Lawmaker aims to stop legislative scholarships

State Rep. Dee Richard wants legislators to stop awarding Tulane University scholarships.

“I just want to take it out of our hands. It’s a political tool. If Tulane wants to do it in each legislative district that’s fine,” said Richard, I-Thibodaux.

The program dates back to the 1880s when the then-public University of Louisiana was privatized into Tulane. As part of the bargain, the state and city agreed to waive many of Tulane’s tax obligations, including all sales tax, while Tulane promised to allow each member of the Legislature and the New Orleans mayor to distribute scholarships each year.

Today, 144 legislators each award a scholarship annually that’s valued at an estimated $43,150.

The program has been criticized for political awards and lack of transparency.

“We can’t handle it. At least most of us can’t handle it,” said Richard, who called the scholarship award a legislative “perk.”

But that’s not the only scholarship awards Richard has on his radar for elimination when the legislative session opens March 10.

Richard said he’ll file another bill that would get rid of LSU and Southern University boards of supervisors’ members’ ability to award scholarships, too. “You have TOPS and other ways to get that financial assistance,” he said.

State Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, already filed the Legislative Scholarship Fairness Act that would ban Tulane scholarship awards to relatives of elected officials and political donors, as well as requiring legislators to publicize the scholarships availability and who receives them.

DOTD secretary looks to Jindal for answers

State Department of Transportation and Development Secretary Sherri LeBas hesitated during a news conference when faced with the question of whether fares on the Plaquemine ferry would be waived during the winter storm.

“I’d like to waive the fees,” LeBas said hesitantly, turning to look at her boss, Gov. Bobby Jindal.

Jindal nodded his head and said “waive” before retaking the microphone.

“I liked how she looked at me,” he joked.

Roemer shares views on Vitter super PAC

It’s no secret that former Gov. Buddy Roemer thinks allowing “unfettered” money in political campaigns breeds corruption.

Roemer made that point when he ran for president and limited the size contributions he accepted.

No surprise then that Roemer had some thoughts about a super PAC supporting U.S. Sen. David Vitter and its attempt to lift contribution limits in Louisiana.

“That’s what we really need. Another source of money,” Roemer said. “We ought not get the best politicians money can buy.”

The Fund for Louisiana’s Future is subject to a $100,000 individual contribution cap in Louisiana law. Charles Spies, the fund’s organizer, argued the limit is an unconstitutional restriction on “political speech,” noting that it is an independent political committee.

Kennedy shares ideas with savings contractor

State Treasurer John Kennedy’s got some ideas where to look for the $500 million in efficiencies.

He shared those in a letter to the head of the New York firm the Jindal administration is paying to find the efficiencies that would save taxpayer dollars.

His first suggestion to Bill Roberti, Alvarez & Marsal’s managing director? Look at the 238 recommendations made by the Louisiana Streamlining Commission a couple years ago. “They represent an abundant resource for you as you pursue your project,” Kennedy wrote.

Kennedy’s second suggestion: Fix problems found by the Legislative Auditor with how the state operates the food stamp program, including benefits going to people in jail and people who live in other states. He asked for recommendations that would tackle the issues, “which undermines the integrity of the food stamp program and is unfair to those who play by the rules.”

Alvarez & Marsal is operating under a $4.2 million contract with the Jindal administration. The firm is supposed to find at least $500 million in savings or new state financial resources by mid-April.

LSU’s Rasmussen to retire after 40 years

Robert Rasmussen, the longtime assistant vice president of LSU System Relations, is retiring after 40 years.

Rasmussen worked under five LSU System presidents: Martin Woodin, Allen Copping, William Jenkins, John Lombardi and F. King Alexander. His first LSU job was as a graduate teaching assistant at LSU New Orleans making $200 a month.

He came to the system office in 1985 with Copping, with whom he had worked at the LSU School of Dentistry and the LSU Medical Center in New Orleans.

The LSU Board of Supervisors honored Rasmussen on Friday. Chairman Bobby Yarborough read a resolution noting the “steadfast assistance and sound guidance” he has given to LSU board members through the years. Rasmussen estimated that there have been more than 200 board members since he’s been at system headquarters.

LSU Health Sciences Center Chancellor Dr. Larry Hollier presented Rasmussen with a certificate making him an emeritus professor of the Health Science Center.

Matt Pinnell to speak at Press Club meeting

Matt Pinnell, director of state parties at the Republican National Committee, will be speaker for Monday’s meeting of the Press Club of Baton Rouge.

His topic will be the state of the campaign against Democratic U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu and the launching of “Project: Geaux Red,” in which the RNC, the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the state Republican Party will have volunteers in communities across the state campaigning against Landrieu.

The Press Club meets in the Iberville Room at the Belle of Baton Rouge Hotel, 102 France St. Parking is free in the garage off Mayflower Street. Lunch, which is served at 11:30 a.m., is $12 for members and $15 for nonmembers. The public is invited, but only members of the Press Club and the news media are allowed to ask questions.

Report gives state ‘B’ on teacher laws

Louisiana got a B in its state laws that govern the teaching profession in a report issued last week by the National Council on Teacher Quality.

The grade is up from a C minus in the group’s 2011 review.

The organization rates states based on reviews in five areas.

Louisiana got an A minus for laws on identifying effective teachers and a B plus on retaining effective teachers.

Those and other laws were part of a sweeping package of bills pushed by Gov. Bobby Jindal in 2012 and approved by the Legislature.

Those measures are still the subject of bickering between self-styled public school reformers and teacher unions.

Florida was the top-rated state with a B plus.

Louisiana and three other states followed with Bs.

Compiled by The Advocate Capitol news bureau. Contact email address is cnb@theadvocate.com