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Louisiana editorial roundup

January 2, 2019

Recent editorials from Louisiana newspapers:

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Dec. 27

NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune on a state House candidate asking the state Ethics Board to reconsider its decision to not allow her to use campaign funds for child care while she attends campaign events:

The Louisiana Ethics Board was wrong in November when it ruled against House candidate Morgan Lamandre’s request to use campaign money for child care expenses.

Now the board has a chance for a do-over.

Ms. Lamandre, who is running for House District 66 in 2019, has asked the board to reconsider its ruling. She and her husband both work and have a 2-year-old and a 6-year-old. ”(T)he Board’s ruling, as it currently stands, disparately impacts working parents of small children who are not independently wealthy and will have the unintended result of preventing many parents from running for elected office,” she wrote in a letter Dec. 18 to the ethics board.

She’s right.

The board’s decision was out of touch and sexist. The board overturned a ruling 18 years ago from previous board members allowing child care expenses for a male member of the Baton Rouge Metro Council. U.S. Sen. John Kennedy also claimed child care as an expense during a trip to Los Angeles when he was state treasurer.

The November ruling went against the federal rules for campaign spending and rules in other states, including Arkansas.

Some board members also made sexist remarks to Ms. Lamarque. Ethics Board member Peppi Bruneau lectured her on parenting and family priorities.

“You have children. It’s your responsibility. It’s your decision to make as to how to balance your priorities,” Mr. Bruneau is heard telling Ms. Lamandre on an audio recording of the Ethics Board meeting provided to NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune. “Child care should be personal. That should come before public office or anything else, in my opinion,” he says.

Mr. Bruneau seems to want to send Louisiana back to the 1950s. He wasn’t alone.

Other board members implied that Ms. Lamandre wanted to use campaign money for child care to have a dinner date with her husband. Really?

Ms. Lamandre, an attorney for a sexual assault victim advocacy group in Baton Rouge, said she made the request up front to avoid being fined later. That is a responsible approach.

In her letter asking the board to reconsider, she noted that legislation could fix the problem. “Ideally, the Louisiana Legislature will pass legislation that specifically allows campaign funds to be used for childcare expenses that are incurred as a result of campaign activities,” she wrote.

Sens. J.P. Morrell and Troy Carter, both New Orleans Democrats, have said they will co-sponsor legislation in the spring to allow child care as an expense. But that legislation wouldn’t make it through the process soon enough to give Ms. Lamandre relief. The Ethics Board should allow her and other candidates to go ahead and use campaign money for child care.

Those expenses are much more reasonable than others that have been allowed.

Senate President John Alario spent more than $23,000 on a suite at Tiger Stadium between 2009 and 2012, according to a 2014 report by NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune and WVUE Fox 8 News. After the spending was reported, he gave up the suite.

The news investigation also found that Louisiana politicians spent $310,000 from their campaign coffers for Mardi Gras parades.

Unlike those costs, child care is a practical expense. And it could help bring more diversity to the Legislature. The state Senate only has five women out of 39 members. The House, which has 105 seats, has 25 women members.

“A closer look at the women currently in our legislature will show that just a few of them have very young children whereas a higher percentage of men in our legislature do,” Ms. Lamandre wrote in her request for a rehearing. “This is simply because many in society believe that it is the primary responsibility of women to provide childcare for their children and if they do not then they have misplaced priorities.”

The Ethics Board should know better.

Online: https://www.nola.com/

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Dec. 28

American Press on funding for indigent defendants:

Louisiana has had a perennial problem funding legal representation for indigent defendants. State Public Defender Jay Dixon told legislators some of the state’s public defender districts are at risk of becoming insolvent in a year or two if the state doesn’t provide more funding.

Dixon made his comments to a legislative subcommittee that is looking closely at state funds dedicated by law to determine whether some of those funds might be eliminated. Some state funds are dedicated to the public defender system, and other money comes from local traffic tickets.

Dixon said those fines have plummeted statewide in recent years. He said in East Baton Rouge Parish, for example, ticket writing “has just evaporated.” The Advocate said the state allocates about $34 million to indigent defense and most of that trickles down to public defender districts. However, it also goes to pay non-profits that handle defense in capital cases.

A class action lawsuit filed in 2017 challenging the constitutionality and funding structure of the state’s public defender system is scheduled to go on trial in Baton Rouge in January. Dixon said any failure to fund indigent defense could create more legal troubles for the state.

A spokesman for the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) that filed the lawsuit with two others said, “For decades, the state has allowed the public defender system to be underfunded and unmonitored. This statewide problem demands a statewide solution.”

SPLC research has shown that Louisiana, which has about a quarter of a million indigent defense cases a year, is the only state that funds its public defender system under the local-state partnership. The Advocate said the public defender system to defend people accused of crimes has long come under fire for its seeming instability because of its reliance on parish-by-parish collection of fines and traffic citations.

State Sen. Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell, and co-chairman of the subcommittee studying statutory dedications, said the current structure prevents a full debate of the need for more resources.

Perhaps the best solution is to end the state dedication and local funding system and have legislators make annual state appropriations to the public defender system. Louisiana’s indigent defendants deserve the same equal protection under the law that defendants who can pay for their own defense enjoy.

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

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Jan. 1

The Advocate on voters’ media diets:

... Many of us are thinking a lot about eating better in 2019. But as the arrival of January brings renewed attention on nutritional diets, citizens might do well to think about their media diets, too.

All of this comes to mind because of some new research by an LSU scholar concluding that when voters reduce their consumption of local news and depend more on national news instead, their voting patterns become more partisan.

Joshua Darr, an assistant professor at LSU’s Manship School of Mass Communication, teamed with Matthew Hit of Colorado State University and Johanna Dunaway of Texas A&M to study split-ticket voting...

It’s a practice that suggests a voter is driven less by partisan feeling in selecting a candidate. The researchers found that split-ticket voting in counties that had lost their local newspaper dropped by 1.9 percent, which might seem a small decline but is considered significant in elections research, where a difference of even 1 percent can be meaningful.

“Where there’s less local media, there’s going to either be less information on the candidates for office or people are going to use a different kind of media when the local source goes away, and that tends to be more loaded with partisan messaging,” Darr said.

The research doesn’t suggest that all national media outlets are partisan. But in an increasingly segmented media landscape, particularly on cable news, where networks such as Fox News and MSNBC play to a particular political base, getting objective information on a candidate can be more challenging.

When local news sources disappear, voters “are forced to fall back on something easy, which is party, rather than something hard, which is knowing lots of facts about the candidates they’re voting on,” Darr said. “Consuming local news and supporting local news really does matter, and that’s what the research shows,” he added. “The very existence of local papers is what shields people from turning to more partisan sources that they might otherwise read.”

Of course we welcome any research that affirms the value of local newspapers, which feature national content in their news and commentary pages but also provide readers with reports on community issues where party lines can seem less sharp.

When it comes to filling a pothole or improving drainage, for example, there’s usually not a distinctly Republican or Democratic way to get the job done.

Any healthy diet needs to include a variety of sources. Darr is right to remind us that when it comes to being well-informed, local newspapers should be part of the mix.

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

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