- Associated Press - Friday, May 13, 2016

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - The Latest on the House budget debate (all times local):

2:15 p.m.

Lawmakers in the Louisiana House have sent their colleagues in the Senate a nearly $26 billion state operating budget that prioritizes the safety net hospitals for the poor and uninsured over the TOPS college tuition program.

After two days of debate, the House voted 82-17 Friday for the proposal to pay for state government operations in the financial year that begins July 1.

House leaders’ efforts to protect the TOPS program, estimated to cost nearly $300 million next year to pay for all eligible students, failed. Instead, lawmakers in the chamber voted to shift money to protect the hospitals, saying cuts could damage health care services and medical training programs.

As the proposal heads to the Senate for consideration, TOPS is $72 million short of full funding.

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2 p.m.

An effort to shift more money to the TOPS free college tuition program has failed to win support in the Louisiana House.

Lawmakers voted 57-42 Friday against moving $36 million from the safety net hospitals that care for the poor to get closer to fully funding TOPS in the financial year that begins July 1.

Rep. Jay Morris, a Monroe Republican, said his proposal still would leave TOPS about 12 percent to 15 percent underfunded in the 2016-17 school year.

Morris said it would be fairer to have both the hospitals and TOPS taking cuts, rather than having the hospitals fully funded.

Opponents of the reshuffling said they worried about the ability for the hospitals to remain open with cuts and damage to health care services and medical training programs.

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1:10 p.m.

Lawmakers in the House have refused to strip $2 million from Louisiana’s voucher program next year to instead boost needs-based aid for college students.

The House voted 58-34 against the proposal from Rep. Ted James, a Baton Rouge Democrat, during Friday’s budget debate.

James said the state’s GO Grant needs-based aid program has remained flat even as college tuition costs have grown.

But several Republican lawmakers defended vouchers, which use tax dollars to send students to private schools, as helping improve education and giving parents more choice.

Rep. Steve Carter, a Baton Rouge Republican, asked James: “What good’s a GO Grant if they don’t get to college?”

James replied that the same poor students lawmakers want to help with the voucher program need continued assistance when they go to college.

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10 a.m.

The Louisiana House has resumed its debate on the nearly $26 billion state operating budget proposed for next year.

College and health care programs are on the chopping block as lawmakers continue to grapple with how to close a $600 million shortfall in the financial year that begins July 1.

It was the second day of the budget debate. The House spent nine hours Thursday haggling over how the state should spend its available money.

Lawmakers were expected to consider reworking Thursday’s decision to protect the safety net hospitals for the uninsured at the expense of the TOPS free college tuition program.

The hospitals were prioritized with full funding in a narrow 49-43 vote. That leaves the tuition aid program $72 million short to cover all TOPS-eligible students.

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