- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Recent editorials from Louisiana newspapers:

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April 19

The Advocate on aid workers:

With so much bad news about the state’s financial situation, there’s at least one win-win: expanding Medicaid health insurance for the working poor.

Gov. John Bel Edwards presented the bad news about the budget personally to the House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday. His appearance was itself noteworthy, as his predecessor Bobby Jindal was rarely in the State Capitol corridors and much less so when the news was bad.

But in one significant reversal from Jindal’s policies, Edwards said the state can get higher federal reimbursements for health care by expanding Medicaid insurance.

It is a battle long fought at the Legislature, where a GOP majority and Jindal officials continually blocked the expansion. Few people working in low-wage jobs can afford traditional health insurance, even if it is offered by an employer; when workers get sick, they are likely to put off care and end up in an emergency room.

The latter is a high-cost option that is ultimately paid for, either by shifting costs to other customers or by direct state payments for uninsured care.

Medicaid gets individuals, perhaps 300,000 of them in Louisiana, out of that trap.

The good news Edwards told the appropriators is that the state expects to save $184 million the fiscal year beginning July 1. That’s because the Medicaid expansion authorized under the U.S. Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, pays a high matching rate with federal funds. “As we move forward with expansion, Louisiana will begin to see savings that we have spent years denying,” the governor said.

That’s one of the reasons to support Medicaid expansion, although there are knowledgeable critics of the proposal, including a former state senator, Bill Cassidy, of Baton Rouge, now in the U.S. Senate. A key argument is that the budget savings will be fleeting because utilization of services will go up, raising costs - ultimately, whether state or federal, paid for by taxpayers.

We believe that is a bonus, if the outcome is healthier workers. We shall have to see how Medicaid expansion works in practice over several years, but the reality is that Louisiana has a large population of poor families, working in low-wage jobs.

By law, those folks are not going to be turned away from emergency rooms if their health goes bad. Costs for everyone in the system will be lower if the Medicaid card encourages people to go to the doctor first, getting cheaper care in an appropriate medical “home” for each family.

Online:

https://theadvocate.com/

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April 19

The Courier on scholarships:

There was never a good reason for Louisiana legislators to dole out scholarships to Tulane University.

And as it has been for years, it is time to change a system that invites abuse.

Under the current program, each member of the state Legislature has one scholarship per year that he or she can award to a constituent.

Just as he has for the past several years, Rep. Dee Richard, a Thibodaux independent, is trying to reform the program.

Richard’s bill is a good one, but it is unlikely to gain much traction this year. It was involuntarily deferred after a committee meeting last week, likely meaning it is dead for the current legislative session.

Richard, though, deserves credit for continuing to push a much-needed reform.

The scholarships are relics from more than 100 years ago, the leftovers of a deal between Tulane and the state that allowed the school to avoid much of its tax burden.

In the past several years, there have been numerous news stories documenting the abuse of the program, with legislators using the scholarships as political rewards for contributors and their families.

During the committee meeting last week, some lawmakers were incredulous that anyone would even suggest such a thing. Still, the truth remains that the system - even if it is operated in a scrupulously ethical way - invites abuse and has no place in the state government.

Richard’s bill would have continued the scholarship program, but it would have given the granting of the scholarships to Tulane itself and taken it out of the hands of individual legislators.

That is a common sense reform and one that is sorely needed.

Louisiana has a shameful political past, one that continues to damage our reputation around the U.S. This and other programs that treat public resources as political chips for lawmakers is part of the holdover from those days. And it is high time that the program were either reformed or terminated.

“My goal is to take it out of our hands as a political tool,” Richard said. “Why can’t Tulane take it and do it on their own? Why don’t they do that? You’re not losing anything.”

That is an excellent point, and it sums up the reason that the scholarships are a bad idea. Legislators aren’t the best people to decide who deserves a Tulane scholarship; Tulane is. The only reason legislators want to cling to this perk is for the power it allows them to wield and the appearance it gives among their constituents that they are personally granting favors.

That perception has no place in state government.

Online:

https://www.houmatoday.com/

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April 17

The Times-Picayune on LGBT inclusiveness:

With his signature April 13, Gov. John Bel Edwards moved Louisiana away from the mean-spirited policies of his predecessor and pledged that our state won’t discriminate against anyone because of sexual orientation. He put in place an executive order guaranteeing tolerance in state government for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender residents. He also undid former Gov. Bobby Jindal’s 2015 executive order protecting businesses that refused services to same-sex couples based on their religious beliefs.

“We respect our fellow citizens for their beliefs, but we do not discriminate based on our disagreements. I believe in giving every Louisianan the opportunity to be successful and to thrive in our state,” Gov. Edwards said in a written statement.

He deserves great credit for ensuring that the state will protect all Louisiana residents equally.

The governor’s executive order prevents state workers and contractors from being fired, discriminated against or harassed based on their gender identity or sexual orientation. State agencies also are forbidden to discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender residents.

That is as it should be. Religious freedom is a fundamental right in this nation, but government should not sanction discrimination under the guise of that freedom.

It is significant that Gov. Edwards included transgender residents in his order. Advocates said no neighboring states have such a protection in place.

“We are a little island in the Deep South now. For once, we get to be leaders on something,” said Matthew Patterson, executive director of Equality Louisiana, an LGBT advocacy group.

In fact, a new law in Mississippi essentially invites discrimination based on sexual orientation.

The law, which was signed April 5 by Gov. Phil Bryant, allows churches, religious charities and private businesses to refuse to provide just about any service based on someone’s sexual orientation if it would violate their “sincerely held religious beliefs.” The state is prohibited from intervening in those matters under the law.

The fear is that same-sex couples, transgender residents and even single mothers could be fired, denied medical care or rejected for essential services. The broad language in the law almost assures discrimination will occur.

John Grisham and nearly 100 other Mississippi authors have signed a letter asking Gov. Bryant to repeal the law, but there has been no sign that he will. Outside artists are canceling concerts in Mississippi and several movies projects are being pulled from production there because of the law.

Gov. Edwards’ executive order provides a positive contrast to Mississippi’s law. And he has made it easier for economic development groups to pitch Louisiana as a good location for business.

“This action will help to solidify Louisiana’s current reputation as a welcoming place for business and talent,” Michael Hecht, president and CEO of Greater New Orleans Inc., said in a statement.

“A welcoming and fair workplace is not only the right thing to do, but is good for business. Companies, cities and states seeking to attract top talent and build a competitive workforce make it clear they do not discriminate,” the Rev. Lindy Broderick, executive vice president of the Greater Shreveport Chamber of Commerce, said.

The governor’s nondiscrimination order “supports Moonbot’s mission to recruit the best talent in the country - no matter the candidate’s sexual orientation or gender identity,” Moonbot Studios CEO Lampton Enochs said. Shreveport-based Moonbot won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Oscar in 2012 for “The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore.”

The Washington Post took note of Gov. Edwards’ stand against discrimination as other Southern states are sending the opposite message. It is good to be on the right side of this issue.

Gov. Edwards did include an exemption to his executive order for churches and other religious entities that provide contractual services for the state. The Catholic Church and other Christian groups provide foster care and adoption placement for the Department of Children and Family Services, for example.

Gov. Kathleen Blanco, who signed a similar nondiscrimination order during her term, didn’t include a religious exemption for contractors. That provided stronger protection for residents using those services.

The exemption in Gov. Edwards’ order is fairly narrow, but he needs to ensure that no one is unable to get the help they need because of it. Same-sex families pay taxes for those services, too.

The governor clearly is dedicated to fairness and equality. “We are fortunate enough to live in a state that is rich with diversity, and we are built on a foundation of unity and fairness for all of our citizens,” he said in the statement announcing his executive order.

Diversity is a strength, and the governor is right to guard our individuality. Louisiana’s government should protect all of us, not just some of us.

Thankfully, Gov. Edwards is committed to doing that.

Online:

https://www.nola.com/

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