Nearing final approval, a revamped and hotly-debated bill that would change the name of Louisiana's only residential high school won approval Monday in the Louisiana House.
The vote was 56-43, three more than the minimum needed.
The bill, which now returns to the Senate, would change the name of the Louisiana School for Math, Science and the Arts to the Jimmy D. Long Sr. Louisiana School for Math, Science and the Arts.
The Natchitoches school serves around 300 gifted and talented children and Long, who died last year, is a former state lawmaker who played a major role in getting it launched in 1981.
The House, without objection, added an amendment aimed at placating opponents of the measure, Senate Bill 1.
Whether it represents a compromise remains in dispute.
While the school would be named after Long, as originally drafted, it would not affect diplomas, transcripts, logos, stationery and other items. In addition, the LSMSA's board of directors would have control on exactly how the name change is implemented, including signs and class rings.
In an unusual controversy, the sponsor of a bill that would change the name of Louisiana's l…
Rep. Lance Harris, R-Alexandria and chairman of the House Republican caucus, said the final changes stemmed from talks Monday with alumni, students and others. "This is a good compromise amendment," Harris told the House.
But even as the debate unfolded several lawmakers said they were getting messages from alumni who remained opposed to adding Long's name to the school.
"I am not feeling there is a consensus from the messages I am getting," said Rep. Patricia Smith, D-Baton Rouge.
Others alluded to the fact that Sen. Francis Thompson, D-Delhi, sponsor of the bill and Sen. Gerald Long, R-Winnfield, Thompson's key ally on the legislation, were in the House chamber before and during the vote.
Smith noted that the LSMSA depends on state dollars for its operations. "I don't like getting emails from people saying they are threatened and their funding is being held up," she said.
Thompson said he was pleased with the House-passed version of his bill and plans to ask the Senate to give it final approval before adjournment on Thursday at 6 p.m. "I don't know anything about any threats," he said after the vote.
Thompson said the latest changes make the bill more palatable to critics, including giving the board authority on details of the implementation.
The name change bill has sparked one of the most heated battles of the 2017 regular legislative session, including furious opposition from some graduates of the school on social media and elsewhere.
Thompson has repeatedly said Jimmy Long deserves credit for his role in the school's creation.
But the proposal sparked an intense campaign by alumni of the school and others to change the bill or kill it.
After more than two hours of often passionate testimony, a bill that would change the name o…
Opponents said school leaders, including its board of directors, thought they had a deal to name LSMSA's planned $23 million dormitory after Long, and were stunned when Thompson filed the bill to rename the entire school.
Gerald Long, who was the younger brother of Jimmy Long, said Monday he is pleased with the latest version of the legislation.
"I think it gave both parties some compromise language," he said of the Harris amendment.
What started as a seemingly simple bill to change the name of a school has mushroomed into a…
In another twist, a longtime member of the school's board of directors who appeared on the way out is now expected to return.
Lovan Thomas, who has been on the board for 35 years, was informed by the governor's office over the weekend that his name would not be submitted to the state Senate for a reappointment.
Thomas earlier testified against the measure during a Senate committee hearing. Thomas, who is publisher of the Natchitoches Times, believes his outspoken criticism of the bill led to him not be renamed to the board.
Richard Carbo, a spokesman for Edwards, said the decision had nothing to do with the bill.
"There were objections to his reappointment in the Senate, making it impossible for him to be confirmed," Carbo said in an email response to questions.
But a few hours later – and after Thompson's bill won House approval – Carbo said the objection to Thomas had been "lifted" and his name will be submitted to the Senate.
Asked the governor's views on the legislation, Carbo said Edwards "will respect the will of the Legislature on this bill."