- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Recent editorials from Louisiana newspapers:

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Oct. 17

The Lake Charles American Press on the declaration of Hurricane Harvey money for the state:

Monday was a major victory for those in Louisiana who were impacted by the landfall and subsequent flooding brought on by Tropical Storm Harvey last month.

President Donald Trump issued a major disaster declaration for the state. It’s an important step because it can trigger federal dollars to help those whose homes were flooded by Harvey.

Under the declaration, public assistance funding will be dedicated to Calcasieu, Cameron, Allen, Beauregard and Vernon parishes for all categories. Public assistance funding covers repairs or replacing facilities damaged by the storm, along with assistance for emergency work. According to the FEMA website, that money is distributed to government organizations, including cities and parishes.

Jeff Davis Parish falls under emergency protective measures, including direct federal assistance.

According to the declaration, individual assistance remains “under review.” That money would help residents with temporary housing, expenses related to lodging and repairing their home.

It remains unclear if or when President Trump will designate individual assistance for Louisiana residents. Politicians are hoping he follows suit as he did with the public assistance.

U.S. Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., thanked Trump for directing public assistance to the parishes affected by Harvey, but said residents whose homes and businesses were devastated should “have direct access to the tools necessary for rebuilding.”

U.S. Rep. Clay Higgins said Trump’s disaster declaration “is righteous and long overdue.”

Compared to residents in Southeast Texas, many Southwest Louisiana residents were spared the severe flooding that Harvey brought in during its landfall. But those in Louisiana who are picking up the pieces after their homes and businesses took in water should not be left out when it comes to federal help.

It has taken longer than some may have wanted it to, but Trump should be commended for making the disaster declaration for those parishes hurt by Harvey. Let’s hope he extends that relief to the individual side so that residents can get the dollars needed to rebound from the storm.

Online: www.americanpress.com

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Oct. 18

The Times-Picayune on voter turnout:

Louisiana Secretary of State Tom Schedler predicted before the Oct. 14 election that turnout would be no more than 15 percent. That abysmal number was actually optimistic. Only 13.5 percent of registered voters across the state turned out to vote for a new treasurer, local offices and constitutional amendments.

Mr. Schedler held out some hope in his pre-election message that voters would surprise him. “I have indicated that I’ll happily eat crow if Louisiana’s voters prove me wrong, and I hope they do. Polls will be open all day Saturday and there is plenty of time to still participate in this important statewide election cycle. Every vote counts, so geaux vote!”

Instead, the state set a new low for voter participation.

New Orleans’ 31.9 percent turnout in the mayor’s race may look better by comparison, but that is an anemic number for such a vital election. And the vote totals dropped off from there. Only 23 percent of registered voters cast ballots in the District E City Council race, where incumbent James Gray was pushed into a runoff with challenger Cyndi Nguyen.

Council races in Districts B and C only had 25 percent participation, according to analysis by University of New Orleans Survey Research Center Director Ed Chervenak. In District C, former council member Kristen Gisleson Palmer defeated incumbent Nadine Ramsey by 112 votes. Basically, one-eighth of voters in the district chose the winner.

Certainly, every vote was precious in that race, but it is distressing that there wasn’t more interest.

Mr. Schedler said in an interview with WAFB in Baton Rouge that part of the problem statewide could be election fatigue. He suggested possibly cutting the number of election dates to help ensure that high-profile races are on each ballot. Elections involving every parish cost his office $6 million no matter how many or how few voters turn out. Spending that much money when only 13.5 percent of voters show up doesn’t seem smart.

The Legislature already cut out summer election dates that drew fewer voters, but it is worth discussing whether it makes sense to scale back further.

There is a bigger problem, though: Apathy.

There are no races more important to a community than for mayor and City Council. The mayor of New Orleans chooses the police chief and the people who oversee drainage, city finances, the airport, economic development and all the other daily operations of City Hall. Those decisions determine how easy - or not - it is to get a business license or construction permit, whether garbage is picked up on time and whether streets flood in a rainstorm.

The City Council has final say over the city budget and which programs get priority. Do you want more money for recreation, for police salaries, for paving? Who’s on the council should matter to you.

Yet more than two-thirds of New Orleans voters were disengaged in the primary election. Some people complained that none of the 18 mayoral candidates excited them. But that isn’t a valid excuse.

Democracy doesn’t promise that every race will have perfect candidates, just that we get to choose one of them. There were serious, experienced candidates in all of these races. Voters should have been able to make a choice, even if they decided to cast a protest vote.

There is a second chance in the mayor’s race, Districts B and E, Orleans Parish Civil District Court and the treasurer’s race. The runoff election is Nov. 18. Early voting is Nov. 3-11, excluding Sunday.

With even fewer races on the ballot, voters may be even less inclined to vote. Don’t let that happen. These are important decisions, and we ought to all help make them.

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

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Oct. 16

The Advocate on Caddo Parish Sheriff Steve Prator’s remarks on inmates:

If you can’t have trustys on hand to change the oil in your cars, or cook meals, how is a poor sheriff’s office going to carry on?

That appears to be a big problem for Caddo Parish Sheriff Steve Prator, who embarrassed himself and the state with inappropriate remarks about inmates. But the impact of this is not just bad publicity for the state of Louisiana, but an insight into how sheriffs operate.

The sheriff gave a briefing in Shreveport objecting to the planned release of a number of nonviolent prisoners on Nov. 1, the product of reform legislation designed to help Louisiana end its two-decade reign as America’s leading jailer. None were convicted of gun or sex crimes. Further, as Prator clumsily said, many are “good” inmates who have qualified for early release under the new state law.

“In addition to the bad ones - and I call these bad - in addition to them, they’re releasing some good ones that we use every day to wash cars, to change oil in our cars, to cook in the kitchen, to do all that, where we save money,” Prator said. “Well, they’re going to let them out.”

But keeping inmates because they can handle chores is not in the best interest of taxpayers. The “good” inmates - those who behave and work with dedication and responsibility - are the ones we should be releasing.

Louisianians ought to be able to trust our sheriffs on questions of public safety - important decisions like who should be in jail but also who should be set free. But Prator, in a moment of candor, underscored the ways in which sheriffs are compromised because they have become addicted to the money and free labor that flows from Louisiana’s culture of incarceration.

Louisiana has for years put too many people in jail for smaller offenses, folks who in most states are in work-release or other supervision. And too many are housed in parish prisons, where sheriffs profit from per-diem fees but do little to provide services like job training.

The new Louisiana law is intended to bring our system into line with those in other places, including Texas and several southern states.

Reforming this system is a good idea, and an extraordinary bipartisan coalition formed in the Legislature to pass a set of bills signed into law by Gov. John Bel Edwards.

An inmate sentenced to 10 years - who behaves well enough to be eligible for parole - would see an average sentence reduction of 63 days under the new rules.

Every month, about 1,000 or so prisoners serve their time and leave prison, so release of trustys is a routine part of jail operations. Louisiana cannot afford to go on for two more decades as America’s prison capital. Prator, a popular Republican in a Democratic parish, needs to show his voters that he can help our state change.

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

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