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'Inappropriate influence': Consumer group seeks to ban campaign contributions by utility companies to regulatory authorities

Louisiana should follow the example of Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia by prohibiting the campaign contributions that utility companies give the elected officials who regulate their industries, the Alliance for Affordable Energy argued in a report on ethics to be released Tuesday. “What we found is that this is not a public process. It’s an inappropriate influence,” said… Continue reading →

A longtime smoker, Rep. Harold Ritchie’s long fight for higher cigarette taxes could succeed this year

Advocate Photo by TYLER BRIDGES -- State Rep. Harold Ritchie, D-Bogalusa, has been pushing for higher state taxes on cigarettes for five years. This year he likely will succeed with a bill that would increase taxes by 32 cents per pack.

Harold Ritchie had unfinished business when he climbed into his 2001 Nissan truck in April and drove from Bogalusa to Baton Rouge to begin this year’s legislative session. It’s nearly a two-hour drive, and it gave Ritchie plenty of time to think. For the previous five years, the Democratic state representative had been on a quest… Continue reading →

Higher education bills are in the home stretch; legislation to slim TOPS costs on deck

Advocate Photo by MARK BALLARD -- State Senate Finance Committee Chairman Jack Donahue R-Mandeville, left,  Phyllis Taylor, whose late husband founded the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students, and Senate Education Committee Chairman Conrad Appel, R-Metairie, right, spoke in March in favor of legislation designed to better control costs of the popular scholarship program. Donahue and Appel sponsored Senate Bill 48, which the Patrick F. Taylor Foundation helped draft, that would set an amount that would cover tuition for each qualified student annually, but allow the Legislature to vote on whether to raise the amount of the TOPS award each year.

When higher education leaders started gearing up for the legislative session, they had a short list of requests. First and foremost, they wanted to be spared from potentially devastating cuts to state funding for universities and colleges. As the Legislature continues its work on the budget, that threat appears to have lessened somewhat. The rest… Continue reading →

Louisiana House to Gov. Bobby Jindal: Pay your own travel expenses

Wearing a Kansas City Royals jersey, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback, left, looks on as Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, gives a speech at New Steel and Pipe Supply in New Century, Kan., Monday, Oct. 27, 2014. (AP Photo/Colin E. Braley)

Louisiana legislators clipped Gov. Bobby Jindal’s wings Thursday by inserting wording into the state budget that would require the governor’s office to pay the out-of-state travel expenses of his security detail. Jindal spent almost 45 percent of 2014 outside Louisiana attending political events. He has kept up the pace so far in 2015 and since forming a… Continue reading →

Louisiana Senate bill would bar school suspension as a punishment for students violating uniform rules

The Louisiana Senate approved a bill Thursday that would bar public and charter schools from suspending or expelling elementary school students for violating school uniform rules. Senate Bill 54 sponsored by Sen. Sharon Weston Broome, D-Baton Rouge, was significantly scaled back from an earlier version. The initial bill would have barred schools from expelling or suspending… Continue reading →

Bill to allow car inspections every five years killed; opponents cite risk of vehicle problems, harm to inspection stations

A Louisiana Senate panel Thursday killed a bill that would allow car and truck inspections every five years in some areas. The proposal, House Bill 564, earlier cleared the state House. But the Senate Transportation Committee voted 3-2 to shelve the measure, which likely means it is dead for the session. The legislation excluded motor… Continue reading →

It's time: Louisiana House vote on state budget looms; solutions offered don't solve the problems, fiscal official says

Advocate staff file photo by BILL FEIG -- Aerial of the State Capitol building and grounds.

After weeks of wrangling and raising money, the Louisiana House on Thursday takes up a state spending plan full of increased revenues and deep cuts in government services. Lawmakers are set to gather in various caucus meetings before the House convenes at 9 a.m. Thursday to go over House Bill 1 — the state’s proposed… Continue reading →

Statue of the late civil rights leader Rev. T.J. Jemison in the Louisiana State Capitol Complex is expected to gain final legislative passage

Rev. T.J. Jemison (Advocate staff photo by Tim Mueller )

A Louisiana House panel Wednesday endorsed placement of a statue of the late civil rights leader the Rev. Dr. T.J. Jemison Sr. in the State Capitol Complex. The House and Governmental Affairs Committee shipped Senate Bill 57 to the House floor where it is expected to gain final legislative passage. State Sen. Yvonne Dorsey-Colomb,… Continue reading →

To help State Police, Louisiana Senate panel adds $100M in new revenue with unique tactic

Legislation dealing with vehicle sales regulation morphed Wednesday into a $100 million revenue-raiser. The Senate Commerce Committee added a $50 increase to the cost of certificates of vehicle title and duplicates to an otherwise largely technical bill. State Rep. Cameron Henry said the idea is to come up with a stable source of revenue to replace… Continue reading →

Jindal administration reconsidering Welcome Center sale

The Jindal administration is rethinking its plan to sell the Capitol Park Welcome Center after running into legislative resistance. “Legislators have expressed concerns about the sale of the welcome center and its proximity to the Capitol complex,” Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols said Wednesday. “We are listening to those concerns and evaluating our options.”… Continue reading →

Bill advances, would limit future governors' ability to shield records from public

Future governors’ ability to shield records from the public would be limited under a measure headed to the Louisiana House for debate. The House and Governmental Affairs Committee on Wednesday advanced legislation which its sponsor state Sen. Dan Claitor said would “increase transparency in the governor’s office.” Gov. Bobby Jindal, who promotes transparency, has… Continue reading →

Bill would create fund to help lure Super Bowl, other major sporting events to Louisiana

FILE- This Feb. 3, 2013 file photo made with a fisheye lens shows fans lined up to enter the Superdome before the NFL Super Bowl XLVII football game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens, in New Orleans.   (AP Photo/Gene Puskar, File)

Looking for a way to secure the money needed to attract big sporting events, like the Super Bowl, a Louisiana House committee Wednesday advanced legislation that would create a fund for that purpose. Officials deciding where to hold tournaments want assurances that the promised money to help stage the event is in place, said Jay Cicero, president… Continue reading →

Key Louisiana House committee approves TOPS bill seeking to nix automatic increases; here are the next steps

Advocate Photo by MARK BALLARD -- State Sen. Jack Donahue, R-Mandeville, and Phyllis Taylor, chairman and president of the New Orleans-based Patrick F. Taylor Foundation, testified Wednesday for legislation that would rein in the cost of the popular TOPs award, which pays college and university tuition for qualified students. Though Taylor, whose late husband founded the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students, supports the changes, Gov. Bobby Jindal opposes the bill.

A key House panel has advanced legislation that seeks to rein in the cost of Louisiana’s TOPS scholarship program and give colleges more authority over the tuition they charge. The House Education Committee approved Sen. Jack Donahue’s Senate Bills 48 and 155 following brief discussions on each Wednesday morning. No members objected to… Continue reading →

Senate resolution supports Louisiana students right to voluntary school prayer

The Louisiana Senate has gone on the record as supporting the rights of Louisiana’s students to voluntarily gather for prayer. With a 39-0 vote Tuesday, senators backed Senate Concurrent Resolution 69 by Sen. Gerald Long, R-Winnfield, that he described as a “clear statement on the student’s right of expression.” The resolution, which doesn’t have the force… Continue reading →

Louisiana legislators find more money for the state budget

Advocate Photo by MARK BALLARD -- Louisiana House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jim Fannin, R-Jonesboro, left, and Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego, meet Tuesday after a committee meeting.

Louisiana’s difficult financial picture brightened a bit on Tuesday. That had state lawmakers saying they now face an easier job in meeting their constitutional responsibility to balance the budget this year and next, while achieving their goal of doing that without preventing cuts to the public health care system and to public colleges and universities. “It… Continue reading →

Louisiana House refuses to give up college tuition-setting authority

House lawmakers balked at a proposal that would have let public colleges set their own tuition rates. House Bill 66 by Rep. Thomas Carmody, a Shreveport Republican, would have ended the need for legislative approval for tuition hikes. To stop the increases from hitting the state budget, the bill would have kept the TOPS free college tuition… Continue reading →

Storm knocks out Louisiana House voting machine

A heavy thunderstorm, complete with hail, knocked out the Louisiana House voting machine early Tuesday evening. The outage promoted a rare voice vote of the 105-member House on an Orleans Parish sex education bill. House Speaker Chuck Kleckley, R-Lake Charles, urged patience while the machine was being rebooted. About 15 minutes later, the electronic… Continue reading →

Louisiana Senate says 'Simple rape' not so simple; renamed in bill

“Simple” rape isn’t simple, so the Louisiana Senate agreed to a name change for the crime. Simple rape would become “third offense” rape in state criminal statutes. “When you call something ‘simple rape,’ it doesn’t give it the same gravitas,” said Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans. Under House Bill 139, aggravated rape would become… Continue reading →

Historic renovations credits advance

The program that allows investors to qualify for tax breaks to renovate historic buildings would be extended by four years under legislation approved by the Louisiana House Ways and Means Committee Tuesday. The current program ends in 2018. Extending it until 2022 will allow multi-year investment projects to keep moving forward, state Rep. Walt Leger, D-New… Continue reading →

Bill aimed at aiding sexual assault victims advances, would ensure victims aren't charged for medical care

Advocate Photo by MARK BALLARD -- Sue Bernie, an Assistant District Attorney in Baton Rouge, wanted to amend Tuesday legislation about the treatment of rape victims. She points at language in the bill with Stafford Palmieri, Gov. Bobby Jindal's Deputy Chief of Staff.

A two-bill package aimed at helping victims of sexual assault advanced toward final legislative passage Tuesday. The state Senate Judiciary B Committee slightly altered the bills then shipped them to the full Louisiana Senate for debate. The House-passed measures, sponsored by Rep. Helena Moreno, would set up standards and procedures for the forensic medical examination and… Continue reading →

After House panel effectively kills ‘religious freedom’ bill, Bobby Jindal plans executive order to accomplish the bill's intent

Advocate Photo by MARK BALLARD -- Hundreds of people came to the State Capitol Tuesday to hear testimony proposed Marriage and Conscience Act. Louisiana House security opened three rooms to handle the overflow crowd. House Bill 707 has earned the support of Gov. Bobby Jindal, but faced a sharp backlash from critics, who argued it could encourage discrimination against gay people.

Just hours after a Louisiana House panel overwhelmingly voted Tuesday to effectively kill one of his priority pieces of legislation, Gov. Bobby Jindal issued an executive order that he said would continue to give life to the Louisiana Marriage and Conscience Act’s intent. House Bill 707 had sought to carve out protections for people… Continue reading →

Bill would allow sheriffs to scan license plates

The Louisiana Senate approved Monday a measure that would allow some sheriff’s departments to automatically scan the license plates of drivers they pull over. Senate Bill 250, which supporters say will help police crackdown on uninsured motorists and car thieves, was approved on a 33-2 vote and now moves to the House for consideration. As is,… Continue reading →

Senators reject lifting constitutional ban on spending certain funds

Louisiana senators have spurned a proposal to lift constitutional protections that keep an array of specially created funds shielded from budget cuts. Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, said when the state faces deep financial problems, all options for reworking state spending should be available to lawmakers. “I think our constituents are tired of hearing our hands… Continue reading →

Lawmakers, higher ed, public school officials volley around higher education pension bill revamp

Advocate staff photo by MARSHA SHULER --State Sen. Conrad Appel, R-Metairie, left, confers wtih state Sen. Page Cortez, R-Lafayette, during Senate Retirement Committee deliberations Monday on legislation to relieve higher education of some pension system funding obligations.

The fight between higher education and public schools over pension funding ended in a draw Monday. State Sen. Robert Adley wanted to reduce the money colleges have traditionally paid into the Teachers Retirement System of Louisiana, claiming higher education has been overcharged for years. He had plenty of support from the higher education community wrestling with deep… Continue reading →

‘Religious freedom’ bill slated for committee hearing this week

A Louisiana House committee is slated to take up a controversial bill Tuesday that seeks to carve out protections for people who oppose same-sex marriage. House Bill 707 has earned the support of Gov. Bobby Jindal, but after facing a sharp backlash from critics, who argued it could encourage discrimination against gay people, it had been waiting… Continue reading →

House-passed film tax credit cap, other tax-break reductions clear Louisiana Senate committee

Advocate Photo by MARK BALLARD -- Louisiana Rep. Bubba Chaney, R-Rayville, addresses Monday Council on Aging supporters from around the state, gathered on the steps of the Capitol while the Senate Revenue & Fiscal Affairs committee considered bills that would raise revenues for the state budget.

Eleven different tax bills that would raise a total of $615 million next year sailed out of a state Senate committee Monday, in the Legislature’s latest step toward ending a fiscal crisis that threatens to impose deep spending cuts that would devastate public colleges and universities and health care. But legislative leaders still don’t have a… Continue reading →

Our Lady of the Lake to confer degrees on Monday

More than 220 Our Lady of the Lake College students will be conferred master’s, bachelor’s or associate degrees at commencement exercises at 3 p.m. Monday in the Baton Rouge River Center Arena. The Rev. Cleo Milano, pastor of Our Lady of Mercy Catholic Church in Baton Rouge, will be the speaker. “I genuinely love people and being… Continue reading →

Focus on higher ed funding from lawmakers causes health care industry to take fall, business lobbies on defensive for tax breaks and subsidies

Advocate Photo by MARK BALLARD -- Stephen Waguespack, head of the powerful Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, was a guest last week on The Clarence Buggs Show, at Talk 107.3 FM.

Louisiana’s business community has won legislative battle after legislative battle during Gov. Bobby Jindal’s seven-plus years in office. But business lobbies have been on the defensive this year as lawmakers propose to plug Louisiana’s massive $1.6 billion budget deficit by taking away hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks and subsidies given to companies over… Continue reading →

Most Louisiana legislators would rather drink weed killer than sell rest of tobacco settlement, Treasurer John Kennedy says

Gov. Bobby Jindal’s proposal to sell Louisiana’s remaining share of a massive tobacco settlement to help generate a few years of short-term cash has stalled, with little support from key state officials. Treasurer John Kennedy has refused to put it on the Bond Commission agenda, though commission approval is needed for a sale. Legislative leaders… Continue reading →

State employee, teacher retirees COLA heading to House vote

The fate of a cost-of-living increase in some 100,000 retired state employees and teachers pension checks is now in the hands of the Louisiana House. The House Retirement Committee on Thursday complied with a directive to release legislation it had bottled up on a 6-6 tie vote. The full House voted 64-25 last week to Continue reading →

Bill giving workers paid sick time spurned by Senate committee

A proposal to give all Louisiana workers paid sick days was rejected by a state Senate labor committee Thursday, leading one lawmaker to condemn business groups that opposed the bill for their “hypocrisy.” During the meeting, lobbyists from the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry and the National Federation of Independent Business both said their organizations were… Continue reading →

Bills would allow Algiers to secede from City of New Orleans; here's what's next

Advocate Photo by MARK BALLARD -- State Rep. Jeff Arnold, D-New Orleans, sponsored legislation that could lead to Algiers leaving the City of New Orleans.

The effort allowing the Algiers neighborhood to secede from New Orleans took its first step Thursday when a Louisiana House committee approved legislation outlining the process. Rep. Jeff Arnold, the Democrat whose district covers nearly all the precincts in Algiers, said the residents on the West Bank of the Mississippi River are “tired of not being… Continue reading →

Hey, look what we found! Louisiana state government digs up nearly $100M under proverbial cushion

Advocate staff photo by MARK BALLARD -- Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego and chairman of the Revenue Estimating Conference, and LSU professor Jim Richardson, the panel's economist member, right, talk at the Thursday hearing during which the conference added about $179 million to the budgets for this year and next.

Louisiana state government looked under a financial cushion and found about $179 million that will be used to pay a shortfall for the fiscal year that ends in six weeks and to help in efforts to close a massive budget hole for the next fiscal year. In welcome news after months of finding the state needed to… Continue reading →

Louisiana Aerospace Day at State Capitol

Patrick Scheuermann, director of the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., in Memorial Hall at the State Capitol on Thursday.

The head of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center came to the State Capitol Thursday to remind the Legislature of Louisiana’s role in helping America get to Mars. “We don’t need money,” said Patrick Scheuermann, director of the Center in Huntsville, Ala., expressing a sentiment that legislators haven’t heard repeated very often during this legislative session. The state… Continue reading →