Wednesday, September 02, 2015


Baton Rouge, Louisiana


The results are in for 2015, and it comes as no surprise that Louisiana continues to lead the nation in having the highest automobile insurance rates.  A new study, just released by the Bankrate Group “ranked all 50 States according to a number of factors that determined where it’s the worst state to drive a car.” The analysis concluded that Louisiana is the worst state for drivers due “in large part because of the nation’s highest car insurance costs and above average fatal crash rate.”

The results are even more startling when compared to surrounding southern states.  Louisiana comes in at an average insurance rate of $1,279.42.  Mississippi’s average rate is significantly lower at $898.48, with Arkansas weighing in at $820.00.  Highly industrialized Texas is still $260.00 lower at $1013.83.  As Vehicles Insurance Magazine observed: “There are a lot of reasons Louisiana is a great place to live, but cheap car insurance isn’t one of them.”

There are a number of factors regularly cited for Louisiana’s high auto insurance costs.  Poor roads, car thefts, repair expenses, litigation, a dysfunctional regulatory system, no consumer affairs office to speak up for policyholders; but a major factor is the drivers themselves.  How can we put this diplomatically?  Many Louisianans are right down lousy drivers.

Drunk driving continues to be rampant all over Louisiana.  I made a special effort to read area newspapers for reports of DWI arrests in the past two months, and the news was startling.  Third offense drunk driving arrests were often the norm. In Metairie just two weeks ago, a hit and run driver was booked for his 7th DWI.  An Abita Springs man was booked recently for his 8th DWI after a hit and run.  In Baton Rouge just this week, as local driver was busted for a 7th DWI.  And 6 hours after being released from jail, a Duson man got back in his car while drunk again and killed the driver of another car.

Here’s the question.  Why were drivers with so many DWIs allowed to be on the road in the first place? Actually, Louisiana has some of the toughest DWI laws in the country.  For a third offense DWI, there is no discretion for judges.  An offender with three convictions faces a mandatory sentence of two years in jail. And get this – the party convicted is supposed to have their car seized and sold out from under them. But the strong drunk driving laws on the books are often not being implemented.

 The problem is one of enforcement.  Many judges and prosecutors ignore the law.  Often the DWI charge is reduced to careless and reckless driving.  And compounding this problem is that computer information systems in one parish are unable to communicate with systems in another parish, so a prosecutor is not aware of previous convictions.

Besides drunk drivers, highway fatalities are directly related to speed.  If you want to see how it feels to drive at the Daytona 500, just head on down I-10 to New Orleans from Baton Rouge in the morning or late afternoons.  As a test, in my trips along that route, I often set my cruse control on 74 miles’ an hour. The speed limit is 70.  Then I count the number of cars that wiz past me, often traveling in excess of 80 mph.  I generally quite counting after 100 cars pass me within the first 30 miles of my trip.  The same can be said for drivers on I-12, and I-49.

There have been a number of recent complaints about speed traps along I-49 in the towns of Woodworth and Washington.  The speed limit is 75 miles an hour, but numerous grumblings, including some by legislators, charge that these towns are writing speeding tickets as a way of financing the town’s budget.  So I called my old friend David Butler, the Mayor of Woodworth.  He gave me some good advice.

“Jim, here’s the secret to avoiding any so called speed trap,” the Mayor confided. “Are you ready? The speed limit is 75 miles an hour.  Don’t go any faster.”  Can’t argue with that.

Speeding and drunk driving are key factors in why Louisiana has such high insurance rates.  It comes down to driver responsibility and enforcing the laws on the books.  The honor of having the nation’s worst drivers is an award the state can do without.

“Do you know what happens when you give a procrastinator a good idea? Nothing.”
Donald Gardner

Peace and Justice

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide.  You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9 am till 11:00 am, central time, on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Ten Years Ago Katrina Tried To Wash Us Away!

New Orleans, Louisiana

Ten Years Ago Katrina Tried To Wash Us Away!

Just as most Americans remember where they were on 9/11, those of us living on the Gulf Coast remember the fear and concern that enveloped our region ten years ago this week. A lady named Katrina changed many of our lives.  In looking back, many Louisianans felt that maybe New Orleans really was a city that care forgot, and the whole Gulf Coast was thrown in for good measure. This human tragedy has haunted the Bayou State over the past decade as even today the rebuilding effort continues.
Two days before Katrina attacked, I was hosting a local radio program in Baton Rouge and was interviewing a key official with the National Hurricane Center in Miami. “Katrina has turned in a much more northerly direction, with a beeline for New Orleans. We are saying a possible Hurricane 4, and you folks are going to have some big problems up there.”
I was stunned. “What? We’ve had no warning of this. You’re telling me it’s going to come right towards New Orleans?”  At dinner with friends that evening, no one was aware of the impending storm.  Now major storms often head our way, but veer east towards the Florida coast, or west to Mexico.  Our group was cautiously optimistic.
The next morning, with Katrina only a day away, I called my sister, living at the southern tip of Louisiana in Port Sulfur.  I offered to come get her family, but she told me the single road north was completely congested and it was best for her to spend the hours evacuating.  New Orleans has only four roads that lead out of the city, and they too were ensnarled in massive traffic jams as the locals fled for safety.
But as thousands who had transportation escaped, there was virtually no evacuation plan in place and no mandatory exodus.  When asked repeatedly by the press, the Mayor of New Orleans issued a statement saying: “He’s having his legal staff look into whether he can order a mandatory evacuation of the city.” The storm was now only hours away, yet no public effort was undertaken on either the city or state level to supply public transportation for the thousands who had no way out.
That evening, a steady stream of New Orleans’ area evacuees called or knocked on our door in Baton Rouge looking for a place to ride out the storm.  Twenty-five people slept on floor pallets and sleeping bags at my home that night.  The number would grow in days a head.
Miraculously, the storm passed on a Sunday night, and did little damage to the Crescent City. By the next morning our New Orleans family and guests were packing up to head back home.  Then the chilling news came in a phone call from a friend who had ridden out the storm. The levees had broken and the city was flooding.
The real tragedies took place in the days that followed. Thousands were stranded on rooftops and in attics.  When private boat owners headed into New Orleans and surrounding areas to help, they were often told by state and federal law enforcement officers that it was illegal to bring their personal boats into the disaster area.  I was told that very thing when I tried to make it by boat to my in-laws house on Bayou St. John. Hundreds of boat owners, labeled the Cajun Navy, ignored the ludicrous orders and charged in to save thousands of stranded homeowners.
For a week the Governor and the President squabbled over who had the authority to oversee the Louisiana National Guard.  It was a ridiculous turf battle that delayed the rescue efforts by several more days.  It took an Army general from New Roads, Louisiana (Russell Honore’) to take charge and bring some order to the devastated area.
There has been much second-guessing and lessons learned in a hard way.  Many books have been written about the Katrina experience. I’ll have a lengthy chapter about the devastating storm in a new book out next year.
The Gulf Coast has been rebuilt, with new development and upgraded construction. But levees can only be built so high, and water pumps can only be built so big. Other storms will come.  Louisiana was drastically unprepared for the coming of Katrina. Over 1000 lives were lost. This just cannot be allowed to happen again.
Louisiana, Louisiana, They’re tryin’ to wash us away.
Randy Newman
Peace and Justice
Jim Brown
Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide.  You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9 am till 11:00 am, central time, on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at

Saturday, August 22, 2015


Thursday, August 20th, 2015
Baton Rouge, Louisiana


There’s always been a disconnect between the accolades LSU gives itself for academic achievement and the bottom line results that come from national rankings.  Louisiana’s flagship rarely cracks the top 100 universities in the U.S., with a majority of SEC schools outperforming LSU year after year. In the 2015 rankings by US News and World Report, LSU comes in at 149.

But there’s always been one shining star in the LSU System -- The Pennington Biomedical Research Center. Pennington has been recognized as a world leader in obesity research and disease prevention. The center’s mission statement reflects the pride it takes in its work:

“Since 1988, the mission of the Pennington Biomedical Research Center has been to promote healthier lives through research and education in nutrition and preventive medicine. As the largest academic-based nutritional research center in the world, we have the unique distinction of housing the greatest concentration of obesity research scientists.”

The center’s mission is commendable considering that the most recent statistics from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention conclude that more than one-third (34.9% or 78.6 million) of U.S. adults are obese.  The annual medical cost of obesity in the U.S. is approaching $200 billion. The public picks up on any new study from Pennington Center, because of its stellar national and international reputation.

Just last week, The LSU Center released a new study on why so many Americans are overweight.  Pennington’s executive director called the study “cutting-edge research.” Their conclusion?  The center’s press release cites “a lack of physical activity” as the main culprit. Nothing about Big Macs, fries, sugar coated almost everything. And, oh yes -- no mention at all of soft drinks like Coca Cola.

So who paid for the study?  What public interest organization funded this noble effort to get our kids healthier?  Why none other than, you guessed it, Coca Cola.  The world’s largest producer of sugar loaded beverages wants us to quit worrying about cutting calories. Just get more exercise. That apparently is the key to losing lots of weight. Yeah, right!

The Advocate’s James Gill succinctly asked:  “Why do academics bother was such a charade? Give ‘em a sack full of money and they’ll solemnly go through all the motions of a quest for the truth. All together now: ‘I’d like to buy the world a Coke.’”

Back during my days in public life as Louisiana’s Insurance Commissioner, I proposed legislation that would eliminate sugar loaded soft drinks from dispensaries in public schools. The beverage alliance, including Coca Cola, strongly lobbied against such legislation, arguing that profits from these machines went to buy school athletic uniforms.  So you load up the kids with sugar before sending them out on the playing field in great looking uniforms.

The front organization for Coca Cola’s money, called The Global Energy Balance Network, has issued a press release that says, “Most of the focus in the popular media and in the scientific press is that they’re eating too much, eating too much, eating too much -- blaming fast food, blaming sugary drinks and so on. And there’s really virtually no compelling evidence that that in fact is the cause.”

No compelling evidence?  What! There have been numerous non-biased scientific studies that repeatedly and conclusively prove fast food and sugary drinks cause obesity.  To say otherwise insults the intelligence of even the average observer.  Coca Cola does a great disservice by allowing their front organization to make such unfounded claims.

The Pennington Center press office told me that this study is ongoing and subject to refining as research progresses. They have their work cut out for them.  To leave their initial conclusions that exercise far outweighs poor dietary choices doesn’t pass the smell test.  Or for that matter, the taste test.

Peace and Justice

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide.  You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9 am till 11:00 am, central time, on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at

Thursday, August 13, 2015


Baton Rouge, Louisiana


If there was one area of financial help that could have and should have been addressed by the Louisiana legislature in its recent session, it was insurance reform.  After all, a Dallas-based research firm completed a new study last month that concluded that Louisianans pay a greater percentage of their annual income for insurance than folks in any other state. How did the legislature respond to this dubious honor? They took quick action and raised every Louisiana policyholder’s insurance rates.

The Dallas report found that the average Louisianan pays 18.1 percent of their median annual earnings for insurance -- that includes auto, homeowner’s, health and life insurance.  That’s the highest rate in the nation -- well ahead of more prosperous states like New York, Florida, Rhode Island and New Jersey.  We’ll no doubt hear that hurricanes cause the Bayou State’s high property insurance rates, but note that all these states behind Louisiana suffered major losses by Hurricane Sandy.

Blaming high property rates on hurricanes is a cop out. Other Gulf Coast states have the same hurricane exposure, yet pay significantly less as shown in the Dallas study.  Our neighbors to the east and west pay a significantly lower portion of their average median income for insurance.  Texas averages 13.7%, while Mississippi policyholders pay 14.8%.

On average, Louisianans spend $3 billion more than other policy holders though out the South. That’s $3 billion of new spending that won’t go into the Louisiana economy.

So just what action did legislators take to help alleviate this financial burden?  First, a new law was passed that will tax auto policyholders some $22 million dollars to pay for a 270% increase in the cost of an insurance company obtaining a person’s driving record report from the state police.  Everyone agrees that insurance companies will pass on the additional cost to drivers throughout the state resulting in an increase in auto insurance premiums beginning with the next renewal.

The legislature continued its bilking of policyholders by taking away 28% (or $60 million) of a tax credit homeowners have received for a number of years because of the huge debt incurred by Citizens Property Insurance Company.  For those of you not familiar with this boondoggle, Citizens was a disaster waiting to happen from its very inception.

Created by the Louisiana Legislature at the behest of the Insurance Department, Citizens was one of the most poorly constructed business operations ever conceived by a state legislature. With no capital and no surplus available to get Citizens started on a sound footing, the company was broke from day one. It became obvious early on that no one at Citizens had any idea of how to run an insurance company.

In addition, a mother’s mantra of any successful insurance company is that there must be adequate reinsurance. There must be a safety net in case a storm like Katrina comes along. The legislature and the insurance department failed to require that Citizens have sufficient reinsurance. And that single negligent decision stuck Louisiana policy holders with a bill that will exceed $1 billion. By virtually every standard that a private insurance company must measure up to, Citizens has failed miserably.

With this new assessment now being saddled on the backs of Louisiana property owners, the Citizens debacle continues to get even worse. The best solution would be to shut the company down completely. At a minimum, Citizens needs major restructuring with more requirements for both legislative and auditor oversight.

Unfortunately for those stuck with the bill, there seems to be little concern at the state capitol to straighten out a broken system that has caused financial grief for so many Louisiana policyholders. Will the coming election make any difference?

“It’s not hurricanes that are causing high insurance rates, but bad government policy,”
Policy analyst Michelle Minton

Peace and Justice

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide.  You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9 am till 11:00 am, central time, on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at