- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 13, 2017

X, La. (AP) - Recent editorials from Louisiana newspapers:

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Dec. 10

NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune on Louisiana’s sexual harassment policies:

The resignation of Gov. John Bel Edwards’ deputy chief of staff amid sexual harassment allegations raises serious questions about the administration’s hiring practices.

Johnny Anderson, who denies wrongdoing, had been accused of sexual harassment before he was hired in 2016 by the Edwards administration. Six women at Southern University, including a student, complained about his behavior in 2006. He was working then for Gov. Kathleen Blanco as her assistant chief of staff and serving as chairman of the Southern University System Board of Supervisors.

The lawyer appointed to investigate those accusations said he found no evidence of wrongdoing, but U.S. District Judge Ralph Tyson ruled that Mr. Anderson had violated sexual harassment laws.

Mr. Anderson said that history didn’t come up during the hiring process with the Edwards’ administration. How could that be?

The accusations in 2006 were well known. Gov. Blanco announced the hiring of lawyer Mark Falcon to look into the allegations, and Mr. Anderson temporarily stepped down as chairman of the Southern board. Then-Sen. Cleo Fields wanted Mr. Anderson removed from the board and his job in the governor’s office during the investigation, but that didn’t happen.

Mr. Anderson has said he was exonerated by the investigation, but Mr. Falcon made his conclusions without talking to the accusers or getting cooperation from Southern University.

After the new accusations surfaced, Slidell Sen. Sharon Hewitt asked the legislative auditor to examine state government’s policies and procedures on sexual harassment.

She wants the auditor to look at how employees are vetted, statistics on sexual harassment claims in state government and claims that have been paid with public money. She also asked for a comparison of how Louisianan policies and procedures compare with other states’.

“Louisiana citizens deserve to know how someone with a history of sexual harassment allegations managed get a high paying job on the governor’s executive staff,” Sen. Hewitt said in a Nov. 29 press release. That question does need to be answered.

Gov. Edwards launched a sweeping effort Wednesday (Dec. 6) to examine sexual harassment policies in the agencies he controls and to look for ways to improve state regulations. He is appointing a task force to evaluate current policies and suggest improvements by March 1, shortly before the legislative session opens. The task force will include members with experience in human resources, including a member of Attorney General Jeff Landry’s staff.

The panel will examine existing sexual harassment policies and is expected to come up with ways to improve the executive branch’s sexual harassment prevention training course, identify misconduct that should be forbidden and define the reporting process.

A large portion of state government won’t fall under Gov. Edwards’ task force, though. The Legislature, the courts, and the Justice, Agriculture and Forestry, Treasury and Insurance departments are outside the governor’s jurisdiction. The Secretary of State’s office, the lieutenant governor’s office, state parks and tourism also are independent operations.

The leaders of those agencies should do a self-examination to make sure their harassment policies are well defined and properly enforced. And they should consider adopting recommendations made by Gov. Edwards’ task force, where they apply.

The state’s examination comes as complaints of sexual harassment and abuse are surfacing from Congress to Hollywood to New Orleans. Minnesota Sen. Al Franken announced his resignation Thursday after seven women accused him of groping or forcibly kissing them.

There have been almost daily allegations of misbehavior since The New York Times reported Oct. 5 that producer Harvey Weinstein had for years sexually intimidated and tried to force himself on young women in the movie industry.

Here in New Orleans, celebrity chef John Besh stepped down from daily operations of his restaurant group after NOLA.com ‘ The Times-Picayune reported that 25 women said the company fostered a culture of sexual harassment.

With new accusations against Mr. Anderson, Gov. Edwards is smart to make sure the state’s policies are well defined. Every employee should understand how to behave and how to report someone who doesn’t. And someone with a history of sexual harassment complaints shouldn’t be put in a position to harass anyone else.

Online: http://www.nola.com/

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Dec. 10

The Advocate on potential changes to the Taylor Opportunity Program:

A legislative committee is looking at potential changes to the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students, a popular program that Louisiana can’t really afford, and hopefully the effort will produce a rational plan to trim the cost of the tuition waivers by gradually raising academic standards.

Raising the required grade-point average for high school students to qualify for TOPS would have a significant impact on the number of students who get the aid, according to figures provided to the panel. That may not be popular, but it’s a better solution than what the state is doing now: Freezing the size of TOPS grants.

Under current rules, college will pile on fee increases every year, meaning the percentage of higher education costs covered by TOPS will gradually shrink. Some of Louisiana’s brightest students will leave for schools like the University of Alabama, which distributes its scholarship money more strategically.

Right now, students have to earn at least a 2.5 on their high school core curriculum for the most common form of the aid, called TOPS Opportunity. Raising that to 2.75, as state Rep. Franklin Foil, R-Baton Rouge, proposed in a bill this year would reduce the number of eligible students by 19 percent, data supplied to the 10-member TOPS Task Force shows. The state House approved Foil’s measure, but senators balked.

Boosting the minimum GPA to 3.00 would trim the list of eligible high school students by 44 percent, according to figures from the Louisiana Office of Student Financial Assistance.

Those are intimidating numbers, but even Foil’s modest bill would not have taken effect until today’s 9th-graders graduate.

We agree with Foil that students should be given ample warning, such as four years ahead of time, for changes to the TOPS requirements. And we think there is plenty of experience to show that if students get notice, they will improve their high school performance.

In other words, it is misleading to suggest that the modestly higher requirement in the Foil bill - 2.75 as a GPA - constitutes a firing squad for today’s recipients.

What is the real threat to TOPS waivers? We have already seen it, when the award had to be reduced because the Legislature deadlocked over the budget; students in the spring semester this year had to write significantly higher checks to colleges as a result.

TOPS is popular, but in its current form it is not a good deal for the Louisiana taxpayer. Because standards are too low, at one time as many as a third of students lost their grants, although colleges reported they’ve done better to keep TOPS recipients on track. The last data available, from fiscal year 2016, suggests that 12 percent of students lost the award for academic reasons. But that percentage represents a waste of time for students and money for the state. Higher standards challenge students to do better and assure taxpayers their money is well spent.

Online: http://www.theadvocate.com/

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Dec. 9

American Press of Lake Charles on possible changes to Louisiana’s gaming laws:

The gambling industry is a major taxpayer in Louisiana, but only one major change in its operations has taken place over the last 25 years. Riverboats haven’t been required to sail since April 1, 2001, but other major changes could be on the way.

State Sen. Ronnie Johns, R-Sulphur, talked with The Advocate about possible revisions in gambling laws at the 2018 legislative session. The proposals would allow riverboats and other casinos to be able to more effectively compete with Native American casinos, which are not regulated by the states.

Three of the state’s 15 riverboat casinos are in Johns’ Senate district. Johns said Golden Nugget, Lake Charles’ newest riverboat, had to have a paddle wheel, a pilothouse and a crew and, “It’s sitting on a mud flat to make it legal.”

The state’s revenues from gambling totaled $916 million in 2016. Mineral revenues (primarily oil and gas) totaled only $581 million after serving as a major revenue producer for years.

Ronnie Jones, a former state trooper and head of the regulatory Louisiana Gaming Control Board, heads a task force looking into potential changes in the laws. He said gambling has to be looked at from an economic development advantage.

Casinos want to get off riverboats and onto dry land with gambling floors larger than 30,000 square feet. Native American casinos have no such restrictions. Additional space is needed for newer slot machines that are bigger. Casinos also want to quit paying taxes on the promotional money they send out to entice gamblers into their hotels and other facilities.

Sports betting is also on the agenda, depending on what the U.S. Supreme Court decides about the issue. A court decision could come in April.

Although casino gambling has been beneficial to states and casino owners, there is still the downside. The Advocate in an editorial said it has “lost count of the number of solid citizens and public officials who have become embroiled in bankruptcy or embezzlement because of gambling addiction.”

Nevertheless, competition requires that antiquated laws be updated. Johns said that can be accomplished without expanding gambling. The industry is a good source and provides good-paying jobs for state residents.

Online: http://www.americanpress.com/

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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