BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Gov. Bobby Jindal’s push to void a lawsuit that a south Louisiana flood protection board filed against the oil and gas industry will go to the full Senate for debate.
The bill won the unanimous backing Thursday of the Senate Transportation Committee.
Jindal is supporting a series of bills by Sen. Robert Adley, R-Benton, that seek to undermine the lawsuit the New Orleans-area levee board filed against more than 90 oil and gas companies whose drilling activities are blamed for coastal erosion in vulnerable wetlands.
The governor has called the board’s lawsuit a windfall for trial lawyers because of the contingency fee arrangement, which would give the attorneys a slice of any judgment rather than a flat fee.
The bill (Senate Bill 553) advanced by the Senate committee would prohibit Louisiana’s flood protection authorities from hiring outside lawyers without approval from the governor and apply the restrictions retroactively. It also would require lawmakers to approve board contingency fee arrangements for future lawsuits.
Jindal’s policy director, Stafford Palmieri, said the measure would subject the levee boards to the same standards required of other state boards and commissions that need approval for outside contracts. Adley said he believes that should have been required in the levee board’s lawsuit.
“We believe that the process that was followed to enter into the contract with the attorneys, we believe that that process was inappropriate and violated the policies of this state,” he said.
Critics say the bill would introduce political meddling into a process designed to be free of such interference. They said it seeks to give special immunity to one favored industry in the state, noting that the bill was supported by a list of oil and gas companies and organizations.
“Why would you make it retroactive? That is vindictive,” said retired Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honore, who has championed environmental causes at the Legislature.
Honore said while he appreciates the products that the oil and gas industry supplies, “It does not give them the right to trash this state and to step all over our constitution.”
The House supported a rewrite of Louisiana’s career-track diploma law, to match a new policy of the state education board that will require public high school students who aren’t college-bound to get job skills certifications to get a diploma.
The bill (House Bill 944) by Rep. Jim Fannin, R-Jonesboro, was sent to the Senate with a 94-0 vote Thursday.
The redesign, pushed by Superintendent of Education John White, emphasizes skills training for students who don’t intend to go to a four-year university. Fannin said he hoped to keep more students in school with the changes.
“We got a lot of jobs that we need entry-level skills that we need to train in this state,” Fannin said.
All public school districts will have to make the changes by the 2016-17 school year. The first students to receive the new diploma will graduate in 2018.
High school students who seek a career-track diploma will be required to get an industry-based certification or credentials earned through dual-enrollment coursework at a technical school or community college in order to graduate and earn their diploma.
For example, students could become certified electricians, plumbers or mechanics or get training in web design, all while still in high school.
Public school students in Louisiana who show proficiency in a language other than English could be able to get a state “Seal of Biliteracy” on their diplomas, if the Senate agrees to a bill backed by the House in an 86-0 vote Thursday.
The proposal (House Bill 1016) by Rep. Vincent Pierre, D-Lafayette, would encourage local school districts to participate in the program, but wouldn’t require it.
Proficiency would be demonstrated if a student: passes an advanced placement exam or other world language test in a second language with a certain score, completes a certain number of high school language courses and achieves a 2.5 grade point average in those classes or passes a foreign government’s approved language examination.
The bill heads next to the Senate for debate.
Louisiana Legislature: www.legis.la.gov
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