- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 27, 2014

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - The Senate agreed Tuesday to set up a new higher education incentive fund sought by Gov. Bobby Jindal to direct money to high-demand degree and worker training programs.

The bill (House Bill 1033) by House Speaker Chuck Kleckley, R-Lake Charles, would set up the Workforce and Innovation for a Stronger Economy Fund, called the WISE Fund. However, money for the fund would have to be budgeted annually, if lawmakers choose to do so.

Jindal proposes $40 million for the upcoming 2014-15 fiscal year. That money is included in budget bills awaiting debate on the Senate floor.

A council that includes higher education system leaders and the state economic development and labor secretaries would decide how to divvy up money across campuses, and the Board of Regents would make the final decision.

Each campus wouldn’t be guaranteed a slice of the money. To get the dollars, schools would have to work with private businesses and get a funding match.



A 36-0 vote sent the House-approved proposal back to the House for consideration of Senate changes.

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Senators voted 37-0 Tuesday for a proposal to give lawmakers more oversight of the consulting contracts signed across state agencies.

Rep. Jerome “Dee” Richard, I-Thibodaux, sought to force a 10 percent cut on agencies’ spending on consulting and professional services contracts, and the idea (House Bill 142) was passed by the House unanimously despite opposition from Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration.

But senators rewrote the measure to provide more review and no required reductions, after three years of instead rejecting the proposal outright.

Under the revamped version, most consulting and professional services contracts with a state general fund price tag topping $40,000 would need to get approval from the Legislature’s joint budget committee before they could begin.

If the committee doesn’t request a review within 30 days from receiving information about the contract, it will be deemed approved. If the committee rejects or reworks a contract, any savings would be directed to a fund for higher education.

“It probably will not be a huge amount early, but it will give us a chance in the future to put dollars toward higher education,” said Sen. Mack “Bodi” White, R-Baton Rouge, who handled the bill in the Senate.

Contracts involving Medicaid services, elections and indigent defense would be exempt from the oversight requirement.

The bill would expire in 2017, unless lawmakers choose to renew the provisions. The rewritten proposal moves back to the House for consideration of the Senate’s changes.

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A proposal that would allow the Louisiana corrections department to keep information on execution drugs confidential continues to advance in the Legislature.

A Senate judiciary committee backed the measure by Rep. Joe Lopinto, R-Metairie, on Tuesday after amending it to allow the state to get drugs used for lethal injection from out-of-state pharmacies, including less-regulated compound pharmacies.

The measure is meant to combat a national shortage of drugs used to execute inmates through lethal injection, the only execution option in Louisiana. The proposal would shield details on the drug makers from public information requests.

Lopinto said protecting the identities of pharmacies and expanding pharmacy options beyond the state’s border will expand access to drugs needed to carry out executions.

Opponents disagreed, saying the measure would hurt accountability by making it difficult to ensure execution drugs do not cause a cruel and unusual death.

“It isn’t the answer to our problem,” said Sydney Garmon, executive director of the Louisiana Coalition for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.

Also testifying against the bill was Steve Beatty, editor of the New Orleans online publication The Lens, who said it was not the responsibility of lawmakers to protect pharmacies from public condemnation.

Other opponents included the Louisiana Press Association and the state’s public defenders.

However, there arguments did not sway lawmakers who backed the House-approved measure without objection. It moves next to the Senate floor for further debate.

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Senators agreed to put new limits on Louisiana’s welfare recipients in state law, prohibiting them from spending the federal aid at lingerie shops, tattoo parlors, nail salons and jewelry stores.

Prohibited from taking welfare debit cards would be video arcades, bail bond companies, cruise ships, psychics, adult-entertainment businesses, nightclubs and bars, under the bill (House Bill 1176) by Rep. Chris Broadwater, R-Hammond.

“The Department of Children and Family Services already has these rules. We’re just codifying them into statute,” said Sen. Dale Erdey, R-Livingston, who handled the bill in the Senate.

The Senate voted 37-0 for the measure, sending it back to the House for consideration of Senate changes.

The restrictions would cover the Family Independence Temporary Assistance Program and the Kinship Care Subsidy Program. Both programs pay cash assistance to low-income families for items like food, clothing and housing.

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A public official who is recalled and removed from office will be prohibited from being able to run again for that job in the special election to fill the position, under a bill that received final passage with a 28-5 Senate vote Tuesday.

The bill (Senate Bill 208) by Sen. Rick Ward, R-Port Allen, moves to the governor’s desk. It was prompted by circumstances involving former Port Allen Mayor Demetric “Deedy” Slaughter who was recalled and unsuccessfully sought to be re-elected to the job.

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In other legislative action:

-Gov. Bobby Jindal has agreed to let off-duty law enforcement officers and concealed-handgun permit holders carry their guns into restaurants serving alcohol. Jindal’s office said the governor has signed the bill (House Bill 72) by Rep. Joe Lopinto, R-Metairie, into law.

-A Senate-approved $3.6 billion funding formula to pay for Louisiana’s public schools in the 2014-15 school year has started advancing in the House, winning support without objection from the House Appropriations Committee. The proposal (Senate Concurrent Resolution 55) moves next to the House Education Committee for consideration. It would set a base per student funding level of $3,961 and pay for 695,000 students next year.

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Online:

Louisiana Legislature: www.legis.la.gov

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