Dig Baton Rouge

BILLS, BILLS, BILLS

By Nick BeJeaux 

Higher Education funding is one of the very few blocks of the state budget that has no protection from cuts whatsoever. It was that way long before this year and it looks to stay the same after – a cycle that has perpetuated since the recession hit in 2008. Public education has had its spot in the limelight this week as well, as has the discussion on incorporation, E-cigarettes, and the legacy of late artist George Rodrigue. The Louisiana Legislative Session has entered its final stretch, but bills are still being reviewed, passed and defeated every day. Keep track of what comes and goes into law or the wastebasket at www.legis.la.gov.

A Senate committee decided it will not send HB 222, which would make it harder to financially cut higher education, to the floor for debate. The bill would have set a limit to funding colleges and universities at the 2013 fiscal rate, which was a good year in terms of the low level of cuts to higher ed. Any cuts below that limit would require a two-thirds vote in the Senate and the House. The bill was killed in-committee with an 8-1 vote, the reason being that adding another dedicated block to the budget would make it more difficult to make necessary cuts.

The Bureau of Governmental Research has thrown its weight against attempts to derail the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority lawsuit against several oil and gas companies. Okay, this isn’t about a bill passing or failing, but it’s an important development in the ongoing fight between the SLFPA and the Jindal Administration over who has the authority to levy lawsuits on behalf of the state.  The BGR has said that its decision is based on their desire to maintain the independence of the levee boards and to keep politics out of such matters.

As is, the state budget for next year allocates no funds toward the state’s ongoing litigation against BP for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf. Attorney General Buddy Caldwell has pleaded with lawmakers to add $15 million for the casework to continue. Both the Governor’s office and legislators have said the gap will be filled, but not to what extent.    

The Senate has passed more restriction on abortion clinics operating within the state. Passed with a 34-3 vote, the law now requires that a physician performing abortions holds admitting privileges to a hospital with obstetrical and gynecological services within 30 miles of their clinic. A similar measure that passed in Texas lead to the closure of dozens of clinics across the state. A similar effect is expected to impact Louisiana.

More parishes have opted out of the moratorium placed on the incorporation of cities. A bill passed by the Senate will enforce said moratorium, but even more parishes are expected to join the 13 that will continue to allow unincorporated areas to become cities. The latest additions to the list are Jefferson, Livingston and East Feliciana – East Baton Rouge has preferred to stay off that list.

Like tobacco products, E-cigarettes are now banned to anyone under the age of 18. The jury is still out on whether or not E-cigs are safer than traditional tobacco products, and lawmakers are apparently not waiting on that verdict. The law also widens the band on alternative nicotine products that can be eaten, inhaled, absorbed, chewed, or ingested in any other way.

Lawmakers will memorialize the late, great George Rodrigue on U.S. 90 in Iberia parish. Rodrigue, known for his Blue Dog series, died in December at 69 after a long struggle with cancer. HB 402 has been unanimously passed by Congress and will name the overpass at U.S 90 and LA 83 after Rodrigue.

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