- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Recent editorials from Louisiana newspapers:

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Feb. 10

The Houma Courier on flood insurance:

Flood insurance reform is again on Congress’ agenda, this time in a bill that seeks to rein in the billions of dollars U.S. taxpayers spend to repair houses that flood repeatedly.



Since there are a lot of those around here, Terrebonne and Lafourche stand to be affected.

At its root, the bipartisan measure makes sense. You can read about the details on today’s front page, but in gist it would require communities to with lots of of repeat-loss properties to submit flood-prevention plans. So parish councils, in our case, would have to do that if they want their communities to participate in the National Flood Insurance Program. The program, administered by FEMA, is the only place most Americans can buy flood insurance, so it amounts to a mandate in a flood-prone community Like ours.

The bill also requires FEMA to establish a system of enforcing the rules and would set up assistance programs for communities that comply.

Reducing the amount spent on homes that repeatedly flood is one way, proponents say, to cut the flood insurance program’s debt, now estimated at more than $20 billion, and put it on more solid financial footing in the long-term. Sponsors of the new bill say repetitive-loss properties make up just 1% of those covered by the flood insurance program but result in up to 30% of all claims.

Here’s how the R Street Institute, a conservative-leaning think tank based in Washington that has long been involved in the debate over flood-insurance reform, describes the benefits.

“Investing in mitigation is a far more cost-effective use of taxpayer dollars than continuing to pay out claims and extend disaster assistance to the same places over and over again,” says R.J. Lehmann, the institute’s director of finance, insurance and trade policy, said Friday in a prepared statement. “This legislation takes a carrot-and-stick approach to the problem of repeat flood losses, facilitating access to mitigation funding for communities that take the initiative, with potentially significant financial consequences for those that do not.”

As with most such proposals, the devil will be in the details. What kind of special assistance will be given to homeowners who repeatedly flood? Will it be enough for them to elevate their homes? To move to higher ground?

Terrebonne and Lafourche are already ahead of the game in some sense. Both parishes have a long history of using FEMA grants to buy out or elevate hundreds of homes that have flooded repeatedly.

But The Courier and Daily Comet’s examination of those programs last year found numerous problems. Families who lose their homes to flooding must wade through arduous paperwork and bureaucracy to qualify and receive the aid, a process that can take years. We found one local family who waited four years from the time it applied to the time it received the grant money. Faced with such a daunting process, some families either choose not to begin or give up midstream. Others can’t afford the 25% matching money required to qualify for a grant to elevate their homes.

One of the bill’s authors describes it as a “win-win” — saving taxpayers billions while helping families escape the cycle of flood, rebuild, repeat. A win-win would be great. But residents need assurances that it really is a win for them, one that makes it simpler and more affordable to elevate and flood-proof their homes or move to higher ground.

Online: https://www.houmatoday.com/

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Feb. 10

The Advocate on being prepared for cyber attacks:

One can agree or disagree with Gov. John Bel Edwards on many things, but here’s one prognostication to Louisiana’s municipal officials that is just about money in the bank: It’s not a question of if, but when, a cyberattack cripples computer networks vital to government and the public it serves.

Be prepared.

The governor’s warning was delivered last week to the Louisiana Municipal Association, mayors and council members from across the state.

Many of them struggle with tight budgets and, particularly in rural areas, crippling shortfalls caused by declining populations and resulting lower tax collections.

The governor’s administration has done the right things in response to the threat that is a danger to businesses as well as governments everywhere. But the costs of defense against cyberattacks is substantial.

Nevertheless, the governor said, the costs of cybercrime attacks really hurt.

“If you think this is something that is easily overcome, go talk to one of the eight or 10 school systems that have been hit since last July,” Edwards said. “Go talk to the city of New Orleans. Go talk to various sheriff departments, or the convention center. They actually hit the state of Louisiana on the Monday after the election in November. So this is going to happen. I’m asking you all to do what you can to be prepared for it.”

He is surely correct to focus on these issues. A ransom demand can come at any time, with a virus having locked up databases unless the agency pays.

As the governor also correctly observed, paying up is not a good idea. For private-sector victims, perhaps it happens, but an agency that uses tax dollars to buy off a cyberattack would surely pay not only a financial but a political price.

What is the answer? There is no single solution, but state government collaborates with major universities to protect against attacks. The governor urged local officials to consider cybersecurity insurance.

If the proper response to a ransomware attack might be different between a public entity or private business, every institution is in the same boat when it comes to finding and hiring well-qualified information technology staff.

Obviously, training is a must. In Baton Rouge, a $1.5 million cybersecurity training and operations center was announced last year inside downtown’s Water Campus complex. The Louisiana National Guard is among the participants in that project.

But legislators, who ultimately control the state budget, must also be aware that paying competitively to keep IT staff is essential to future operations.

And given the problems facing many smaller towns and cities across Louisiana, the state must be a resource for them: Those officials will be looking for help when their computers freeze.

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

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Feb. 5

The (Lake Charles) American Press on rural parishes getting high-speed internet:

Three rural parishes west of Baton Rouge are going to get high-speed internet connections in one of the revived efforts to get that service to some of the 494,000 rural Louisiana residents who don’t have those connections.

The 200 miles of fiber-optic cable will help 2,609 homes, 12 businesses and 16 farms in Iberville, St. Landry and Pointe Coupee parishes reach faster speeds, according to a report in The Advocate.

The $15.5 million project was announced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Star Communications of Maringouin will receive a $7.7 million federal grant and matching loan to do the work, which is expected to take about five years to complete.

Roy Hollemon, USDA’s rural development director for Louisiana, said, “USDA is committed to this strong partnership with rural communities in deploying this critical infrastructure. We know when rural America thrives, all of America thrives.”

Hospitals and medical facilities have begun offering services for rural patients to video chat with doctors, which saves them long trips. Farmers are also using more technology that relies on strong internet connections.

Leslie Durham, Gov. John Bel Edwards designee to the Delta Regional Authority where the grant was announced, said, “When students can do their homework at home and not at a McDonald’s, it’s worth it.”

When the project is completed, customers will have a range of packages from which to choose, ranging from $40 to $100 per month for internet speeds that match what customers in Baton Rouge and New Orleans are receiving.

The newspaper said people in rural parishes often rely on their cellphones or satellite service, which is slower and less reliable than cable or fiber-optic internet. An Iberville STEM Academy senior said the school has increased its focus on computerized assignments and slow internet causes problems.

Michael Chauffe, mayor of Grosse Tete, said internet speed is often a sticking point for businesses and developers who want to build in the city. Faster speeds will give residential and business development a jolt in the future, he said.

The Federal Communications Commission launched the $20 billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund to expand rural broadband development last week. The new Trump administration program is aimed at extending internet coverage.

The FCC said 188,000 Louisiana households would be eligible for the program, and the state needs to participate. No one should be satisfied until all of those 494,000 people in rural Louisiana have access to high-speed internet.

Online: https://www.americanpress.com/

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