Capitol today: TOPS, armed solons, etc

by Walter Pierce

The tuition program will remain untouched for now, but state lawmakers could get special gun priviledges.

A proposal to give local public school districts more freedom to choose their teaching materials is nearing final legislative passage, after winning support Tuesday from the House Education Committee.

The measure (Senate Bill 336) by Sen. Conrad Appel, R-Metairie, would require the state education department to review instructional materials in English, math, science and social studies to decide whether they meet state educational standards.

But local districts would decide which books and materials should be used. They would use review committees of teachers, parents and others to make recommendations, and they could choose items that aren't on the state-reviewed list.

The education department would be required to post online the textbooks and instructional materials it reviews, and it would help with bulk purchasing to get cheaper deals.

The House committee advanced the measure without objection. It moves next to the full House for consideration and already has the backing of the Senate.


Lawmakers on the House Education Committee turned away a proposal to raise the eligibility standards and payment schedule for a student to receive free college tuition through the state's TOPS program.

The panel voted 10-4 Tuesday against the measure (House Bill 1153) by Rep. Joe Harrison, R-Napoleonville. Lawmakers said while they understood concerns about the price tag of TOPS, they also worried about the impact of eliminating students from the program.

The bill would have raised the ACT score or grade point average needed to get a TOPS award, starting with high school students graduating in the 2017-18 school year. It also would have changed the payment schedule to pay 80 percent of tuition for college freshmen, 90 percent for sophomores, 100 percent for juniors and 120 percent for seniors.

TOPS is estimated to cost the state $235 million next year and more than $300 million within three years as tuition costs rise.

"We will not have a TOPS program if we don't take some sort of action to curb that," Harrison said. He added: "You can't just say that the credit card has no limit."

Among the concerns, Rep. Wesley Bishop, D-New Orleans, said he worried the changes would disproportionately hit minority students, keeping them from getting TOPS scholarships.

Gov. Bobby Jindal opposed the bill.

The House Education Committee vote won't end legislative debate on tweaking TOPS, however. A bill (Senate Bill 520) by Sen. Jack Donahue, R-Mandeville, to raise the minimum grade point average and ACT score required to get a TOPS award awaits debate on the Senate floor after getting the support of the Senate Education Committee.


State lawmakers would be exempt from many weapons restrictions imposed on the general public, under a bill nearing final legislative passage.

The House criminal justice committee voted 10-2 Tuesday for the Senate-approved measure by Franklin Sen. Bret Allain, a Republican, after amending it to say lawmakers must be deemed mentally stable.

Under the measure, lawmakers could carry a weapon where law enforcement can carry, provided they go through annual training and go through a psychiatric evaluation.

Allain argued that lawmakers need to be able to defend themselves since they are often threatened.

Bradley Gulotta, of Gun Rights Across America, opposed the proposal saying legislators shouldn't get more favorable treatment than their constituents.

The proposal moves to the full House for consideration.


Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration is pushing ahead with privatization plans for a ninth LSU hospital, despite the recent rejection of federal financing plans for other hospital outsourcing deals.

Lawmakers appear willing to go along with the effort.

The House health committee voted 10-8 Tuesday for a Senate-backed measure that would authorize the shuttering of the university-run hospital in Pineville and move its services to two nearby private hospitals.

The plan advances next to the full House.

LSU health care adviser Jerry Phillips says federal refusal to back financing for other privatization deals won't affect the Pineville plans.

He says the rejection involved lease payments, but there's no lease deal for federal review since Huey P. Long Medical Center will close.