University logos OK on driver’s licenses

Louisiana drivers could soon be proclaiming “Geaux Tigers” or cheering on the Southern University Jaguars with their driver’s licenses.

Legislation heading to Gov. Bobby Jindal for approval would allow color logos from Louisiana universities on state-issued licenses or identification cards, with the additional fees associated going to the universities’ foundations. Senate Bill 138 allows universities to set the fee and requires the state Department of Public Safety and Corrections to establish rules and regulations necessary for implementation.

“It would have to be a Louisiana university,” said state Rep. Terry Landry, D-New Iberia. He compared it with the state’s new “I’m a Cajun” designation for driver’s licenses.

The House approved SB138 in a 95-0 vote Tuesday.

The Senate previously passed the legislation in a 36-0 vote.

House moves bill for gun-toting legislators

Louisiana legislators would be added to a special class of officials allowed to carry guns in otherwise prohibited places under a bill advancing in the State Capitol.

The House on Tuesday approved Senate Bill 651 that would allow state lawmakers to carry concealed weapons anywhere peace officers — judges, constables, coroners, district attorneys and other authorities — can under current law. That includes public buildings, parades, polling places and other locations that are normally “gun free” zones for Louisianians. Because it was amended on the House floor Tuesday, SB651 heads back to the Senate.

“This just adds legislators to the group; it doesn’t broaden where people can go,” said state Rep. Jeff Thompson, R-Bossier City.

SB651 bars lawmakers and anyone else from packing heat at the State Capitol, Thompson noted.

The legislation also would require annual Council on Peace Officer Standards and Training certification. An earlier version would have required all peace officers, including lawmakers, submit to psychiatric evaluation before they could carry weapons under SB651. The House removed that requirement in approving the legislation Tuesday.

Bill would criminalize pointing lasers

People who intentionally point lasers at aircraft in Louisiana could soon face state fines and prison time.

The Louisiana House approved in a 82-4 vote Tuesday House Bill 1029 as altered by the Senate.

The Senate version of the proposed law also would ban the use of drones, unmanned aircraft systems, for surveillance of certain “targeted facilities,” including chemical manufacturers and nuclear sites. The provision resurrected a Senate bill that died in a House committee earlier in the session.

HB1029 passed the Senate in a 35-0 vote last week.

The measure now goes to Gov. Bobby Jindal for approval.

HB1029 sets penalties for pointing lasers at aircraft at five years in prison and a $2,000 fine for a first offense and up to 10 years in prison and $4,000 fine for subsequent offenses.

Violations for drone use would be punishable by up to six months in prison and a $500 fine for a first offense. Subsequent offenses could land up to a year in prison and a $2,000 fine.

In February, the Federal Bureau of Investigation said it was seeing increased reports of people pointing lasers at aircraft. According to the FBI, there were 3,960 laser incidents reported in 2013 — nearly 11 a day on average. Thousands more go unreported, according to the FBI.

“Shining a laser into the cockpit of an aircraft can temporarily blind a pilot, jeopardizing the safety of everyone on board,” the Federal Aviation Administration’s Michael Huerta said in the FBI’s alert on the issue.

On the federal level, interfering with the operation of an aircraft can be punishable by up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, and the FAA can additionally fine up to $11,000 for each laser pointing incident.

There was no debate on the bill Tuesday before House passage.

Bill to review contracts’ costs clears Senate

The state Senate voted 37-0 Tuesday in favor of legislation that State Treasurer John Kennedy has sought for four years to trim the number of contracts in state government.

House Bill 142 isn’t quite what Kennedy wanted. A blanket 10 percent cut in contracts was purged from the bill. Instead, the proposal directs a legislative budget committee to review and approve any contract costing $40,000 or more. Any savings derived from rejecting contracts would go toward higher education. A number of exemptions would apply.

The bill must go back to the House for concurrence on Senate changes. Kennedy watched from the sideline as the Senate voted on the bill.

In the past, the bill has died in the Senate. Kennedy and the bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Dee Richard, No Party-Thibodaux, agreed to the changes that gave the bill momentum.

“It’s not what I wanted, but it will bring transparency to the process,” Kennedy said.

If the bill becomes law and is correctly enforced, he predicted it will generate $100 million for higher education.

WISE plan advances in Louisiana Senate

The Jindal administration’s plan for positioning higher education to meet the workforce’s job demands sailed through the Louisiana Senate on Tuesday.

The Senate voted 36-0 for the measure after making a slight alteration that will require a trip to the House for concurrence.

House Bill 1033 would create the Workforce Innovation for a Stronger Economy fund. Colleges and universities would compete for a $40 million pool of funds annually. The $40 million would be subject to annual appropriation by the Legislature.

The funds would be controlled by the Louisiana Board of Regents, the state’s top higher education board.

Colleges would get a share of the dollars by producing graduates for high-demand fields and bringing in private funding.

The focus likely will be on science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

State Sen. Norby Chabert, R-Houma, sponsored the change that spelled out the type of private sector match that could be counted. Chabert’s amendment would allow personnel to be provided as an in-kind match. “This will really help community and technical colleges” by providing experts in certain high-demand fields to help with the training, Chabert said.

“It strengthens the bill,” Chabert said.

The WISE plan represents a collaboration with the state Department of Economic Development and the Louisiana Workforce Commission. The goal is to match schools’ education focuses with the needs of the state’s economy.

Made in Louisiana resolution passes

Made in Louisianaâ„¢?

The state Legislature wants to know whether it would make sense for Louisiana to develop an official “certification, brand or label” to mark products that come from the Pelican State.

The House approved Senate Concurrent Resolution 71 on Tuesday, requesting that the state Department of Economic Development report back on the prospect to House and Senate agriculture and commerce committees by Feb. 1.

The Senate previously approved SCR71 in a 36-0 vote.

“We’d just like to see if it would be feasible,” said Rep. Ledricka Johnson Thierry, D-Opelousas. She said possibilities could include marking products made here, as well as produce grown here.

The resolution was authored by Sen. Francis Thompson, D-Delhi.

School aid plan OK’d by House committee

A $3.6 billion spending plan for public schools cleared its third of five hurdles Tuesday morning when the Louisiana House Appropriations Committee endorsed the plan.

The measure, Senate Concurrent Resolution 55, won approval without objection.

It next faces action in the House Education Committee and, if approved there, the full House.

Senate Education Committee Chairman Conrad Appel, R-Metairie, called the spending plan a fair one.

Appel said that, when all funding sources are considered, public school students in Louisiana get about $12,300 per student compared with the national average of $11,500.

State aid for public schools goes through a formula called the Minimum Foundation Program. It provides most of the dollars that fund public schools, in this case for the 2014-15 school year.

Bill creates more assistant prosecutors

The Louisiana Senate on Tuesday advanced legislation that would create 14 new assistant district attorney positions across the state.

The Senate voted 34-0 for the measure, which now heads to the House for debate.

Under Senate Bill 214, East Baton Rouge’s assistant district attorneys would climb from 48 to 50 and those in Jefferson Parish go from 52 to 54. Ten other judicial districts would get one new position each, including those covering Livingston, St. Helena and Tangipahoa; East and West Feliciana; and Iberia, St. Martin and St. Mary.

Bill sponsor state Sen. Neil Riser, R-Columbia, said the state’s district attorneys originally sought 22 new assistant prosecutors.

Because of its cost, the request was reduced as it went under fiscal review. The legislation specifies that the positions must be funded out of state revenues or statutory dedications contained in the state appropriations bill received by the Senate or local or other sources of funding.

The legislation would be effective Aug. 1.

40 principals criticize EBR school revamp bill

On the eve of a key vote, 40 principals in the East Baton Rouge Parish school system said they have “grave concerns” about a bill aimed at revamping the school district by giving principals new authority.

In a letter to Louisiana House members, the school leaders said the legislation “actually impedes our ability to meet the increasing needs of our challenging, transient, high-poverty student population.”

The proposal, Senate Bill 636, has already passed the Senate.

It is scheduled to be voted on in the House on Wednesday.

“Principals do know what’s best and it is not this bill?” the letter says.

Backers of the legislation, including the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, say the changes would make the school district more efficient and improve student achievement.

Senate moves food stamps pilot program

The state Senate finally passed Tuesday legislation that would unravel a waiver of federal guidelines for food stamps.

The guidelines call for able-bodied adults without small children in their home to participate in education activities or workforce training in order to continue receiving food stamps. Louisiana obtained a waiver to the guidelines.

Under House Bill 464, the state would seek approval from the federal government to restrict qualifying recipients in Tangipahoa Parish to three months of food stamps every three years if they refuse to further their education or job skills. Anyone with dependents would be exempt from the pilot program.

Veteran’s Day for higher education employees

Employees at Louisiana higher education institutions could soon be able to take up to four hours of paid leave to celebrate Veterans Day if they are veterans.

The state Senate Tuesday agreed to House Bill 1128 in a vote of 32-3. It previously earned approval in the House with a 92-0 vote. It now goes to Gov. Bobby Jindal for review.

HB1129 applies only to employees of higher education institutions who have served in the military.

Current state law requires universities and colleges designate a maximum of 14 holidays per calendar year for employees.

Compiled from the Capitol bureau and news services

Senators won’t restrict use of coastal fund

A Louisiana House-approved neasure to limit the use of Louisiana’s coastal protection fund has stalled in the Senate.

Senators on the Finance Committee voted 6-2 Tuesday against House Bill 490 by Republican Rep. Brett Geymann, of Lake Charles.

Gov. Bobby Jindal has used the fund as a way to circumvent restrictions on surplus dollars and other patchwork funds.

He has moved restricted cash into the protection fund to meet a requirement that the money be used on one-time projects. Then, he takes a similar amount from the fund to plug into the state’s operating budget.

Critics say the transfers undermine the purpose of the fund and threaten to siphon off dollars intended for coastal restoration work in the future.