Legislative briefs

Sen. Bret Allain, R-Franklin

House supports bill to nullify levee board lawsuit
BATON ROUGE (AP) — The Louisiana House voted with the oil and gas industry Thursday, supporting a bill that seeks to void a lawsuit filed by a New Orleans area levee board against 97 oil and gas companies.
With the 59-39 House vote, the proposal is one step from passage. The Senate-backed bill must return to the Senate for consideration of changes that solidify the bill’s intent to kill the lawsuit. Gov. Bobby Jindal supports the measure.
The Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East filed a lawsuit against 97 oil and gas companies, alleging their drilling activities damaged Louisiana’s coast and vulnerable wetlands.
Lawsuit supporters say the industry hasn’t sufficiently been held accountable for the damage done by dredging for canals and pipelines. Critics call it an attack on a valuable state industry, a boon for trial lawyers and a lawsuit that the levee board had no authority to file.
The bill by Sen. Bret Allain, R-Franklin, 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. Levee boards aren’t on the list.
That would offer a legal argument to have the levee board’s lawsuit thrown out. The bill specifies that its provisions “shall be applicable to all claims existing or actions pending.”
Rep. Joel Robideaux, R-Lafayette, who handled the proposal in the House, said it protects industry from “rogue agencies” that file lawsuits without standing to do so.

Jindal signs bills targeting domestic violence
BATON ROUGE (AP) — Gov. Bobby Jindal has signed into law six bills aimed at helping domestic violence victims in a state that leads the nation in domestic abuse deaths.
The bills:
—Make domestic abuse one of the grounds for immediate divorce in Louisiana.
—Ban an abuser under a protective order from possessing a firearm and those convicted of domestic abuse battery from possessing a gun for a decade.
—Classifies a conviction on the charge of domestic abuse-aggravated assault as a crime of violence, reducing eligibility for parole or probation.
—Expedites protective order filings.
—Allows additional damage awards in lawsuits filed by domestic abuse victims.
—Adds new restrictions to bail authorizations in domestic abuse situations.

Consulting contract review bill headed to Jindal
BATON ROUGE (AP) — After four years of calling for cuts in state consulting contracts, a Thibodaux lawmaker has won passage of a scaled-back proposal to give the Legislature more oversight of the deals signed across state agencies.
Rep. Jerome “Dee” Richard, an independent, sought to force a 10 percent cut on agencies’ spending on consulting and professional services contracts.
Senators repeatedly rejected the idea, which Richard has proposed since 2011 and which faced opposition from Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration. But rather than kill the bill this year, senators rewrote it to provide more review of the contracts and no required reductions.
Under the final version, most consulting and professional services contracts with a state general fund price tag topping $40,000 will need approval from the Legislature’s joint budget committee before they could begin.
The revamped proposal won final passage Thursday with an 82-0 House vote. Richard has acknowledged it wasn’t fully what he wanted, but he said it’s all he could get through the Senate.
It’s unclear what Jindal will do now that the measure is headed his way.
Treasurer John Kennedy has traveled the state pushing the bill, saying Louisiana has millions of dollars in unnecessary consulting and professional services contracts. He carries a thick book of contracts to illustrate the long list of agreements that agencies have in place.
Kennedy praised the bill’s passage, despite the rewrite, saying it’s an effort “to bring the consulting contract process into the sunlight.”

Lawmakers expand their weapons rights
BATON ROUGE (AP) — Lawmakers will be able to carry concealed weapons in most public buildings, under a bill that has received final passage.
The bill by Franklin Sen. Bret Allain started as a proposal to let lawmakers carry concealed handguns in the Louisiana Capitol. Senators rejected the idea.
So, the rewritten measure won’t let legislators have guns in the Capitol and will remove an existing law that allows judges, district attorneys, constables, coroners and justices of the peace to carry there.
Allain’s bill will extend to legislators an exemption granted to that list of people that lets them carry concealed weapons in courthouses and state offices, provided they receive annual training.
The bill headed to the governor Thursday with a 33-4 Senate vote.

Lawmakers agree to 6-year driver’s license renewal
BATON ROUGE (AP) — Louisiana will have a six-year driver’s license.
Currently, drivers must renew their licenses in the state every four years. A bill by Republican Sen. Dan Claitor, of Baton Rouge, will change the renewal period to six years.
The Senate voted 37-0 Thursday to send the measure to the governor’s desk.
The fee for a basic license will grow from $28.50 to $42.75 to cover the extra years of renewal. Fees for other licenses also will increase, with the amounts varying based on type of license.
Other handling fees also can apply, depending on where the license is renewed.
The change will take effect July 1, 2015, to give the Office of Motor Vehicles time to make the necessary system adjustments.

Lawmakers agree to allow REAL ID driver’s licenses
BATON ROUGE (AP) — Worries that Louisiana residents could one day need a passport to board domestic airline flights persuaded lawmakers Thursday to repeal a six-year-old law.
The state law kept Louisiana from issuing driver’s licenses that comply with security mandates required under the federal REAL ID law.
With an 85-2 vote and no debate, the House gave final passage to a bill that allows people to get a REAL ID-compliant driver’s license if they want one.
The measure heads next to Gov. Bobby Jindal’s desk. His state police superintendent, Col. Mike Edmonson, helped push the bill.
In 2016, people will need a license or state identification card that is compliant with REAL ID to board all domestic flights. Without one, they will be required to produce a passport or other federal identification card or could be subject to intense questioning from security.
Louisiana’s lawmakers enacted a ban in 2008 on meeting the federal requirements because of privacy concerns, but many of the most heavily criticized security features have since been dropped.
The bill by Rep. Karen St. Germain, D-Pierre Part, gives drivers a choice between receiving a license that has the security features to comply with the REAL ID or one that does not. REAL ID licenses will get a gold star indicating fulfillment of the standards.
“I want to make sure my constituents have every possible choice,” St. Germain said during committee testimony on the bill.

Pamphlets required for women
seeking abortion
BATON ROUGE (AP) — Women in Louisiana seeking an abortion will have to receive a pamphlet that describes possible psychological effects of the procedure, under a bill that received final passage Thursday — though studies disagree on the effect of such practices.
The House sent the bill to the governor with an 87-0 vote and no debate.
The measure, by Rep. Barry Ivey, R-Baton Rouge, also requires women to receive information about the illegality of coerced abortions and services available to human-trafficking victims, before they can have an abortion.
Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal is expected to sign the bill into law.
Clinics will have to provide the brochures at the start of the state-mandated, 24-hour waiting period before a woman can have an abortion, with an exception in cases of a medical emergency.

College incentive fund approved
BATON ROUGE (AP) — Gov. Bobby Jindal and higher education leaders have won legislative support for a new incentive fund that will direct money to high-demand degree and worker training programs.
The House gave final passage Thursday to a bill by House Speaker Chuck Kleckley that sets up the Workforce and Innovation for a Stronger Economy Fund, or WISE Fund. The 92-0 vote sent the measure to Jindal.
The bill doesn’t guarantee funding, however. Lawmakers will decide each year whether to put money in the fund. Next year’s budget bills include $40 million for the effort.

Senators agree
to pay legal fees
BATON ROUGE (AP) — Senators added a $294,000 reimbursement to next year’s budget for former Alcohol and Tobacco Control Commissioner Murphy Painter for his legal fees involved in fighting federal charges against him.
A federal jury acquitted Painter, who had worked as commissioner for 14 years, in December of 29 charges of fraud, identity theft and false statements to the FBI. He was accused of illegally gaining national crime computer information on people who were not under investigation.
The governor’s office announced in August 2010 that Painter resigned from his job, but Painter has said he was fired by Gov. Bobby Jindal because of a dispute over a liquor license.
The federal charges came after Louisiana’s inspector general issued a report that accused Painter of improperly using an FBI database and two state law enforcement databases to gather information about the wife of U.S. Sen. David Vitter, state district court judges, legislative staff members, Painter’s administrative assistant and her lawyer.

More funding
for parish jails
BATON ROUGE (AP) — Sheriffs are in line for more state funding, under a bill that is nearing final legislative passage with support from the Senate Finance Committee on Thursday.
Currently, the state pays parish sheriffs $24.39 per day for any state inmates housed in local jails after a final sentence.
The proposal (House Bill 562) by Rep. Joe Lopinto, R-Metairie, would require the state also to reimburse sheriffs for housing people who are arrested for parole violations and awaiting a parole revocation hearing, after they’ve been in the local jail for 14 days.
The rate would be cut in half for the upcoming 2014-15 fiscal year and set at $20.89 in future years, subject to lawmakers deciding each year if they agree to fund the add-on. Next year’s budget already includes $7 million for the new payments.
Lopinto’s bill, already approved by the House, moves next to the full Senate for debate.
From The Associated Press.

Lawmakers in the House rejected a proposal to give domestic violence victims new protections from eviction in Louisiana, amid concerns it would take away landlords’ rights and lead to lawsuits.
The Senate had unanimously passed the anti-discrimination measure (Senate Bill 233) by Sen. Sharon Weston Broome, D-Baton Rouge. But the bill ran into more criticism as it moved to the House, and lawmakers there voted 63-34 against the proposal Thursday.
Rep. Helena Moreno said the bill was narrowly tailored and would only apply to large apartment complexes. The proposal would have made it illegal to refuse to rent to someone because that person has been a victim of domestic abuse or to terminate a lease based on a domestic dispute. Moreno, D-New Orleans, said domestic violence victims often face another “form of abuse” because they are denied housing.
“Women who are being battered are being evicted from their apartments where they currently live and end up on the street,” she said.
Rep. Joe Harrison, R-Napoleonville, said federal law offers protections to people who are victims of domestic abuse, and he questioned the need for more. Harrison said he owns rental property and thinks the bill opens landlords up to more lawsuits.
“We have to allow the landlord, the owner of the property, to have their property right, to make the best determination of who should live there,” said Rep. Joe Lopinto, R-Metairie, who spoke in opposition to the bill.
Gov. Bobby Jindal has signed into law two bills aimed at supporting Louisiana’s veterans.
The measure (House Bill 654) by Rep. Nick Lorusso, R-New Orleans, will expand residential lease protections for members of the military, to make it easier for them and their spouses to terminate home and apartment leases.
The other bill (Senate Bill 538), sponsored by Sen. John Smith, R-Leesville, establishes a voluntary registry for veterans exposed to open-air burn pits during wartime, to help them access treatment for any health conditions tied to the exposure.
“These bills build on our previous efforts to help support and honor Louisiana Veterans who fought tirelessly to protect our freedoms,” the Republican governor said in a statement.
In other legislative action:
—Any person with an outstanding fine of $250 or more owed to the Board of Ethics will be prohibited from appointment to a state board or commission, under a bill headed to the governor. The Senate gave unanimous, final passage Thursday to the measure (Senate Bill 394) by Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans. The prohibition won’t apply if appeals of the fine are still pending. The bill will take effect Aug. 1.
—The legislative auditor will have greater ability to track state tax dollars paying for students to go to private schools through the statewide voucher program, under a measure that received final passage with a 37-0 Senate vote. The bill (Senate Bill 460) by Sen. Robert Adley, R-Benton, heads next to the governor. The voucher program is slated to receive $46 million in next year’s budget.
—Gov. Bobby Jindal has signed into law a ban on selling electronic cigarettes to anyone under the age of 18 in Louisiana. The bill (Senate Bill 12) by Sen. Rick Gallot, D-Ruston, outlaws sales of e-cigarette, vaporizers and other alternative nicotine products to minors, like the state already does for cigarette sales.

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