- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 6, 2014

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - A constitutional amendment that would have let Louisiana residents carry a concealed weapon without getting a permit was shelved Tuesday by the House criminal justice committee.

Rep. Barry Ivey, R-Baton Rouge, said the process for getting a permit was tedious and expensive, making it hard for poorer Louisianans.

“I believe our constitutional rights have been infringed,” he said.

Law enforcement groups, including the Louisiana Sheriff’s Association, opposed the measure, but Ivey had support from gun rights enthusiasts.

“More guns mean less crime,” supporter George Hill told lawmakers.

Committee members disagreed, saying limited restrictions don’t violate the constitutional right to bear arms.

After voting down the proposed constitutional amendment, the committee also rejected two other bills by Ivey that would have allowed people to own short barrel firearms without registration and exempted concealed firearms from the crime of illegal carrying of weapons.

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Lawmakers on the House Education Committee turned away a proposal to raise the eligibility standards and payment schedule for a student to receive free college tuition through the state’s TOPS program.

The panel voted 10-4 Tuesday against the measure (House Bill 1153) by Rep. Joe Harrison, R-Napoleonville. Lawmakers said while they understood concerns about the price tag of TOPS, they also worried about the impact of eliminating students from the program.

The bill would have raised the ACT score or grade point average needed to get a TOPS award, starting with high school students graduating in the 2017-18 school year. It also would have changed the payment schedule to pay 80 percent of tuition for college freshmen, 90 percent for sophomores, 100 percent for juniors and 120 percent for seniors.

TOPS is estimated to cost the state $235 million next year and more than $300 million within three years as tuition costs rise.

“We will not have a TOPS program if we don’t take some sort of action to curb that,” Harrison said. He added: “You can’t just say that the credit card has no limit.”

Among the concerns, Rep. Wesley Bishop, D-New Orleans, said he worried the changes would disproportionately hit minority students, keeping them from getting TOPS scholarships.

Gov. Bobby Jindal opposed the bill.

The House Education Committee vote won’t end legislative debate on tweaking TOPS, however. A bill (Senate Bill 520) by Sen. Jack Donahue, R-Mandeville, to raise the minimum grade point average and ACT score required to get a TOPS award awaits debate on the Senate floor after getting the support of the Senate Education Committee.

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The Senate on Tuesday honored 12 soldiers from Louisiana who died in Afghanistan and Iraq over the last year.

Individual condolence resolutions were read by Sen. Robert Adley, R-Benton, for each soldier. Family members for each soldier were invited to attend, and those families present were given a state flag.

Each year since 2005, the Senate holds “Military Family Day.” The chamber has memorialized 189 Louisiana soldiers who have died in the two wars.

“We have been humbled and inspired by the life stories,” said Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego. “We gather to show our respect and gratitude, to honor them and to thank them and their families.”

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The Senate voted 38-0 Tuesday for a proposal to ban employers and schools from demanding access to personal email, social media and other types of online accounts, moving it one step from final passage.

The bill (House Bill 340) by Rep. Ted James, D-Baton Rouge, would prohibit employers and public schools, including colleges, from requesting usernames, passwords or other authentication information that allows them to access personal online accounts.

It also would ban an employer from firing or disciplining someone or a school from expelling or disciplining a student for refusing to provide the information if requested.

The measure wouldn’t prohibit employers or schools from requesting access to information on company-owned devices.

The House-approved bill returns to the House for approval of a change made by senators.

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A proposal to give local public school districts more freedom to choose their teaching materials is nearing final legislative passage, after winning support Tuesday from the House Education Committee.

The measure (Senate Bill 336) by Sen. Conrad Appel, R-Metairie, would require the state education department to review instructional materials in English, math, science and social studies to decide whether they meet state educational standards.

But local districts would decide which books and materials should be used. They would use review committees of teachers, parents and others to make recommendations, and they could choose items that aren’t on the state-reviewed list.

The education department would be required to post online the textbooks and instructional materials it reviews, and it would help with bulk purchasing to get cheaper deals.

The House committee advanced the measure without objection. It moves next to the full House for consideration and already has the backing of the Senate.

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In other legislative action:

-A bill that would give the legislative auditor greater ability to track state tax dollars paying for students to go to private schools through the statewide voucher program received the support of the House and Governmental Affairs Committee without objection. The Senate-passed bill (Senate Bill 460) by Sen. Robert Adley, R-Benton, heads next to the House floor for debate. The voucher program is slated to receive $46 million in next year’s budget.

-A proposal to create a new misdemeanor crime targeting prostitutes and panhandlers is nearing final legislative passage. The House-approved measure (House Bill 1158) by Rep. Austin Badon, D-New Orleans, would allow police to arrest people for soliciting funds or transportation from another person. Violations would carry a jail sentence of up to six months and a fine of no more than $200. The proposal heads next to the full Senate for debate after winning support Tuesday from a Senate judiciary committee.

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Online:

Louisiana Legislature: www.legis.la.gov

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