Louisiana editorial roundup
The Associated Press
Nov. 08, 2017
Recent editorials from Louisiana newspapers:
The Times-Picayune of New Orleans on sexual intimidation in work environments:
When allegations of sexual intimidation started surfacing against producer Harvey Weinstein Oct. 5, it seemed briefly like a Hollywood problem. The industry has a built-in imbalance of power with young women and men vying for jobs controlled by powerful people.
But as sexual misconduct accusations have spread to celebrity chef John Besh, high-profile journalists and now Congress, it's clear that this is society's problem. Despite decades of what seemed like progress, with the passage of laws against sexual harassment and intimidation and the adoption of corporate policies against hostile work environments, the bro culture — as it is called by some former Besh employees — is still thriving.
That is disheartening. But the attention on the problem provides an opportunity for change.
The Besh Restaurant Group, which had no human resources director until October, is faced with figuring out how to change its culture and keep the company going without its namesake.
Every other business in New Orleans ought to be taking a hard look at its policies and practices. Are prohibitions against sexual harassment spelled out clearly? Are there clear ways for employees who feel harassed to report the behavior without fear of retaliation or of being ignored? Even if the behavior reaches the top levels of the company, as it did with the Besh allegations?
New Orleans ought to become a leader in ridding workplaces of harassment. The Louisiana Restaurant Association, tourism and hotel associations, chambers of commerce — every business-related group in greater New Orleans — should look at ways to support anti-harassment policies. Some small businesses may need help developing policies or training their staffs.
Kristen Essig, a chef and partner at Coquette, challenged her industry to take on this issue in an opinion piece in NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune last week. "It's time to stand up for what we all should know is right, to stand up for others. Now is the time to redefine our day-to-day work in the restaurants of New Orleans," she said. "There are people in the restaurant industry who need to be held accountable. Are we ready and willing to do that?"
She answered her own questions: "I am willing to do just that. I'm willing to hold others accountable in my everyday life as a chef and in the life of our business."
More leaders in restaurants and other companies in our community ought to do the same.
The extent of the problem is daunting. The Associated Press reported Friday (Nov. 3) that one former and three current women lawmakers said they were harassed or subjected to sexual comments by men in Congress. These incidents occurred years ago, mainly when the women were newly elected but are no less troubling.
The congresswomen agreed to speak about their treatment after current and former congressional staffers said they have been harassed by lawmakers and aides. The Washington Post found that Congress offers limited protections to staffers and, as with so many things, applies different rules to itself. Under a 1995 law, harassment lawsuits in Congress are only allowed if accusers first agree to go through months of counseling and mediation, the Post reported.
"It is not a victim-friendly process. It is an institution-protection process," said Rep. Jackie Speier, a California Democrat, who has tried unsuccessfully to revise how Congress handles harassment cases.
Even though the women serving in Congress had equal pay and equal standing, the men they said harassed them had more tenure and were established in their posts.
California Sen. Barbara Boxer, now a veteran lawmaker, said a male colleague in the 1980s made a sexually suggestive remark about her on the floor. "It's hostile and embarrasses, and therefore could take away a person's power," she told the AP.
That gets to the heart of harassment. It is essentially bullying. The harasser wants to make the other person feel powerless.
We, as a country and as a community, should reject that behavior. We should grasp this moment and banish the bro culture from restaurant kitchens and dining rooms and every other workplace in New Orleans.
The Advocate of Baton Rouge on Louisiana receiving $60.8 million in additional federal funds for highway projects:
While it's not the first time, Louisiana was a pretty big winner in an annual sweepstakes that most people don't know exists.
The Department of Transportation and Development recently received $60.8 million in additional federal funds for highway projects.
Each year the Federal Highway Administration allocates funds that were not used by other states or national programs. By allocating all its earlier federal funds, and having matching funds on hand from state sources, DOTD can snag "leftovers" from the FHA funding table.
By law, DOTD can only use the newly awarded additional funds on what would commonly be called "shovel-ready" projects, obligated before the federal fiscal year ended on Sept. 30. A department spokesman said it is a record for this kind of additional federal funding.
Not bad for those routinely pilloried as useless bureaucrats during this legislative session's debate over raising the gasoline tax. Lawmakers failed to act, and added insult to injury by questioning how existing funds were used.
This is a pretty good $61 million rejoinder to those criticisms, but of course that is far from the level of funding that Louisiana needs to put into its roads, bridges, rails, ports and airports.
At under $700 million in total funding for the fiscal year, and a whopping $13.1 billion in a backlog of needed projects, these new funds are welcome but are hardly the final solution to the state's traffic woes.
And the bad news: As the costs of construction and vital maintenance goes up, year by year, Louisiana's funding base for projects continually erodes.
In fiscal 2019, DOTD's chief said, the state won't have enough locally generated revenue to match its annual allocation of federal funds from FHA and other sources.
Secretary Shawn Wilson said the state is up against it, because "without a long-term, sustainable revenue source, the state may not be able to apply for redistributed funds in coming years."
This is why gasoline and fuel taxes that have not been raised in 30 years are no longer sufficient, but it is an obvious lesson that escaped the Legislature: A bill to raise gasoline taxes died in the self-righteously anti-tax House, where members routinely seek more projects for their areas. They also are good at seeking scapegoats in the bureaucracy.
Because of constitutional limitations on tax-writing sessions, the political difficulties of a two-thirds vote and particularly one in a 2019 election year, it may be at least 2021 before any gasoline tax push is tried again.
But perhaps before then, legislators will find that Louisiana isn't in the queue to get any leftover federal funds. Without action, the state quite likely won't see these kinds of windfalls in future.
The Courier of Houma on the Louisiana National Guard deploying troops to Puerto Rico for Hurricane Maria recovery:
Louisianans know as well as anyone how deadly and devastating hurricanes can be.
We have seen our fair share of horrific natural events, with 2005's Hurricane Katrina the most notorious.
Now that the island territory of Puerto Rico is suffering the lingering effects of Hurricane Maria, it is only natural that Louisiana is doing all it can to aid in the recovery.
The Louisiana National Guard has deployed troops to Puerto Rico, and Louisiana is helping through a cooperative coalition of U.S. states and territories that are parties to the Emergency Management Assistance Compact.
Whenever disaster strikes, the affected area puts out a call for help. Louisiana has put out that call and received the tireless assistance of other states in the past.
This time, largely because our state was unaffected by Maria, our officials were able to send people and resources to help.
"We've received so much help from other states, whenever we can we try to pay it forward and pay it back," said James Waskom, executive director of the Governor's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness.
Louisiana has sent a delegation that included Gov. John Bel Edwards to visit the hurricane damage and lend their expertise as Puerto Rico struggles to restore power and other basic necessities to its people.
Our workers helped set up an emergency housing program that is modeled after the one Louisiana implemented after last year's storms.
Puerto Rico faces a daunting task. In addition to the disruption and destruction caused by the storm itself, being an island is an impediment to getting the material and workers needed to rebuild homes and infrastructure that will allow its people to return to some sense of normalcy at some point.
Louisiana cannot solve Puerto Rico's problems. But it can do as so many other states have done for us. We can lend a hand however we can and lessen the burden our fellow Americans face in recovering from such a huge blow.
In addition to our best wishes for a speedy recovery and the least human suffering possible, we are in the fortunate position of being able to lend a hand and get things on the right track for Puerto Rico. Unfortunately, we have experience in the area of rebuilding and recovery. Let's hope we're able to put it to good use for the people who have been among the most affected by hurricane season this year.