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Expand execution methods to save more innocent lives

Utah just changed its laws to allow once again the use of firing squads to carry out capital sentences. Louisiana should follow suit with this and/or other methods.

The controversy comes over the difficulty in gaining access to the drugs needed to make the lethal injection method work in the least tortuous way possible. Political activists have tried, with some success, to pressure manufacturers of those drugs not to sell to jurisdictions that permit capital punishment. This has delayed one scheduled execution in Louisiana at least a year, where now the earliest it could happen would be the latter half of this year.

As state law permits only lethal injection, like Utah, which faced the same difficulty, Louisiana would have to make a change. Last year, an idea for legislation was floated to provide for alternative methods of carrying out a capital sentence, and it actually got far long in the process until its author state Rep. Joe Lopinto abruptly shelved it in favor of a study resolution for the Department of Corrections. That study presented an alternative heretofore untried, essentially inducing hypoxia, but Lopinto said of the fiscal-only session upcoming, with its restrictions on the number of non-fiscal bills that can be introduced, this doesn’t leave him room to go with any recommendation.


Cigarette tax report misleads on fiscal conclusions

In making decisions about Louisiana’s rickety budget this approaching legislative session, policy-makers need accurate information about their policy options. Unfortunately, a recent report about one of these issued by a leftist interest group does more to mislead than to inform.

As lawmakers ponder the utility of an increase in tobacco taxes to infuse revenue into the state’s upcoming spending plan, the Louisiana Budget Project circulated information about a dramatic increase in cigarette taxation. The organization estimated that a $1.25 increase per pack in that would generate $230 million in new revenues and encourage tens of thousands not to smoke, presumably saving many lives.

But it also goes on to allege that the state’s Medicaid program would save $523 million, its uncompensated care costs would go down by $88 million, and state health plans for its employees would rack up $85 million fewer in costs, for a total of $696 million a year in savings, from the impact of reduced smoking incidence. In order to come up with these figures, it extrapolates from a Centers for Disease Control 2009 report about the costs to state Medicaid systems of smoking-related illnesses.


Common Core contention invites BESE Trojan Horses

Those committed to education reform only can hope that the obsession some voters have with whether Louisiana should stick with the Common Core State Standards Initiative does not allow Trojan Horse establishmentarian candidates for the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to get into office and to wreck the only real progress seen for decades in the state’s delivery of education.

Of course, the controversy itself largely qualifies as making a mountain out of a molehill. Wild-eyed prophecies of CCSSI bringing doom and Soviet-like control over education that the more excitable critics of Common Core scarcely have credibility; more sober minds raise concerns about quality and appropriateness of the standards that deserve close watching but should be manageable. Whatever the outcome of whether it gets used totally, in part, or not at all, that will make little difference in the ultimate quality of educational delivery.

Far more impactful is the degree of choice allowed in Louisiana schools and accountability attached to them and their employees. The continued expansion of charter schools and the facilitation of their establishment and operation, of the school voucher program, and of school and teacher accountability measures make a much bigger difference in provision of superior education. This present set of elected BESE members, with a pair of notable exceptions in the form of Lottie Beebe and Carolyn Hill, has accomplished much in taking what the Legislature has given them and ensured that it has been implemented to full potency, not watered down.


New NO law forcing choice between health/liberty, lucre

The hazards and hypocrisy of tobacco regulation and taxation went on full display as a panel of lawmakers grappled with New Orleans’ decision to ban smoking in almost all public places.

The Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget was reviewing the state’s contract with the city to provide $3.6 million to it for public safety services, ostensibly because these increase as a result of the presence of Harrah’s New Orleans Casino, the only land-based casino authorized by the state. The state receives the first $63.6 million earned by the casino, but the first and last $1.8 million of that are supposed to get kicked back to the city as compensation through a separate line item. Harrah’s officials claimed that fiscal year 2016 revenue to the state would be jeopardized, backed by a Louisiana State Police assertions that the city’s new, soon-to-be implemented smoking ban, which would include all New Orleans casinos, could cut revenues by 20 percent, even as that estimate appeared based on assumptions inapplicable to the market.

The figure drew some concern from lawmakers, and led to putting off approval of the annual contract until the Legislature’s regular session began. During that time, the entire Legislature likely will consider increasing tobacco taxes in order to raise revenues to close a budgetary gap in the hundreds of millions of dollars.


Defensive cracks give hope to higher education reform

Admirably, the Louisiana State University Board of Supervisors forced consideration of larger issues about the state’s higher education system when it requested that the Louisiana Legislature this upcoming session to free institutions from any constraints on tuition and fees and increasing autonomy in general.

In its meeting last week, the supervisors passed a resolution requesting greater autonomy, a preference supported by higher education administrators in general, and another which would return tuition and fee determination back to the governing boards like their system’s, altered two decades ago to require legislative approval of increases in these, although legislation from a few years ago made an exception to allow for increases up to 10 percent without that blessing so long as schools reached performance targets. Heretofore, administrators have not backed that measure with tuition, although they have with fees and have fallen behind a bill to set the stage for that.

They have resisted loosening tuition restrictions because then policy-makers could tell them that they must use this tool to increase revenues, forgoing some or any contribution of increased taxpayer commitment. That the 10 percent increases that have happened over the past few years occurred in conjunction with reductions in the state’s allotment lend credence to this view. Administrators always prefer using taxpayer resources than own resources, for as tuition and fees rise, at the margins fewer students enroll, which threatens programs and jobs, a special concern in Louisiana because of the overbuilt nature of its higher education system that already has too few students chasing too many institutions.