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Louisiana editorial roundup

Recent editorials from Louisiana newspapers:

June 11

The Times-Picayune on gambling:

More than 25 years after contorting themselves to legalize casinos and video poker under a state Constitution that commanded "Gambling shall be defined by and suppressed by the legislature," the topic still seems to tie lawmakers into knots.

The latest case in point is what was expected to be a straightforward passage of regulations and a tax rate to get fantasy sports (which is technically not gambling under federal law) up and running in the state.

The heavy lifting was done last year when advocates got the issue on the ballot over objections that the online games were just another expansion of gambling that would lure younger people into what can become a devastatingly bad habit.

But pushing the logic that "Everybody else is doing it," and with the help of a $1 million campaign financed by fantasy sports giants FanDuel and DraftKings, supporters won approval in 47 of 64 parishes.

All that was left was to steer two bills by Rep. Kirk Talbot, R-River Ridge, through the process and fantasy sports fans could be filling out their imaginary lineups — after paying some very real fees, of course — in no time.

But that came to a screeching halt Thursday (June 6) when Sen. Danny Martiny, R-Kenner, essentially filibustered the final minutes of the legislative session to prevent the passage of Talbot's bill to set the tax rate on fantasy sports betting.

The irony is that Martiny, one of the most pro-gambling lawmakers in the Legislature, killed Talbot's bill not because of some noble ideal but out of personal pique that a House committee had rejected his own effort to allow state residents to put down bets on real sporting events.

"I don't like the way I was treated," Martiny told his Senate colleagues as the clock struck 6 p.m. to end the session.

Martiny's personal vendetta aside, the episode also points out how some of the most effective opposition to new or expanded gambling in the state comes not from true gambling opponents but from within their own ranks.

The land-based casino worries about the riverboats, the riverboats worry about the racinos, the racinos worry about the video poker operators. And the video poker operators worry about everybody. Every new form of gambling could be a threat to an existing one.

If anyone looked to lose business to fantasy sports, it was the folks invested in machines at bars, restaurants and truck stops. The new kids on the block would be offering games on smartphones 24/7.

The video poker interests had little chance to stop the fantasy bills, but they did manage to slow them by pushing for a higher tax rate and lobbying lawmakers to make sure these interlopers didn't buy into the game too cheaply.

Then along came Martiny, desperate to revive his proposal to allow real sports betting by attaching his bill's language to both of Talbot's measures.

This led to some old-fashioned legislative maneuvering that included Appropriations Chairman Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, blocking Martiny's efforts to get a vote on the House floor.

This suggests that Martiny might have had the votes in the full House, but we will never know. The dispute ended up in a conference committee that remained deadlocked until the 11th hour when Sen. Gary Smith, D-Norco, finally agreed to let Talbot's bills move forward without the sports betting baggage.

The Senate passed one bill but ran out of time before it could vote on the taxes as Martiny held the microphone to complain of the unfairness done him.

The Kenner lawmaker, who is term-limited out of his Senate seat after 26 years in the Legislature, suffered a similar defeat on sports betting last year and ended the session with unkind words for his colleagues.

"As usual, we're going to be two years behind everyone else ... In our quest to be No. 50 in everything, here's another one," Martiny said on the Senate floor. "You do what you want. I'm just telling you we're the laughing stock of the country."

This time, it was Talbot who was lamenting the damage done to the Legislature's reputation, especially after voters had signaled their readiness to fulfill their fantasies.

With the Legislature restrained to consider new and increased taxes only in odd-numbered years, the fantasy sports rate will likely have to wait until 2021, unless the governor calls a special session that allows it.

"We're going to look like fools," Talbot said.

No one said that suppressing all this gambling would be easy.

Online: www.nola.com

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June 11

The Advocate on New Orleans performer Dr. John's death:

The legendary New Orleans performer Dr. John gained national fame for being in the "right place, but it must have been the wrong time," although his many fans knew better.

Known to family and friends by his given name, Malcolm John "Mac" Rebennack, he was, it seemed, in the right place at the right time to become a renowned musical artist.

Rebennack, who died Thursday at 77, had the good fortune to be born in New Orleans, the perfect laboratory for to develop his distinctive blend of rhythm and blues and rock. And his timing was impeccable, too. Rebennack came of age in the 1970s, a time of great musical experiments in which his unconventional performances, touched by a trademark gravelly voice and spidery piano riffs, found an enthusiastic audience.

His stage name was inspired by his sister, who "told me about some voodoo man named Dr. John," Rebennack recalled in a 1990 interview. Fellow musicians also took to call him "doctor" as a wry reference to academia since Rebennack was fond of poring over books about music.

It was a surprising side of a performer who didn't come off as a gentleman scholar. His early career was dogged by addiction and brushes with the law. He seemed to settle as he grew older, though he remained Dr. John the Night Tripper, a nocturnal species common to the French Quarter.

Our 1990 interview with Rebennack happened before noon, when he was still groggy from a performance the evening before. He was in a wistful mood, reflecting on the death of jazz drummer Art Blakey some months earlier. "There won't be any more cats like him," said Rebennack, his voice trailing off.

Of course, there won't be any more cats like Dr. John, either. All the more reason to treasure his memory, and keep his music close to heart.

Online: www.theadvocate.com

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June 9

The Houma Courier on what lawmakers got right:

As Louisiana legislative sessions go, the one that ended Thursday refreshingly lacked most of the conflicts and crises common to past years.

One of the best parts was the lack of the financial crises that have resulted in numerous sessions and special sessions to correct the disaster former Gov. Bobby Jindal left after eight years in office. This time, lawmakers even ended up with a relatively small surplus that it will spend on coastal restoration, highway maintenance and other, mostly justifiable projects.

Now that the session has come to a close, here are five things legislators and Gov. John Bel Edwards got right:

1. Teacher pay raises: One of the greatest accomplishments of the two-month session is a measure that will give Louisiana's roughly 50,000 teachers an extra $1,000 beginning with the new fiscal year July 1. Support workers will receive a $500-a-year pay hike. And Louisiana school systems will receive a combined $39 million increase compared to last year.

The pay raises help close a $2,200 gap between Louisiana and the average teacher salary across the South. Louisiana teachers earn an average $49,745 a year. Among the state's 69 public school districts, Terrebonne ranked 24th in average teacher salary at $50,427 for 2017-18, state figures show. Lafourche's average salary was $4,000 less and ranked 45th.

Louisiana lawmakers and the people they represent succeeded in finding a tangible way to show teachers they appreciate and value the work they do. Lawmakers deserve credit for prioritizing education while keeping the extra spending within the taxpayers' means.

2. Uber is coming -- finally. The Legislature finally passed the statewide regulations ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft are requesting before they add service to all but the largest cities.

And that will include Terrebonne Parish, which has long sought to bring the services here. State Rep. Tanner Magee, R-Houma, deserves credit for introducing the measure and, after a mind-boggling three years of trying, shepherding it to approval.

3. Seafood labeling: Louisiana restaurants will soon have to tell customers if they sell imported shrimp or crawfish.

Rep. Truck Gisclair, D-Larose, says his measure aims to help Louisiana shrimpers and crawfishermen compete with the cheaper imports that dominate the market, some of which have been found to contain antibiotics banned by the FDA. And it will inform consumers so they can decide whether to patronize restaurants that serve foreign rather than domestic seafood.

4. More justice reform: A new law, part of Louisiana's broader criminal-justice reforms, removes nonviolent offenses from the state's habitual-offender statute.

The current law, which has helped give Louisiana one of the world's highest incarceration rates, tacked on excessive sentences to anyone convicted of more than one felony, sometimes condemning people convicted of nonviolent offenses to decades or even life in prison.

The change will not only ease Louisiana's costly prison overcrowding, but it will help ensure the basic American legal tenet that the punishment should fit the crime.

5. Expanded foster care: A new law lets young adults remain in foster care until age 21 instead of 18. The action was recommended by a state task force that found prospects are grim for those forced out of the program at 18, including high percentages homeless, unemployed or incarcerated.

The extension applies to those enrolled in an educational or job-training program or who have a debilitating medical condition. It gives these young people a better chance at success.

Online: www.houmatoday.com

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