Louisiana editorial roundup

By: The Associated Press, Associated Press
October 19, 2016 Updated: October 19, 2016 at 2:19 pm

Recent editorials from Louisiana newspapers:


Oct. 14

NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune on Louisiana marriage laws:

Out Xanamane was born at home in Laos in 1975, the year the Southeast Asian nation was taken over by communists. His family fled the war-torn country and ended up in Louisiana in 1986 after stints in refugee camps in Thailand and the Philippines. He has permanent resident status and is applying for citizenship, according to The Washington Post. Yet the state of Louisiana refused to allow him to be married here.

A law that went into effect in January requires every foreign-born person to show a birth certificate and an unexpired passport or visa to get a marriage license. Like many refugees, Mr. Xanamane doesn't have a birth certificate — none was issued when he was born — and has no way to get one, the Post said.

So he and his U.S.-born wife went to Montgomery, Alabama, to get married. Yes, Alabama and Mississippi are more welcoming to immigrant couples than Louisiana.

State Sen. Conrad Appel, a Metairie Republican, warned lawmakers that they were going to cause unnecessary problems for couples like Mr. Xanamane and his wife. "If you are trying to use marriage as an immigration (regulation) tool, I think that's a mistake," Sen. Appel told senators in June 2015 before they voted.

They didn't listen to him.

Now dozens of couples are being turned away at clerks offices across Louisiana because of a lack of a birth certificate. "I think it is going to get worse and worse," Sen. Appel said. "If people want to get married, I want them to get married."

Louisiana law provided a way for that to happen before the law was changed. People without a birth certificate could go to a court or another legal authority to request a waiver. Now only people born in the United States or a U.S. territory have that option.

"Before 2015, we were not having a problem," Debbie Hudnall, executive director of the Louisiana Clerks of Court Association, said. The association plans to ask a legislator to sponsor a bill providing a waiver process for people without birth certificates in next spring's legislative session.

The clerks worked with the marriage bill's sponsor, Republican Rep. Valarie Hodges, on a fix this year, but she pulled the legislation after it passed committee.

Rep. Hodges originally described her bill as an anti-fraud measure. The example she used was someone who is already married in another state getting a license in Louisiana. But her legislation is denying licenses to a much broader group of people. Even tourists who come to Louisiana to be married have to have a birth certificate in addition to their passport or visa.

The U.S. Supreme Court sets a high bar for restrictions on marriage, which it considers a fundamental right. A federal court in Pennsylvania ruled that it was unconstitutional to deny a license to an undocumented immigrant who was marrying a U.S. citizen.

Some Alabama counties started refusing to issue marriage licenses to immigrants without documentation in 2011, after the state passed a restrictive immigration law. Montgomery County, where Mr. Xanamane and his wife got married, was one of them. But the county stopped requiring proof of citizenship in 2013 after a federal lawsuit was filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Louisiana's new law seems ripe for a court challenge, and the state is unlikely to win. Rep. Hodges said Thursday she would work the attorney general to allow immigrant couples in the country legally to marry. And she agreed to "tweak" the legislation in next spring's session.

This is a poorly written and overly broad law, and it is putting an unfair burden on couples. Lawmakers may need to do more than tweak it.




Oct. 19

The Advocate on the indigent paying for criminal defense :

Growing attention to the crisis in paying for criminal defense of the indigent has led to lawsuits across the nation, with the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups challenging governments for failing to provide adequate legal defense for the poor.

Louisiana is among the states affected, and ultimately our state's crime problem will be worsened if we cannot find a way to adequately fund the difficult job of criminal defense for the poor.

The famous Gideon decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in the 1960s mandates a right to an attorney when one's freedom is at risk. Even in good times, indigent defense is a hard sell politically; all too often, political leaders denounce it as welfare for criminals.

Until, that is, dangerous criminals go free because they did not have a constitutionally required defense at their trials.

Then, our communities suffer because we are not taking care of business.

In Louisiana, indigent defense is the subject of legislative tussles on a regular basis. Some indigent defense offices either shut down or refuse to take new clients because the hodgepodge of state funding and traffic fines and other revenue sources simply isn't enough to pay the tab.

A reform initiative in the last decade gave some state oversight to the local offices, improving efficiency — but not enough to make up for the lack of funding.

A report from The Marshall Project outlined the sometimes humorous results of business lawyers leaned on by judges to take indigent criminal cases in Caddo Parish. Bond lawyers handling a shooting case? Maybe it's funny to a point, but the lawyers know they don't have the expertise to really help their clients, because like anything else criminal law requires experience to do well.

The problems of indigent defense have made headlines in New Orleans and Lafayette in particular in the past year, but we are no closer to a solution now. If the lawsuits over the quality of defense are successful, once again we shall find that a federal judge will be mandating a solution to a widely recognized problem that Louisiana did not find the good judgment to address in a timely fashion.




Oct. 18

The Courier of Houma on the direction of schools in the state:

While no one should be content with the state of Louisiana's schools, there are some reasons to take heart.

That was the central message behind Louisiana Education Superintendent John White's speech to a local business group earlier this week.

"When people talk about education in Louisiana, they often start with the negatives," White told the Bayou Industrial Group during a luncheon at the Bayou Country Club in Thibodaux. "We have a very, very long way to go. Nobody would say that we should be satisfied with where our education system is headed, but on every conventional measure of success, we are moving in the right direction."

Some of the obvious improvements that White cited are the increase in our graduation rate and the hikes in our high school students' ACT scores. The graduation rate has gone up 5.5 percentage points in the past four years. And our ACT scores now rank third in the South.

Both are impressive achievements.

We aren't in a position to sit back and enjoy our successes, but these are steps in the right direction.

These are positive results that have followed years of hard work implementing and adjusting a system of accountability that our state for so long lacked.

As White pointed out, there is still much improvement needed in our schools. And that is what he said his department has been trying to do.

He pointed to five specific areas where he is hoping to make a difference over the coming years:

1. Early childhood education, where the Education Department has tried to implement reforms to get pre-K and Head Start classes, as well as child care programs, improved to the point where every child is prepared to enter school on the first day of kindergarten.

2. Improving expectations so that our students can eventually achieve at the same levels as students in even the highest-performing states. Part of that process is using higher expectations and holding students and teachers to those expectations.

3. Improving options for students who are not planning on pursuing a college degree after high school.

4. Implementing a one-year apprenticeship program that will much better prepare future teachers for what they will encounter when they enter our students' classrooms.

5. Focusing on improving access to better schools for students who happen to live in low-income areas.

Altogether, White has the right idea: Improve results by increasing expectations and giving students and teachers the tools they need to succeed.

Let's hope the upward trend continues.



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