State’s spending plan

House Bill 1.

After weeks of a stalemate, the Legislature eventually agreed on a state government budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1 that was closer to the version the state Senate wanted than what the House wanted. The $26 billion state operating budget awaiting Gov. Bobby Jindal’s signature makes cuts to higher education and public hospitals.

Medicaid providers who treat the poor face rate reductions. Jobs will be eliminated across state government. The management boards that oversee public colleges and universities will grapple with budget cuts.

However, the final version of HB1 avoids hospital closures and massive layoffs on college campuses after intense wrangling between the Louisiana House and the state Senate.

To make the numbers work and to avoid the deeper cuts advocated by the House, the Senate pulled money from a number of places — the state’s rainy day fund, or Budget Stabilization Fund, a state emergency fund, a tax amnesty program, dollars set aside by the state Department of Health and Hospitals and other sources.

SENATE: The June 18 vote to approve House Bill 1, 38-1.

HOUSE: The June 20 vote to concur with the Senate’s version, 69-33. Three did not vote.

School Board micromanagement

House Bill 942

The measure was designed to keep local school board members out of daily school operations won final legislative approval Wednesday and was sent to Gov. Bobby Jindal.

HB942 would prohibit local school board members from interfering in the hiring, firing, demotion or transfer of teachers and other school employees. Those decisions would be left to the superintendent.

The legislation would also require a two-thirds majority for a school board to fire a superintendent who is in the middle of his or her contract. A simple majority is required under current rules.

The issue has triggered heated arguments in the past, and a similar measure failed to get out of the House last year.

HB942 would take effect on Jan. 1 if Jindal signs the measure, which he is expected to do.

SENATE: The June 14 vote on amended bill, 22-13. Four did not vote.

HOUSE: The May 10 vote for final passage, 76-16. Eleven did not vote.

School rules waivers

House Bill 1368

The “red tape reduction” legislation was Gov. Bobby Jindal’s top public schools bill of the session.

The measure would allow school districts to seek four-year waivers from some education laws and rules in a bid to improve student achievement.

BESE would decide whether those waivers are issued.

Backers said the change would answer years of complaints from public school leaders that they could improve classroom performance if they had less education red tape to overcome.

The House approved the bill on a 92-0 vote just two days after the Senate endorsed the measure 23-14.

One day after it won final approval, officials of a teacher’s union said Friday they plan to file a lawsuit to block legislation that would let the state suspend some education laws and rules.

SENATE: The June 15 vote on amended bill, 23-14.

HOUSE: The May 13 vote for final passage, 68-20.

Guns in churches

House Bill 1272

Concealed handguns may soon be welcome in churches thanks to a legislative piggybacking effort successfully approved Tuesday in the Louisiana Senate.

The week when a measure involving handgun permitting came up for a vote by the full Senate, state Sen. Joe McPherson, D-Woodworth, attached wording in an amendment that allowed guns in churches, if the pastors agree.

Currently, concealed handguns are banned in churches, mosques and synagogues, except for law enforcement.

McPherson called his amendment a safety effort.

The House approved the changes made by the Senate and HB1272 was sent to the governor.

SENATE: The June 15 vote on the amendment adding the guns in churches language to the bill, 22-10.

HOUSE: The June 17 vote concurring with the Senate’s changes, 65-26.

Repeal $15 driver’s license fee

Senate Bill 407

It was the first time the Louisiana Legislature had voted against the express wishes of Gov. Bobby Jindal.

The Louisiana Office of Motor Vehicles approved the 70 percent license fee increase in March through a 1989 law that provided the fee authority to fund federally required driver’s background checks.

The $21.50 to $36.50 fee increase caught many motorists and lawmakers off guard, prompting the legislation.

The legislation would have created a $13 million hole in the state Department of Public Safety’s budget. Louisiana State Police Col. Mike Edmonson has said he would have to reduce his work force by laying off state troopers.

The Senate took $13 million from a state emergency fund and plugged the hole that the repeal of the fee increase would create in the agency’s budget.

SENATE:: The May 11 vote on final passage, 21-7. Eleven did not vote

HOUSE: The June 7 for final passage with a minor amendment, 91-6. Six did not vote.

Open congressional primaries

House Bill 292

Legislation that would return Louisiana to open primaries for congressional elections in 2011 won final approval Wednesday in the state Senate.

The final sticking point between the House and the Senate had been whether to implement the change for this fall’s election cycle or to wait until next year.

Lawmakers ultimately decided to wait until 2011, meaning the first open primaries for congressional elections would be in 2012.

Under the open primary system, all candidates — regardless of party affiliation — run on the same ballot with the top two vote-getters advancing to a runoff election if no one gets the majority vote.

In the closed primary, candidates of the same party run against each other and there’s a run-off party election if no one tops 50 percent.

SENATE: The June 16 vote concurring with moving the date, 35-0. Four did not vote.

HOUSE: The April 14 vote for final passage, 71-27. Thirteen did not vote.

Privatization contract approval

House Bill 1443

Legislation attempting to give state lawmakers more oversight of efforts to contract mental-health-care services to private companies. State officials are planning to hire private companies to provide some mental services currently provided by state-run facilities, such as the East Louisiana State Hospital at Jackson.

HB1443 directs the state Department of Health and Hospitals to include certain evaluation factors as they seek private contractors, including possibly hiring state employees losing their jobs and the firm’s ability to perform the work cheaper than the state.

State DHH Secretary Alan Levine said the measures could tie the hands of the Jindal administration during a time of fiscal crisis and budget cuts.

SENATE: The June 15 vote for final passage of the amended bill, 33-4. Three did not vote.

HOUSE: The May 20 vote for final passage, 64-27. Twelve did not vote

Public access to governor’s records

Senate Bills 476 and 593

SB593 said the public records law affecting the Governor’s Office should be “construed liberally so as to facilitate rather than hinder access to public documents.” Records of the Governor’s Office would be deemed public. However, records relating to executive deliberations of the governor and intraoffice communications of the governor and his top staff “may be privileged from disclosure.”

Gov Bobby Jindal and his staff worked hard to defeat legislation. It was advanced by a Senate committee but was defeated on the Senate floor.

A week later, an attempt to add wording from the bill onto another measure, SB476, surprised the governor’s office, whose top staffers ran into the chamber to talk individually with legislators.

The amendment was defeated by the House but SB476 went onto be approved and now awaits the governor’s consideration.

SENATE: The June 3 vote for final passage on SB593 failed, 14-24. The Senate President did not vote.

HOUSE: The June 10 vote on an amendment adding the language to SB476 failed, 37-59. Nine did not vote.

Identify ethics complainants

House Bill 758

The measure would have require the Board of Ethics to disclose the identity of the person filing an ethics complaint for conflict of interest, nepotism or other complaints of unethical conduct against governmental officials and employees.

Under HB758, once ethics cases are concluded, the accused can find out who filed the complaint against them.

Conclusion of the case means the Louisiana Board of Ethics could have decided not to conduct an investigation; the time period for investigating has elapsed; the matter is settled by a consent opinion; or a decision has been reached about whether a violation has occurred.

Jindal sided with the Louisiana Board of Ethics as he vetoed House Bill 758 which would require the board to provide someone accused of an ethics violation with the name of the complainant after the matter was concluded.

SENATE: The June 9 vote for final passage, 29-6. Four did not vote.

HOUSE: The April 28 vote for final passage, 91-3. Nine did not vote.