Notes from the La. Legislature’s regular session
BATON ROUGE (AP) — Gov. Bobby Jindal’s plan to create a $40 million incentive fund to direct dollars to high-demand programs that will fill the petrochemical, engineering and manufacturing jobs his administration has drawn to Louisiana crossed its first legislative hurdle Monday.
The bill (House Bill 1033) by House Speaker Chuck Kleckley, R-Lake Charles, would set up the Workforce and Innovation for a Stronger Economy Fund, called the WISE Fund. It would steer money to high-demand areas, like science, technology and research programs, at Louisiana’s four-year universities and community and technical colleges.
Dollars for the fund would be allocated through the budget process, and Jindal proposes $40 million for the upcoming 2014-15 fiscal year.
The Jindal administration has attracted billions of dollars in new investment, much of it in the petrochemical industry, but administration and higher education leaders say Louisiana needs to better prepare workers for the jobs coming with those projects.
The House Appropriations Committee backed the bill without objection Monday. It moves next to the full House for debate.
An eight-person council that includes higher education system leaders and the state economic development and labor secretaries would decide how to divvy up money across campuses, and the Board of Regents would make the final decision.
Each campus wouldn’t be guaranteed a slice of the money.
To get the dollars, schools would have to work with private businesses and get a 20 percent funding match, which could include cash or donations of technology, construction materials, scholarships, endowed faculty or other items.
A dispute has emerged over how far to go with new restrictions on payday lending in Louisiana.
The House Commerce Committee backed a bill Monday by Rep. Erich Ponti, R-Baton Rouge, that would add new options for payment plans and put caps on interest charged for delinquent loans.
But groups that have been pushing for limits on the high-interest short-term loans say Ponti’s proposal (House Bill 766) doesn’t go far enough. They say the rewritten bill is being pushed by the payday lending industry under the guise of compromise.
Under the measure, when borrowers are unable to pay back a loan, they would be able to call the lender and arrange a payment plan before the loan is late. If the loan becomes delinquent, the highest possible interest over a year would be 36 percent.
Jabo Covert, representing payday lender Check Into Cash, supported the bill, saying other states have similar payment plan options that work to help people pay off their debts.
“This is not a compromise bill. It is an industry bill,” said Dianne Hanley, with the group Together Baton Rouge, which has been pushing for tougher restrictions on storefront lenders.
Ponti’s bill will next go to the House floor. A competing measure that would enact more sweeping regulations on payday lenders is scheduled for debate Tuesday in a Senate committee.
Tax refunds would have to arrive via paper check if taxpayers don’t specific how they want the refunds, under a bill that received the support Monday of the House Ways and Means Committee.
The measure (House Bill 436) by Rep. Jim Fannin, R-Jonesboro, would end the revenue department’s practice of giving prepaid debit cards to people who don’t spell out that they want to receive their tax refunds through direct deposit or paper check.
The prepaid Visa cards have generated complaints since they were introduced two years ago. People have said they don’t understand how to use the cards or were charged fees when they did.
Revenue Secretary Tim Barfield said the state saved money by shrinking the number of paper checks issued, but the proposal to switch the default tax refund method wouldn’t significantly increase his agency’s costs.
Twenty percent of tax refunds issued last year involved prepaid debit cards.
The Ways and Means advanced the bill without objection, sending it to the House floor.
Parents who attack referees at their children’s athletic events could face toughened penalties, if the Senate agrees to a bill that won passage from the House in a 93-1 vote.
The misdemeanor crime of battery of a school or recreation contest official currently carries a fine of up to $500 and a prison sentence of up to six months.
The measure (House Bill 227) by Rep. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, would raise the possible consequences for a conviction to a fine of at least $1,000 and up to $5,000 and a minimum of five days in jail. If the referee needs medical attention, the prison sentence would be at least 10 days.
Also, anyone convicted in such a case would have to go to anger management classes or some other type of court-ordered counseling.
Henry said referees from his area asked for the heightened penalties, hoping that would discourage such behavior.
“They just felt the existing fines weren’t enough of a deterrent from parents going after referees at these events,” he said.
In other legislative action:
—The House voted unanimously to tighten regulations on explosives licenses in Louisiana, backing legislation (House Bill 337) filed in response to an explosion in October 2012 at Camp Minden. A Louisiana State Police investigator discovered millions of pounds of improperly stored military propellant after the explosion.
—The Senate voted 32-5 to prohibit a public official who is recalled and removed from office from being able to run again for that job in the special election to fill the position. The bill (Senate Bill 208) by Sen. Rick Ward, R-Port Allen, moves to the House for debate.