Drone limits back on the legislative radar
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — A bill seeking to keep unmanned aircraft from flying over Louisiana's chemical plants was revived by a Senate judiciary committee Tuesday, after it was killed last month by a House panel.
Sen. Mack "Bodi" White's original bill (Senate Bill 356) would have banned drones from passing over a lengthy list of areas deemed "critical infrastructure" in the state. Lawmakers on the House criminal justice committee deemed the language too broad.
So, White got more limited language added to a House-backed bill (House Bill 1029) by Rep. Terry Landry, D-New Iberia, to prohibit the use of drones over petrochemical plants and nuclear plants. It would include exceptions for law enforcement agencies.
Landry didn't object to the addition, and the Senate committee advanced the measure to the full Senate for debate without objection.
The drone ban was tacked onto a measure that would criminalize the intentional projection of a laser at a plane or in its flight path in Louisiana. Police officers who supported the measure said the lasers can temporarily blind people flying planes, like police helicopters that are used in heavily-populated areas.
The bill would carry a prison sentence of at least one year and up to five years for a first offense. Subsequent offenses would carry a minimum prison sentence of two years and up to 10 years.
Students at poor-performing public schools could have the possibility of switching to higher-performing schools, under a bill nearing final legislative passage.
Sen. Ben Nevers, D-Bogalusa, said his Senate-backed proposal (Senate Bill 61) would offer choice to public school students, like the state has offered through the taxpayer-funded voucher program.
"Please give the parents across this state a choice," he told the House Education Committee.
The proposal would start with the upcoming 2014-15 school year, in school districts that agree to participate.
Parents would be able to enroll their children in the public school they choose if the student was assigned to a school that was graded with a D or F in the state's school grading system. The school that a parent chooses must be rated at an A, B or C level — and it must have the space to take the student.
The House committee advanced the measure without objection, sending it to the full House for debate.
The Senate voted 22-11 Tuesday to create a new regulatory framework governing surrogacy births in Louisiana, moving the measure one step from final passage.
Louisiana law has few regulations governing surrogacy, the arrangement in which a woman carries and gives birth to a baby for another couple. The House-approved measure (House Bill 187) by Rep. Joe Lopinto, R-Metairie, would spell out who can be a surrogate and what legal rights the parents, the surrogate and the child have.
"This is going to bring some guidelines and some certainty," said Sen. Gary Smith, D-Norco. "It's going to allow the courts something to look to."
But Sen. A.G. Crowe, R-Slidell, opposed the measure, saying it could encourage unmarried women to get pregnant.
Gov. Bobby Jindal vetoed a similar bill last year because of moral and ethical objections raised by social conservatives and religious leaders. But Lopinto has worked with the groups and has reached compromise language that removed many of the objections.
The bill moves back to the House for approval of Senate changes.
In other legislative action:
—Employers and schools should be prohibited from demanding access to personal email, social media and other types of online accounts, lawmakers have decided. The bill (House Bill 340) by Rep. Ted James, D-Baton Rouge, will prohibit employers and public schools, including colleges, from requesting usernames, passwords or other authentication information that allows them to access personal online accounts. It doesn't apply to company-owned devices. The measure heads to Gov. Bobby Jindal with an 88-0 vote from the House.
—Public school teachers should be able to accept gifts from their students within some state-specified limits, the House and Senate have agreed. The exception to the state ethics code (House Bill 500) by Rep. Johnny Berthelot, R-Gonzales, will allow gifts of no more than $25 at a time, capped at $75 per year from one person. The bill heads to Gov. Bobby Jindal after getting final passage with a 28-6 Senate vote.
—Pension payments should be boosted by 1.5 percent for retired state workers, public school employees and others in the four statewide retirement systems, the full Legislature has agreed. It would be the first cost of living adjustment for most of the retirees since 2008, but it only happens if lawmakers also pass a companion measure that makes it harder to give COLAs in later years. The bills (Senate Bills 16, 18, 19 and 21) head next to the governor's desk, after getting unanimous House support Tuesday. The dollars would come from better-than-expected investment gains for the retirement systems.
—Senators approved a House-backed measure to allow off-duty police officers to carry weapons in bars, giving the bill (House Bill 72) by Rep. Joe Lopinto, R-Metairie, final passage with a 37-2 vote. The law currently only allows police officers to be armed in restaurants and bars when on the job, along with the business owner and employees. The measure will add off-duty police officers, including those who are auxiliary or retired, to the list of exemptions.
—Veterans would get a discount for concealed handgun permits, under a proposal backed by the Senate. The measure by Rep. Barry Ivey, R-Baton Rouge, would reduce the annual fee for a permit from $25 to $12.50 for active, reserve and veterans of the U.S. military. It would also reduce the fee for lifetime concealed handgun permits, which currently require applicants to prepay 20 years of fees. Ivey proposes to allow military members to prepay 10 years of the annual fee. It passed unanimously and will head back to the House to seek approval of Senate amendments.