- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 16, 2014

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - The Louisiana House agreed Wednesday to ban organizations that perform abortions from distributing any information on family planning or human sexuality at public schools.

Rep. Frank Hoffmann, R-West Monroe, said his bill (House Bill 305) was in line with “Louisiana’s long-standing policy of respecting the dignity of human persons, including unborn babies.”

“This bill assures that children in state-funded schools are not targeted by abortion providers to subtly sell abortion,” he said.

Planned Parenthood opposes the measure, describing it as an effort to keep comprehensive sex education out of Louisiana schools and to deny students important information to help them make responsible decisions.

The House approved Hoffmann’s proposal in a 91-6 vote, sending it to the Senate for consideration.

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Students at poor-performing public schools could have the possibility of switching to higher-performing schools, under a bill that received the unanimous support Wednesday of the Senate.

Sen. Ben Nevers, D-Bogalusa, said he proposed the measure (Senate Bill 61) to offer choice to public school students, like the state has offered through the taxpayer-funded voucher program.

“It gives our public school students the same rights as our scholarship students in private schools,” he said.

The proposal would start with the upcoming 2014-15 school year.

Parents would be able to enroll their children in the public school they choose if the student was assigned to a school that was graded with a D or F in the state’s school grading system. The school that a parent chooses must be rated at an A, B or C level - and it must have the space to take the student.

The bill contains an exception for schools under court orders. It also would require parents to get their children to the newly-selected school if it’s located outside the geographic boundaries of the school system or would cost the system more than it would otherwise pay for transportation.

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Louisiana’s public schools would be given explicit authority to put up nativity scenes and Christmas trees as part of a holiday display, under a proposal that received the backing of the House Education Committee.

Rep. Alan Seabaugh, R-Shreveport, said he sponsored the proposal (House Bill 876) to “support Merry Christmas.”

The displays on school properly could include a menorah, nativity scene, a Christmas tree or other symbols “associated with traditional celebrations in winter” if the display either represents more than one religion or includes one religion and at least one secular symbol. The display couldn’t include a “message that encourages adherence to a particular religious belief.”

Seabaugh’s bill also would spell out in law that students and staff can say “Merry Christmas,” ”Happy Hanukkah” or other holiday greetings at school.

The committee approved the measure without objection, sending it to the full House.

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The chairman of the House health care committee is asking lawmakers to exempt home-based bakers who sell their breads, pies and other goods to the public from some state licensing standards.

Rep. Scott Simon, R-Abita Springs, is seeking to broaden a law passed last year giving the exemptions to people who sell cakes and cookies they bake at home, a law that keeps them from adhering to sanitation rules that require commercial grade equipment.

The expanded exemption would apply to home-based food makers who prepare baked goods, candies, honey, jams and jellies, pickles, sauces, syrups and spices - if their gross annual sales are less than $20,000.

Simon’s bill wouldn’t apply to people who make chicken pot pies, crawfish pies or other goods with meat or fish.

The proposal (House Bill 775) received the backing of the House Health and Welfare Committee without objection Wednesday. It moves to the House floor for consideration.

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In other legislative action:

-The Senate wants the Louisiana Legislature to lodge a formal request with the USDA to develop “tastier food options” for school lunches through its National School Lunch Program. The resolution (Senate Concurrent Resolution 41) by Sen. Rick Gallot, D-Ruston, was sent to the House with a 36-0 vote. Gallot said it was introduced after talking with high school students who complained about their lunch options.

-Information deemed “commercially sensitive” to a public utility authority would be exempt from public disclosure, if lawmakers agree to a bill (House Bill 1121) that received the unanimous backing Wednesday of the House and Governmental Affairs Committee. The protected information would include fuel costs, power pricing details, and customer billing and usage information. The measure by Rep. Mike Danahay, D-Sulphur, moves next to the full House for consideration.

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Online:

Louisiana Legislature: www.legis.la.gov

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