- Associated Press - Monday, June 8, 2015

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Lawmakers are again seeking review and approval authority over state consulting contracts signed across state agencies. But it’s unlikely the bill can escape a veto since Gov. Bobby Jindal killed the same proposal last year.

With a 36-0 vote Monday, the Senate gave final passage to a proposal (House Bill 30) by Rep. Jerome “Dee” Richard, an independent from Thibodaux, giving lawmakers more oversight.

Most consulting and professional services contracts with a state general fund price tag topping $40,000 a year would need approval from the Legislature’s joint budget committee before they could begin, under the bill.

Richard has sought unsuccessfully to curb the contracts for five years. Treasurer John Kennedy also has pushed the bill, saying Louisiana spends millions on unnecessary contracts.

“Rep. Richard has worked tirelessly to bring sunshine to the thousands of consulting contracts that are hidden from view. Justify the worthwhile contracts to the public and get rid of the rest,” Kennedy said in a statement.

If the Legislature’s joint budget committee doesn’t request a review within 30 days from receiving information about the contract, it will be deemed approved. If the committee rejects or reworks a contract, any savings will be directed to a fund for higher education.

The bill expires in 2018, unless lawmakers choose to renew the provisions.

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Both the House and Senate have unanimously agreed to earmark some future Gulf oil spill recovery money for Louisiana’s college campuses.

The proposal (House Bill 386) by Rep. Walt Leger, D-New Orleans, could steer to public colleges some of the money Louisiana is expected to receive from BP to pay for economic damage caused by the 2010 spill.

Those dollars are separate from other civil penalties from violations of environmental laws, money that’s required to be set aside for coastal restoration and protection projects.

Lawmakers already have set aside the first $1 billion in economic damages money to repay Louisiana’s “rainy day” fund and an elderly trust fund that have been used to plug budget gaps in recent years. Leger’s bill would target oil spill money above that, place it into a fund and require the interest earnings be spent on higher education.

The economic damages claims are the subject of ongoing federal litigation, and it’s unclear when any of the money might be available to the state.

One more vote of the House is needed to send the bill to Gov. Bobby Jindal’s desk.

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Louisiana’s public high school students will have to take the same civics exam as immigrants who seek U.S. citizenship.

The bill (House Bill 34), sponsored by Sen. Page Cortez, R-Lafayette, received final passage with a 39-0 Senate vote Monday and heads to the governor.

Supporters of the bill said high school students often have little knowledge about U.S. government and history and requiring them to take the citizenship test could help remedy that.

As first proposed, the bill contained a provision that would have prevented students from graduating if they didn’t pass the test. But that requirement was stripped from the bill after education associations objected.

The testing requirement will begin in the 2016-2017 school year.

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Online:

Louisiana Legislature: www.legis.la.gov

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