- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Recent editorials from Louisiana newspapers:


April 24

The Courier of Houma on the state budget:

The ongoing legislative session in Baton Rouge is half over, and there is still no indication that lawmakers are any closer to solving the looming budget crisis than they were when it began in March.

The state is facing a $750 million shortfall in the budget for the next fiscal year, which begins on July 1.

That is a lot of money that will either have to be cut from existing spending or added to existing taxes.

If the Legislature doesn’t go along with Gov. John Bel Edwards’ plan to expand Medicaid coverage to take full advantage of available federal health care money, the shortfall could be significantly bigger.

There are two dominant schools of thought on the budget crisis. One favors cuts to spending, the other favors increases to taxes.

The truth is that it will likely take a combination of spending cuts and higher taxes to close such a huge hole in the budget.

As they have many times before, the constitutional constraints on our state officials will once again take away most of their flexibility in handling the current difficulty.

Because most areas of the state budget are protected in the Constitution, most cuts must come from either health care or higher education, or a combination of the two.

And Edwards’ proposals so far have been a mixture.

He has proposed large cuts to TOPS, the state’s scholarship program for college students.

He has also proposed cuts to some of the state’s hospitals, including Leonard J. Chabert Medical Center in Houma.

What our state desperately needs - much more than it needs another temporary, piecemeal fix to one year’s fiscal crisis - is a real discussion about fixing our Constitution so that our lawmakers can more accurately budget and spend the public’s resources from one year to the next.

It isn’t fair for hospitals and colleges, both high public priorities, to wonder each year how much money they will have from the state. Then, halfway through the fiscal year, when the state’s finances are in turmoil, midyear cuts are demanded by state officials who have nowhere else to turn for relief.

That is a terrible way to run any organization, but it is particularly terrible for managing state resources that should be working for students and the sick.

Our state spends money on consulting contracts and other luxuries that don’t further actual priorities for Louisiana. It is past time that our officials in Baton Rouge take a long, hard look at the entire budget and figure out a long-term way to make sure that things such as colleges and hospitals have reliable funding mechanisms rather than the yearly turmoil that marks them now.

This might not happen in the next month, but it is clearly a pressing public need.

Our lawmakers might be able balance the books in the coming weeks, but if they do it on the backs of students and the sick, what have we gained?

Let’s start the conversation.




April 23

The Advocate of Baton Rouge on the 2005 Danziger Bridge shootings in New Orleans:

Nearly 4,000 days have come and gone since Sept. 4, 2005, when a group of New Orleans police pulled onto the Danziger Bridge in a commandeered rental truck to investigate reports that an officer was under fire in the lawless aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. In a fateful moment, they sprayed bullets from their service and personal firearms into two groups of innocent people, killing two and wounding four, including a woman who lost her arm.

The case against those officers, which captured international attention, largely wrapped up last week, when five pleaded guilty, admitting to misconduct that was breathtaking even by the standards of New Orleans police scandals.

In the tortured, decade-long fight for justice, there have been few heroes.

Not the New Orleans Police Department, whose officers, in the moments after realizing they had made a tragic mistake, constructed an elaborate cover-up that included inventing witnesses and falsely charging an innocent man with attempted murder. Their cover-up began immediately - as if by instinct - and it kept the truth hidden for years.

Not the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s office under Eddie Jordan, which fumbled the case.

Not the U.S. Attorney’s Office under Jim Letten, which took up the probe but polluted its prosecution when two key members of the staff made the bizarre and self-destructive choice to post anonymous comments online about the case.

Not U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt, who complained about the long sentences he was forced to impose on the killer cops and later vacated the jury verdict, stretching the law to claim the commenting amounted to “grotesque prosecutorial misconduct.” His ruling stood up when the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals deadlocked 7-7 on whether to overturn him - hardly a vote of confidence in his judgment.

And not the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, whose lawyers once were the truth-seeking heroes of the story, quietly building a case and cracking the code of silence in the Police Department. Now it is clear one of their own members played a small role in the online commenting, and Engelhardt asserted Wednesday that their cover-up of that mistake went as high as Thomas Perez, then the head of the division, now U.S. Labor Secretary. Engelhardt’s inquiries prompted the division to withdraw from the case, setting the stage for this week’s plea deal.

So, in the final analysis, the case began and ended with a cover-up.

The only folks who deserve admiration are the victims and their families, who waited out the judicial ordeal with great patience and dignity. With their gracious acquiescence, sentences that totaled nearly 200 years were reduced by three-quarters to secure the guilty pleas that would bring the case to a conclusion. Many of them were in the courtroom Wednesday as the plea deals were accepted.

Engelhardt needlessly cut the officers another break, bypassing the typical process of making a defendant sign a document attesting to the facts of the case and taking responsibility for his crimes. None of the officers could muster the decency to personally apologize to those whose lives have been disrupted for more than a decade and may never be patched together.

Those families, and victims James Brissette and Ronald Madison, deserved more from officers Kenneth Bowen, Robert Faulcon Jr., Robert Gisevius Jr., Arthur Kaufman and Anthony Villavaso.

So did the people of New Orleans, and hopefully, a comprehensive federal consent decree will help ensure that a city cursed by crime gets a police force it can trust.




April 23

The Alexandria Daily Town Talk on thanking FEMA workers:

With the announcement that many of the FEMA assistance locations in Central Louisiana are shutting down as flood waters have receded and affected residents move on with the difficult task of cleanup and rebuilding, we would be remiss if we didn’t take a moment to offer our thanks to the hundreds of FEMA workers who made their way here to help local residents.

At the peak, there were as many as 1,500 FEMA workers in the area. More than 1,000 are still here, but the numbers - much like the flood waters that brought them here - will slowly drop in the coming days and weeks.

That’s 1,500 people who left their own homes and families to come help people they have never met. And while it’s easy to say “that’s their job,” - and it is - it still takes a special person willing to make that kind of sacrifice to help others. It’s an extremely stressful job. Workers are meeting people in the midst of a huge crisis. Many of the victims they encounter lost everything, from their home to cherished pictures and keepsakes that can never be replaced. Victims are typically a mix of emotions, from sad to angry to confused over where to go next.

The FEMA workers who venture out in the field are expected to show the utmost compassion and understanding as they help victims navigate through the red tape and bureaucracy of a federal government process that can seem overwhelming to outsiders.

The workers we encountered certainly did that. From taking time to patiently walk folks through the initial registration process to helping review materials to make certain each applicant had the best chance of getting all the aid available, the workers we saw were doing their best to help.

The results are impressive. As of Friday, FEMA had provided more than $75 million in assistance and conducted more than 31,000 inspections in the flood-raged parts of the state. A total of 36 parishes were declared disaster areas, including Rapides, Avoyelles, Grant, LaSalle, Natchitoches, Vernon, and Winn parishes in Central Louisiana.

Even when an individual didn’t qualify for FEMA assistance, workers typically did their best to find alternative sources of help, such as the Small Business Administration, which can provide low-interest loans to individuals as well as businesses to help defer and spread out the costs associated with cleanup and recovery.

As they wind down operations, FEMA officials are working to get the word out that while they are decreasing their number of people on the ground, help is still available to those who need it. The FEMA helpline number is 800-621-3362 and is open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week. Official stress that FEMA’s hotline includes a helpline with someone on the other end to answer your questions.

So, while we know the workers were “just doing their jobs,” on behalf of everyone in Central Louisiana who was affected by the flooding and received assistance from the visiting FEMA workers, thank you for being here to help in our time of need. We wish you all safe travels home to your families, and hope you can return again some day when it’s not a business trip, but rather an opportunity to enjoy all that Central Louisiana has to offer when the weather is more cooperative.




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