- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Recent editorials from Louisiana newspapers:

Dec. 23

The Advocate, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on oil markets:

How low can it go?

That’s the question on the minds of those dependent on oil markets. And that question has particularly profound implications for the state of Louisiana, even going beyond the importance of the state budget’s current difficulties with the plunge in oil prices.

A rule of thumb is that the state loses $12 million in severance and other taxes for every dollar drop, and a barrel has dropped a lot of dollars. Some alarmists are talking about $35 per barrel, which would be an immense gap between the price as late as June. Since then, oil is down nearly 40 percent. Any lower is a marvel.

The obvious local implications of oil prices are in Lafayette, a national center for oilfield services, although service companies are distributed across the state.

But it also is a question mark for the two regions of the state that are big consumers of energy: petrochemical manufacturers along the Mississippi and Calcasieu rivers. Lower oil prices may make, at least in the short term, some of the big petrochemical expansions less competitive in markets, because of the low price of natural gas, a competing energy source.

Overall, it’s quite likely that the oil plunge isn’t going so far south that it will endanger industrial development projects that have been announced along both rivers this year.

By and large, companies are looking far beyond today’s volatile energy market and ahead toward customers they will serve a decade or more from now.

For one thing, the decline in oil prices is driven by an oversupply. But it is not purely a matter of the fracking revolution generating oil and gas from America’s resurgent oil fields.

That contributes to the current oversupply but a large portion of it is attributable to slow growth or even outright recession in some major nations, including Japan and European countries, but also the slower-growing economy of mainland China.

Such a dramatic price drop might have some positives at the pump for everyone in Louisiana, but the old saying is that whatever hits the fan is never distributed evenly. So it is for Louisiana and the, unfortunately, falling price of oil.




Dec. 20

American Press, Lake Charles, Louisiana, on highway taskforce:

State Sen. Robert Adley, R-Benton, got to the core of a major problem facing Louisiana at a time when a historic economic revival is taking place all along its coast: “Our roads have gone to hell.”

Adley is chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee and a member of the Transportation Funding Task Force that is seeking solutions for the state’s highway needs. He has been a fierce advocate for getting money for more highway maintenance and construction in hopes of reducing a $12 billion backlog.

The task force will issue its report on Jan. 15, but don’t expect any magic solutions. Each time one is proposed, it is quickly shot down for one reason or another.

Particularly troubling for Adley is the fact the Legislature is mandating that nearly $60 million in highway money be redirected every year to State Police for highway safety. He said the state is spending about $27 million a year on highway maintenance instead of the $70 million that is needed.

Col. Mike Edmonson, commander of State Police, told members of the task force that money is used in all nine traffic troops for salaries, benefits and fuel costs to patrol highways.

The Advocate reported that Stephen Waguespack, president of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, said his board wants transportation to be one of the state’s priorities this year.

Waguespack said there should be some way for legislators to reduce the amount of money going to State Police.

Adley told Waguespack, “I don’t think we will pass anything without your help.”

The state’s 20-cents-per-gallon gasoline tax has lost over half its purchasing power since the last time it was increased, but the odds of raising it are slim to none. Gov. Bobby Jindal opposes any tax increases, and legislators facing re-election in 2015 would be hesitant to even consider higher taxes.




Dec. 24

Times-Picayune, New Orleans, on officers needing training:

The New Orleans Police Department says it will create a Crisis Intervention Team in 2015 to help officers understand the best way to deal with people who are mentally ill. Although NOPD initially ignored the Metropolitan Human Services District’s offer to provide free training in handling mental health issues, the department now is pursuing help from the agency.

Those are important steps. The crisis team should have been in place months ago, according to court-appointed monitors overseeing the department’s compliance with a federal consent decree. The lag in that effort was one of the criticisms in a Dec. 22 report by the monitoring team.

In response, the NOPD said it is committed to making those reforms in the coming year. A planning committee for the crisis team will meet for the first time Jan. 13, a police spokesman said.

The Crisis Intervention Team is considered a best practice nationally. Officers are trained in de-escalation techniques and how to recognize mental illness. The goal is to minimize the use of force on mentally ill people and to connect them with services instead of putting them in jail. The expectation is that at least one officer in each NOPD district on each shift will have the specialized training.

The crisis team training can protect officers, too. January will mark the seventh anniversary of the death of New Orleans Police Officer Nicola Cotton, who was killed by a paranoid schizophrenic man who had recently been released from a mental hospital.

The Legislature subsequently passed a law, named in honor of Officer Cotton, to require people with chronic mental illness to receive outpatient treatment.

Also since Officer Cotton’s death, the city’s Health Department and the Metropolitan Human Services District have worked to make it easier for families and authorities to find the mental health services available in the community.

The police training called for in the federal consent decree has the potential to dramatically improve coordination of mental health services.

Officers on patrol are likely to come into contact with mentally ill people on a regular basis. Many in the city’s homeless population suffer from mental illness.

Having officers trained to recognize the symptoms, keep the situation calm and get people who are ill into care should help keep all of us safer.



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