- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Recent editorials from Louisiana newspapers:

May 6

American Press, Lake Charles, Louisiana, on tourism:

Another year, another record for tourism in the state of Louisiana.

The Bayou State attracted 27.3 million visitors in 2013, breaking the previous mark by more than a million visitors, according a study by the University of New Orleans.

Those tourists spent $10.8 billion and chipped in $800 million in state tax revenues.

Closer to home, tourism brought in $372 million to Calcasieu Parish last year, according to the Southwest Louisiana Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“It’s validation of what we have been saying. Tourism is big business in Louisiana,” said Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, whose office oversees tourism in Louisiana.

The state’s numbers were buoyed in 2013 by the Super Bowl and Women’s Basketball Final Four being played in New Orleans.

The UNO report said there were more 20 million hotel stays sold in Louisiana last year and more than 11.6 million passengers arrived or departed from airports in the state.

Tourism also spawns jobs in Louisiana. Tourism-related jobs in the state hit 210,000 last year, according to The Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Dardenne’s office has been savvy in its promotion of the state. He said the record numbers vindicate the state’s “Pick Your Passion” national media campaign which promotes the diverse culture, food and music Louisiana has to offer visitors.

Dardenne has been able to accomplish this with a modest $23 million budget that represents, arguably, the state’s best return on investment. And he’s been able to do it while some of his funds have been raided by the Jindal administration.

“We are doing great with what we have got,” said Dardenne. But, “if we expand our footprint, there is every reason to expect an even better increase in the number of visitors.”

The LouisianaTravel.com website has also seen a spike in traffic with more than 1.8 million unique visitors in 2013, up 32 percent over 2012, and 4.1 million page visits, an 18 percent increase over the previous year.

Dardenne also announced earlier this year a three-prong strategic plan for the next five years to market Louisiana as a preferred retirement destination, to help local communities develop a specific marketing plan and to connect statewide marketing efforts to local communities.

As National Tourism Week is celebrated through May 11, we should be mindful of the large part tourism plays in our local and state economy, and those men and women who play such a big part in welcoming, hosting and informing visitors to Louisiana.




May 5

The Courier, Houma, Louisiana, on caution with cameras:

The Louisiana Senate last week gave unanimous approval to a bill prohibiting traffic cameras and other automated ticket equipment on interstates.

That is good news for the motorists who use those roadways and who don’t want to be confronted with tickets issued by pieces of machinery.

It is also good news for our state in general, as we should be emphasizing getting people to obey the traffic laws rather than taking pictures of license plates and sending out tickets in the mail.

The principled argument against traffic cameras is that they deny people the right to confront their accusers.

They also tend to make people guilty unless and until they go to court to prove themselves not guilty.

That is the reverse of the way our legal process is intended.

The simple notion of fairness demands that the government must know who is driving a car before it can issue a ticket.

But how is a traffic camera going to accomplish that?

It is common for more than one member of a household to have access to a vehicle.

It is also common for people to lend their cars to friends or co-workers who need to use them for short periods of time.

How would a camera, with a photo of the license plate, determine who is responsible for the transgression?

For that matter, how can the ticketed person be sure that an infraction actually occurred rather than a simple mechanical malfunction?

Local residents need look no farther than Leeville to see a terrible example of how automated road systems do not always work as advertised.

The toll system for the Leeville Bridge has been fraught with inefficiency and malfunctions since the bridge opened and has never collected enough in tolls to pay back the money it took to build the bridge. It has sent bills to people who paid the tolls and sent no bills to those who didn’t.

Even more troubling, though, is the assumption that the camera and other necessary mechanisms are working properly.

If you get a ticket in the mail, it is suddenly your burden to prove that you weren’t driving or that your car could not be the one in the picture.

Motorists should not undergo such undue stress at the hands of their government.

The Senate wisely followed suit with the House and banned these machines on our interstates.

The measure now will go to Gov. Bobby Jindal, who should sign it and spare Louisianans the trouble these machines will surely create.




May 2

The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, on toughing laws on domestic violence:

Statistics argue for stronger domestic violence laws in Louisiana: 178 victims of abuse died between 2010 and 2012, and 74 percent of them were shot to death, according to the Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Our state has led the nation in domestic homicides since 1997.

Fortunately, the Legislature seems committed to doing something to try to change that.

Three reform bills backed by the coalition and other advocates are up for final passage in the Senate Monday. The legislation, which was introduced by Rep. Helena Moreno, provides important protections for victims of abuse. This ought to be an easy vote for senators.

House Bill 747 adds “domestic abuse aggravated assault” to the Louisiana Criminal Code and makes it a felony on second offense. Defendants charged with this offense couldn’t be released on their own recognizance. Abusers also would have to complete a 26-hour court-monitored program, which is aimed at reducing repeat offenses.

House Bill 750 expedites the transmittal of protective orders to the state’s registry. Officers would be required to give a person who violates a protective order a summons. Whether to make an arrest in those cases would be up to police.

House Bill 753 would bar people convicted of misdemeanor domestic abuse from possessing a firearm for 10 years and provide penalties for violations of the law. People with active protective orders against them also would be barred from possessing guns. Similar provisions already exist in federal law and are recognized in Louisiana’s statute on concealed weapons, but not for domestic violence cases.

“We are simply closing a loophole in Louisiana law,” said Kim Sport, chairwoman of the United Way public policy committee. Thirty-three states, including Texas, have laws similar to the federal statute prohibiting firearm possession when a domestic violence protective order is in place.

Two other bills — Senate Bills 291 and 292 by Sen. J.P. Morrell — are on the Monday agenda for the House Civil Law and Procedure Committee. They both passed unanimously in the Senate’s Judiciary A Committee and on the Senate floor.

Given the House’s unanimous approval of Rep. Moreno’s three bills, these bills ought to get strong support as well. They are crucial pieces of the domestic violence legislative package, which is the result of months of work by the regional United Way’s public policy committee, the Coalition Against Domestic Violence and others.

Senate Bill 291 allows exemplary damages to be awarded to plaintiffs in lawsuits involving injuries from domestic abuse. The bill also provides for court costs, attorney’s fees and other sanctions if the allegations of abuse are found to be frivolous or fraudulent. Advocates point out that the bill puts domestic abuse in the same category for damages as acts of human trafficking, child pornography and driving while intoxicated.

Senate Bill 292 would amend the civil code to allow an immediate divorce in cases where a judge finds that a spouse or child has been physically or sexually abused by the other spouse. Currently, there is a 180-day waiting period. The bill also provides for financial support for the victim, which is needed to keep battered spouses from feeling financially trapped in abusive relationships.

These changes in law won’t eliminate the dangers of family violence, but they should allow victims to more easily free themselves from abuse — and could well save lives.

There are too many examples of tragedy in Louisiana now.

New Orleans police dispatcher Christine George reportedly kicked boyfriend Shawn Peterson out of her home after an argument last summer. Within weeks, she and her two children were dead — shot at point-blank range in their Gentilly garage.

Peterson, who has a history of domestic violence and other crimes, was indicted in December on three counts of first-degree murder in the Sep. 11 deaths of Ms. George; their 18-year-old son, Leonard, and Christine George’s 20-year-old daughter, Trisa. Witnesses told police he had made death threats days before the slayings, and detectives said he was visible on surveillance cameras leaving the crime scene.

“To see a hard-working mother with her two kids just brutally murdered the way they were … it was just totally senseless,” New Orleans homicide Detective Darrell Doucette said recently. Such crimes are senseless.

And legislators should do everything possible to protect victims and curb the violence.



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