- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Recent editorials from Louisiana newspapers:

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May 5

The Town Talk says action needs to be taken on the approaching “fiscal cliff”:

By this point, pretty much everyone has heard about the dreaded “fiscal cliff,” the term used to describe the effects of a revenue decline that will happen June 30 when $1.4 billion in state taxes expire.



Citizens are also equally aware of the contentious and partisan nature of the thus-far unsuccessful efforts to resolve the problem. Whether it’s the Governor versus the Legislature, the House versus the Senate, Democrats versus Republicans, or one caucus against another caucus, there has been ample media coverage of the reported animosity between lawmakers tasked with crafting the state budget.

“Don’t believe everything you read in the newspapers,” Sen. Gerald Long told more than 80 business leaders from Central Louisiana recently during the Central Louisiana Regional Chamber of Commerce’s Central Louisiana Day at the Legislature.

Standing in a line of local representatives that included Sen. Jay Luneau, Sen. Jim Fannin, Rep. Lance Harris, Rep. Jeff Hall, and Rep. Robert Johnson - a mix featuring Democrats and Republicans - Long indicated relationships are not as contentious as folks are lead to believe.

“We are a very tight-knit group,” Long said. While acknowledging they had different viewpoints, Long said they were all on the same page when it came to serving the people of Louisiana. And, to be fair, everyone appeared to be getting along just fine as they mingled with guests. There were no dirty looks or snide jabs slipped into remarks. To the casual observer, it looked like a happy group of professionals.

Just about the time it looked like they would all link arms and join in a moving rendition of Kumbaya one of the chamber guests asked about the possibility of calling a constitutional convention.

It was a fair question. One of the chief complaints about the current budget cutting process is the heavy toll it has taken on healthcare and higher education because, after meeting the constitutionally-mandated funding obligations, those are about the only places left lawmakers can go to make meaningful reductions.

Bills have been filed seeking to call a constitutional convention, but none have advanced thus far. The consensus of the local delegation was that there is a lot of skepticism about calling a convention.

Why? Because, they said, there is so much partisanship that effective compromises needed to move forward are unlikely at this time. Rep. Johnson went so far as to say he was concerned that if they called a constitutional convention with the current atmosphere in the capitol, the state could “end up in worse shape than we are now.” So much for a tight-knit group that gets along.

The good news is lawmakers - from the Governor to legislators - genuinely agreed things need to improve. Everyone we met with uttered the phrases “we need to do better” and “it shouldn’t be this hard” in one form or another. So far, that seems to be one of the few things they all agree on.

We understand legislators are weary of reading reports about how contentious things are inside 900 North Third Street in Baton Rouge. Citizens are weary too - weary of waiting for solutions to issues even lawmakers admit should have been solved long ago.

So, to those lawmakers seeking more positive coverage, we have good news. It is, as you all said, not that hard - just do all that stuff you said you were going to do to benefit the people and get the state on the solid fiscal foundation it needs. We’ll be happy to report the good news.

Online: https://www.thetowntalk.com

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May 9

The Times-Picayune says pre-K is an essential investment for Louisiana’s future:

Legislators invariably talk about their dedication to Louisiana children, but they haven’t backed it up.

Preschool funding has eroded over the past decade, with the Legislature cutting the early childhood education budget year after year. Now, 5,200 families are on a waiting list for aid through the Child Care Assistance Program, which provides aid for low-income working parents and for parents who are in school or job training. The program was serving almost 40,000 children 10 years ago, but only has money for 15,000 today.

Rep. Steve Carter, a Baton Rouge Republican, came up with a way to start to change that trend. His House Bill 513 would use a portion of the proceeds of the sale of unclaimed property for the early childhood fund. It would produce $10 million per year for four years, which would take care of half of the waiting list.

The bill easily passed the House, but it appears to be in trouble in the Senate Finance Committee. State Treasurer John Schroder believes the state should hold onto the money and create a trust fund that eventually will produce income. The Finance Committee is worried about approving anything that has a cost attached because of the budget deficit the state is facing July 1 when temporary taxes are scheduled to expire.

Those are reasonable arguments, but so are the arguments for HB 513.

What better investment for this money than Louisiana’s youngest children? Legislators passed comprehensive reforms in 2012 meant to improve the quality of early childhood education. That put them on record that preschool is important to our state. So, they ought to be eager to put this money into the Child Care Assistance Program.

Ready Louisiana, a coalition of 39 community and business groups advocating for preschool funding, makes a strong case for investing in young children: “Ninety percent of brain development takes place between birth and age four, wiring a child’s brain for future success or failure in school, work, and life. Yet in Louisiana, we know that more than 40 (percent) of Kindergartners start school behind their peers - and those who start behind are more likely to stay behind.”

The coalition includes the New Orleans Chamber of Commerce, Jefferson Business Council, Agenda for Children and Kingsley House. New Orleans Police Superintendent Michael Harrison is an advocate for preschool funding as well.

“When kids show up to the first day of kindergarten ready to learn, they are more likely to stay in school, graduate on time and avoid a life of crime. What’s more, we know quality early learning programs can help prevent kids from ever engaging in crime,” he said in a letter to NOLA.com ‘ The Times-Picayune.

“Investing now in quality early childhood programs like preschool and child care will save us huge costs down the road in remedial education, health, and - most importantly to me - incarceration,” he said in the letter.

A lack of preschool options also can undermine parents’ jobs. A 2017 report by the Louisiana Policy Institute for Children, LSU, Loyola University and Entergy found 18.5 percent of parents went from full-time to part-time work and 16 percent had to quit their jobs because of child care problems. In addition, 40 percent had to miss work or leave early during a 90-day period.

The lost wages and productivity connected to child care costs the state’s economy an estimated $1 billion annually, the report found.

“The research is clear that investment in early care and education is one of the smartest investments our state can make,” Ready Louisiana said in a statement.

The Senate Finance Committee ought to understand that.

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

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May 8

The Houma Courier says it’s time for Louisiana to get rid of its split-verdict law:

You don’t need to know much about Louisiana’s split-verdict law to recognize that it should have been changed long ago.

The law, which allows felony defendants to be convicted by 10 of 12 jurors rather than requiring a unanimous verdict, is an anomaly that has an ugly history.

First, only one other state - Oregon - has such a law. There, too, defendants can be sent to prison for long stretches even when there is no unanimous agreement on juries about their guilt.

Second, the law came out of the 1898 state constitutional convention, an event that bragged about being to “establish the supremacy of the white race.”

The state Legislature is considering a bill that could result in the law being changed. The bill would allow voters statewide to decide on a constitutional amendment to bring our state into line with nearly every other one.

This is a change that is needed. But regardless of whether you think the law should change, the voters should get the opportunity to have their say on this fundamental aspect of our criminal justice system.

Gov. John Bel Edwards has endorsed the bill, meaning that it has picked up some momentum.

“I do believe we ought to pass this important bill in the Legislature and allow the people of Louisiana to consider it,” Edwards said. “We are an outlier when we shouldn’t be, and there’s no reason to deviate from the norm. I believe it’s the right policy goal, and if you look at when and how the current law was implemented, its roots are not in keeping with the highest ideals of our state.”

That much is certainly true. The law in Louisiana came about as an effort to nullify the chances that two black jurors in the newly emancipated South could side with a defendant and deprive prosecutors of a conviction. The law in Oregon has a similarly racist past.

Edwards correctly points out that in this part of our criminal justice system, which locks away more of our people than any other state - and by a huge margin - we a nearly alone. That is reason enough to consider a change. But the overtly racist background behind the law makes it unquestionably bad.

The voters of Louisiana should have the chance to right a wrong that has been in place for more than a century.

Let’s hope legislators will do the right thing.

Online: http://www.houmatoday.com/

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