- Associated Press - Saturday, April 19, 2014

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Louisiana lawmakers are entering the second half of their three-month regular legislative session, which must end by June 2. Where some of the major issues stand:

BUDGET: Gov. Bobby Jindal proposed a $25 billion budget for the 2014-15 fiscal year that begins July 1. It would put new dollars into education, health care and state worker pay raises. The House Appropriations Committee is expected to make the first legislative changes to the spending plan on April 28. A House financial analysis shows Jindal’s budget proposal is balanced using $968 million in surplus, trust fund, tax amnesty and other patchwork dollars that won’t reappear a year later. Meanwhile, lawmakers also must rebalance this year’s budget, which has an $81 million shortfall.

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EDUCATION STANDARDS: Efforts to scrap Louisiana’s use of the Common Core education standards adopted by most states and of the associated standardized testing failed to win the support of the House Education Committee, despite Jindal’s backing. Lawmakers who support the bills plan to continue pushing the issue in the Senate and on the House floor, however.

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COLLEGES: Proposals to put new limits on Louisiana’s free college tuition program known as TOPS have failed to gain traction in the Legislature so far. Negotiations continue over whether and how to put restrictions on the Tulane University scholarships that lawmakers control. The House unanimously agreed to create a higher education incentive fund that would steer money to high-demand programs, but it remains to be seen if lawmakers will set aside the $40 million Jindal wants to pour into the fund.

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MEDICAID EXPANSION: Democrats are pushing the expansion of Louisiana’s Medicaid program, as allowed under President Barack Obama’s health care law. None of the bills have yet received a hearing. They are considered a long-shot for passage, opposed by Republican leaders, including Jindal. The Legislature rejected expansion bills last year. The proposal is expected to be considered next week in a Senate committee.

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MARIJUANA: Bills to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes in Louisiana have yet to receive a hearing. A proposal to soften penalties for marijuana possession was derailed in a House committee by opposition from Louisiana sheriffs.

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GUNS: The Senate rejected a bill that would have allowed state lawmakers to carry concealed handguns in the building, but it will consider the issue again Monday. A proposal that would have let school employees who possess concealed handgun permits bring their weapons to work was shelved in a House committee. The Senate will consider a House-backed bill to let concealed handgun permit holders and armed off-duty police officers to carry their guns in restaurants serving alcohol.

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ABORTION: The House overwhelmingly backed new abortion regulations that would require doctors performing the procedure to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. Abortion-rights supporters say the legislation would shut down three of Louisiana’s five abortion clinics. It awaits debate in the Senate. Another measure pending on the House floor would require women seeking the procedure in Louisiana to get pamphlets describing possible psychological effects, the illegality of coerced abortions and services available to human trafficking victims.

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LEVEE BOARD LAWSUIT: The Senate sided with Jindal and the oil industry, agreeing to void a lawsuit that a south Louisiana flood board filed against 97 oil and gas companies for coastal damage. That bill awaits consideration in the House. A second measure to give the governor the authority to easily remove members of the levee board received the backing of the Senate Transportation Committee and will be debated by the Senate.

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GAY RIGHTS: Lawmakers in the House rejected a bill that would have prohibited housing discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, but other anti-discrimination bills sought by gay rights organization are pending for consideration.

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UNCONSTITUTIONAL LAWS: The House refused to repeal Louisiana’s unconstitutional anti-sodomy law, though a U.S. Supreme Court ruling effectively struck down such laws a decade ago. The Senate refused to repeal a law that mandates the teaching of creationism in public school science classes, though it was found unconstitutional in 1987 by the Louisiana Supreme Court and is unenforceable.

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TORT REFORM: The House narrowly rejected one of the main proposals pushed by the powerful Louisiana Association of Business and Industry this session, a bill that would lower the threshold for holding a jury trial in civil lawsuits. Similar legislation is pending in the Senate, so the debate is expected to continue.

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MINIMUM WAGE: Louisiana won’t boost its minimum wage for hourly workers. The House labor committee rejected bills that would have set the state minimum wage higher than the hourly federal rate of $7.25 and would have allowed local governments to set their own minimum wage.

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PUBLIC RECORDS: Bills to open more of the governor’s records to public scrutiny have been filed in both the House and Senate, but haven’t yet had a hearing. The Jindal administration has opposed such proposals in previous sessions.

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RELIGION: The House is scheduled Monday to consider a proposal to name the Bible as Louisiana’s official state book. Another bill pending in the chamber would give Louisiana’s public schools explicit authority to put up nativity scenes and Christmas trees as part of a holiday display, if the display either represents more than one religion or includes one religion and at least one secular symbol.

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PAYDAY LOANS: Lawmakers have refused to cap the fees that are charged for the short-term, high-interest loans offered by payday lending businesses, but they are considering whether to cap the number of loans a person could take out each year.

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DRONES: The Senate voted to prohibit drones from flying over chemical plants, water treatment systems and items considered “critical infrastructure” in Louisiana, sending the measure to the House for consideration. Another bill awaiting debate in the Senate would ban unmanned aircraft on private property, with some exceptions including for law enforcement.

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ODDS AND ENDS: Proposals to ban anyone under the age of 18 in Louisiana from using tanning beds and from buying electronic cigarettes are speeding to final passage. A bid to loosen helmet restrictions for motorcyclists was rejected. Attempts to put new restrictions on traffic cameras have largely faltered. An effort to legalize the sale of alcohol-infused ice cream has received a chilly reception and remains stuck in a House committee. Senators refused to protect the sport of “chicken boxing” from Louisiana’s ban on cockfighting.

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Online:

Louisiana Legislature: www.legis.la.gov


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