La. Senate OKs legislative scholarship revamp bill _lowres

Advocate Photo by MARK BALLARD -- State Sens. Ben Nevers, D-Bogalusa, left, questioned Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, during Monday's debate about how a proposed revamp of legislative scholarships at Tulane University.

The Louisiana Senate overwhelmingly approved legislation Monday that revamps the legislative scholarship program.

The Senate voted 29-9 for the measure, which mirrors new policies recently adopted by Tulane University in New Orleans and puts the scholarships off-limits to certain elected officials and their relatives.

The scholarships, valued at about $46,000 a year, have generated a lot of controversy following reports that some recipients have been related to the politically connected.

Under Senate Bill 1, scholarships could not be granted to any Louisiana elected officials. The ban would extend to the immediate family members of legislators, statewide elected officials and congressmen. The immediate family members of other elected officials — from justices of the peace to big-city mayors — could get scholarships, but that relationship would have to be disclosed.

“We want to make sure every kid accepted to Tulane has a chance at this scholarship,” state Sen. Dan Claitor said — that it’s “not just for the … politically connected and not an insider game.”

Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, said the legislation also provides for the names of those receiving the scholarships and any relationship they have to an elected official to be posted by Tulane.

Passage came after a failed attempt by Sen. Danny Martiny, R-Metairie, to delay a vote. He said there was no reason to put in law the new policies already adopted by Tulane.

Tulane announced recently that it would provide legislators, by district and zip code, the names of eligible scholarship recipients from whom they can choose. The university also said it would post the names of scholarship recipients, their hometowns and any relationship with an elected official.

“Ninety percent of this stuff is already in place,” Martiny said. “I’m not exactly sure what we are fixing.”

Martiny said the legislation should be reworked to address only the issue of who would not be eligible for a scholarship. “If you put the bill in a posture of who you can and who you cannot give it to, that’s fine. Otherwise, I think we are beating a dead horse,” he said.

Claitor said the regulations needed to be put in state law because of the potential for changes in university policy down the road.

A recent investigation by The Advocate and WWL-TV found many scholarships were being given to people with political connections, including relatives and friends of powerful politicians and the children of campaign donors.

State Sen. Neil Riser, R-Columbia, said he did not understand why the immediate family members of all elected officials are exempted. He said some of the exempted officials represent more people than legislators.

Claitor said he feared such an addition would hamper the bill’s passage. He called the legislation “an incremental, modest improvement.”

Other senators questioned Claitor about how it would affect specific circumstances they encounter in making the scholarship awards.

Of specific concern was a provision under which the senator can use his own selection process or have Tulane make the selection. If he chooses to have his own selection process, under Claitor’s bill the student is not guaranteed of having the scholarship throughout his Tulane years. If the choice goes to Tulane, the scholarship would have to be awarded for the full four years.

Sen. A.G. Crowe, R-Slidell, tried to give preference to students who lost the legislative scholarship, but senators rejected the idea.

Senators said they sometimes do not have qualified candidates in their districts but didn’t want to give the selection authority to Tulane.

With access to a list of all those who are eligible to attend Tulane, the senators can choose someone from it, then change if a candidate from their district later emerges.

The bill now heads to the House.

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