- Associated Press - Thursday, May 22, 2014

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Lawmakers have agreed to make domestic abuse one of the grounds for immediate divorce in Louisiana, rather than having a months-long waiting period.

The Senate gave final passage to the bill (Senate Bill 292) by Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, with a 35-0 vote Thursday.

An immediate divorce could be granted if a spouse or child was physically or sexually abused by the other spouse or if a protective order or injunction was issued against the other spouse, under the bill. It also would allow domestic abuse to be a consideration when determining spousal support in a divorce case.

The measure was part of a package of bills aimed at fighting domestic violence in a state that leads the nation in domestic violence deaths.

“The state of Louisiana will be safer” because of the bills, Morrell said.

Morrell’s proposal heads next to Gov. Bobby Jindal’s desk. If approved, it would take effect Aug. 1.

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Louisiana’s public schools will be given explicit authority to put up nativity scenes and Christmas trees as part of a holiday display, under a bill that received final passage with a unanimous Senate vote Thursday.

“This bill allows for clarification,” said Sen. A.G. Crowe, R-Slidell. “The Supreme Court has already ruled that it’s not unconstitutional to express this type of activity in public schools.”

The displays on school property 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.”

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

The measure (House Bill 876) by Rep. Alan Seabaugh, R-Shreveport, moves to the governor’s desk.

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While House members were divided on whether to declare that fox pen hunting is part of Louisiana’s folklife heritage and should be preserved, the Senate spent little time discussing the bill before passing it Thursday.

The Senate’s 36-1 vote gave the measure (House Bill 390) by Rep. Sherman Mack, R-Livingston, final passage and sent it to the governor for consideration.

The sport involves fenced-in preserves where hunting dogs are trained to pursue foxes.

“There are very many fox hunters in the rural areas,” said Sen. Mack “Bodi” White, R-Baton Rouge, who handled the measure in the Senate.

Critics of the proposal call it a “blood sport” in which a fox is run down by 20 or 30 dogs that attack it until it dies.

Mack says in Louisiana the foxes are chased up a tree and aren’t killed.

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An effort to delay the consequences of Louisiana’s shift to Common Core education standards for one year longer than state education board policy is nearing final legislative passage.

The Senate Education Committee voted 3-1 Thursday to advance the proposal (House Bill 953) by Rep. Walt Leger, D-New Orleans, to the full Senate for debate. The House already has passed the measure.

If passed, the proposal would mean that public school letter grades, teacher evaluations and student promotion wouldn’t be affected by the standardized testing associated with Common Core until the 2016-17 school year. The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education had delayed the implementation until the 2015-16 year.

Leger said the state should provide another year to make sure teachers and students adjust to the tougher standards before their achievement is graded.

Common Core opponents asked senators to kill the bill, saying it was designed to solidify Louisiana’s use of the education standards.

“This bill gives the illusion that things are going to be OK and you’re going to be given time to adapt. But what you’ll be adapting to is a sinking ship. This bill will tie us to Common Core,” said Casey Peltier, a parent from New Iberia.

Leger disagreed, saying Louisiana’s use of Common Core was cemented years ago.

“That has happened. It is a done deal,” he said.

Only Sen. Elbert Guillory, R-Opelousas, voted against the measure.

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In other legislative action:

-People who don’t pay their littering fines could lose their driver’s licenses, under a bill that received final passage Thursday with a vote of the Senate. Discretion under the measure (House Bill 1113) by Rep. Sherman Mack, R-Livingston, would be left to the judge. The bill heads to the governor’s desk.

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Online:

Louisiana Legislature: www.legis.la.gov


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