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Legislative Roundup: Bill would give more freedom in choosing textbooks

Last Modified: Wednesday, May 01, 2013 6:28 PM

BATON ROUGE (AP) — A bid to give local school districts more freedom to choose the textbooks they use received the backing Wednesday of the House Education Committee without objection.

The measure (House Bill 116) by Rep. Frank Hoffmann, R-West Monroe, would establish that the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education can't require local school districts to purchase specific textbooks or instructional materials.

Erin Bendily, assistant superintendent for the Department of Education, said the bill dovetails with the department's efforts to hold local school leaders accountable for results, without micromanaging them.

"It's autonomy for the local school systems," Hoffmann said.

Hoffmann said a state-recommended textbook list still will be developed, and he said he expects 98 percent of books to be taken from that list.

Rep. Patricia Smith, D-Baton Rouge, questioned how the state would continue to ensure that schools don't use textbooks that glorify the Ku Klux Klan or teach inaccurate history, for example.

Bendily said laws require schools to teach to state content standards, and she said schools get judged through student test scores.

Hoffmann unsuccessfully pursued similar legislation two years ago, with critics charging it was a back-door attempt to include creationism in science classes.

Tammy Wood, a science teacher from Zachary, said the current regulations and restrictions governing textbooks were needed to ensure educators and subject matter experts scrutinize the materials introduced to students.

Wood said Hoffmann's proposal "opens the door for the inclusion of substandard materials to be purchased with unlimited public dollars without appropriate state oversight."

The proposal heads next to the full House for debate.

Senators reject repeal of Science Education Act

A Louisiana law that allows public school science teachers to use supplemental materials in their classrooms will remain on the books.

The Senate Education Committee voted 3-2 Wednesday against repeal of the Louisiana Science Education Act, in what has become an annual debate.

More than 70 Nobel Prize-winning scientists have urged the scrapping of the law passed in 2008, with repeal supporters say it's a back-door way to teach creationism.

Gov. Bobby Jindal and Christian conservatives oppose the repeal, saying the law promotes critical thinking and strengthens education.

Lawmakers opposing repeal say they've heard no specific instances where the law has introduced religion into science classrooms. Senators supporting repeal say the law has created a national perception of Louisiana as anti-science.

House committee rejects gay discrimination ban

A ban on discrimination against state employees because of their sexual orientation has failed to win support from the House and Governmental Affairs Committee.

The 6-3 vote Wednesday shelves the proposal by New Orleans Rep. Austin Badon.

Badon says people should be judged on their employment qualifications, rather than on whether they are gay.

His bill would have declared it unlawful for a state employer to use different standards of treatment based on sexual orientation or gender identity. It would have allowed employees who feel they have been discriminated against to appeal to civil service officials or file a lawsuit to challenge the decision.

Opponents say the measure would advance a sexual politics agenda. They say existing laws provide adequate protection.

Oil spill money could get some protection

Lawmakers in the House unanimously agreed Wednesday to place the penalty money that Louisiana will receive because of the Gulf Coast oil spill into the state coastal fund and protect it in the constitution.

The measure (House Bill 118) by Rep. Simone Champagne, R-Erath, deals with money that could be received by the state for violations of federal pollution standards under the Clean Water Act. That could be billions of dollars.

The coastal protection fund, where the money would be placed, is used for coastal restoration projects and hurricane protection efforts.

The Clean Water Act dollars already are earmarked for coastal protection in statute, but Champagne wants the language added to the Louisiana Constitution so lawmakers couldn't easily change the allocation.

Champagne's bill heads to the Senate for debate. If approved by both the House and Senate, it would need backing from voters in a 2014 statewide election.

Judge dismisses Republicans' budget lawsuit

A Baton Rouge judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by two Jefferson Parish lawmakers asking to block the use of patchwork financing in next year's budget as proposed by Gov. Bobby Jindal.

Judge Tim Kelley issued his ruling Wednesday.

Republican Reps. Kirk Talbot and Cameron Henry claim it is unconstitutional to use one-time money to pay for ongoing programs and services in the state's general operating budget.

Kelley says he couldn't grant injunctive relief because Jindal's top budget adviser, Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols, certified in an affidavit that an injunction could create a deficit in the state budget. He says state law prohibits him from issuing a ruling that would cause a state agency deficit.

Lawyer Kyle Keegan, representing Talbot and Henry, says he expects to appeal the ruling.

Term limit bill rejected again

A Vermilion Parish lawmaker's repeated attempt to put term limits on all statewide elected officials has again failed to gain support in the Louisiana Legislature.

The House and Governmental Affairs Committee voted 6-2 against Rep. Simone Champagne's proposal (House Bill 88) Wednesday.

Champagne wants to limit statewide elected officials to three consecutive four-year terms. The bill would have applied to the lieutenant governor, attorney general, agriculture commissioner, insurance commissioner, secretary of state and treasurer.

Louisiana's governor already is limited to two consecutive terms.

Champagne has tried the idea for several years, but it has never won passage in the House. If the term limit proposal got the backing of lawmakers, it would also have needed approval from voters in a statewide election.

Other legislative action

• A Senate committee reversed course and supported legislation aimed at ensuring that women and men are compensated equally for doing the same work. The Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee a week ago deadlocked on the proposal (Senate Bill 153) by Sen. Ed Murray, D-New Orleans. But the committee Tuesday revived the measure and advanced it to the full Senate without objection, despite opposition from business groups.

The Senate Transportation Committee agreed without objection to a bill that would remove the requirement that drivers of a three-wheel, fuel-efficiency vehicle called the Elio must wear helmets and get a special license endorsement. The House-approved measure (House Bill 218) heads to the full Senate for further consideration.

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