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Legislative Roundup: Lack of support kills proposed gun bills

Last Modified: Wednesday, June 05, 2013 8:39 PM

By John Guidroz / American Press

BATON ROUGE — Two bills that intended to ban federal gun control laws appear stalled, with sponsors saying Wednesday there isn’t enough support to guarantee final legislative approval before the session ends at 6 p.m. today, June 6.

House Bill 5, by Rep. Jay Morris, R-Oil City, would block any federal law enacted after Jan. 1 that would outlaw owning or carry semi-automatic weapons. The measure included penalties and jail time if the federal laws were enforced.

Opponents of the bill argued that it was unconstitutional for the state to not enforce federal laws, and that it would be challenged in court.

Morris said “numerous judges” told him the bill was not unconstitutional until a judge declares it so. He said 17 other states have approved similar measures.

“My feelings are, we as legislators are not to make judges,” he said. “We are to put laws forth and then let the system take care of it.”

Sen. Rick Ward, D-Port Allen, was carrying the bill in the Senate. He chose to return it to the calendar May 21 after several senators questioned its constitutionality.

House Bill 45, by Rep. Joseph Lopinto, R-Metarie, also appears stalled. It would allow Louisiana gun manufacturers and dealers to go around the federal commerce clause by producing and selling firearms within state lines.

The bill was stalled in the Senate Finance Committee after getting House approval.

The following stories are from Associated Press reports.

Bill seeking crates for dogs in trucks falls short

A Kenner lawmaker's attempt to require that dogs be placed in ventilated crates if they are in the back of a truck or on a utility trailer has failed to garner enough support for passage.

The bill by Republican Tom Willmott won't become law this year after stalling in the Senate. It would have only involved vehicles on an interstate highway.

The House backed the idea, but Willmott couldn't gain traction for the bill in the Senate.

Sen. Sherri Smith Buffington, of Keithville, handled the bill in the Senate. She pledged: "We'll be back next year."

Wilmott said he wanted to prevent incidents of dogs falling or jumping from the back of moving vehicles, especially on roads with higher speed limits.

Rules for passing school formula

Louisiana's lawmakers have agreed to change the process for handling the public school financing formula, to comply with a recent Louisiana Supreme Court ruling.

The high court said the 2012-13 formula, called the Minimum Foundation Program or MFP, was unconstitutional because it didn't reach certain timeline and voting benchmarks.

The legislation by Rep. John Bel Edwards will enshrine the process outlined in the court decision into the rules of the Legislature. It will require the school formula be handled in the same method as required for passage of a bill, even though the formula is filed through a different type of legislation.

The House gave final passage to the rule change with a 94-1 vote Wednesday. It takes effect Friday.

Bills regulating salt domes clear Legislature

Three bills to tighten regulations on salt domes won final passage and are headed to Gov. Bobby Jindal's desk as Louisiana lawmakers respond to a 15-acre sinkhole in Assumption Parish that forced 350 residents out of their homes.

Jindal was expected to sign the bills.

Sponsors of the measures said they should help prevent similar disasters by requiring stricter guidelines for monitoring and assessing areas around salt domes. That includes surveying salt dome formations every five years, and stiffer penalties for violations.

"We made sure that we didn't rush through and that we had the bills that we needed," Rep. Karen St. Germain, D-Pierre Part, said Wednesday. "I'm pleased. "

A salt dome is a large, naturally occurring underground salt deposit. Companies drill on the dome's outskirts to create caverns to extract brine used in the petrochemical refining process, or for storage of such things as hydrocarbons, which the age-hardened salt prevents from seeping into the ground.

According to the state Department of Natural Resources, 120 salt domes are located throughout the state. There are about 270 solution mine caverns, 50 of which are no longer used.

St. Germain called a measure by Sen. Rick Ward, D-Port Allen, the "hammer" because it includes penalties for noncompliance. She said her bills aim to ensure there are "absolute rules and regulations in the statute."

Ward's bill would authorize daily fines against companies if they are issued a cease and desist order and fail to take corrective action; if the state has to respond to an incident caused by a violation; and if a violation is found to be caused by willful neglect that causes severe environmental damage.

The Assumption Parish sinkhole was discovered in August and resulted in the evacuation of residents from 150 homes between the Bayou Corne and Grand Bayou areas, about 40 miles south of Baton Rouge. Those residents have not been given the all-clear to return because of continued safety concerns.

Officials said survey maps for the salt dome were outdated and didn't reveal that the underground storage cavern was being mined too close to the edge of the dome. Officials have said that's what caused the sidewall collapse and created the sinkhole.

Some property owners have been offered buyout settlements from Texas Brine Co., the Houston-based firm that mined the cavern.

Two tougher bills stalled in the Senate and couldn't reach final passage before the legislative session ends Thursday. The proposals would have severely restricted drilling and the awarding of permits for salt dome operations.

A bill by Sen. Fred Mills, R-Parks, was rejected twice by the Senate when it came up for a floor vote.

Mills' proposal sought to limit new permits for salt mined caverns and storage facilities in any area where there had been a man-made structural failure. Some criticized the bill as too broad, even after Mills amended it to restrict the expansion prohibition to Lake Peigneur in Iberia Parish.

Meanwhile, Sen. Troy Brown, D-Napoleonville, proposed a moratorium on new permits for drilling and storage domes that would have had far-reaching implications for the state's petrochemical industry. That proposal never moved out of committee.

Real ID bid stalls in Senate

A bid to let Louisiana driver's licenses comply with federal law requiring each state to create a national identification card for air travel, including domestic flights, has stalled in the Senate.

Senators added that language into a bill (House Bill 395) by Rep. Johnny Guinn, R-Jennings, seeking to reverse a state stance since 2008 rejecting the added security requirement as too intrusive.

But lawmakers bristled at the change, and the proposal never came up again in the Senate.

Officials with the state motor vehicles department have said that if the state doesn't comply with the federal Real ID law, residents will need passports to fly starting in October.

Scholarship transparency bill

Members of the LSU and Southern University system governing boards will have to disclose which students receive scholarships from them, if Gov. Bobby Jindal agrees to a bill that received final passage Wednesday.

The bill (Senate Bill 31) by Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, requires the boards to post the list of its scholarship recipients annually on their websites and to provide a list to the Legislature.

The list will have to include the name of each recipient, the board member who gave the scholarship and the annual dollar value of the award. Refusal to submit the information would suspend board members' ability to give scholarships.

The House backed the bill with a 99-0 vote, and the Senate agreed with a 37-0 vote.

Oil spill penalty money

Attempts to lock up oil spill penalty money to coastal restoration projects in the Louisiana Constitution have failed again in the Senate.

Lawmakers in the House unanimously agreed to place the penalties that Louisiana will receive because of the Gulf Coast oil spill into the state coastal fund and protect it in the constitution. But the proposal didn't even get a hearing in the Senate, where it has languished in the Finance Committee since May 6.

It won't be heard before the legislative session ends Thursday.

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

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 said senators raised concerns about the bill and suggested tweaks that she didn't support. She said she'll return again with the idea next year for more debate.

Public colleges to start charging news fees

Gov. Bobby Jindal will allow Louisiana's public colleges to raise new fees on their students, charges that will produce an estimated $18 million annually for campuses.

Jindal spokesman Sean Lansing said the governor won't veto the bill (House Bill 671) by Rep. Franklin Foil, R-Baton Rouge.

"We're not going to object to providing higher education management boards with this flexibility, but we do encourage them to be mindful of keeping education affordable for students," Lansing said in an email.

Foil's bill allows the state's university systems to assess a new $48 per semester fee for building maintenance. It also authorizes the charge of a new $2,500 per semester fee for students in LSU's digital media graduate program and new fees for LSU dental students.

The Legislative Fiscal Office said the building fee would generate $4.7 million for the LSU System each year, $7.2 million for the University of Louisiana System, $700,000 for the Southern University System and $4.9 million for the Louisiana Community and Technical College System. The other fees will drum up smaller amounts for the individual LSU campuses.

Marijuana bill unlikely to become law

A proposal to cut the sentences for people convicted of marijuana possession in Louisiana appears unlikely to make it into law, after failing to get the votes for a procedural hurdle in the Senate on Wednesday.

Under current law, someone convicted of possession of marijuana for a second time can face up to five years in jail. Third and subsequent convictions can land someone in jail for up to 20 years.

The bill (House Bill 103) by Rep. Austin Badon, D-New Orleans, would cut that jail time. A second conviction could carry a sentence up to one year. A third conviction could send someone to jail for up to two years and additional convictions would carry a sentence up to five years.

The proposal also would remove possession of marijuana as a possible offense for which someone could be convicted under the state's habitual offender law that could increase jail time.

The bill received narrow approval in the House. But it needed a two-thirds vote of both the House and Senate before it could be considered for final passage in the last days of the session. It only got the backing of 20 senators Wednesday, six votes short of what it needed for debate.

Other legislative action

A Republican senator has shelved his proposal (Senate Bill 73) to create a breakaway school district in Baton Rouge. The bill had been passed by the Senate. But Sen. Mack "Bodi" White, R-Central, said he didn't have enough votes to get the two-thirds passage required in the House for the constitutional amendment. The bill failed to win support there last year as well.

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