Sometimes good intentions don't pave the road to hell — just to Baton Rouge. Such is the case in this year's legislative session when it comes to two hot-button issues — abortion and Common Core educational standards.
Rep. Katrina Jackson, D-Monroe, an attorney and head of the Legislative Black Caucus, has filed HB 388, the "Unsafe Abortion Protection Act," the title of which suggests it has the health and safety of women in mind. Among its provisions: requiring physicians to register with the state if they provide more than five abortions a year (the limit is currently five per month); and making sure physicians have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of a clinic where they perform abortions. Supporters say the latter change would make things safer for women if something should go wrong, but pro-choice advocates say it's a back door attempt to shutter abortion clinics (of which there are only five in the state).
It's debatable whether Jackson's legislation would make abortions safer, but it is clear whose agenda it advances. Louisiana Right to Life and the Bioethics Defense Fund, two pro-life groups, say they have "worked with Representative Jackson to prepare the legislation." Earlier this month, Gov. Bobby Jindal's office issued a press release praising Jackson's bill, along with another Right to Life-backed bill, this one by Rep. Frank Hoffmann, R-West Monroe, who appeared with Jackson and Jindal at a press conference touting the two bills. "If Roe v. Wade is ever overturned, we already have a law in place that immediately makes it law you can't do an abortion," Hoffmann said, with Jindal and Jackson at his side. "But until then, we want to make it as difficult as possible for the people doing that." That may or may not be what Jackson had in mind, but it's a consequence of her bill.
Despite the bill's title, its effect and its supporters indicate it has little to do with safety. It's true intent likely is to make it more difficult to get a safe abortion in Louisiana. No doubt many feel that's a worthy goal, and we respect everyone's right to form their own opinion on this and all issues. But when it comes to the political art of promoting legislation, we stand for truth and full disclosure.
Then there's Common Core, the set of national education standards that was commissioned by the National Governors Association in 2009 and adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia. Louisiana legislators approved it in 2012. It did not proscribe textbooks, but left wide latitude for communities, teachers and parents to adopt their own. Common Core was adopted with little fanfare, but last year it became a cause celebre — tied incorrectly by some to President Barack Obama. In truth, Common Core was first backed by Republican governors and approved by governors from both parties, including Jindal. Interestingly, Jindal has been largely silent as the controversy has grown.
In the face of mounting criticism from parents in school districts that were not fully prepared to implement Common Core, Louisiana Superintendent of Education John White said in November 2013 that the state would delay implementation of many of Common Core's standard measurements. (They won't be fully in place for the class of 2016, for instance.) This year's legislative session features a raft of bills designed to weaken or dismantle Common Core entirely. Here again, good intentions are likely to bring unintended consequences. While Common Core is far from perfect, abandoning higher standards is not an option. Common Core should be fixed, not discarded.
State Sen. Conrad Appel, R-Metairie, is chair of the Senate Education Committee and a staunch supporter of Common Core, even as many in his party are leading the charge to scuttle it. He defends Common Core as "simply a set of standards establishing what every student should and needs to know." Meanwhile, Reps. Cameron Henry, R-Jefferson, and Jerome Richard, I-Thibodeaux, have filed bills that would remove Louisiana from Common Core standards entirely and "restore previous standards." That means Louisiana schoolchildren would be measured by the same metrics that failing public schools used for too long. Intended or not, that's a consequence Louisiana cannot afford.
The legislative process is intended to be deliberative, to give lawmakers and citizens a chance to study proposed laws and to anticipate the consequences of rulemaking. As Louisiana lawmakers consider these and other hot-button issues, we hope they will deliberate and act with clear-headedness — not out of political expediency.