- Associated Press - Saturday, May 16, 2015

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - The 60-day regular session of the Louisiana Legislature has passed its midpoint. With only four weeks remaining, most high-profile issues remain undecided. A look at where things stand in the session that must end by June 11:

BUDGET: Lawmakers are haggling over next year’s $24 billion budget and how to close a $1.6 billion shortfall without devastating cuts to public colleges and health care services. The House has passed a series of tax changes to help generate more cash to fill holes, but Senate leaders are hoping to find additional ways to drum up money. Gov. Bobby Jindal has strict guidelines of what tax bills he’s willing to consider, limiting options for lawmakers.

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COMMON CORE: Lawmakers say they have reached a compromise in the dispute over Louisiana’s use of the Common Core education standards. Under a package of three bills, a review of the English and math standards would be required, with public meetings, legislative oversight and an up-or-down vote from Louisiana’s next governor. The education department would have limits on use of standardized testing questions from a multistate consortium tied to Common Core next school year. Two bills have started advancing in the House and Senate.

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RELIGIOUS OBJECTIONS: A divisive religious objections bill pushed by Jindal gets its first legislative hearing Tuesday after weeks of delay amid the controversy. Critics say the proposal could sanction discrimination against same-sex couples in Louisiana. Proponents say it would protect people with religious or moral objections to same-sex marriage.

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MEDICAID EXPANSION: Both the House and Senate health committees have rejected proposals to expand Louisiana’s Medicaid program to offer insurance coverage to the working poor, as allowed under the federal health care law. But the House approved legislation that would provide a financing mechanism to do the Medicaid expansion if Louisiana’s next governor, to be elected this fall, is interested.

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ABORTION: The House has agreed to prohibit abortions based on gender, with provisions for lawsuits and damage claims against a doctor who performed the procedure if the abortion was believed to be based on sex-selection. A constitutional amendment to declare that a fetus is a “human being from the moment of conception” has stalled without a hearing so far.

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MARIJUANA: The Senate approved a medical marijuana bill that could get pot to people suffering from cancer, glaucoma and a severe form of cerebral palsy, through a limited number of heavily regulated distributors. Meanwhile, the House voted to lessen the penalties for repeat marijuana possession, with the maximum prison term lowered from 20 years to eight years.

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PUBLIC RECORDS: The governor’s ability to keep documents in his office hidden from the public would be much more limited, under a bill that won unanimous support from the Senate. If passed, it wouldn’t impact Jindal. Instead, the changes would begin when a new governor takes office in January.

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SEXUAL ASSAULT: Lawmakers in the House unanimously agreed to ban hospitals from billing rape victims for their medical exams. Expenses not covered by insurance could be billed to a state crime victim’s board, and the House voted for a separate measure that would use unclaimed gambling winnings to cover those costs.

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COLLEGE TUITION: Senators agreed to let public colleges raise their own tuition rates without needing legislative approval. But that authority only would come if a separate proposal to put cost controls on the TOPS free college tuition program also gains passage. Other proposals to allow campuses to boost tuition and fees await debate on the House floor.

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WORKER ISSUES: An equal pay proposal won the backing of the Senate, outlining a course of legal action if a worker claims to be underpaid. The provisions would only apply to any employer with 50 full-time equivalent workers or more. However, the bill heads to the House labor committee, which has killed two similar measures. A proposal to give all workers in Louisiana paid sick days was rejected by the Senate labor committee.

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ODDS AND ENDS: A proposal to require police officers to wear body cameras was shelved by its sponsor. An effort to ban government payroll offices from automatically deducting union dues from public worker paychecks has stalled in the House amid pushback from teachers, police officers and firefighters. A package of “judicial transparency” bills to require more disclosure of judicial contracts and court budgets failed to get out of a House committee.

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Online:

Louisiana Legislature: www.legis.la.gov


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