Allain's bill to thwart levee board's suit advances

Notes from the La. Legislature's regular session

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — A controversial bill seeking to kill a lawsuit filed by a southeast Louisiana levee board against the oil and gas industry has edged near final passage, getting support Wednesday from the House natural resources committee.
The Senate-approved bill, supported by Gov. Bobby Jindal, is an effort to void the lawsuit filed by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East alleging that the drilling activities of 97 oil and gas companies damaged Louisiana's coast and vulnerable wetlands.
The House committee advanced the proposal (Senate Bill 469) by Sen. Bret Allain, R-Franklin, to the full House with a 13-6 vote.
Allain's proposal would define which governmental entities can bring legal claims about management of Louisiana's coastal zones to entities designated in the Coastal Zone Management Act. The levee boards aren't on the list.
While the bill wouldn't void the levee board lawsuit outright, supporters of the measure say it would offer a legal argument for someone seeking to have the lawsuit thrown out.
"We're voting to kill the lawsuit by voting for this bill?" asked Rep. Eddie Lambert, R-Gonzales, who opposed the measure.
"No doubt about it," Allain replied.
Backers of the lawsuit say the industry hasn't sufficiently been held accountable for damage done by dredging for canals and pipelines. Jindal and industry leaders say the lawsuit is an unfair attack on a valuable industry and a windfall for trial lawyers.
The proposal wouldn't affect similar lawsuits filed by Jefferson and Plaquemines parishes against oil and gas companies.
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The scope of practice will be expanded for optometrists, allowing them to perform a few types of eye surgery though they didn't go through medical school.
The Senate gave final passage to the heavily lobbied bill (House Bill 1065) with a 25-12 vote Wednesday, including support from Sen. David Heitmeier, an optometrist. It goes next to Gov. Bobby Jindal.
Ophthalmologists, who are medical doctors and currently can perform such procedures, opposed the change. That opposition last year sidelined a similar proposal.
But Rep. Rogers Pope, R-Denham Springs, brought a revamped version of the measure this year, with more limitations.
Supporters said the expansion will give people greater access to eye care. The bill will prohibit optometrists from performing any injections into the eye and from using anesthesia.
Opponents said optometrists didn't have enough training to do the treatments allowed under the bill.
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Sen. Dan Claitor's attempt to limit drone use on private property again hit roadblocks in the House.
A House committee rejected a proposal by Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, to put restrictions on the unmanned aircraft in Louisiana. So, the senator then added the language into a bill (House Bill 1037) by Rep. Chris Hazel, R-Pineville.
Hazel's proposal would add penalties for second and third convictions to Louisiana's "Peeping Tom" law that prohibits spying on private property. Claitor's amendment would define spying with unmanned aircrafts as a violation of the law, excepting law enforcement.
Hazel refused to accept the add-on, and the House sent the bill Wednesday to a legislative compromise committee so Hazel could try to strip the Claitor amendment.
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Lawmakers have agreed to create a new misdemeanor crime targeting prostitutes, but stripped its application to panhandlers after constitutional questions were raised.
As sent to the governor, the bill by Rep. Austin Badon, D-New Orleans, would allow police to arrest people for soliciting funds or transportation from another person, if the intention is to solicit the person for sex for payment.
Violations would carry a jail sentence of up to six months and a fine of no more than $200.
The House gave final passage to the measure (House Bill 1158) Wednesday with a 94-0 vote that agreed to the Senate's removal of broader language that also swept panhandlers into the bill.
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In other legislative action:
—A specialized "National Rifle Association" license plate will be offered to Louisiana vehicle owners, under a bill that received final legislative passage Wednesday with a 95-0 House vote. Before the plate is printed, at least 1,000 people must apply for it. The plate would cost $30 on top of regular license fees. The bill (House Bill 1112) by Rep. Sherman Mack, R-Livingston, heads to Gov. Bobby Jindal.
—A proposal (Senate Bill 38) to give all clerks of court around Louisiana the ability to receive a car allowance up to 15 percent of their annual salary has received final passage with a 35-0 Senate vote. The measure by Sen. Dan "Blade" Morrish, R-Jennings, goes to the governor's desk. Nearly half the state's parish clerks of court already have the authority under existing law.
—Lawmakers have agreed to require online payday lenders to register with the Office of Financial Institutions and be subject to the same regulations as storefront payday lenders. The measure (House Bill 766) by Rep. Erich Ponti, R-Baton Rouge, was passed instead of much tougher proposals seeking to limit the fees that can be charged by the lenders. It received final passage with a 94-0 House vote and heads to the governor for consideration.

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