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Louisiana editorial roundup

March 7, 2018

Recent editorials from Louisiana newspapers:

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March 4

NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune on how state legislators need to tackle sexual harassment policies:

The recommendations from a task force on sexual harassment appointed by Gov. John Bel Edwards are straightforward and logical:

Louisiana should replace its patchwork of sexual harassment policies with a uniform approach for all state agencies to prevent abuses. Training in how to prevent and report harassment should be mandatory for employees, supervisors and agency heads.

The surprise is that Louisiana doesn’t already do these things.

Lawmakers are doing their own review of the way the state handles sexual harassment, but they ought to incorporate the task force’s recommendations into legislation. The task force was only charged with looking at the agencies and departments under the governor’s control. But its report recommends consistent policies statewide.

There is compelling evidence that the current approach isn’t working.

Gov. Edwards’ deputy chief of staff resigned in November after sexual harassment allegations were made against him. Johnny Anderson had a history of harassment accusations involving him that dated back to 2006, when he worked for then-Gov. Kathleen Blanco.

Then 10 days ago, a lawsuit was filed against Secretary of State Tom Schedler accusing him of propositioning a woman in his department and describing a “sexually hostile and abusive working environment.”

Records released last month show that government agencies have paid at least $3.9 million to state employees since 2004 in legal settlements for sexual harassment, gender discrimination and retaliation for reporting abuse.

The list of accused harassers included three professors, three judges, three doctors, a former state legislator, a prison warden, a prison medical director and the former commissioner of the state Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control.

That certainly isn’t all because it only included the 66 payments made by the state Office of Risk Management, not settlements paid directly by state agencies and universities.

Mr. Anderson has denied he harassed anyone, but a judge found that he had violated the law. Mr. Schedler said he had a consensual relationship with the woman. She denies that, and as Gov. Edwards pointed out, Mr. Schedler’s claim of a relationship with a subordinate is essentially an admission of sexual harassment.

The governor appointed the task force in December, after the accusations surfaced against Mr. Anderson. The group was asked to look at how existing policies could be modified but found that the state needed to start over with a single policy.

The new policy would provide “an unqualified assurance to state employees and the public we serve that complaints regarding such behavior will be handled expeditiously and consistently,” the task force chairwoman said in a Feb. 28 letter to Gov. Edwards.

The policy would ensure a better understanding of behavior that is forbidden, standardize the complaint and investigative process, mandate training for employees and supervisors and create a culture that encourages reporting misbehavior, the task force letter said.

The group recommended two separate policies, one to prohibit sexual harassment and another to prohibit discrimination and harassment.

The report also recommends requiring one hour of training annually for every employee. New employees would be trained within the first month on the job, including a face-to-face discussion of the policy with their supervisor. Managers and agency heads also would be required to have ongoing training.

These recommendations seem to fit with what the Legislature is finding. Sen. Regina Barrow, a Baton Rouge Republican, said at a recent hearing that she is worried about the lack of consistency across state agencies.

Most agencies have policies on sexual harassment complaints, but they vary. The Legislature approved a resolution in 2012 providing for a “minimum of one hour of education and training on sexual harassment during each year.” But that isn’t binding, as a law would be.

As of mid-December, only about 23 percent of employees had viewed the hour-long video on sexual harassment prevention during the year.

The Legislature has an inconsistent approach, too. Senate policy prohibits sexual harassment, but House policies don’t mention it. State and federal laws that prohibit gender discrimination and sexual harassment apply to the Legislature’s employees. But it is unclear how part-time workers, lobbyists, journalists and others who work in and around the Legislature would be protected.

At a recent legislative hearing a former aide described being sexually harassed by a lawmaker in the 1980s. The legislator exposed himself to the young man in a first-floor restroom in the Capitol and made a “vulgar proposition.”

The haphazard approach the state has taken to harassment still leaves employees vulnerable today. The Legislature must change that.

Online: http://www.nola.com

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March 4

The Town Talk of Alexandria on how to defend against school shootings:

Older readers will easily recall the famed three Rs of education — reading, ‘riting and ’rithmetic. Today it seems we have added a fourth R — rifles.

School shootings have dominated the headlines since the tragic shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. In the days since, there have been numerous incidents involving guns at schools. Locally, Rapides Parish schools have been placed on lockdowns due to email threats and students at Bolton and Pineville high schools have been arrested for bringing BB or pellet guns to school.

The Florida school shooting has once again opened the public debate about gun laws and ways to reduce mass shootings. While past incidents have led to brief outrage and calls for change that slowly trailed off, this time seems different.

One significant difference is the call to arm teachers in an effort to have more “good guys” in place to oppose “bad guy” school shooters. A case can be made that a well-trained school worker — be it a teacher, aide or administration worker — could possibly save lives by stopping an active shooter. An equally compelling case can be made that more people armed with weapons increases the chance that something goes wrong — from accidentally shooting an innocent bystander to having a gun stolen and used by a previously unarmed student or parent.

While lawmakers and law enforcement professionals debate policies to attempt to decrease mass shootings in general, and school shootings in particular, we want to focus less on policies and more on parents.

The reality is, guns have been readily available for years. In rural communities like those found in Central Louisiana, it wasn’t uncommon in years past for teens to have a hunting rifle or shotgun in a gun rack in the back of their pickup truck parked on school grounds. While the gun was readily available, it never crossed the kid’s mind to use it to shoot classmates. Today, it seems that is a first thought.

In our view, it’s not the gun that has changed, but society. Specifically, teen’s attitudes toward weapons and their willingness to use them against other students. Disgruntled students have been around since schools began. We can all remember the kid that was picked on or the bully who picked fights. But when today’s parents and grandparents were in school it typically lead to a fistfight, not a shooting spree.

While we have limited influence over what policymakers will ultimately decide to do, parents can have an immediate impact with their children. We urge parents of school-aged children — especially those who own and use guns — to talk with them. And if your child indicates they are the victim of bullying or exhibits an interest in harming classmates, get them help.

It’s a difficult conversation to have. No parent wants to think their child could do what so many other teens have opted to do by killing their classmates. But if we are really going to stop or reduce the number of school shootings, the best line of defense isn’t an armed teacher or police officer at the school, it’s a pro-active parent in the home.

Online: https://www.thetowntalk.com

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March 6

The Advocate of Baton Rouge on how it might be time for the state Legislature to rethink the separation of general and fiscal sessions:

With the Legislature in disarray even more than usual, but scheduled to come back to the State Capitol on Monday, there will be weeks ahead before a June end to the regular session.

But why, next week, can’t legislators deal with the problems they’ve left undone this week?

It’s because the Louisiana Constitution, since 1993, has made a distinction between general and fiscal sessions of the Legislature.

It may be past time to rethink that idea.

When the House and Senate come into a fiscal session, they are able to pass taxes and otherwise deal with revenue measures, the definition of which sometimes skirts a fuzzy line. In the fiscal session, legislators may only introduce a limited number of bills, although those rules also can involve some tweaking.

In a general session, like this year’s, legislators can introduce any number of bills, in a longer session. And while a budget can and must be passed, as this year, legislators cannot raise taxes during a general session to deal with budget shortfalls.

At one time, maybe this was a good idea. Long general sessions every year often tried the patience of part-time citizen lawmakers. Businesses worried, in those halcyon populist days, that every year would be a tax-raising year, aimed at you-know-who.

We supported, albeit with some misgivings, the 1993 constitutional amendment.

Today, the special session that should have dealt with the fiscal crisis at the State Capitol is in ruins. But the regular session will go on, apace, without the flexibility for lawmakers to try to reconcile their deep differences on taxes; a budget may be passed in the regular session, but it is likely to be only a placeholder for a June special session — at which revenues can be part of the mix.

So we face another special session, at up to $60,000 per day of partisan bickering.

“Our constitution ties our hands,” said Rep. Gary Carter, D-New Orleans, at the end of the first special session of the year, because it is now inevitable that there will be a second.

Online: http://www.theadvocate.com

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