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LA lawmakers must reject hate, silver; support freedom

Louisiana’s lawmakers should not let the bigots and those whose faiths are by convenience win by failing to pursue legislation to clarify protection of religious freedom.

State Rep. Mike Johnson, a foremost legal authority on religion and the First Amendment, is considering a bill that would make changes to Louisiana’s Preservation of Religious Freedom Act. It largely mimics the federal law enacted in 1993, because a court ruling a few years later said the federal law could not apply to states. The law mandates that any government action that circumscribes practice of religious belief had to show a compelling interest to do so and in the least restrictive way.

Controversy over similar laws and changes to them in other states have arisen this year with an expansion of the definition, in the context of Louisiana’s version, of the concept of the “person.” Presently, that means consideration of religious rights of individuals and religious organizations. That definition would be expanded to include businesses as well, the impetus for this being a past U.S. Supreme Court decision signaling business transactions could be included in this calculus and whether this summer the Court conjures up protection to individuals on the basis of attitudes and behaviors other than those related to religious or political beliefs, namely practicing homosexuality, through a redefinition of marriage that prohibits states from confining it to between a single man and a single woman. Already in a majority of states same-sex marriages legally can be performed, in most instances forced upon the state by judicial fiat, meaning that the state may compel violation of conscience.


Little improvement unless LA academia mindset changes

A report that illuminates a portion of why Louisiana higher education suffers from resource problems also serves as a metaphor for the whole, directing to a solution for that – one if not pursued threatens to undo the recommendations made in the policy brief.

The Public Affairs Research Council, to noises of approval including those in higher education, described the good, bad, and ugly of how state policy inhibits leveraging of university research, with recommendations garnered from other states’ system to allow Louisiana to better fit higher education into economic development, describing benefits that would accrue to the micro, university level and to the macro, state level. Its underlying ethos makes for a reform agenda that could bear considerable revenues in the future.

In a sense, the major criticism of the current conduct of research enhancing these efforts by the state serves emblematically for the notorious weakness in Louisiana’s entire higher education structure. PAR wrote that research return missed its potential by an outdated model of the state spreading resources for it too thinly. There it is in a nutshell: the overbuilt higher education system, accentuated by the state’s peculiar populist political culture, likewise squanders potential by creating a situation of too few four-year capable and willing students chasing too many baccalaureate-and-above universities, and every time some politicians and higher education bureaucrats bray for more money for/fewer reductions of it, this reveals a single-minded captivity to the old centralized planning model of delivery that stubbornly refuses to recognize the world for what it is.


Compulsory voting, automatic registration bad ideas

Data surrounding recent local elections demonstrates why the compulsory voting idea floated by Pres. Barack Obama is a bad idea for Louisiana to adopt.

For example, in Bossier City, a whopping 6.6 percent of voters cast their ballots for two tax renewals to fund public safety services. In Caddo Parish, a special election and a couple of district tax measures prompted turnouts between 6 and 7 percent. In Ouachita Parish for district tax measures, stunningly-high 3.6 and 2.2 percentages bothered to participate. Such turnout is typical for these kinds of items, especially when there are no jurisdiction-wide or wider contests decided with them.

Obama had suggested that it would do the country good to be under some kind of scheme that required people to vote in elections, presumably along the lines of a place like Australia where people who do not cast a ballot in an election for all federal offices get fined a small amount, about US$16. He argued that this would “counteract money,” alleging that elections in the U.S. are not a product of rational decision-making by the electorate, but whoever spends the most.


Incremental TOPS bill requires substantial followup

At least it moves the ball down the field a little bit, the first bill in some time that has a political chance to improve the problem of Louisiana’s open-ended commitment to the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students having been prefiled for the Legislature’s upcoming 2015 regular session – but moves it only a tiny fraction.

SB 48 by state Sen. Jack Donahue would give the Legislature a cost-control mechanism over the TOPS award. Presently, the amount given per student is linked to tuition paid to Louisiana public colleges and universities, up to the highest amount charged by each kind (or a weighted average of each kind of these for a student wishing to attend a Louisiana nonpublic school). The bill locks in the amount at the academic year 2017 level – beginning almost 18 months from now – and gives the Legislature the discretion whether to raise the award for any future tuition increases past that level. This means tuition could go higher without TOPS fully paying for it.

As far as reforms of the program go, this is about as close as it can be to being no reform at all. It treats the symptom – escalating costs pegged at $267 million for this fiscal year for which the only control the Legislature has is its bizarre two-thirds majorities requirement to raise tuition more than 10 percent (for schools that meet certain qualifications; otherwise, no autonomous raise is permitted) – instead of the disease: a program so lax in its requirements (requiring for an award to pay for attending a baccalaureate-and-above institution only the national average score on the American College Test and a mediocre high school grade point average, and less demanding strictures to attend a community college or technical school) that it pays for too many marginal students to attend post-secondary education institutions, encouraging waste and making schools work less efficiently. Any serious reform must start with raising standards and graduating award amounts depending upon performance that reward excellence, which in turn creates incentive for more efficient learning and higher achievement in doing so.


Early endorsement illustrates LA Democrat weakness

That Louisiana Democrats moved to endorse state Rep. John Bel Edwards this past weekend at the quarterly meeting of their state central committee connotes more a defensive than offensive posture that illustrates the increasing weakness of the party.

Edwards has worked hard to position himself as the only quality candidate of this party for this office, and it paid off by this endorsement that, to say the least, by historical standards is unusual. State Democrats didn’t even bother to endorse candidates in the prior two contests, both won commandingly by Gov. Bobby Jindal, and prior to that endorsements would come only after the general election went into a runoff. Even going back almost a quarter of a century with endorsements prior to that on the electoral calendar, of Prisoner #03128-095, these did not occur this early in it.

That’s because they know Edwards is a longshot at best to win against three strong Republican candidates. The previous gubernatorial endorsement they made, in 2003, of Louisianans registered to vote, 57 percent of them identified as Democrats, while 48 percent of whites did so, making the party’s composition 56 percent white. Now they comprise less than 47 percent of the electorate, just 32 percent of whites, and the party has a black majority at 53 percent.