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Louisiana editorial roundup

September 12, 2018

Recent editorials from Louisiana newspapers:

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Sept. 11

American Press of Lake Charles on state officials delaying contract negotiations with a company that bid to buy voting machines:

The state has decided to delay contract negotiations with a company that submitted the low bid for the purchase of voting machines. Interim Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin has been advised by the Office of State Procurement to hold off on any discussions with Dominion Voting Systems.

Elections Systems and Software, one of the losing bidders, filed a protest and it will be considered before the $95 million contract proceeds. The company contends Ardoin mishandled the process to replace 10,000 early voting and Election Day machines.

Thomas Clark, an attorney representing Elections Systems, said, “This solicitation, the evaluation process and resulting award have all been marred by hastiness and willful blindness to the proposals submitted.”

The bid process started before Ardoin became secretary and continued after he took office. Former Secretary of State Tom Schedler resigned over a sexual harassment scandal, and Ardoin became secretary. The Advocate said Ardoin has defended the bid process, saying the evaluation committee selected the best machines designed to protect election security and integrity.

The Elections Systems bid ranged from $125 million to nearly $160 million. Hart InterCivic’s bid ranged from $115 million to $121 million. Dominion would lease the machines to the state for $85 million.

Some of the candidates for secretary of state in a Nov. 6 special election in mid-August asked that the purchase process be delayed. Ardoin is one of the candidates. Contract talks are being delayed under a state law that says it’s necessary unless the machines are urgently needed.

Paula Tregre, director of the Office of State Procurement, will use an analysis done by lawyers and other experts to either uphold or overturn the contract award. Whatever decision she makes can be appealed.

The office hasn’t purchased voting machines since 2005. The current goal is to replace those machines with smaller devices that have improved technology and a paper record of votes, all designed to protect the state’s voting system that has worked well in the past.

This delay does serve the state’s best interests. We hope it might also help explain why the three bids were so different. If a higher cost, for example, improves election security and integrity, is it worth it?

Online: http://www.americanpress.com

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Sept. 11

NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune on a mayor banning his city’s parks and recreation department from purchasing Nike products:

Kenner Mayor Ben Zahn’s reason for forbidding the city Recreation Department or booster clubs from buying Nike gear makes no sense.

He claims he is protecting Kenner taxpayers from having their money used to support a “political campaign” by Nike in its new ad campaign featuring former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

But booster clubs are private groups. What if they raise the money themselves? They still can’t buy gear marked with Nike’s famous swoosh?

Mayor Zahn’s order doesn’t seem to allow that freedom. His edict says: “Under no circumstances will any Nike product or any product with the Nike logo be purchased for use or for delivery at any City of Kenner Recreation Facility.”

This isn’t really about the taxpayers. Mayor Zahn just doesn’t like Nike featuring Colin Kaepernick, and he’s trying to make it seem like his ban is about something else.

The mayor has been hard to pin down on this. He issued his memo Sept. 5 but didn’t post it or announce it to Kenner residents. After it became public over the weekend on social media and criticism grew, Mayor Zahn at first said he would issue a statement and then didn’t. His explanation finally came Monday afternoon.

Maybe it took him so long because he couldn’t figure out how to explain himself.

The statement acknowledged that private companies have a right to craft their advertising message any way they want, “even if it means using advertising to promote corporate political beliefs.” He even said he applauds Nike’s “message of inclusion and encouragement for everyone to be their best and dream big.”

But he said he had to protect Kenner taxpayers from having their money polluted by politics. The thing is, he’s using his power as mayor for politics.

He didn’t discuss the Nike ban with the City Council and has ignored the strong backlash from some Kenner residents.

And he is ignoring the fact that he’s stepping on the free speech rights of booster clubs and parents to decide what they want their children to wear. He claims in his statement to value the diversity of Kenner, but that is not the message his ban sends.

“In Kenner, like every city, our citizens and our taxpayers cover a wide spectrum of political philosophies and agendas. We must respect all of those agendas and philosophies,” he said in his statement. “So, when a company uses its advertising as its own political megaphone, government should be fair to all of its people and not allow taxpayer dollars to be used to help that company push its own political agenda.”

It should help the mayor push his political agenda instead? No.

Online: https://www.nola.com

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Sept. 10

The Advocate of Baton Rouge on a settlement between state and federal agencies over housing mentally ill people in nursing homes:

A settlement between the state and federal agencies over housing the mentally ill in nursing homes is forcing change in the health care industry in Louisiana.

And while it is welcome that some are likely to be better served, the long-term costs of the settlement are far from clear yet.

The current tab: $13 million.

That is the first installment of a plan to resolve concerns that the mentally ill are too often housed in nursing homes; the alternatives are health care programs that allow residents to remain in their communities and receive appropriate levels of help.

Overseen by a U.S. district judge, the deal with the U.S. Justice Department requires the state to expand home- and community-based services for people with mental illness. The agency must screen those in nursing homes to determine if they can be diverted to less-restrictive settings.

A two-year federal investigation determined Louisiana violated the Americans with Disabilities Act because of over-reliance on nursing homes for those who are mentally ill.

This is probably not a surprise, as Louisiana typically relies more on nursing homes for elderly care. The U.S. DOJ filings said Louisiana also has one of the highest percentages of adults with serious mental illnesses living in nursing homes.

If, though, as the court documents asserted, at least 3,800 people, or 14.5 percent of all nursing home residents in 2016, were mentally ill, alternatives will cost money.

“Individuals with serious mental illness in nursing facilities in Louisiana who express a desire to leave the facility and return to their own communities routinely receive little or no assistance to do so,” the Justice Department wrote.

This means that Louisiana may well have to invest more in the home- and community-based programs that would help those willing — and able — to move from nursing homes.

That can be problematic for the budget, subject to months of tiresome dispute in the State Capitol this year. Home- and community-based services are in an annual tussle in the Legislature with traditional nursing homes for limited dollars.

This can also be problematic for individuals who are without family support. Obviously, in an aging society, nursing care is necessary for the elderly in physical need. The possibility that many who want to leave a home may not be medically able to do so, even if given more community-based services, requires a discernment that — according to settlement documents — has been somewhat lacking in Louisiana.

The settlement requires an initial step, assessments of the desires and abilities of those wishing to live independently. That’s probably overdue in Louisiana.

Online: https://www.theadvocate.com

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