Senators to debate veterans’ medals bill

House-passed legislation to give veterans options on how they want to receive state honor medals is headed Tuesday to the Senate floor.

The Senate Judiciary A Committee quickly endorsed House Bill 28 which provides for three possible distribution methods and allows veterans to pick their preference.

The options include the U.S. Postal Service, a parish office of the state Department of Veterans Affairs where the veteran resides or by the governor or his designee in a ceremony conducted by Veterans Affairs.

HB28, sponsored by state Rep. John Bel Edwards, D-Amite, would also require the delivery of the medal to the veteran within 45 days of receipt of the application unless the veteran opts for the ceremonial presentation.

Originally, the awards were only presented at ceremonies presided over by Gov. Bobby Jindal, creating a backlog and complaints from those who did not want to wait for Jindal and just wanted their medal.

Offenders’ Internet ban goes to Senate

Certain sex offenders would be banned from social networking websites and chat rooms under a bill approved Tuesday by a state Senate committee.

The measure, House Bill 55, cleared the Senate Judiciary C Committee without objection and next faces a vote on the Senate floor.

It has already passed the House.

The legislation would apply to registered sex offenders convicted of indecent behavior with a juvenile, pornography involving juveniles and other offenses.

Violators would face fines of up to $10,000 and 10 years in prison.

The same committee approved another bill that would force convicted sex offenders who are age 60 and older to pay $18 for an annual state identification card.

The state now provides such cards free to those age 60 and older.

The state has 685 registered sex offenders who fit that profile, said state Rep. Bobby Badon, D-Carencro and sponsor of the bill.

The measure is House Bill 187.

Governor confident of scholarship funds

Gov. Bobby Jindal said Tuesday that he is confident the House will embrace his proposal to dedicate more dollars to the merit-based TOPS scholarships.

Legislation to do so has been languishing on the House calendar.

Jindal said the plan is to abandon the House bill and instead focus on similar Senate legislation that is further along in the process.

Senate Bill 53 has already cleared the Senate and is in line to be heard by the House Committee on Appropriations.

The bill would reshuffle tobacco settlement dollars to generate an additional $43 million for the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students, also called TOPS.

Panel advances loan tax credit proposal

Legislation to grant a tax credit for the interest on certain higher education loans cleared a state Senate committee Tuesday.

The Senate Committee on Revenue and Fiscal Affairs voted 6-3 in favor of advancing Senate Bill 177 to the full Senate.

The legislation would create a tax credit on the interest on school loans for advanced degrees, applying to doctors and attorneys as well as those with master’s or doctorate degrees.

The bill’s sponsor, state Sen. David Heitmeier, said he wants to create an incentive for people to stay in Louisiana after obtaining their education.

Heitmeier, D-New Orleans, said graduates who stay in Louisiana a few years after graduation are more likely to stay permanently in the state.

The credit would be available to taxpayers living in Louisiana.

Committee propels seniors’ tax break

The full Senate will debate whether those 65 or older should receive a state income tax break.

The Senate Committee on Revenue and Fiscal Affairs advanced Senate Bill 197 and Senate Bill 198 by state Sen. Dale Erdey, R-Livingston.

The bills would phase in a state income tax exemption on investment income and capital gains income for those age 65 or older. The exemptions would be phased in over five years.

Erdey said he wants to help those who have worked hard.

Bill advances to aid justices of the peace

East Baton Rouge Parish justices of the peace could hire clerks to help them with their official duties under a bill that cleared a Senate panel Tuesday.

The Senate Judiciary A Committee advanced House Bill 241 sponsored by state Rep. Clif Richardson, R-Central, to the Senate floor for final legislative action.

“Most JPs have other jobs. This will allow them to better serve the public,” Richardson said.

The justice of the peace would designate someone to serve as his clerk “mainly dealing with paperwork” filed in connection with civil lawsuits within his jurisdiction, Richardson said.

The clerk would get paid $20 of the $100 filing fee.

East Baton Rouge Parish would become the second parish with clerks serving justices of the peace. Jefferson Parish already has the setup.

Richardson said the parish population is increasing and the justices’ authority over civil suits has expanded up to $5,000.

Senators back bill on impaired drivers

Legislation that would create the charge of first-degree vehicular homicide was easily approved Tuesday evening by the Senate on a 34-0 vote.

State Sen. Dale Erdey, R-Livingston, said the legislation would apply to unique cases such as the death of three Southeastern Louisiana University students struck by a drunken driver just off of campus in 2009.

Erdey’s Senate Bill 190 defines first-degree vehicular homicide as causing the death of two or more people when the driver is under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

The minimum prison sentence would increase from five years to 10 with the maximum going from 30 years to 40.

In February, Derek L. Quebedeaux was sentenced to serve 12 years in prison on each of three counts of vehicular homicide.

Quebedeaux pleaded guilty in November to three counts of vehicular homicide, two counts of vehicular negligent injuring and five counts of felony hit-and-run in connection with the crash.

Quebedeaux admitted to being the driver of a pickup truck that plowed into a group of students walking home along Nashville Street in Hammond around 2 a.m. on March 6, 2009.