'Parent trigger' law approved by Senate

Notes from the Legislature's regular session

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — The Senate unanimously backed a bill Saturday that would set up a "parent trigger" law for poor-performing schools in the Recovery School District, moving the proposal one step from final passage.

The measure (House Bill 115) by Rep. Ted James, D-Baton Rouge, would let parents petition the state-run RSD to return a school back to local control if that school has earned a "D'' or "F'' grade from the state for five consecutive years.

It would take parents of a majority of the students signing the petition. Students must have been attending the school for at least two years in order for their parents to sign.

The Recovery School District is run by the state Department of Education to manage chronically low-performing schools. It currently operates 80 schools around the state, including 68 in New Orleans and eight in Baton Rouge.

The proposal heads back to the House for approval of Senate changes.

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Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration will be able to charge middle- and upper-income parents a fee for the therapy services their children receive through the Early Steps program, a move that was anticipated to balance next year's budget.

Early Steps offers therapy services for children up to 3 years old who are having troubles with speech, vision and motor control development. About 9,000 children receive services each year.

With a 38-0 vote, the Senate gave final passage Saturday to the bill (House Bill 375) by Rep. Frank Hoffmann, R-West Monroe, that allows the state Department of Health and Hospitals to create a cost-share for families on a sliding scale based on their income.

It will allow the department to charge any family with annual income above 300 percent of the federal poverty level —$67,056 for a family of four — a portion of the cost of services through Early Steps. The change is estimated to generate $1.2 million for DHH next year and $1.6 million annually thereafter.

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A bid to centralize and strengthen efforts to collect back-owed debts to state agencies won approval from the Senate in a unanimous vote Saturday.

Estimates are the measure could generate as much as $200 million over five years.

The proposal would create a new debt recovery office in the Department of Revenue and give it the authority to revoke and suspend state-issued licenses for back debts, among other things. It would require agencies to refer all their delinquent accounts to either the attorney general's office or the debt recovery office for collection.

Lawmakers said Louisiana has been too lax in seeking payment for back-owed debts, which are pegged at $1.4 billion.

The proposal (House Bill 629) by Rep. Chris Broadwater, R-Hammond, already has received unanimous backing from the House. It heads back there for approval of Senate changes.

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Online:

Louisiana Legislature: www.legis.la.gov

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