- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Recent editorials from Louisiana newspapers:

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April 19

The Advocate of Baton Rouge on health care perception poll:

Perhaps it sounds a little odd, but people both in Louisiana and elsewhere are sometimes fuzzy about the differences between the Affordable Care and Patient Protection Act, expanded Medicaid, and “Obamacare” - the politically charged term that involves the whole of the parts.

Further, the definition of a government program, or the name of its agencies, or the moniker of the law creating a specific benefit often can be obscure.

For those reasons, we’re not at all surprised at what might be at first glance inconsistent views held by state voters polled in the 2017 Louisiana Survey about health care.

The survey, conducted by the LSU Public Policy Lab, found that Louisiana residents approve of the state’s decision to expand its Medicaid program last year under the auspices of the Affordable Care Act, or ACA - but respondents to the survey remain deeply divided over the ACA itself.

In good news for the backer of Medicaid expansion, Gov. John Bel Edwards, 72 percent approved of the idea. Republicans were less enthusiastic about the policy than Democrats or independents, but the governor’s plan was still backed by 51 percent of GOP respondents.

But at the same time, the ACA or “Obamacare” had only 42 percent favorable, perhaps not so surprising given that the program’s namesake was rejected twice by large margins by Louisiana voters. Of Republicans asked, 80 percent were against it and among Democrats, three out of four were for it.

Approval of the ACA was in fact up, being as low as 31 percent three years ago.

Edwards was thus probably right to highlight Medicaid expansion in his address to the opening session of the 2017 Legislature. Many GOP members of House and Senate balked at Medicaid expansion when it was a party litmus test during the terms of former Gov. Bobby Jindal; now, though, the governor’s actions have provided a significant financial lifeline for working people in low-wage jobs who had no meaningful access to health care before.

As for the confusion about nomenclature, is that surprising? Most normal human beings have busy lives and while we’re grateful that they read the newspaper and keep up with public affairs as citizens, the details of even heavily covered policy disputes may not be top-of-mind.

Online: https://www.theadvocate.com/

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The Times-Picayune of New Orleans on jailing victims for not testifying in court:

April 16

A rape victim spent eight days locked up at the Orleans Justice Center last year because she didn’t want to testify in court. She was held in the same jail as her accused attacker.

It is a jail that is notoriously dangerous and poorly run. Imagine the trauma of spending more than a week there after having been raped.

How does that serve justice?

The woman was one of at least a half dozen crime victims who were locked up on material witness warrants in New Orleans in 2016, according to Court Watch NOLA’s annual report. The warrants were requested by District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro’s office and approved by judges at Criminal District Court.

To try to protect victims from further trauma, Court Watch NOLA officials are asking prosecutors to stop seeking warrants against sexual assault and domestic violence victims.

In a news release, Mr. Cannizzaro’s office offered no reason for arresting victims other than to refer to how many people have been shot or murdered in New Orleans in 2017. The statement also criticized Court Watch NOLA for focusing so much on one victim.

But for that rape victim, eight days in the parish jail near her attacker had to be terrifying.

Also, the district attorney’s office wanted to lock up other women who had been attacked in 2016. Material witness warrants were issued for a victim of sexual battery and a victim of domestic violence. Those women were never picked up, so they didn’t serve time in jail.

Mary Claire Landry, director of the New Orleans Family Justice Center, said her organization is opposed to arresting victims of sexual assault and domestic violence.

“If they’re not willing to testify there’s usually a good reason for that,” Ms. Landry said. “Whether it’s a safety concern … there’s many other reasons why victims don’t want to participate in the criminal justice system. Our preference is that the criminal justice system would respect that.”

Some prosecutors argue that it is necessary to force victims to testify to get violent criminals off the streets. Court Watch NOLA executive director Simone Levine said her group understands those pressures. That is why the group is only asking Mr. Cannizzaro’s office to stop issuing warrants for victims of sexual or domestic violence.

The group’s report points out that other evidence could be used to get a conviction. That may include “a recording of a 911 call made by the victim, a recording of a call made by the aggressor to the victim from jail (for example, threatening the victim if the victim testifies), or a police body-worn camera recording a statement made by the victim.” Those strategies are working in other jurisdictions nationally, the report said.

“A prosecutor should also consider the trauma and fear that is often associated with being a victim of a crime, the victim’s fear of retribution from the aggressor or the community, and the great harm it causes the victim to be arrested and jailed in a corrections facility,” the report said.

Those factors should be a major consideration for prosecutors and judges. In addition, judges are not required to provide a lawyer for victims, so they can be unfairly stuck in jail. Only two of the six victims arrested in New Orleans last year had a lawyer to represent them.

Houston District Attorney Kimberly Ogg, who was elected last fall, has promised to never incarcerate an uncooperative victim. Her policy came after her predecessor jailed a rape victim who was bipolar for nearly a month, according to KPRC Channel 2 in Houston. The woman had a breakdown on the witness stand and prosecutors feared she wouldn’t finish her testimony.

Ms. Ogg said putting a victim in jail “is highly irregular,” adding that there are other options for prosecutors. The Texas Senate has passed a bill named for the Houston victim, known as Jenny, that would require a lawyer to be provided for victims threatened with jail.

Not only does an arrest traumatize victims, the practice could discourage others from reporting their attackers. That doesn’t seem to be a good way to keep a community safe.

Online: https://www.nola.com/#/0

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April 18

The Town Talk of Alexandria on proposed legislation prohibiting branding deals between colleges and alcohol:

While the budget bills filed in the Louisiana Legislature tend to grab the headlines, often it’s other bills that are the most interesting.

Take HB 610 from Rep. Cedric Glover, introduced April 10 and referred to the Committee on Education. The bill proposes to prohibit the licensing of the use of the name or symbol of a public postsecondary education institution in association with alcoholic beverages.

In layman’s terms, Glover doesn’t want to see any alcoholic beverages branded as the “official” beer, or vodka, or wine or whatever of any of the state’s colleges or universities.

That proposal hasn’t gone over too well with LSU System President King Alexander, who called the proposal “nonsense” in an interview with The Advocate. That’s not a surprise since LSU, as well as the University of Louisiana Lafayette each already have deals in place with breweries for official drinks. Bayou Bengal Lager supports LSU and Ragin’ Cajuns Genuine Louisiana Ale is the official beer for UL. Glover’s bill would, if passed, prohibit the renewal of those deals.

This is a case where we can see both sides of the issue. On one hand, state funding for higher education has been reduced repeatedly. To use an alcohol illustration, the legislature has already tapped that keg and run it dry. That has forced university officials to get creative in finding other ways to generate revenue, and getting partners who pay handsomely for exclusive branding rights to be the “official” anything of LSU is a good way to generate some significant cash.

In his remarks to the Advocate, Alexander noted, “We license lots of products; we’ll help you do that. Here, we have a local business, run by LSU alumni who we helped get started in our business incubator and who gives us 15 percent on one of the ales they sell. I don’t find a problem with that at all.”

And it’s not just something happening in Louisiana. A quick internet search found that Coors is the official beer of the University of Illinois. And, in Kentucky, home of a number of distilleries and a “Bourbon Trail” for tourists, the University of Louisville collected $2.5 million over three years from Maker’s Mark when it OK’d them selling 80-proof bourbon featuring Cardinal coaches on the label.

On the other side, it is no secret that drinking by college students is a serious problem. We read stories every year about the tragic death of a college student from an alcohol-related incident. Whether it’s alcohol poisoning, a drunk-driving accident or an inebriated student being assaulted, there are plenty of horror stories about the perils of young people and too much access to alcohol.

For their part, the breweries and alcohol producing partners are sensitive to the issues of underage and responsible drinking. They are quick to point out that they are not marketing to the college students, but rather to the alumni and adults who are of legal drinking age. But no marketing campaign can be that targeted - students will see it and many will likely be influenced by the message.

While we feel Alexander’s pain and agree the university should be able to generate revenue from licensing efforts, we have to side with Rep. Glover on this one. It’s simply a matter of putting the safety and welfare of students first. Alcohol consumption by college students is a problem. Licensing an official beer or wine or any alcoholic beverage isn’t a good solution. Yes, the deals are likely lucrative, but they aren’t worth a student’s life or safety. It’s a case where the universities should choose to market themselves responsibly.

Online: https://www.thetowntalk.com/

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