Recent editorials from Louisiana newspapers:

June 24

The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, on illegal-drug legislation:

Louisiana lawmakers took aim at dangerous chemicals - sold as bath salts - that have been sending people to emergency rooms with symptoms that include paranoia, hallucinations and suicidal thoughts.

Gov. Bobby Jindal outlawed the bath salts through an emergency rule that he issued in January. House Bill 12, which got final approval, finishes the job. It outlaws groups of ingredients used to make the bath salts and also bans chemicals that are used to manufacture synthetic marijuana.

Targeting ingredients will help Louisiana stay ahead of drug designers. Last year, the Legislature had banned chemically laced herbs that provide a pot-like effect, but drug manufacturers came up with a new formulation to get around the prohibition. This approach should ensure that the banned substances stay banned.

House Bill 12 by Rep. Ricky Templet puts the toxic substances used to make the bath salts into the same class as cocaine and other dangerous drugs. That's appropriate. People were using the substances, sold under names like "White Dove" and "Cloud Nine," to experience a speed-like high. But the chemicals cause severe psychotic side effects and were linked to two deaths, one in St. Tammany Parish.

While so-called bath salts have caused problems across the country, Louisiana seemed to be the epicenter. Louisiana Poison Control received 165 calls from September of last year until January, when the emergency ban went into effect, and the calls to Louisiana's poison hotline accounted for 57 percent of all such calls reported nationally.

The governor's office was right to take quick action to meet this new threat, and the Louisiana Legislature's passage of HB 12 ensures that these harmful substances should stay off store shelves for good.



June 27

The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La., on neighborhood smart growth:

The broadening crisis of Louisiana's broadening waistlines requires a series of actions, but one of the most basic is to look at our neighborhoods not as places to drive to and from, but places to walk or bike within.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency published a new guide to smart growth principles for towns and cities, and it's filled with academic citations about the value of making better choices about how we build. Because, the studies reported, the way we build affects the way we live day to day.

"Policies that offer more transportation options can have an immediate effect on public health by reducing air pollution from driving while increasing physical activity," the EPA report said. "Compact, mixed-use communities with streets that are safe for pedestrians and bicyclists give people the opportunity to incorporate physical activity into their daily routine by walking or biking to school, work, transit, stores, and restaurants, or for recreation."

Sounds simple, but cul-de-sacs and one-entry subdivisions - combined with zoning to restrict the very existence of neighborhood groceries, or schools - actually force people to drive instead of walking or riding a bike.

"One study in the Atlanta region found that people who live in compact, more walkable neighborhoods drive 30 to 40 percent less than people who live in more dispersed areas, are more than twice as likely to get the recommended amount of physical activity, and weigh an average of 10 pounds less than people who live in more dispersed areas," the EPA report said.

Researcher Tim Church and his colleagues at LSU's Pennington Biomedical Research Center have preached this gospel, too: Even modest increases in physical activity yield significant health benefits.

The EPA report notes that - pun intended - the paths toward sidewalks and bike paths can vary in terms of the needs and politics of communities.

However, the report, and many others like it, build a body of evidence - pun intended - that people can be healthier and generally better off if they are active. ...

We hope policymakers at all levels will embrace an old-fashioned approach to healthier lifestyles by making neighborhoods friendlier to walking and biking.



June 26

The Times, Shreveport, La., on personal income tax:

The idea of repealing Louisiana's personal income tax gained more traction and was the subject of more discussion this legislative session than most previous gatherings of state lawmakers in Baton Rouge.

That said, it's good the effort was sidelined for now. More discussion should be had before implementing a public policy change of that magnitude, if we decide to do so.

State officials and residents alike now have that time - two years until the next fiscal session of the state Legislature. And given the way we continuously approach legislative sessions - fearing what will be cut to offset the impending deficit (this time a projected $1.6 billion) only to have lawmakers most always finding money tucked away in this fund or another, thus causing us to scratch our heads in wonder over what we all were afraid of in the first place - it's time we had this discussion.

The thought is that by repealing the state's personal income tax, it would force us to examine more closely than ever before how our state budget and its funding system is structured and, some argue, how, why and to whom state tax credits and exemptions are awarded.

The impetus to have this discussion, to a degree, obviously was there this legislative session. But it seemed too much like an 11th-hour debate to give the matter proper consideration. Indeed, the proposal on the table went from one to phase out the personal income tax over 10 years after delaying that phase-out for two years to a proposal to just study the matter. In the end, legislators adjourned without being able to accomplish even that.

So given that we couldn't find impetus enough this time, the question becomes whether we have the political will to sit down at the table in this interim between fiscal-only legislative sessions to have the needed objective conversation. ...

There are those who say the proposal would force us to reconsider the size and scope of government. And that opens the door, gives us more impetus than we should ever need to discuss just how much government we want and how much we are willing to pay.

Let's talk.