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LA court intervention threatens religious freedom

It should worry those who prize religious freedom when a court defines the practice of a particular religion, as appears imminent in Louisiana.

That situation has come about from a ruling by state 19th District Judge Mike Caldwell in refusing to dismiss the Diocese of Baton Rouge from a suit brought by a woman claiming past sexual abuse by a parish member, now dead. She alleged that she told Fr. Jeff Bayhi about it in a confessional setting and further asserted he recommended that she do nothing.

The Louisiana Supreme Court last year ruled that Bayhi had no obligation to report to authorities any presumed credible evidence of commission of a crime against a child (she then was a minor) incident to communications under confessional seal. Church canon law mandates excommunication for any confessor who reveals any information obtained this way, or even to confirm that any encounter took place.


Idea TOPS significantly keeps LA students absurd

It’s time to retire once and for all the shibboleth that Louisiana in-state higher education tuition costs without widely-available and fully-funded Taylor Opportunity Program for Students awards drive students out-of-state.

Some families, and even administrators who should know better, interviewed in an article for the Baton Rouge Advocate asserted that essentially full funding of TOPS for this school year generally made the difference in students’ decisions to enroll in a Louisiana higher education institution instead of heading elsewhere. For academic year 2016, TOPS only paid around 70 percent of the full year’s tuition because the state did not fund it fully.

In the past year, the assertion floated around that partial funding caused students to look across state lines for their university degrees, which backers of covering the entire tuition amount this year utilized in support of their cause. But, in reality, such a claim hardly validly explains such motivations, yet may point to the real reason going out of state might prove tempting for some.


Appointed parish manager not a bad idea

All in all, not just Ascension but a lot of parishes in Louisiana could benefit from turning administrative functions over to a professional.

A citizens group, but whose leaders come from the business community, has started a movement in Ascension Parish to mothball the elected parish executive in favor of a manager appointed by the parish council. Almost half of the state’s parishes have an elected chief executive, with the others run by an appointee selected by their legislatures.

The organization claims that an appointed administrator could bring managerial competence to a job they see as unduly politically-influenced. That a state grand jury indicted Parish Pres. Kenny Matassa on bribery charges this spring only adds fuel to this argument. Those wishing to keep the current system, including Matassa, say that arrangement of divided government provides for greater accountability to the people.


Edwards faces win, loss on LA fiscal matters

A couple of canaries in a coal mine may send mixed messages to Louisiana concerning its fiscal situation, making Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards both a winner and loser.

Earlier this summer, the private operator of Allen Correctional Center began disseminating information, making the formal request earlier this month, that it would opt out of its contract at the end of this month. After some deliberation, the state decided to take over the property, but with a different mission: instead of housing prisoners for their sentences, it will serve as an intake center for recent convicts coming from five large-populated parishes and as an exit station for some prisoners soon to reenter society at the completion of their sentences.

Administration officials said they had considered plans for some time to begin a consolidated intake process, potentially expanding it to other parishes in the future, for inmates without special circumstances and establishing the reentry program for those planning to live in southwest Louisiana. Whether that also could expand in geographic scope remains unclear.


Enforcing alien statutes crucial to rule of law

Break out the handkerchiefs in Louisiana as the impact of Pres. Donald Trump’s seriousness on the issue of illegal aliens gets translated to policy, as reported by the media. But before having a good cry, consider all the facts.

The Baton Rouge Advocate, for which I write opinion columns, presented a quality entry into the contest to write about sympathetic people in the country illegally now faced with deportation. The story discussed how the number of deportations in Louisiana, following national trends, had escalated considerably since Trump took office, with the vast bulk of higher numbers comprised of people not wanted for criminal activity other than being illegal aliens.

To personify the issue, it centered primarily on the owner of a bricklaying business out of Prairieville, in the country illegally for many years. It describes him as a homeowner with a family and employing 10 people, who in 2014 Pres. Barack Obama’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement found illegally in the country but which unhooked him and threw him back into the sea, telling him to stay out of trouble. He has paid federal income taxes for a dozen years.

As part of this probation he reported annually to ICE, but on his most recent trip the now Trump-led agency told him either to pack his bags and leave the U.S. by Oct. 10 or face immediate arrest. This is presented as some kind of betrayal by ICE, as he had “held up his end of the bargain,”

Representative of special interests, when informed of his case and in commenting on the broader context, expressed high dudgeon. “No prioritization” one cried. “It’s whoever they can get their hands on,” despaired another. “People are afraid to leave their children at the bus stop,” bemoaned yet another, adding “They're acting without any regard for children's welfare or humanitarian factors.” And as another profiled illegal alien observed, “Only God can protect you.”

Of course, God helps those who help themselves, and this guy has an easy way to do that – go back to Honduras, where he transfers his money earned illegally in the U.S. to pay for his children’s college education. That was the plan of the business owner, to retire to Mexico eventually but not at present, who appears befuddled by all of this. “We are not the criminals as many are depicting us. We're just here working and helping this country.”

Really? Undoubtedly, he has committed no crimes of violence; he may not even have jaywalked in all his time here. But whether he has not acted as a criminal and has been “helping this country” is best determined by the answers to these questions:


·      How does he pay federal income taxes? That requires a Taxpayer or Employer Identification Number and both require proof of legal residency. And if using an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number, those have been expiring. Is he using fake documentation?

·      Does he check the citizenship status of his employees before hiring them? And, if he has any government contracts, does he do that through E-Verify as required by state or federal law?

·      Does he deduct from his employees’ salaries payments for Social Security, Medicare, unemployment insurance, etc., and remit the proceeds to the proper authorities, as required by law?

·      Does he pay his employees at least minimum wage, as required by law?

Maybe I’m an unsentimental unromantic, and I don’t know the guy, but I suspect the answer to most of these questions is negative. In other words, chances are he breaks tons of laws on a regular basis. This is not criminal?

And, why did he not, when caught and knowing the heat was on, begin the process to obtain citizenship, which begins with acquiring legal residence (that is, getting a “green card”)? Maybe because he intended to transfer as much wealth as possible from the U.S. back to Mexico for his retirement and could not bring this plan to fruition if he had to renounce his Mexican citizenship? And that activity, along with apparently breaking laws right and left, is “helping the country?”

One can debate the overregulation of American entrepreneurship as a defense for skirting the law. Yet at the same time, what makes America exceptional compared to places like Mexico is fealty to the rule of law, and breaking with impunity reasonable statutes such as American immigration laws irreparably erodes that respect. It cannot be tolerated, even in the case of a industrious participant in the economy.

Likely the reason he left Mexico was because civil society there did not permit him to deploy his talents fully. Maybe if fully enforced, American immigration laws would deter enough people like him from coming here, forcing them to stick around there and giving them every incentive to vote and engage in other efforts to prompt Mexico to evolve into a civil society more like America’s, solving a problem for both countries.


Bossier govts win, lose on panhandling

If you’re a Bossier government, you win some (maybe) and you lose some when it comes to panhandling.

This spring, Bossier City passed two ordinances that have the effect of limiting panhandling. One prohibited aggressive panhandling, defined as an attempt to solicit again someone after refusal, applying the citywide. The other prevents exchanges of objects that cause drivers to slow or stop on or next to any of a dozen named roadways, associated medians, and public egress and exits to these.

While the aggressive panhandling one, commonly seen in municipalities, stoked no controversy, the other had. Authored by Councilor Tommy Harvey, it avoids any mention of begging and tries to frame itself as a public safety measure. Since a 2015 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that substantially raised the burden of proof on local government to demonstrate such laws did not restrict protected speech, governments have found it very difficult to pass constitutional measures directly addressing panhandling.


Landrieu unwisely dismisses water privatization

Maybe current New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s preference for big government for now may get in the way of privatization of the city’s sewerage and water services, but his successor should not display the same bias.

In the wake of the city’s Sewerage and Water Board’s indifferent management that culminated in failure to adequately stem recent flooding, Landrieu promised a top-down review of the agency that he largely controls through appointments. He initially implied bringing in a private sector operator during the process to implement any reforms eventually deemed desirable.

But he later walked back on any impression that a private entity actually would run things during or after the review process. The subject had come up at the beginning of the century but populist urges led the political appointees then of SWB to reject the effort.


Expectations broaden issues in treasurer's race

Talk of extraneous issues during the special election to fill Sen. John Kennedy’s former Louisiana treasurer position comes because voters see the job as a training ground for higher office.

Republican Kennedy ascended to the U.S. Senate at the beginning of the year, leaving a couple of years left on his term. Into the fray have jumped three major candidates, all Republicans: Angéle Davis, for two years commissioner of administration under former Gov. Bobby Jindal; state Sen. Neil Riser; and former state Rep. John Schroder.

At a recent local Republican Party forum, Davis and Riser found themselves answering a myriad of questions that had really nothing to do with the treasurer’s job, such as their Second Amendment views and religious backgrounds. Schroder could not attend because of a scheduling conflict.