With less than two weeks left in the session, bills are piling up in both chambers. While both the House and the Senate worked on shortening their stacks of paperwork Tuesday afternoon, critters became a recurring theme.
“I don’t have a warm fuzzy feeling about this,” Senate Finance Committee chairman Jack Donahue said, regarding a proposed constitutional amendment to help Higher Ed.
The House-approved measure that would have dedicated state funding for colleges and universities was shot down in Donahue’s committee late last week. Donahue, who also serves on the Senate Education Committee, said he supported the concept but was reluctant to lock up any more state dollars.
They’re called “legacy lawsuits”—when property owners sue oil and gas companies for environmental damage done in decades past. Thursday, Louisiana’s House spent hours hearing—and ultimately approving—two bills dealing with legacy lawsuits.
“When we get to court, we know there’s an issue,” explained Chalmette Representative Ray Garofalo, while introducing his bill, which would let parties on either side ask the Department of Natural Resources to come up with a remediation plan for the polluted or otherwise damaged property.
With a 34 to 3 vote, the full Senate has approved HB 388, requiring doctors who perform any abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of their practice.
“There are parts of the state where there is no hospital within 30 miles, period,” protested New Orleans Senator J.P. Morrell. “That would make it impossible for there to be procedures done in rural areas.”
Louisiana’s full House approved “Erin’s Law” on Monday. Approved in 20 other states, it requires schools to teach kids what constitutes sexual abuse and sexual assault. There was no debate, and the votes for passage were unanimous.
Tuesday, the House Education Committee began hearing a bill to require schools to teach comprehensive sex education. Baton Rouge Representative Patricia Smith is the author, and she made reference to the previous day’s approval of “Erin’s Law”.
“It came out of this committee; passed the House floor. My question to you is, how can you teach sexual assault without talking about sexual education?” Smith queried her fellow committee members.
“It it’s not broken, let’s don’t try to fix it,” Senator Francis Thompson of Delhi summed up the sentiment of a majority of the Senate regarding TOPS.
TOPS isn’t broken, but many lawmakers see curbing the cost of the college scholarship program as part of the fix for the state budget. A measure that would have saved an estimated $24-million per year, by raising the standards for TOPS was argued on the Senate floor Monday.
Every year, lawmakers look at the climbing cost of TOPS--$217-million this year, $235-million next year—and then start looking for ways to rein in the runaway expense. Dozens of bills are filed, and all usually die in committee.
Of the 20 TOPS bills filed for the current session, one has broken out of the usual pattern. SB 520, by Mandeville Senator Jack Donahue, is being heard by the full Senate today.
If there was a theme to “Budget Day” in the Louisiana House, it could be summed up by Thursday’s oft-heard refrain, “If we don’t do it, the Senate’s going to do it.”
There wasn’t a lot House members could do to alter the allocations, until they got to the Department of Education section. Because House Appropriations had forwarded the budget bill, HB 1, to the full House before the Senate Education Committee rejected the MFP, House members now had $70-million to play with.