Legislators pre-file almost 1,600 bills

03 05, 2012 by The Advocate

By Friday night’s deadline, Louisiana legislators had “pre-filed” nearly 1,600 bills to consider during the annual legislative session that begins March 12.

Included are 49 proposed changes to the Louisiana Constitution. The proposed amendments include an increase in the state’s homestead exemption, term limits for some statewide elected officials, annual adjustments to the gasoline tax, and removal of limitations on the Legislature’s authority to create new school boards.

Legislators could file as many bills as they wanted prior to Friday’s deadline. They can still file up to another five bills each once the session starts up until April 2.

State representatives offered 976 bills while state senators added another 613.

One of the last bills to be filed is an anti-abortion measure sponsored by Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego. Senate Bill 593 is named the “Viable and Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act.”

Another measure, SB565 sponsored by state Sen. Yvonne Dorsey-Colomb, D-Baton Rouge, would prohibit death row inmates from profiting from their notoriety. A flap developed last month over convicted serial killer Derrick Todd Lee’s sale of artwork.

In terms of higher education, there is one major college merger proposal this year.

State Rep. Jim Fannin, D-Jonesboro, who chairs the House’s top money committee, and state Sen. Mike Walsworth, R-West Monroe, are sponsoring legislation for Louisiana Tech University to take over LSU in Shreveport within the University of Louisiana System. The legislation is in House Bill 964 and Senate Bill 527.

The Louisiana Board of Regents-backed merger is intended to increase the academic program offerings in the Shreveport area, although the associated costs are not yet known.

Bills that make up a big part of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s public school agenda were among those filed Friday in the House and Senate.

On the Louisiana House side, there are three sponsored by House Education Committee Chairman Steve Carter, R-Baton Rouge. Similar measures were filed in the state Senate by Senate Education Committee Chairman Conrad Appel, R-Metairie.

One of the measures, House Bill 974, would revamp Louisiana’s law on teacher tenure, which is a form of job protection.

Under current rules, most teachers get tenure after three years in the classroom.

The bill would require future teachers to be rated as “highly effective” in their annual evaluations for five years before they earn tenure.

In addition, teachers rated as “ineffective” in their annual performance reviews would face additional scrutiny that could lead to their dismissal.

They would also be prohibited from getting annual pay raises.

The measure would prohibit superintendents and principals from using seniority as a key reason in making layoff and other decisions.

Also filed was House Bill 976, which would provide state aid for low-income students to attend private or parochial schools if they attend public schools rated “C,” “D” or “F” by the state.

Jindal and other backers say the change, which they label scholarships, would allow students to escape failing schools.

Opponents say the aid, which they call vouchers, would damage traditional public schools, especially amid state budget problems.

Another proposal, which is aimed at improving public pre-school programs, would require Louisiana’s top school board by July 1, 2013, to spell out goals for kindergarten readiness and how schools would be assessed, including letter grades.

The new system would be set up for the 2015-16 school year.