Senate passes bill on medical marijuana

Louisiana has had a medical marijuana law on the books for 24 years, but no one’s been able to use it because of a lack of rules and regulations.

On Monday night, the Louisiana Senate endorsed legislation to rectify that stumbling block.

The Senate voted 22-13 for Senate Bill 143 which would regulate medical marijuana dispensing and cultivation in Louisiana for use in treatment of glaucoma, spastic quadriplegia and for those undergoing chemotherapy treatment for cancer.

“Vote yes for patients for whom this really would be a last-ditch effort,” said state Sen. Fred Mills, R-St. Martinville.

Similar legislation Mills sponsored died last year in committee amid opposition from the Louisiana Sheriffs’ Association. This year, the sheriffs group helped craft SB143 to eliminate law enforcement concerns and the committee endorsed the measure.

Under the legislation, the state Board of Medical Examiners, the Board of Pharmacy and the Department of Agriculture and Forestry would have different roles in developing the rules, regulations and licensing.

The therapeutic marijuana could only be dispensed at 10 pharmacies in the state. All of the therapeutic marijuana would be cultivated at one licensed location.

Measure to create event fund advances

Efforts to establish a special fund to entice national sporting and other events to Louisiana picked up steam Monday.

The Senate Finance Committee endorsed legislation that would establish the Major Events Incentive Program.

A fund would be created into which would be deposited increases in state taxes generated as a result of certain “qualified” events being held in Louisiana. The dollars would be used as an incentive as groups or local governments attempt to recruit major events such as the NFL Super Bowl, the NCAA Final Four, an NCAA Division I football bowl game, a Bass Masters Classic, a national Motorsports race or a national political convention.

“Texas has a fund set up for events like this already,” said state Sen. Ed Murray, D-New Orleans and sponsor of Senate Bill 218. “They have been able to capture these new dollars.”

Jay Cicero, president of the New Orleans Sports Foundation, testified in favor of the legislation. He said the guaranteed dollars would come in handy as efforts begin to woo a college bowl game to New Orleans in either 2019 or 2020.

In the past, Louisiana has put up the state’s commitment to events by tapping a fund that is dedicated to the promotion of tourism.

Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, who is in charge of state tourism efforts, has argued that another funding source needed to be found.

SB218 now heads to the Senate floor.

Bill shifting tuition control clears panel

Legislation that aims to give tuition-setting authority to Louisiana colleges and universities is heading to the full Senate for consideration.

The Senate Committee on Revenue and Fiscal Affairs signed off on Senate Bill 155 on Monday without opposition.

The bill would ask Louisiana voters to decide by constitutional amendment whether college and university systems should have control over how much students pay to go to college or if that power should remain with the state Legislature.

Louisiana is one of three states that lets state lawmakers set tuition and fee prices.

“I think that the thought process is we have some good management boards and those boards are capable of looking at the student population and being able to come up with tuitions that they think are adequate and satisfactory for the students they represent,” said Senate Finance Committee Chair Jack Donahue, a Mandeville Republican and sponsor of the legislation.

The proposal has been coupled with another Donahue proposal related to the state’s Taylor Opportunity Program for Students, which could rein in some of the costs associated with the generous and popular scholarship program.

Senate Bill 48, which would stop the automatic increases in TOPS awards tied to tuition hikes, won approval from the full Senate last week, despite opposition from Gov. Bobby Jindal. Donahue said he would not pursue the tuition authority bill separate from the TOPS proposal because of the potential to the state budget.

State higher education leaders support both proposals.

Gubernatorial hopefuls address oil, gas event

Two of the four major candidates for governor spoke at an oil and gas industry event in Baton Rouge on Monday.

U.S. Sen. David Vitter and Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle, both Republicans, took turns praising the industry, which is the state’s largest employer.

“Things are changing fast and Louisiana is trying to adapt to those changes,” Angelle said of the industry. “We can have it all.”

Vitter said he believes the industry faces too much government interference.

“We need to get the federal government out of the way,” he said. “We still have too many attacks against good job producers.”

State Rep. John Bel Edwards, an Amite Democrat also running, had been slated to attend the event but said he was busy with legislation at the Capitol.

Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, another Republican in the race, is on a tour across the state this week promoting Louisiana tourism.

Several hundred people, many of them dressed in bright green T-shirts promoting the industry, gathered for the annual Oil and Gas Industry Day, held at the Pentagon Barracks near the state Capitol.

After, they planned to move inside the Capitol to continue lobbying on behalf of the industry.