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Louisiana editorial roundup

May 8, 2019

Recent editorials from Louisiana newspapers:

May 6

The Courier on records of elected officials being open to public:

The public should have the right to know what its elected officials are doing — rightly and wrongly.

When our public servants do their jobs well, we should know about it. And officials are reliable in getting the word out about their accolades. The same thought applies, though, when they fall short of our expectations. And public officials are not as likely to make public the details of their foibles.

Unfortunately, one effort to make those public servants more accountable to their constituents has failed in the state House.

House Bill 75, proposed by Rep. Jerome Zeringue, R-Houma, would have opened a number of Judiciary Commission records to the provisions of the public records laws. It would have made it easier for members of the public to find out when their judges are investigated, when that investigation finds that no further probe is warranted and when the investigation leads to conduct warnings against the jurists.

But the public will not receive any of the benefits of this bill. It was defeated by a 50-47 vote in the House last week.

That is bad news for people who want to find out what these public employees are doing. There are precious few records that should be hidden from the cleansing daylight of public knowledge.

While there are some privacy concerns that are protected by exemptions from public records laws, those concerns are not in play in this case. Here, instead, it seems that the state is shielding politicians from the prying eyes of the public by making their oversight private.

When a judge is investigated for potential misbehavior, the people who could appear before that judge should have a right to know. Likewise, they should have a right to know what the outcome of the investigation is. Knowledge of these cases could lead people to recognize patterns of behavior among people who wield a vast amount of power.

Ethics, competence and conduct problems among the judges of our state should not be hidden away. Instead, they should be held open to scrutiny, just as they would be for any other politician or member of the public.

Zeringue, who was joined in his yes vote by the rest of the local House delegation, deserves the appreciation of the people he represents. He was trying to look out for our interests by making more records of public concern open to the public.

Unfortunately, 50 of his colleagues sided with keeping those records hidden.

Editorials represent the opinion of the newspaper, not of any individual.

Online: https://www.houmatoday.com

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May 5

The Advocate on the death penalty:

Two years ago, with support from a broad coalition of Louisiana civic, religious and government leaders, Gov. John Bel Edwards joined with lawmakers to approve sweeping reforms of the state’s criminal justice system — measures aimed at reducing Louisiana’s prison population, the largest in the nation on a per capita basis, and using the savings to strengthen rehabilitation.

Last year, reflecting a similar bipartisan consensus, Louisiana voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment to require unanimous jury verdicts for felonies, bringing the state in line with most of the country.

We believe these changes express an underlying sense of pragmatism within Louisiana’s electorate. Regardless of party or faith, race or walk of life, the state’s citizens share a fundamental interest in a justice system that works. Such a desire seems to be at the heart of legislation that would allow Louisiana voters to decide whether to abolish the death penalty. Republican state Sen. Dan Claitor of Baton Rouge is pushing a bill that would give voters a chance to weigh in. Claitor opposes capital punishment, although he’s a former prosecutor.

Claitor’s primary arguments against the death penalty are practical. A fiscal conservative, he notes its whopping cost. The state has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on capital punishment but rarely executes anybody. He suggests the death penalty wastes money and doesn’t make citizens safer.

Many others share those criticisms, and even Louisiana’s most ardent supporters of capital punishment are challenged by a fundamental reality. For years, Louisiana has pretty much had a death penalty in name only. Constitutional protections give death row inmates the right to lengthy appeals, which seems justified given the high number of such cases that are eventually overturned. Louisiana has not executed anyone since 2010.

Even an inmate who’s exhausted all appeals has no chance of being executed in Louisiana these days. The pharmaceutical industry, fearing bad publicity, won’t sell prison officials the drugs required for lethal injections. A federal court order stemming from a legal challenge to Louisiana’s execution protocols has blocked executions since 2014.

Meanwhile, grieving families of murder victims, seeking the closure an execution presumably provides, languish in limbo, enduring an agony they don’t deserve. The lack of urgency among Louisiana’s elected officials to address the problems paralyzing the current capital punishment system suggests a diminished appetite for putting prisoners to death. But Louisiana’s justice system cannot remain viable by professing one thing and practicing another. It must speak with moral clarity on capital punishment — a question that is, in its most fundamental sense, an issue of life or death.

That clarity can only come if citizens are given the chance to decide at the ballot box whether Louisiana should keep its death penalty. We urge lawmakers to let the voters be heard.

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

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May 3

The Natchez Democrat on fake guns pose dangers to children:

Last week, a third-grader at Ferriday Upper Elementary School took a fake gun to school. The child later allegedly pointed the fake gun at another child and scared the child.

Teachers and administrators were alerted and later learned the item was only a fake weapon.

Word of the event, meanwhile, spread throughout the community and became blown out of proportion as items passed through the grapevine tend to do.

Once word of the incident reached this newspaper’s staff, and a reporter called Whest Shirley, superintendent of Concordia Parish schools, he clarified the situation.

Shirely told the reporter that the child brought an item that had been mistaken for a weapon to school.

We assume the item was a fake weapon such as a toy gun, but Shirley never clarified that description.

Whatever the item was, it made people think it was a real weapon to some degree.

Fortunately, no one overreacted to the situation and no one was harmed in the incident.

Letting children play with toy guns made to look like real guns poses a real danger.

In today’s climate, people may not wait to determine if the perceived weapon is real or fake before they take action to protect themselves.

Also, taking such items to school is against policy, and students will face disciplinary action for such offenses, as did the child who took a fake gun to school last week.

Online: https://www.natchezdemocrat.com