- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Recent editorials from Louisiana newspapers:

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March 23

The (Lake Charles) American Press on low oil costs:

Lafayette, our sister city to the east, is once again experiencing an oil price crisis. Oil and gas companies became optimistic after the 2014 crisis when oil prices rose, but the coronavirus pandemic had oil prices Wednesday trading below $21 per barrel.



Mack Miller, the owner of Merlin Oil and Gas, a small Lafayette company that arranges onshore leases, told The Advocate, “I can tell you in unadulterated fashion, if these prices stay where they are, in six months, I will probably not be in business.”

The newspaper said in 2016 the Lafayette-area gross domestic product shrank at the second-fastest rate in the country because of oil prices that bottomed out at $37 per barrel. Prices rose into the $50-$60 range, where they were at the start of this year.

Energy companies and related businesses comprised 29.4% of the Lafayette-area gross domestic product (GDP) as of October, according to the Lafayette Economic Development Authority’s analysis of federal data. That was down from 45% in 2015, and roughly 70% in the 1980s.

The Advocate said Lafayette, in one way, may be better positioned to survive the current oil crash than previous ones because the city has attracted non-energy companies, particularly those in health care and technology. Houma, which has a smaller mix of similar businesses, isn’t so lucky.

Unemployment in the Lafayette area grew 0.4% last year, similar to the statewide average, but the Bureau of Labor Statistics said Houma continued to lose jobs. That is because as panic over the coronavirus pandemic emptied airplanes, Saudi Arabia and Russia failed to agree on production cuts, and Saudi Arabia then doubled down by increasing product.

Eric Smith, associate director of the Tulane University Energy Institute, said the rest of the year is probably a “write-off,” with pre-coronavirus prices sticking around through the end of 2021. Meanwhile, the Trump administration said it is seeking $3 billion from Congress to top up the country’s strategic petroleum reserves, potentially propping up U.S. oil producers after crude prices crashed globally.

Although far from certain, state Economist Loren Scott said he thinks prices may begin to recover by June because the Russians won’t be able to withstand a prolonged crash.

Scott probably spoke for most of us when he said the future is far from certain. For all of us, the good news we desperately need can’t come too soon.

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

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March 22

The Advocate on state parole laws:

The aftermath of Joyce Thomas’ awful death may have cast a pall over prison reform enthusiasm in our state. It cannot.

The elderly Ville Platte woman was murdered two weeks ago; a longtime inmate paroled in 2019 stands squarely in the center of an investigation into the death of Thomas, who was deaf and mute. There may have been more unthinkable crimes in the history of Evangeline Parish, where Thomas lived, or in St. Landry Parish, where her body was found, but they would be hard to recollect.

There was no shortage of public outrage over this crime, either. But whatever regret we hold should be aimed at the guilty party, after investigation and trial, and it should drive us to improve our parole laws and practices, not discard them.

Victims and law enforcement officers opposed early release for the accused man, Phillip Dewoody, 53, who had spent the previous quarter-century behind bars prior to his parole. His crimes in the 1980s were violent and heartless; prosecutors in Ruston recounted his criminal actions involved rape and violent robbery and kidnapping, with “ruthless disregard” for his victims. Why was he freed?

In short, he was freed because the law as written in 1990 permitted consideration of his release. His parole had nothing to do with recent reforms. He was older than 45 and served more than 20 years, bench marks for parole consideration. His 2018 motion for a parole board hearing - it was his third; others were denied - said his conduct in prison had been good, that he’d served as a trusted prisoner at Angola, that he wasn’t in lockdown. He had sought and completed self-improvement programs, had job and residence plans that ostensibly met basic parole requirements.

Moreover, the prisoner said he had understood the pain he had caused victims and regretted it. He had changed, he insisted, and would not err again. The accused man still deserves the presumption of innocence and a fair trial. Everybody does.

On the surface, he looked like a viable candidate for a release - then. Parole is a long process, but it’s not an exact science. Hindsight is always more certain than foresight.

But Louisianians must remember, too, that we have parole laws for good reason. Louisiana imprisons some 1,500 people for every 100,000 population, at or near the highest rate in America. We cannot continue to bear the financial and human costs of that.

The easy answer - lock them up, toss the key - failed. The braver, tougher course is to keep improving the system, making Louisiana safer for everyone.

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

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March 19

The Houe Courier on supporting small businesses:

Dealing with the coronavirus crisis requires public officials to make decisions that try to save lives without wrecking the economy. It is the case here in Terrebonne and Lafourche as it is across the state, nation and world.

It’s a difficult balancing act, and saving lives obviously demands top priority. Amid the fallout, some economists have said there is a high probability that mass closures, plant shutdowns, social distancing and a host of actions aimed at slowing the deadly virus’s spread could be severe enough to cause a global recession.

Small businesses in Louisiana can get some relief after Thursday’ announcement that federal disaster loans will be available to help Louisiana’s 440,000 small businesses deal with financial losses.

“Our hope is that these SBA disaster loans will be an important part of sustaining their businesses and providing support to their employees who make up over half of Louisiana’s private-sector workforce,” Gov. John Bel Edwards said in announcing the action.

It’s probably going to take a lot more than loans to help many small businesses survive.

Stephen Waguespack, president of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, puts that into perspective in a column published Thursday by The Courier and Daily Comet.

“Will there be any small businesses left when this is done? I know it sounds alarmist, but the question is absolutely legitimate,” Waguespack wrote. “Talk to any mom-and-pop restaurant or store owner and they will tell you we are in a crisis. The festivals and cultural events that drove their markets have been canceled. The students who used to be their customers have returned home. Their ability to serve customers inside their own establishments has been banned. Their employees are like family to them and they are desperately trying to do what is right by them, but profit margins for many of these entities average about one to two percent, and there is simply no cash flow available to pay bills and wages. The rent is due, and their supply chains are disrupted.”

Waguespack suggests that state and federal lawmakers are going to have to enact bold and creative actions to prevent many small businesses from going under.

“Tax credits that can be used down the road are nice, but they don’t help much when cash flow is nonexistent since the government has shut down your business and banned your customers from coming to see you,” he said. “Low-interest loans only help so much when the loans you already have to operate your low-margin business are overdue.”

Look for more actions from Congress soon. In the meantime, those with the means to do so can help by patronizing local businesses whenever possible through this crisis. Buy a drive-through meal from a local restaurant. Purchase a gift card you can use when the business opens later.

It’s often said that small businesses are the backbone of any community, a major source of jobs and economic vitality. Ensuring they can sustain themselves through this pandemic will be essential to Houma-Thibodaux’s long-term recovery.

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

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