Notes from the La. Legislature's regular session
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — The House will debate a proposal to ban drivers from talking on their cell phones during school zone hours, after the measure won the narrow backing Tuesday of the House Transportation Committee.
Rep. Jeff Thompson, R-Bossier City, said his bill (House Bill 370) would help ensure the safety of children. He described it as a minor inconvenience for drivers who would need to hang up briefly while driving through school zones during posted hours.
"When you are in a school zone, I like for you to have both of your hands on the wheel," Thompson said.
Rep. Jerry "Truck" Gisclair, D-Larose, opposed the proposal, saying that drivers already are required to slow down in school zones to ensure safety.
"People are driving safely with our cell phones," he said.
The transportation committee voted 8-7 to move the bill to the full House for debate.
If passed into law, violators would face a fine up to $175 on a first offense, then up to $500 on subsequent offenses. If the driver is involved in a crash while on a cell phone, the fine would be doubled.
Speed cameras and other automated speed enforcement devices would be banned on Louisiana's interstates, if the Senate agrees to a bill backed in a 95-1 House vote Tuesday.
Rep. Mike Danahay, D-Sulphur, said municipalities have been approached by a private company proposing to introduce speed cameras on interstate highways, a method that would use a hand-held device to record speeds and send violators a ticket through the mail. The company would split the citation payment with the local law enforcement agency.
At least one town in southwest Louisiana, the town of Welsh, already has announced plans for such a program.
Supporters said the programs don't give people the ability to offer an explanation for their speeding and seem to prioritize generating income over public safety.
The measure (House Bill 896) goes next to the Senate for debate.
A bid to label as "speed traps" the handful of tiny towns across Louisiana that get more than half their annual income from speeding citations got derailed, at least temporarily, in the House of Representatives on Tuesday.
Rep. Steve Pylant, R-Winnsboro, pulled the bill (House Bill 961) from consideration after he lost on a series of amendments, votes that suggested his proposal might get rejected entirely.
Pylant can bring the measure up again at another time during the legislative session.
The former sheriff said he opposes towns basing their budgets on speeding tickets.
"This is a total money-grab," he said.
He said if the issue is truly one of public safety, as the towns claim, signs with flashing lights will encourage people to slow down.
Opponents of the bill include the Louisiana Municipal Association. Lawmakers who criticized the bill said while they don't support speed traps, they don't agree with placing "a stigma" on a community.
Rep. Katrina Jackson, D-Monroe, said the proposal would send a signal that "speeding in small towns should be excused."
In other legislative action:
—The Senate voted 34-0 for a proposal that would remove a requirement that judges must retire after reaching age 70 and completing their current terms. The bill (Senate Bill 11) by Sen. Eric LaFleur, D-Ville Platte, heads to the House for debate. If approved there, the constitutional change also would require approval from voters in a statewide election. The House rejected a similar proposal last year.
—Smoking would be banned within 200 feet of an elementary or secondary school in Louisiana, under a bill that received a 36-0 vote from the Senate. The measure (Senate Bill 514) by Sen. David Heitmeier, D-New Orleans, heads next to the House for consideration. Violators would face a fine of $25 on a first offense, then $50 on a second offense and $100 on subsequent offenses.
—Senators unanimously backed a proposal that would give the legislative auditor greater ability to track state tax dollars paying for students to go to private schools through the statewide voucher program. The bill (Senate Bill 460) by Sen. Robert Adley, R-Benton, heads next to the House for debate. The voucher program is slated to receive $46 million in next year's budget.