Louisiana editorial roundup
The Associated Press
Jun. 07, 2017
Recent editorials from Louisiana newspapers:
The Town Talk on Louisiana taking a step forward in the opioid battle:
Attorney General Jeff Landry's initiative to get Naloxone doses into the hands of Louisiana's first responders is unique in the United States, one state lawmaker says.
It could also prove to be a lifesaver in a state that has experienced a rapid increase in the number of opioid overdose deaths.
Naloxone is a prescription medication that counteracts opioid's effects, the attorney general said in a recent appearance in Lafayette. It's especially useful at drug overdose scenes.
Landry has made a pact with drug manufacturer Pfizer to supply the state with the equivalent of up to 60,000 doses, the result of a million-dollar lawsuit settlement.
State Sen. Fred Mills, R-Parks, a trained pharmacist, said Landry floated the idea of such a settlement to him more than a year ago, and Mills was sold on it.
Part of the genius of the plan: Louisiana will use vouchers for first-responders and their agencies to request the doses over time, rather than receive them in bulk.
That way, no lifesaving remedies will expire.
Landry and Lafayette area law enforcement officials said the opioid abuse continues to plague this area, state and nation. The Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta said Louisiana suffered a 12.4 percent increase in overdose deaths between 2014 and 2015. Landry said.
Here's how bad things have gotten, Landry revealed:
Every day, about 120 Americans die of overdoses, more than half by abuse of painkillers or heroin.
About four in every five heroin users started down their errant path by abusing prescription drugs.
Drug overdoses outpace auto accidents as the leading cause of death for Americans 25-64.
Those are national statistics. Here's what is going on in our state, Landry says:
Overdose deaths have tripled since 1999.
Louisiana ranks in the top 10 states for overdose deaths.
There are more opioid prescriptions in Louisiana, about 5 million, than there are people
Crystal meth may be the most abused drug in the state, but abuse of opioids, heroin, fentanyl and cocaine have also become sources for addiction. Oftentimes, abusers of legal prescriptions seek similar highs from other drugs.
Lafayette Sheriff Mark Garber said heroin overdose cases have quadrupled. He said deputies would be trained - training is supposed to be basic - before using Naloxone at overdose scenes.
More must be done. Landry said his office has promoted community outreach efforts and citizen education about opioids. He said the AG's office has coordinated "drug take-back" events. And Landry's office has participated with other AGs around the U.S. and the CDC to curb unnecessary opioid prescriptions.
That's a start. Addiction, especially with prescription medicines, crosses many demographic lines and threatens the well-being of families everywhere. Louisianians have traveled a long road to a bad place. It's time to turn around.
The Advertiser on why the Louisiana house speaker should step down:
If the Louisiana voters need scapegoats — they don't — for this spring's legislative meltdown in Baton Rouge, they might stand on the state House of Representatives floor and point in any direction. Failure there has bred failure everywhere for the 2017 legislative session.
Louisiana voters do not need scapegoats. They need direction. They need solutions. They won't get them from the people's representatives, not without dramatic changes, or the next two years may be as frustrating and unproductive as the first two.
That change should start with Taylor Barras' resignation as House speaker.
Barras, R-New Iberia, who was reluctant to accept the position, has not met its steep challenges. It may be no one could lead these 105 elected representatives, but Barras has proven he cannot.
Barras is a good man but a bad speaker. A new speaker and new committee chairmen would deal the House and Capitol a needed new hand.
Answers to Louisiana's pressing problems will not come from this House as it is presently constituted. That much is proven.
Our tax system will stay broken. Our higher education system will remain imperiled. TOPS will stay on risky fiscal footing. Our roads will remain among the nation's worst. The fiscal cliff lies straight ahead, and there are no brakes on this legislative bus.
Local lawmakers said before session's start that voters should be able to vote for a gas tax. They won't. Our lawmakers said the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students must change to survive. It won't.
Lawmakers had the chance to grapple with the worst of our problems — Louisiana's fractured tax and budget structures — in a special session but efforts introduced to meet that crisis also failed in the House.
The governor's office and Senate, too, share blame for Baton Rouge's dysfunction. Gov. John Bel Edwards' last-minute embrace of a commercial activity tax at the session's dawn — details weren't delivered until the session was underway — provided more confusion than direction.
The Senate blocked any reforms that might have better positioned TOPS for its future. Partisan gridlock was everyone's problem.
Louisiana's Legislature has even failed thus far to adequately advance an operating budget for next fiscal year. The governor has proclaimed the need for a special session to handle even this perfunctory but necessary chore.
Midway through this quadrennium, our elected state leadership has failed to present, pursue and pass a cogent, clear program. Usually, that's accomplished by the first two years of their four-year terms, while the second two years are progressively consumed with re-election politics.
This legislature could slip out of Baton Rouge without accomplishing anything, save criminal justice reform. No one wants such failure.
Let's reboot. Taylor Barras can take the first, bold step in that direction.
The Times-Picayune on the Louisiana legislature's readiness for tax reform:
Every Louisianian waiting for the Legislature to reform the state's unfair, unstable, convoluted tax system has felt like Rep. Barry Ivey: frustrated, disappointed, fed up. But the rest of us don't have a chance to stand up in the House chambers, and let lawmakers have it.
Rep. Ivey, a Baton Rouge Republican who spent months putting together a package of bills to revamp the tax system, said he's "seen zero evidence" that legislators are interested in reform.
He chastised them Tuesday (May 30) for ignoring the "fiscal cliff" the state is facing in 2018 when temporary taxes approved last year will roll off the books. "I came to work this session," he said. "If we can't do this now, we're never going to do it."
The state is facing a budget deficit of more than $1 billion in 2018 when the temporary taxes expire. And lawmakers already are struggling to find enough revenue for vital state services like health care and education.
Before this spring's session started, Gov. John Bel Edwards scrapped proposals from the Task Force on Structural Change in Budget and Tax Policy because lawmakers weren't willing to make changes to income taxes. The commercial activity tax the governor proposed as an alternative died in a House committee in April.
Judging by his speech on the House floor, Rep. Ivey has given up on his legislative package. Two bills up for debate Tuesday would have changed the varied income tax rates businesses pay to a flat tax and eliminated the deduction for federal taxes on state returns.
A majority of House members, including Speaker Taylor Barras of New Iberia, supported the bills. But for tax changes, a two-thirds vote is required.
"We do not have the will to solve the problem," Rep. Ivey said.
Rep. Jim Morris, a Republican from Oil City, proceeded to prove him right. "Tax policy to me isn't as important as what my constituents want, and my constituents told me pretty solidly: 'Do not vote for more taxes on us.'"
But a balanced, fair tax system that provides predictable revenue for state services is better for everyone. That may mean some taxes need to be higher and others are lower. Legislators ought to understand that.
The 13-member task force released its comprehensive plan for budget and fiscal reform in November after months of study. The report recommended reducing or eliminating the federal income tax deduction on state tax returns, eliminating many tax credits and lowering rates. The task force suggested reducing sales taxes, restructuring or phasing out the corporate franchise tax and looking for ways to save on contracts. These sorts of changes could stabilize revenue and reduce overspending.
Task force members urged lawmakers to view the reforms holistically. The recommendations, "if adopted as a comprehensive set of reforms, will help to establish a long-term, stable foundation for Louisiana's finances," Revenue Secretary Kimberly Robinson and LSU economist Jim Richardson, who co-chaired the task force, said in a letter to legislative leaders.
Instead, legislators essentially ignored the task force's work. As they have for much of the past decade, they are putting off tough decisions.
When the Legislature added a penny to the state sales tax in 2016 for only two years, they set up the fiscal cliff that Rep. Ivey is trying to get them to deal with.
"Therein lies the problem," CABL said then. "We have a permanent structural problem in our budget totally apart from the price of oil and we addressed it with another temporary tax.
After seven years of legislators complaining about the previous governor 'kicking the can down the road,' they themselves kicked it again."
The Legislature needs "to step up and address this problem that has plagued Louisiana for close to a decade now," CABL said a year ago.
Lawmakers are no closer to doing that now. No wonder Rep. Ivey is exasperated. He's not the only one.