Constitutional amendment on oil spill money passes first hurdle

Penalty money Louisiana will receive because of the Gulf Coast oil spill would be constitutionally earmarked to Louisiana’s coastal protection fund, under a proposal that received the backing Monday of the House Appropriations Committee.

House Bill 118 by state Rep. Simone Champagne, R-Erath, deals with money that could be received by the state for violations of federal pollution standards under the Clean Water Act, a figure that could total billions of dollars.

The coastal protection fund, where the money would be placed, is used for coastal restoration projects and hurricane protection efforts.

The Clean Water Act dollars already are earmarked for coastal protection in statute, but Champagne wants the language added to the Louisiana Constitution so lawmakers couldn’t easily change the allocation.

“This is a clear message to the entire nation ... that we are prepared and ready to do the right thing with these dollars,” Champagne said.

The proposal was approved with no objection. It heads next to the full House for debate. If approved by both the Louisiana House and state Senate, it would need backing from voters in a 2014 statewide election.