John Bel Edwards

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Chickening out on criminal justice reform

Posted By on Sun, Apr 8, 2018 at 11:48 AM

CREATIVE COMMONS/NEIL CONWAY
  • CREATIVE COMMONS/NEIL CONWAY

Criminal justice reform was among the few bright spots in last year’s dispiriting legislative session. Lawmakers adopted far-reaching laws that traded “tough on crime” grandstanding for “smart on crime” policies that have been proven to work.

The Justice Reinvestment Task Force, a nonpartisan coalition of conservatives, liberals, clergy, judges, law enforcement, business people and civic leaders, spent a year developing legislation that streamlined Louisiana’s hodgepodge sentencing laws. The reforms were enacted with broad bipartisan support.

Many leading Republicans supported — and still support — criminal justice reform. A handful of ambitious demagogues are now attacking it with lies and scare tactics, not because they care about public safety (the reforms actually promote public safety) but because they hope to grab cheap headlines and run for another office. U.S. Sen. John Neely Kennedy, who can’t seem to stop running for something, is the most glaring (and shameless) example.

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Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Louisiana Senate rejects equal pay, minimum wage bills

Posted By on Tue, Mar 27, 2018 at 7:35 PM

PHOTO BY BOB SMITH
  • PHOTO BY BOB SMITH

The Louisiana Senate failed to pass three bills working to close gender-based pay disparities and lift families out of poverty by increasing the minimum wage by $1.25 from the current federal minimum of $7.25.

New Orleans Democratic Sens. J.P. Morrell and Troy Carter sponsored a package of bills — one extending equal pay protections to women working with state contracts, another establishing a state minimum wage of $8.50 by 2020, and other prohibiting employers from firing employees for discussing wages. They narrowly passed a Senate committee earlier this month.

Morrell's extension of the Louisiana Equal Pay for Women Act, which currently applies to state workers, would apply to businesses with state contracts. It failed by a vote of 18-20.

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Monday, March 26, 2018

Legislation, lawsuit show push-pull over abortion rights in Louisiana

Posted By on Mon, Mar 26, 2018 at 6:11 PM

A Planned Parenthood supporter steps in front of an anti-abortion activist at a 2017 rally. - PHOTO BY KAT STROMQUIST
  • PHOTO BY KAT STROMQUIST
  • A Planned Parenthood supporter steps in front of an anti-abortion activist at a 2017 rally.

As a legal battle rages over neighboring Mississippi's recent ban on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, similar legislation and a lawsuit demonstrate ongoing tensions over the right to obtain an abortion in Louisiana.

The Louisiana Senate's judiciary committee will soon consider two bills that could further restrict abortion access in the state, including a 15-week ban that mirrors Mississippi's. Meanwhile, Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast and Planned Parenthood Center for Choice have filed suit against the Louisiana Department of Health (LDH) over what the organization says is an unnecessary delay in the processing of an abortion license for its Claiborne Avenue health center.

Together, the bills and lawsuit underline the fraught environment for abortion rights proponents and women who may need an abortion in Louisiana, which lost one of its few remaining abortion clinics last year. According to Guttmacher Institute data, there were seven clinics operating in Louisiana in 2011; today there are just three.

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Thursday, March 15, 2018

Louisiana equal pay protections, minimum wage increase clear Senate committee

Posted By on Thu, Mar 15, 2018 at 3:36 PM

PHOTO BY KAT STROMQUIST
  • PHOTO BY KAT STROMQUIST

Baton Rouge lawmakers have moved forward a package of bills that aim to end gender-based pay disparities, establish a statewide minimum wage and combat workplace discrimination.

The state Senate's Labor and Industrial Relations committee on March 15 advanced seven bills from New Orleans Sens. J.P. Morrell and Troy Carter, who were joined by Gov. John Bel Edwards urging approval for the measures listed among his legislative priorities this session. The bills now head to the full state Senate.

Carter's Senate Bill 162 would establish an hourly minimum wage of $8 beginning in 2019, which would then increase to $8.50 in 2020. Louisiana is among five states that that have not set a minimum wage above the federal minimum of $7.25.

Morrell's Senate Bill 117 requires companies that contract with the state to adhere to the state's Equal Pay Law, and his Senate Bill 149 prohibits employers from discriminating or retaliating against employees for discussing wages — an effort to promote wage transparency and highlight pay discrepancies that breach protections for equal pay for equal work.

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Editorial: Baton Rouge gridlock as a political cudgel? Enough. Enough.

Posted By on Thu, Mar 15, 2018 at 1:17 PM

Rep. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, said in a Facebook post this week that the Louisiana Department of Health is “cannibalizing” other agencies. If that’s true, Henry should be able to identify specific cuts to state health services. - PHOTO BY SARAH GAMARD
  • PHOTO BY SARAH GAMARD
  • Rep. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, said in a Facebook post this week that the Louisiana Department of Health is “cannibalizing” other agencies. If that’s true, Henry should be able to identify specific cuts to state health services.

This week, addressing state legislators’ recent failure to renew or replace an expiring “temporary” sales tax, Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne said, “I hope the Legislature doesn’t morph into the Professional Can-Kickers Association.”

Too late.

Year after year, state lawmakers have dealt with Louisiana’s fiscal problems by applying the budgetary equivalent of duct tape and baling wire, using one-time funds and other gimmicks to pay for recurring expenses — all to avoid addressing systemic, significant, recurring shortfalls in the state’s annual budget. Moody’s Investors Service years ago summed up our predicament by noting that then-Gov. Bobby Jindal’s fiscal policies had given Louisiana a “structural deficit.” That deficit remains today because Republican leaders in the state House of Representatives are hell-bent on keeping Jindal’s disastrous policies in place — because they don’t want to give Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, a “win.”

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Friday, March 9, 2018

In the Louisiana legislature, it's always Groundhog Day

Posted By on Fri, Mar 9, 2018 at 1:21 PM

thinkstockphotos-186380051.jpg

Since the collapse of the recent special session, many have called any attempt to get state lawmakers to fix Louisiana’s fiscal problems “Groundhog Day.” It’s a reference to the movie in which a misanthropic character played by Bill Murray keeps waking up in Punxsutawney on Feb. 2 until he finally gets his act together.

With lawmakers going back into session a mere week after the special session’s acrimonious implosion, it appears the latest Bayou State Groundhog Day is March 12. This time, however, legislators will be constitutionally barred from considering revenue-raising bills, at least until they convene for yet another Groundhog Day — um, I mean special session — in late May or early June.

How many Groundhog Days can Louisiana voters stand?

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Friday, March 2, 2018

Louisiana legislature a study in chaos

Posted By on Fri, Mar 2, 2018 at 1:47 PM

ZRFPHOTO
  • zrfphoto

Anyone who wants to study the application of Chaos Theory to politics should examine the Louisiana Legislature, but it may help to do so with lots of mind-numbing substances. It won’t explain anything, but it will dull the pain.

The first thing to remember, however, is that it’s the Legislature’s job to provide for the short- and long-term fiscal stability of state government. The governor can recommend courses of action, but it’s lawmakers’ job to get it done. When the job doesn’t get done, the fault lies with them alone.
The Council for A Better Louisiana (CABL), a nonpartisan government watchdog group, reminded lawmakers of this in a March 1 letter. Here’s an excerpt:

“The first and foremost [thing to do] right now is to bring stability and sustainability to the budget. That is perhaps the most basic responsibility of the Legislature. It is not asking you to do an unusual thing. It is asking you to do what should be the most basic and normal thing.”

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Thursday, March 1, 2018

Editorial: Why is Louisiana at the bottom of 'Best States' lists? This week's special session in Baton Rouge is an example

Posted By on Thu, Mar 1, 2018 at 3:06 PM

State Rep. Barry Ivey, R-Baton Rouge, was one of the GOP members who voted against a key revenue-raising measure to expand the state sales tax. - PHOTO BY SARAH GAMARD/LSU MANSHIP SCHOOL NEWS SERVICE
  • PHOTO BY SARAH GAMARD/LSU MANSHIP SCHOOL NEWS SERVICE
  • State Rep. Barry Ivey, R-Baton Rouge, was one of the GOP members who voted against a key revenue-raising measure to expand the state sales tax.

Louisiana is accustomed to finishing at or near the bottom of “Best States” lists, but to come in dead last — for the second year in a row — in U.S. News & World Report’s rankings clearly rankled Gov. John Bel Edwards. Edwards’ communications director, Shauna Sanford, characterized the data gathered as “grossly outdated information that in no way accurately reflects the current gains being made throughout our state, especially in the areas of health care and education.”

In a key metric that no one in the Bayou State could logically contest, Louisiana came in 48th in “fiscal stability” (just above New Jersey and Illinois). If the editors of U.S. News were watching the farrago in the Louisiana Legislature’s 17-day special session this week, we probably would have been ranked even lower.
This special session is the Legislature’s fifth since 2016. Like the others, it has been marked by sniping, finger-pointing, talking points and impasses. More than that, it revealed that GOP lawmakers who talk about cutting the budget are merely grandstanding. Last week, an attempt to renew the “temporary” one-cent sales tax that went on the books two years ago was championed by House Speaker Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia, only to be shot down by Democrats and some Republicans. The result was a bizarre spectacle in which some Republicans castigated Democrats, including Edwards, for being unwilling to raise or renew taxes.

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Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Gov. Edwards, Louisiana lawmakers call for resignation of Sec. of State Tom Schedler

Posted By on Wed, Feb 28, 2018 at 2:15 PM

Louisiana Secretary of State Tom Schedler.
  • Louisiana Secretary of State Tom Schedler.
Gov. John Bel Edwards is calling for the "immediate" resignation of Secretary of State Tom Schedler a week after Schedler was accused of sexual harassment in a lawsuit filed by a woman who works in that office.

"Elected officials must live by an even higher standard," Edwards said in a statement. "Because of the number of specific and serious allegations in the lawsuit and the fact that he has admitted to conduct that by definition is sexual harassment, he should immediately resign his position. I believe this would be the best path forward for Tom and the state of Louisiana.”

Edwards joins several Louisiana lawmakers and the leader of the state's Democratic party urging Schedler's resignation after a lawsuit says Schedler harassed a woman over more than a decade while working in the Secretary of State's office.

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Friday, February 23, 2018

Measuring Louisiana's 'fiscal cliff'

Posted By on Fri, Feb 23, 2018 at 3:29 PM

PHOTO BY CHRIS POTTER/CREATIVE COMMONS
  • PHOTO BY CHRIS POTTER/CREATIVE COMMONS

Exactly how high is Louisiana’s “fiscal cliff” anyway? It depends on whom you ask. Some say it’s nearly $1.3 billion, while others say it’s more like $994 million, and still others say it’s closer to $692 million — or less.

Interestingly, they’re all looking at the same cliff. It’s all a matter of perspective, but it’s important to start with some facts and figures on which everyone agrees.

When Gov. John Bel Edwards and the Legislature took office in January 2016, Louisiana faced a $1 billion mid-year budget deficit and a nearly $2 billion “structural” deficit (a term applied to Louisiana’s finances by Moody’s Investors Service) for the ensuing fiscal year — courtesy of former Gov. Bobby Jindal’s irresponsible fiscal policies.

In fairness, Jindal had help from the preceding Legislature, which included many current lawmakers. They bought into his fiscal fantasies knowing it was all bunk, so they don’t get a pass on the current mess.

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