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Louisiana editorial roundup

October 3, 2018

Recent editorials from Louisiana newspapers:

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Sept. 30

NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune on a no-guns registry for people who are suicidal:

Donna Nathan, who had been in and out of psychiatric hospitals three times this year, drove to Gretna June 26 and bought a .38-caliber revolver. Eight hours later, she was found dead from a gunshot wound in Audubon Park.

She left a handwritten note to her boyfriend that said, “I’m sorry. I love you.”

Two days later, Katrina Brees offered an idea in a Facebook post about how to save others who might think about doing what her mother had done:

“My mom bought a gun in New Orleans on Tuesday and drove to (Audubon Park) and opened the box and shot herself.

“I’m telling you all because gun control is not only about homicide, it is twice as likely to be a suicide. People suffering from bipolar and depression have no way to protect themselves from a suicidal gun purchase in Louisiana.

“I wish my mom could have registered herself as being unfit to buy a gun. She would have signed it years ago to protect herself and our family. I’m sorry to be so raw, I feel raw. I can’t believe how impossible it was to get my mom help and how easy it was for her to buy a gun.”

The same idea had occurred to Fredrick Vars, a law professor at the University of Alabama, who suffers from bipolar disorder and has had suicidal thoughts. That was four years ago, and the no-guns self-registry has become law in Washington. There are proposals in Alabama, California, Massachusetts, Tennessee and Wisconsin to do the same.

Katrina Brees wants Louisiana to be the next state to establish the registry. That ought to be an easy policy for Gov. John Bel Edwards and the Legislature to champion.

This isn’t an erosion of the Second Amendment, it is a lifeline for people who are desperately ill. There were 677 suicides in 2016 in Louisiana — 440 of them were by firearms.

How many of those people might have been saved by a registry like the one Ms. Brees is advocating?

...

The registry generally works like this: People put their names on a do-not-sell list and that information is entered into the National Instant Criminal Background System. You can remove your name, but there is a waiting period of one to three weeks before a gun purchase is allowed. That is a safety measure to keep people from removing their names on impulse to commit suicide.

People on the no-sell list also can provide contact information for family or friends they want notified if they ask to be removed from the registry.

...

Katrina Brees told her story to NOLA.com/Times-Picayune reporter Richard Webster as part of our “Fragile State” project examining the failings of Louisiana’s mental health system. She believes her mother, who was opposed to owning a gun, might have changed her mind if she hadn’t had such easy access to a weapon on June 26.

There is no waiting period to buy a gun in Louisiana. You only need an ID to prove you are 21 and be able to pass a criminal background check.

People with a mental illness can be denied the right to buy a gun in Louisiana, but only if a judge has ordered them to be involuntarily committed for treatment. Ms. Nathan had always voluntarily committed herself, so there was nothing to stop her from buying a gun.

Tragically, she was the sixth person in her family to commit suicide.

...

Online: https://www.nola.com

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Oct. 2

The Advocate on Sen. John Kennedy’s Judiciary Committee role during hearings over Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh:

As a member of the U.S. Senate’s Judiciary Committee, Louisiana’s John Kennedy has often taken an active and welcome role in screening the Trump administration’s nominees for the federal bench.

Although largely supportive of the president and his policies, Kennedy has also demonstrated discernment and independence on judicial nominees, even when it meant breaking with the White House and his fellow Republicans. Last November, Kennedy became the first GOP senator to vote against a Trump nominee for a federal judgeship when he turned a thumbs down on Gregory Katsas, the president’s pick for the influential D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. Kennedy argued that Katsas, then a deputy counsel on Trump’s staff, would have a conflict of interest on the appeals court because of its broad jurisdiction over matters regarding the White House.

Last December, in an incident that went viral online, Kennedy grilled Matthew Spencer Petersen, a Trump nominee for a district court judgeship in Washington, D.C., on basic terms of jurisprudence. Petersen was so obviously stumped by Kennedy’s questions that he later withdrew from consideration for the post.

Kennedy deserves credit for often bringing a critical eye to the consideration of those seeking judgeships. But that level of inquiry and leadership wasn’t apparent last week as Kennedy considered the controversial nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court. Like Kennedy, we were early supporters of Kavanaugh’s appointment to the highest court in the land. Now that his nomination has come under fire amid allegations that he sexually assaulted Christine Blasey Ford when they were teenagers, both Ford and Kavanaugh deserve nothing less than a thorough and impartial investigation of Ford’s accusations.

But during last Thursday’s Judicial Committee hearing on the matter, Kennedy seemed strikingly off-key in his questioning of Kavanaugh, asking the nominee if he believed in God, then compelling him the “look me in the eye” and swear that his denials of wrongdoing were true. Kavanaugh had already been sworn in before his testimony, legally obligating him to be truthful. That made Kennedy’s exchange with Kavanaugh seem more like theater than substance.

It was up to Kennedy’s fellow Republican and committee member, Jeff Flake, to be the grown-up, brokering a deal the next day between Democratic and GOP senators to advance a one-week FBI probe of Ford’s allegations.

Flake served the country and his party by asking for such a review. If Republicans are correct and there is no evidence to back up Ford, an FBI probe would benefit their cause.

Too bad that Kennedy didn’t take the lead in promoting the kind of FBI investigation Flake successfully championed. On a matter this important, Louisiana’s junior senator should be at the top of his game.

Online: https://www.theadvocate.com

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Oct. 1

The Advocate on pay and perks at state electric cooperatives:

High pay and perks at state electric cooperatives are rightly under fire from regulators at the Public Service Commission.

In response, several of the member-owned organizations are going through management shake-ups and renewed attention to rules that may not have been followed concerning perks of board members and staff.

In one case, a north Louisiana co-op serving a mostly poor and rural area had granted a salary of almost $200,000 a year to its president.

The PSC members are rightly outraged at some of what has come to light during often-routine rate adjustment hearings.

As regulars in state politics know, no one does populist rhetoric better than PSC member Foster Campbell: “I’m not going to vote for anything else today until I’ve found out how much these board members are making. How much money are they spending? How many times do they go to Las Vegas? How many times do they go to Washington? ... Take their wives up there, eat big steaks, stay at fancy hotels.”

Well, more than they should, certainly.

The state’s 10 co-ops provide electricity to about 900,000 rural but also suburban member/customers. The cooperatives are supposed to be nonprofit.

PSC members heard testimony that some board members make as much as $50,000 per year in per diem payments for attending meetings. Most received an array of benefits that included health, vision and life insurance.

The $255,000 in perks for directors and executives of Pointe Coupee Electric Membership, in suburban Baton Rouge, account for almost two-thirds of the utility’s $400,000 “operating margin.”

As the PSC members ultimately agreed, some rate hikes may be necessary, but in light of these revelations they are being much more careful about how the members’ money is being spent.

Claiborne Electric Co-op., located in one of the nation’s poorest counties, turned over the information requested by the PSC only under subpoena. The general manager’s $195,992 salary is roughly 15 times the average salary of people living in the four north Louisiana parishes covered, Campbell said. Board members receive $250 each way to drive to Baton Rouge plus meals and hotel for an overnight stay.

The five elected PSC members get $10,000 annually for travel and to attend conferences. That includes staff costs, too.

“We get paid for mileage?” PSC Commissioner Lambert Boissiere III asked to laughter.

“I have never, ever been paid a penny to be on any nonprofit board,” said PSC Chairman Eric Skrmetta, of Metairie.

Also under the microscope was Dixie Electric Membership Corp. DEMCO serves more than 100,000 members in Ascension, Livingston and other Baton Rouge suburbs. The co-op reported the results of a monthslong internal audit.

The audit investigated allegations of improper perks between co-op vendors and board members and top executives and found a few instances of improper benefits, though in one case DEMCO officials contended it was unwitting and later paid back.

All this suggests that regulators ought to keep a close eye on these smaller utilities.

Online: https://www.theadvocate.com

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