- Associated Press - Thursday, May 22, 2014

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - A measure that would allow students who are ruled ineligible to play high school sports to appeal the decision with a third-party arbitrator will go to Gov. Bobby Jindal for final consideration.

The House voted 54-38 Thursday for Baton Rouge Sen. Dan Claitor’s measure, which would require the Louisiana High School Athletic Association to have a third-party arbitrator to rule on eligibility decisions when students request it.

The Republican lawmaker brought the bill on behalf of Clement Mubungirwa, a 19-year-old Ugandan refugee who was kicked off his football team at Episcopal High School by the association for being too old to play.

The LHSAA has an age cutoff for student athletes. Students who turn 19 before September are ineligible to play sports. Mubungirwa, who spent his early childhood facing malnutrition and abuse in refugee camps, turns 19 in July.

Episcopal High School, lawmakers and close friends have rallied to pressure the LHSAA to let the student play. However, the association has refused to bend the rule, saying it has never made an exception to the safety rule.

Rep. Neil Abramson, a Democrat from New Orleans who also filed a bill for Mubungirwa, said the LHSAA has too much power in matters of eligibility.

“We need some level of review,” he said.

Opponents said eligibility for high school sports is not the business of legislators.

“It meddles into the affairs of a private entity,” said Rep. John Bel Edwards, D-Amite.

But Abramson said the LHSAA gets money from the state through its public school members, which gives legislators the right to weigh in on how the association decides on eligibility.

Several lawmakers stepped in to support the measure, arguing the bill would ensure fairness for students who cannot afford a lawsuit against the LHSAA.

“This just fixes a broken process,” said Rep. Major Thibaut, D-New Roads.

Rep. Katrina Jackson, D-Monroe, said lawmakers need to prevent the association from making unfair rulings, which she said it has done in the past.

“There have been so many unreasonable decisions because of no oversight,” she said.

The measure is one of two proposals that were filed on Mubungirwa’s behalf.

Abramson proposed a measure that would have barred the athletic association from holding sporting events at the Louisiana Superdome unless it allows Mubungirwa back on the field. However, Abramson pulled the bill after lawmakers said it was too harsh.

Claitor’s bill now awaits the decision of Jindal.

___

Online:

Senate Bill 633 can be found at www.legis.la.gov


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