Legislative briefs for June 2, 2013

Construction budget returns to House

The state Senate advanced a state construction budget Saturday morning that contains $300 million more in projects than the state can afford.

House Bill 2, the capital outlay spending plan, also now calls for the Legislative Auditor’s Office to take control of a lot next to the State Capitol that used to house the state Insurance Department.

The Senate voted 39-0 in favor of sending the bill back to the House for concurrence on the changes.

Gov. Bobby Jindal wanted to sell the old insurance lot, which is used as a parking garage.

Amendments offered on the Senate floor would take $3 million from the Legislative Capitol Technology Enhancement Fund for the design, planning, construction and demolition of the garage.

The Legislative Auditor’s Office long has wanted to move out of cramped quarters in the appellate court building.

State Sen. Neil Riser, R-Columbia, deflected a question on whether the Jindal administration agreed to the amendment.

“It’s a legislative act. It’s from the Legislature,” he said.

Voucher funding remains in budget

State senators defeated an effort to strip money for school vouchers out of the $25 billion state budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

The Senate voted 15 for and 19 against an amendment that would have changed from $44.6 million to $24.3 million of taxpayer money to help pay private school tuition for some public school students.

State Sen. Dan “Blade” Morrish, R-Jennings and sponsor of Amendment 3422, said his change would pay for the roughly 4,500 students who received vouchers and changed schools last year. But it would eliminate funding for students who wanted vouchers to move to private schools starting this fall.

Morrish said that with the recent ruling by the Louisiana Supreme Court, the state general fund would have to pick up the costs to continue the program. It would be fiscally irresponsible to grow the voucher program until officials can figure out how best to pay, he said.

State Sen. Bob Kostelka, R-Monroe, agreed, saying vouchers should be suspended “until this program works out all of its kinks.”

Senate OKs plan
to charge for therapy

Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration will be able to charge middle- and upper-income parents a fee for the therapy services their children receive through the Early Steps program, a move that was anticipated to balance next year’s budget.

Early Steps offers therapy services for children up to 3 years old who are having troubles with speech, vision and motor control development.

About 9,000 children receive services each year.

With a 38-0 vote, the state Senate gave final passage Saturday to House Bill 375 by state Rep. Frank Hoffmann, R-West Monroe. The bill allows the state Department of Health and Hospitals to create a cost-share for families on a sliding scale based on their incomes.

It will allow the department to charge any family with annual income above 300 percent of the federal poverty level — $67,056 for a family of four — a portion of the cost of services through Early Steps.

The change is estimated to generate $1.2 million for DHH next year and $1.6 million annually thereafter.

Public school prayer measure approved

The state Senate gave final legislative approval Saturday to a bill that would allow students to initiate prayer at student group activities at public schools.

No senator or representative voted against House Bill 724, which would authorize school authorities to permit public school students to gather for prayer before or after school or at any noninstructional time during the school day.

HB724, sponsored by state Rep. Katrina Jackson, D-Monroe, goes to the governor’s desk.

Compiled by the
Capitol news bureau and
The Associated Press