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Legislative Roundup: House overwhelmingly refuses to expand Medicaid

Last Modified: Tuesday, May 21, 2013 10:12 PM

BATON ROUGE (AP) — The Louisiana House has rejected an attempt to provide government-subsidized health insurance to thousands of people with the Medicaid dollars available under the federal Affordable Care Act.

The 59-37 vote against the Medicaid expansion proposal appeared to kill the issue for the legislative session. The Senate's budget committee has refused a similar bill. Gov. Bobby Jindal opposes the expansion.

Rep. Pat Smith's bill would have required the state health department to seek federal approval for a program using the Medicaid expansion dollars to provide private insurance coverage to adults making up to 138 percent of the poverty level — less than $32,000 for a family of four.

The federal government would have covered the full cost for the first three years.



Public school funding proposal killed

Senators have killed a $3.5 billion public school funding proposal submitted to lawmakers by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

The Senate Education Committee voted Tuesday to reject the formula, because of concerns about proposed changes to special education and gifted student payments to schools.

The formula submitted by BESE would have paid for public schools for the 2013-14 school year. Lawmakers can approve it or reject it, but cannot change it.

Without a new formula, schools will continue to be paid under the 2011-12 funding formula, which costs $30 million more than the funding currently included in the state budget.

Sen. Conrad Appel, chairman of the education committee, says he doesn't think BESE could get a reworked formula through the Legislature before the session ends June 6.



Legislation targets new Planned Parenthood clinic

Lawmakers are looking for ways to stall or at least slow down Planned Parenthood's construction of a new facility in Louisiana that would provide abortions in addition to other health care services for women.

Planned Parenthood doesn't currently operate an abortion clinic in the state.

Lawmakers are pushing resolutions urging various state and local government agencies to investigate the organization and make sure it is complying with every state and federal regulation on the books involving abortion.

The Senate passed such a resolution Monday, and the House Health and Welfare Committee advanced a similar measure Tuesday without objection.

Supporters of the resolutions are opposed to abortion.



Maintaining control of tuition hikes

The House refused Tuesday to relinquish legislative control over tuition hikes for students at Louisiana's public colleges.

A proposal by Rep. Thomas Carmody, R-Shreveport, would have spelled out in the state constitution that tuition increases don't require approval of two-thirds of the House and Senate.

Carmody said the campuses need to be able to raise their charges on students to offset the steep reductions in state funding to the schools.

"How are they supposed to continue to operate in a state that will not put up the money?" he said.

The House voted 51-45 for the measure (House Bill 87). It needed 70 votes to pass.

Opponents of the bill said the state should fund its priorities, not shift costs to students.

"Isn't this in a way a tax on their dreams?" said Rep. Sam Jones, D-Franklin.



Senate defers gun bill ban on federal oversight

Senators postponed a vote Tuesday on a controversial bill that would prohibit enforcement in Louisiana of any federal bans on assault weapons, after opponents called the measure unconstitutional.

Following a barrage of questions about the effort to usurp federal laws and several attempts to attach unwieldy amendments, Sen. Rick Ward, D-Port Allen, deferred a vote on the House-approved measure.

He can seek a vote another day.

Whether the bill could pass a court challenge is a contentious point that even the bill's sponsor, Republican Rep. Jim Morris of Oil City has acknowledged he doesn't have the answer to since introducing the measure. But he still doggedly pursued the bill, arguing states' rights.

The bill seeks to prohibit the enforcement of federal law in Louisiana as it relates to owning semi-automatic weapons and ammunition for such guns. A requirement that the state attorney general's office represents those who may be arrested for having federally prohibited guns was amended out of the bill in committee.

On Tuesday, Ward said he could not speak on whether the proposal was constitutional, but he said the federal government can become too intrusive.

"Federal government can go a little overboard, and sometimes you need to push back," he said. "Let the courts of this state and beyond decide."

Ward's attempt to push the measure was met with several amendments from opponents, including two wryly put forward by Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, that would have made the bill retroactive to April 30, 1812, and would have charged violators with treason, punishable by death. Both amendments failed.

"That's the date (Louisiana) was admitted to the Union," Claitor said of the proposed 1812 change. "Frankly, I think it's unconstitutional. With this amendment, it highlights that" point.

Sen. Ed Murray, D-New Orleans, said the measure should be a resolution, not a bill that's "patently unconstitutional."

"You can't pick and choose," Murray said of federal laws. "We fought this war before."

However, his attempt to have the bill shelved failed on a 12-23 vote.

Meanwhile, the Senate overwhelmingly approved other gun-related measures that would make it a misdemeanor to release or publish the names and addresses of people who own or have applied for concealed handgun permits and to allow off-duty federal and state certified law enforcement officers to carry weapons on school campuses.

Those bills, already approved by the House, return there for approval of Senate changes.

The Senate also gave final approval to a measure by Rep. Barry Ivey, R-Baton Rouge, that would allow concealed permit holders the option of purchasing a $500 permit good for 20 years. Residents would still have to show proof of education training classes every five years, but would not have resubmit paperwork.

That measure passed 34-3 and now heads to Gov. Bobby Jindal's desk.



Licensing guidelines for daycare centers, facilities

A bill that would set new licensing guidelines for daycare centers and facilities gained approval from the House Health and Welfare committee on Tuesday.

The proposal (Senate Bill 222), which is part of Gov. Bobby Jindal's attempt to restructure publicly-funded early childhood education, moves to the House floor for debate. It already has been backed by the Senate.

While the bill cleared the committee on a 10-2 vote, supporters from the child care industry voiced concern about a change made by the House committee that would dissolve an advisory panel created to help form policies and regulations for the new licensing standards.

Under the amendment, the Louisiana Advisory Council on Childcare and Early Education would disband on Jan. 1, 2014, a change opposed by Alan Young, a representative for the Louisiana Childcare Association. Young said his group supported the proposal based on the inclusion of the advisory board.

Health and Welfare Committee Chairman Scott Simon, who proposed the amendment, said he was concerned about having an advisory board helping to regulate its own industry.



Drivers can't tweet or post to Facebook

Motorists in Louisiana will have to add tweets and Facebook updates to the list of activity banned while driving, in addition to texting.

A bill prohibiting posting to social media sites while driving gained final approval with a 34-1 Senate vote on Tuesday. It now heads to Gov. Bobby Jindal's desk.

Violators will face a traffic fine of up to $175 for the first offense and up to $500 for second and subsequent violations.

The bill by Livingston Republican Dale Erdey closes what he called a loophole by adding accessing, reading and posting to social media sites, such as the popular Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, to the prohibited-while-driving list.



No helmets required for Elio vehicle occupants

Drivers of the Elio, a three-wheeled vehicle to be manufactured in Shreveport, won't have to wear helmets.

The Louisiana House gave final passage to the bill by Shreveport Rep. Barbara Norton with a 90-1 vote Tuesday, sending it to the governor's desk.

Because the Elio has three wheels, it's considered a motorcycle under federal and state safety regulations.

Norton's bill modifies the definition of autocycle to include enclosed motorcycles with a roll cage. That change means Elio occupants won't have to wear helmets or get a special "M'' endorsement on their driver's license as required of motorcyclists.

Officials with Elio Motors, located in the former General Motors plant in Shreveport, said the helmet requirement could harm sales.



Anti-Affordable Care Act bill rejected

A Covington lawmaker's bill seeking to reject the federal health care overhaul championed by President Barack Obama failed to win passage Tuesday in the Louisiana House.

The proposal (House Bill 429) by Republican Rep. Paul Hollis would have amended the Louisiana Constitution to include a prohibition of any law that requires a person or health care provider from participating in a health system and to say a person couldn't be fined for not participating.

Those are requirements included in the federal Affordable Care Act.

Hollis said he didn't propose the measure as a partisan issue. He described the federal health care revamp as a bad idea and his bill as preserving the rights of individuals and families.

"What this amendment does is allow the people of Louisiana to have their voice heard," he said.

Critics including the leader of the House Democratic Caucus, Rep. John Bel Edwards, said the state couldn't nullify a federal act that has been found constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The House voted 54-40 for Hollis' bill. It needed 70 votes to pass. It also would have required support from voters in a statewide election, if it received backing from two-thirds of the House and Senate.

Hollis can try to bring the issue back up, but time is running short. The legislative session must end by June 6.



Sweet deal for home-based bakers

Home-based bakers, who sell their cakes or cookies from their houses, would be exempt from some state licensing regulations, under a bill approved by a House committee on Tuesday.

The measure, proposed by Sen. Rick Ward, D-Port Allen, would free people who bake from their homes from sanitation rules that require the purchase of commercial grade equipment. It's the same exemption already given to makers of jams, jellies, preserves, honey and honeycomb products.

They still would have to follow sanitary codes for cleanliness, Ward said.

"The main objective is to keep them from having to purchase expensive equipment," he said.

Critics raised concerns about food-borne illnesses and food safety.

The committee approved the bill (Senate Bill 18) in a 9-8 vote, sending it to the full House for debate. It already has the backing of the Senate.

Online: All bills can be found at www.legis.la.gov

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