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SPOTLIGHT
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Land grabs

Published on -6/17/2014, 9:59 AM

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While the business affairs of most states outside of Kansas do not warrant our attention, the upsurge in cookie-cutter legislation finding favor in Topeka has us wary of most anything signed into law elsewhere.

In the past three years, numerous pieces of legislation addressing non-existent problems have found sponsors, majorities of both houses, and the governor's signature. Bills that shun both the federal government and local units are particularly attractive for some reason.

So a law recently adopted in Louisiana, while peculiar to the Pelican State, should be noted and remembered in case an iteration makes its way here.

That state has been losing parts of its coastline to flooding for as long as the Gulf of Mexico has touched its shore. Estimates suggest the state loses the equivalent of a football field of land every hour -- and a quarter of its coastline since the 1930s. According to a McClatchy-Tribune News report, a leading cause of the loss is the network of canals oil and gas companies have cut through the wetlands. One of the consequences of having easier methods to install pipelines and haul equipment has been allowing salt water to flow into the marshes and barrier islands, killing vegetation that prevents erosion. In other words, the natural protection against storm surges spawned by hurricanes is diminishing. As the administration of Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal has turned its back on the environment and continues to approve the destructive permits, local governmental agencies stepped in. During the past year, many local parishes and the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East that is in charge of the New Orleans area, filed suit against the 97 oil and gas companies wreaking havoc on the wetlands.

Jindal's response was to label the legal actions frivolous and sign a bill prohibiting such lawsuits by government bodies. The Republican governor said the law "further improves Louisiana's legal environment by reducing unnecessary claims that burden businesses so that we can bring even more jobs to our state."

Jindal was not swayed by arguments the new law would jeopardize ongoing litigation against BP for its 2010 massive oil spill. He ignored his own attorney general and some 100 legal experts who warned the sweeping language would negatively affect hundreds of other current lawsuits, not to mention future cases when the industry causes more damage.

Allowing corporate pursuit of profits to trump legitimate concerns and injury to the overwhelming majority of his constituency is not unique to Louisiana's governor. Dozens of chief executives throughout the country proudly and repeatedly allow the so-called job creators to help themselves to public largesse while the unemployed and underemployed do without.

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback has proven more than willing to adopt similar tactics. Stripping authority from local government units while at the same time depriving them of funding already is taking place.

Kansas residents should be on the lookout for legislation next session that mirrors Louisiana's new law. The corporate-funded American Legislative Exchange Council will be sure to have hand-picked state lawmakers take up the cause. We can't predict what the bill might entail, but are fairly confident it would benefit the struggling aviation industry.

State and federal governments are becoming more predictable as the funnel of proposed laws narrows. Regular citizens have the power to stop them; but first they must acknowledge the problem.

Editorial by Patrick Lowry

plowry@dailynews.net

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