Senate increases earned income tax credit

BATON ROUGE — The Senate voted 30-5 to increase the state’s earned income tax credit by 42.8 percent to offset some the impact that a renewal of part of the state’s sales tax would have on the working poor. The state’s earned income tax credit is 3.5 percent of the amount of a similar federal credit. Morrell’s bill would increase it to 5 percent. But his bill also would need to pass the House, which killed two similar bills in committee on Friday. Increasing the tax credit would cost the state an estimated $21 million in revenue, making it a tough sell amid the state’s current budget crisis. The credit is targeted at low-income families and has been pushed by the Legislative Black Caucus as

Panel OKs bill to keep third-cent sales tax

By Kaylee Poche and Tryfon Boukouvidis / LSU Manship School News Service BATON ROUGE — The House Ways and Means Committee voted 11-6 Thursday to advance a Republican bill that would raise $369 million in additional revenue next year — $279 million less than state officials say they would need to cover a projected budget shortfall. The bill, written by Rep. Lance Harris, R-Alexandria, would extend one-third of the penny of sales tax that is set to expire this summer and include budget cuts to reduce the size of state government. Harris, the chairman of the Louisiana Republican Legislative Delegation, argued that the budget gap is likely to be about $495 million and that state agencies would f

Session kicks off with frustration in House committee

By Kaylee Poche / LSU Manship School News Service BATON ROUGE — Members of the House Ways and Means Committee were notably frustrated when they met Wednesday to begin the special session’s budget discussions, a conversation they have been having in some form for over two years. However, not all of the 18 members were frustrated for the same reason, and the meeting quickly turned into an airing of grievances, some with Gov. John Bel Edwards and others with their own colleagues. Several of the 11 Republicans on the committee, which must initiate tax and budget bills, told Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne they were upset that Edwards vetoed the budget passed by the Legislature that d

State GOP lawmakers try again for spending transparency

By Joby Richard / LSU Manship School News Service BATON ROUGE — The Republican push for more state spending transparency is back. The Senate Finance Committee advanced a bill Wednesday to expand a state website to include spending by the judiciary, the Legislature and public universities along with the current data from agencies in the executive branch. And in the House, Speaker Taylor Barras re-filed his bill to create a new website called the Louisiana Checkbook modeled on a more highly ranked site in Ohio. Sen. Rick Ward, R-Port Allen, proposed the bill that the Senate committee sent to the floor without objection. Both Ward’s and Barras’ bills failed earlier this year over concerns about

Governor wants to keep half of temporary sales tax, limit exemptions

By Devon Sanders and Kaylee Poche / LSU Manship School News Service LAFAYETTE — Gov. John Bel Edwards appealed directly to the public in a speech Tuesday for help in passing his plan to solve the state’s $648 budget shortfall. The governor’s proposed a half-cent sales tax, the reduction of some tax exemptions for businesses and the elimination of a provision that lets individuals deduct state income taxes in one year from the next year’s returns. Edwards spoke at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette three hours before the Legislature began its sixth special session in the last three years to try solve the state’s budget problems. “My hope is that we can shake the divisive partisanship th

House OKs Senate changes to budget

BATON ROUGE — The House on Thursday voted 61-37 to pass the major changes that the Senate made to the state budget to fund health care services while slashing spending on state agencies and TOPS scholarships. The budget bill now goes to Gov. John Bel Edwards, who has called a special session that starts Tuesday to try to persuade the Legislature to raise revenue and avoid the cuts. As a result, some legislators called the bill a “pretend budget” since some of the cuts, which include a 30 percent reduction in TOPS funding, could still be averted. Edwards has called on legislators to extend some temporary revenue measures to cover a projected $648 million shortfall in next year’s state budget.

Bill dedicates funds for TOPS

BATON ROUGE — Bills aimed at increasing student safety and supplementing TOPS funding have passed the Senate floor and seem close to becoming law. One would require any K-12 student who makes threats against a classmate to undergo mental health evaluation before returning to school. It now goes back to the House for approval of amendments the Senate made. Another would provide an additional dedicated source of funding for TOPS. The Senate passed this bill 31-2, with Sen. Jack Donahue, R-Mandeville, and Sen. Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell, voting against it. The House already had approved the bill. It now goes to Gov. John Bel Edwards for his signature. Rep. Tony Bacala, R-Prairieville, said he pro

Bills for tighter restrictions on abortion pass

BATON ROUGE — A day after the House voted overwhelmingly to ban abortions after 15 weeks of conception, two other abortion-restrictive measures advanced unanimously Wednesday on the House floor. One bill aims to include the termination of pregnancy by illegal interference and feticide as “crimes of violence” under Louisiana state law. The measure would prohibit the physical force or threats of violence with the intent to compel a pregnant woman to undergo an abortion against her will. Under the proposed law, an individual could face up to five years of imprisonment and a $5,000 fine for coercing an abortion. The bill heads back to the Senate for consideration of changes made in the House. Th

School prayer bill changed, passes

BATON ROUGE — A bill that originally allowed teachers to fully participate in student-initiated prayer underwent major changes limiting what teachers can do before passing unanimously in the House Wednesday. An amendment offered by Rep. Rick Edmonds, R-Baton Rouge, limited teachers’ participation to only being allowed to bow their heads during prayer. The amendment, which passed 68-21, also eliminated a requirement for parents to provide permission slips. “As long as there are geometry and algebra tests in schools, there will be prayer in schools,” said Rep. Robert Shadoin, R-Ruston, who presented the bill on behalf of Sen. Ryan Gatti, R-Bossier City. “You cannot take away prayer in schools.

TOPS expansion fails in House committee

BATON ROUGE — Two bills to expand TOPS eligibility that had been approved by the Senate failed Wednesday in the House Appropriations Committee. The first bill, authored by Sen. Wesley Bishop, D-New Orleans, would have created the TOPS Second Chance Award for students who did not reach the ACT requirement to obtain a scholarship in high school. If they then maintained a 3.2 grade point average in their first two years in college, the award would have funded their final two years. The bill failed 11-7. All votes against the bill came from Republicans. The second bill, by Sen. Bodi White, R-Baton Rouge, introduced TOPS-Tech 2Plus2 Award. It would have applied to students who obtained a TOPS Tec

House OKs bill to prohibit abortion after 15 weeks

BATON ROUGE — The Louisiana House voted 70-9 Tuesday to prohibit abortion later than 15 weeks after conception without much debate. If the bill becomes law, Louisiana would have one of the most stringent abortion laws in the country. Sen. John Milkovich, D-Shreveport, authored the bill. Milkovich has said his ultimate goal is to ban abortions in Louisiana altogether. While the bill was not heavily discussed on the House floor Tuesday, more deliberation had occurred in House Administration of Criminal Justice Committee over potential litigation costs. But Milkovich argued that the costs would be worthwhile. “I cannot think of a better expenditure of money that Louisiana could make than to pro

Senate passes budget

BATON ROUGE — The Louisiana Senate on Tuesday passed the House’s proposed budget 27-10 with several amendments that shifted major cuts to fall on governmental agencies rather than health care. But many senators questioned the point of even passing a budget when it may not go into effect if revenue is raised during the special session starting next week. Some said that passing the budget would give false hope to Louisiana residents that the state’s budget problems were over. “I beg you, do not give the public false hope,” Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans, said. “Do not pass this bill. We’re coming back anyway. Let’s do it right and not create this farce.” The Senate budget proposes c

Bill eases distracted driving violations

BATON ROUGE — Though texting while driving is illegal, law enforcement officers face difficulties in pulling over distracted drivers. A bill passed by a Senate committee Thursday would make it easier for police to issue citations by expanding the list of prohibited cellular activities, like taking “selfies” and checking social media sites, in an attempt to decrease traffic accidents. Law-enforcement authorities say that under current law, they cannot ticket drivers who insist that they were using their phones for something other than texting. So under the bill, simply holding a device in either or both hands would be against the law at the start of next year. The bill, written by Rep. Mike H

Panel OKs school prayer bill

BATON ROUGE — A bill that would allow school employees to pray with students during school hours is one step closer to becoming law, advancing out of the House Education Committee on Tuesday by a 10-4 vote. The so-called “permission-slip-to-pray” bill would only apply if all students present during the prayer obtained permission slips from their parents allowing a certain teacher or coach to pray with them. The Senate passed the bill unanimously last month. Sen. Ryan Gatti, R-Bossier City, authored the bill after the Bossier and Webster Parish school boards changed policies in their employee handbooks to prohibit teacher involvement in student-initiated prayer during school hours. The boards

Forced abortion would be 'crime of violence'

BATON ROUGE — The termination of pregnancy by illegal interference and feticide may soon become “crimes of violence” under Louisiana state law. A House panel approved a bill 8-4 on Tuesday to prohibit the use of physical force or threats of violence against “the person or property” of a pregnant woman with the intent to compel her to undergo an abortion against her will. “A former abortion clinic security guard testified before our Legislature that the greatest threat to women at abortion clinics were the men that accompanied them,” said Alex Seghers of the Louisiana Right to Life Federation, an affiliate of the National Right to Life Committee. Under proposed law, an individual could face u

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