the hands of state Attorney General Jeff Landry, the latest chapter in a tragedy that drew international attention to Louisiana last summer. Sterling’s family recently filed suit against the city, the Baton Rouge Police Department and the officers involved.

When he announced that the Justice Department was closing the 10-month investigation into the shooting without charges, Corey Amundson, the acting U.S. attorney for Baton Rouge, stressed the high burden of proof in federal criminal civil rights cases, which require a greater degree of intent than many Louisiana criminal charges. Sterling, who was armed, died outside a Baton Rouge convenience store in the early morning hours of July 5, 2016, after a struggle with police. The incident, caught on video, prompted protests here and across the country and raised questions about whether race had shaped how events unfolded. Sterling was black, and the officer who shot him is white.

The Sterling family, and the people of Baton Rouge, waited months for the DOJ investigation to conclude. Given that timing, we believe that so long as it is consistent with a thorough review, Landry should move as quickly as possible to indicate what his office will do, whether prosecuting the officers or taking the case to a grand jury, or deciding not to prosecute.

Unfortunately, East Baton Rouge Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome has intruded in this overlong process with a call to Police Chief Carl Dabadie to fire Blaine Salamoni, the officer who fired the fatal shots last summer.

There may well be reason to discipline or dismiss officers Salamoni or Howie Lake II, but it is premature to decide those questions until Landry's investigation is complete. The officers have been on leave with pay since the Sterling shooting. An internal investigation by the department has been conducted but not made public - yet.

Even if the officers are charged, Louisiana law on self-defense and the natural deference to law enforcement officers in a crisis situation may not result in a conviction. Still, if Salamoni’s initial approach proves as aggressive as described by officials - gun drawn followed by an expletive-laden threat to shoot if Sterling didn’t comply with his order - Dabadie may be compelled to act even in the absence of a criminal charge.

Broome campaigned on a pledge to replace the chief, but because of civil service protections, he remains in charge. The Baton Rouge Police Department has a strong union presence and also a long history of stonewalling when officers are accused of misconduct.

The Sterling case has dragged on too long, as today’s anniversary makes clear. But firing or otherwise disciplining the officers in the absence of a thorough criminal review is premature. The mayor should have kept her opinion in check until the proper time.

Online: http://www.theadvocate.com/

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July 8

Alexandria Daily Town Talk on U.S. motor vehicle deaths topping 40,000 in 2016, the first time since 2007, and how Louisiana legislates driver safety:

There’s an old mechanic’s joke that goes something like this: Question - What’s the most likely part to fail in an automobile?

Answer: The nut behind the wheel.

Looking at national highway safety statistics, it looks like that “nut” — the driver — is failing more often. In 2016, U.S. motor vehicle deaths topped 40,000 for the first time since 2007 according to a report from the National Safety Council.

That is a 6 percent increase from 2015 and up 14 percent from 2014, according to the group. Those numbers are on track with similar findings released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which in January reported an 8 percent rise in fatal crashes in the first nine months of 2016 compared to the prior-year period.

So, what’s behind the increase in fatalities? Part of it can be attributed to the fact that we are on the road more. As gas prices have decreased, Americans overall have increased their highway travels. The National Safety Council statistics show a 3 percent increase in vehicle miles traveled last year.

But the increase in fatalities was twice that, which points to something more.

Flipping through The National Safety Council’s latest reports, the group also has a report on a survey they conducted that shows 47 percent of motorists are comfortable texting while driving. And if that’s not scary enough, 10 percent of drivers reported driving drunk, and 43 percent of them said they were involved in a crash while impaired.

Still think that “nut behind the wheel” description is too harsh? The survey also found that 16 percent said they don’t wear seatbelts on every trip, while 25 percent are comfortable speeding on residential streets.

From a legislative standpoint, Louisiana has actually done a good job at taking steps to increase driver safety. The National Safety Council gives the state an A rating for road safety in 2015. Highlights include that we have laws requiring seatbelt use, prohibiting texting while driving and using ignition interlocks on people with DUI convictions.

But if you take some time and park on the side of a roadway and watch drivers, you’ll see more drivers than not glancing down at cell phones, holding a phone to their ear, eating food or doing other activities that take their eyes and attention off where they are headed. We confirmed that earlier this week when we spent 45 minutes parked on the roadside of I-49 just south of Alexandria (mile marker 77 to be exact).

We also noticed that, even with our emergency flashers on while parked on the roadside, very few drivers showed the courtesy of moving over to the other lane, or at least slowing down.

Current law requires drivers to slow down and/or move over if police or emergency workers are on the scene, like a tow truck driver. But if it’s just some regular driver pulled over trying to fix a flat tire or peering under the hood trying to figure out what’s wrong, the law doesn’t require drivers to move over.

We know from experience, it’s somewhat unnerving to feel the vehicle shake when an 18-wheeler races past just inches away at 75 mph or more. It’s downright terrifying to be kneeling on the ground by the car changing a tire when it happens.

With more folks hitting the road for summer vacations, this is a good time to encourage everyone to practice safe driving habits. Put down the phone, keep your eyes on the road and give the folks on the side of the road room to take care of their problem safely.

Driving isn’t a routine task, it’s a serious responsibility and it requires the driver’s full attention. On behalf of everyone who travels the roadways of Central Louisiana, please do your part to keep us all safe.

Online: http://www.thetowntalk.com/

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