28 April 2012

Legislative regular session through Apr. 28, 2012

THIS WEEK FOR THE GOOD: HB 395 with minor amendment passed House committee; HB 396 with minor amendment passed House committee; HB 711 with minor amendment passed House committee; SB 708 with minor amendment passed the Senate.

THIS WEEK FOR THE BAD: HB 68 passed Senate committee; HB 165 was involuntarily deferred; HB 1095 with minor amendment passed House committee.

25 April 2012

Committee action, Apr. 25: HB 395, HB 396, HB 1095, SB 568

HB 395 by Rep. Thomas Carmody would make funding decisions made by higher education supervisory boards subject to rules set by the Board of Regents. Previous to its consideration, information by the Governance Board created to investigate higher education was reported to the House Education Committee, laying the groundwork for this bill. Carmody explained this meant money would be allocated by the Regents to specific schools, without the ability of supervisory boards making changes.

Supporters said the intent all along had been that Regents policy has the financial ability to have them implemented, but current state law was ambiguous to the point that allowed systems to adjust the formula, disrupting a clear chain of command. However, Rep. John Bel Edwards disputed this interpretation, saying he didn’t see the bill doing anything because of what was run through the appropriations bill that would take precedence, although a constitutional amendment might be another matter. He didn’t see how the bill made matters more clear, since the funding formula wasn’t being followed. It was pointed out that current practice subverted what the appropriations bill did anyway, and an amendment would allow for five percent of money to be set aside for systems to distribute as they liked. Edwards could not see how the formula would jive with the Legislature’s appropriations.

21 April 2012

Legislative regular session through Apr. 21, 2012

THIS WEEK FOR THE GOOD: HB 9 passed House committee; HB 10 passed House committee; HB 46 with minor amendment passed House committee; HB 1198 was substituted for HB 60, HB 314 with minor amendment passed House committee; HB 707 passed House committee; HB 942 passed the House; HB 950 with minor amendment passed the House; HB 974 was signed by the governor; HB 976 was signed by the governor; SB 47 with major amendment passed Senate committee; SB 749 was substituted for SB 51 and passed Senate committee; SB 52 with major amendment passed Senate committee; SB 565 with minor amendment passed Senate committee and with minor amendment passed the Senate, SB 581 passed the House with minor amendment, was concurred in by the Senate, and was signed by the governor; SB 708 with minor amendment passed Senate committee; SB 727 passed Senate committee.

THIS WEEK FOR THE BAD: SB 374 was involuntarily deferred; SB 750 was substituted from SB 328 and passed Senate committee.

14 April 2012

Legislative regular session through Apr. 14, 2012

During this week, previously bad bill HB 525 was substituted into a benign form, and thus was removed from the list.

THIS WEEK FOR THE GOOD: HB 60 passed House committee; HB 61 with minor amendment passed House committee; HB 773 was involuntarily deferred; HB 850 with minor amendment passed House committee; HB 873 passed the House; SB 633 passed Senate committee and passed the Senate.

THIS WEEK FOR THE BAD: HB 834 was involuntarily deferred; HB 1139 passed House committee; HB 1144 with minor amendment passed the House.

11 April 2012

Committee action, Apr. 11: HB 833, HB 834, HB 525, HB 187

HB 833 by Rep. Barbara Norton would dismiss schools when temperatures are expected to reach 100 degrees Fahrenheit, because school buses aren’t air conditioned and school boards won’t let them bring water on them. Union official Jackie Lansdale told the House Education Committee said starting school in August, pushed by testing, increased this risk to children’s health and water bottles could not solve for this as they might be used as projectiles, so this should be the solution.

Rep. John Bel Edwards argued that letting out students early might not work out as well, because children might go to homes without air conditioning and also it would disrupt parents work schedules. Norton said if they were let out for ice, then they should be let out for heat, and so should parents. Edwards noted that for winter weather, many employers close for safety reasons, but did not have the same threat for heat. He asked whether school districts had the authority to do this on their own.

Rep. Chris Broadwater noted that local districts did have discretion on dismissals, and thought a mandate in the bill was too restrictive. Lansdale said there were examples of other states that did it on a statewide basis, and thought competition among districts pressured them not to grant them. Broadwater said this bill did not do the same thing as those others, but Lansdale said it did in principle.

Norton closed rehashing her previous arguments after a motion to involuntarily defer the bill. But she didn’t object, and it was done.

HB 834 by Norton would get rid of LEAP testing, end-of-course testing, and GEE testing.
Lansdale said alterations are needed because different states had different standards, and different districts had different resources, and private schools had different standards still in assessing proficiency. That some (private school) students weren’t being tested on these should imply that none should be.

Rep. Thomas Carmody pointed out that some standardization in assessing was needed in order to make valid comparisons. But Lansdale said without other societal problems being addressed, testing of this nature damaged self-esteem and caused students to fail and drop out. Carmody said if these factors were so ameliorative, then there seemed to be no way to constructively utilized testing that would give any valid results. Lansdale said to pass this bill and stop harming children. Carmody said testing was needed to understanding whether children learned.

A special education teacher argued that having these taught too much to the tests, and it did not take into account different learning. He claimed high stakes testing shows no association with other assessment like the ACT, and said it caused students to “fail and fall through the cracks.”

Rep. Alfred Williams didn’t understand how accountability was improved by removing an accountability measure. Norton said the unfairness of it in that some didn’t get tested meant it should be scrapped.

Opponents from the Department of Education and BESE and the governor’s office noted since testing began major gains had been made in achievement, demonstrating their validity and usefulness. They noted this improvement included those from disadvantaged backgrounds. Elimination also would confound federal law, confirming measurement of proficiency and ensuring teachers covered objectives, and put the state in jeopardy for violation. They noted alternative testing was done for those with learning disabilities, and always were willing to adjust, including a move to the Common Core Standards. Also noted was the rules were flexible to take account of many individuals circumstances.

Rep. Patrick Jefferson wondered if structures were in place to help students deal with the pressurized aspect of testing, and if the department would place greater testing emphasis on assessing writing. He was briefed on a number of programs available to assist in preparation and in areas of deficiency, and that the Common Core Standards did put more emphasis on measuring critical thinking in writing.

In closing, Norton let Lansdale say there needed to be valid testing, and that school was a life experience, and anecdotally suggested with new reforms in the offing that might make schooling too much to the exclusive of life activities. Norton then launched on a jeremiad against the recent reforms, then in rambling fashion said students needed to be treated fairly by testing all, or else throw it all out, saying the process, not test, was wrong. She said she and Lansdale would be watching, and “do the right thing” or else they would hurt schools.

It was moved favorably, but objected to. Only three black Democrats, state Reps. Wesley Bishop, Patricia Smith, and Williams present voted in favor. Without objection, it then was involuntarily deferred.

HB 525 by Rep. Regina Barrow would have required community service of public high school graduates. But she decided because that might be onerous in some cases, she wanted to substitute a bill to create a diploma endorsement for this. Apparently, access to getting hours of this because of transportation issues, work requirements, and rural area opportunities might make it too difficult. She added she would like to make it a requirement in the future, to which Smith encouraged.

Without objection, the substitute was adopted, and reported by substitute.

HB 187 by Rep. Truck Gisclair would make those who make more than 50 telephone calls about an issue to a government official or agency register as lobbyists and pay a nominal fee. Supporters argued to the House and Governmental Affairs Committee that these tactics used government resources and would increase transparency.

Rep. Taylor Barras wondered whether this would work the other way concerning legislators, and that the number might be high. Rep. Johnny Berthelot agreed and suggested the number at 500. He said nobody wanted to be inundated by calls and create more work for legislative staffs, but that the number of 50 might be low.

Julie Cherry of the state AFL-CIO said this tactic was a valuable tool in letting legislators know about issues and should not be onerous for organizations to pursue it, to give out valuable information to legislators. She also thought this my overburden ethics overseers.

Chairman Tim Burns opined this was too broad and threatened too many unintended consequences. He also said this activity did get reported in other ways. Supporters argued this “leveled the playing field,” and that this activity was “getting out of hand,” stressing it was just reporting and not stopping contact.

Rep. Mike Danahay asked Gisclair to voluntarily defer so they could work on these issues, and he agreed.

07 April 2012

Legislative regular session through Apr. 7, 2012

Bill filing ended this week, and with a last minute rush. As a result, a couple of hundred came in, with a few more added to the list of good and bad.

THE GOOD: HB 1023 by Rep. Alan Seabaugh would prevent any organization that engages in political activity from receiving public payroll withholdings or deductions; HB 1043 by Rep. Henry Burns would allow for forms of donated or granted money to go into a fund for Medicaid waiver services; HB 1133 by Rep. Thomas Carmody to prevent higher education management boards from poaching money from foundations designed to aid education in a specific parish; SB 708 by Sen. Sharon Weston Broome would increase information provided to women contemplating abortion; SB 727 by Sen. Dan Claitor would discourage moving legislators into executive branch jobs by not permitting them to join a retirement system

THE BAD: HB 1095 by Rep Walt Leger would subvert majority will and legislative autonomy in Louisiana to a national majority in voting for presidential and vice presidential elections (similar bill: SB 705); HB 1110 by Rep. Jeff Thompson would increase the incidence of retired teachers getting both retirement pay and salaries without any demonstrated critical need; HB 1139 by Rep. Regina Barrow unduly would restrict administrative discretion in responding to budget reductions; HB 1161 by Rep. Katrina Jackson would make it more difficult for hospitals to care for indigents in a fiscally responsible way; HB 1172 by Rep. Alfred Williams would backtrack from improved evaluation and teacher tenure measures (similar bill: SB 650); HB 1181 by Rep. Barbara Norton would pass on the results of bad fiscal decision-making from a school district from which a new district has been formed to the new district; HB 1185 by Rep. Patrick Connick would force collection of tolls on many major bridges in the state; SB 739 by Sen. Elbert Guillory could discriminate against state employees participating in a defined contribution retirement plan.

04 April 2012

Committee action, Apr. 4: HB 95, SB 129, HB 378

HB 95 by Rep. Cameron Henry would prevent cash welfare benefits from being used at a liquor stores, gambling establishments, and sexual-oriented businesses. Rep. Charles Boustany appeared to tell the House Health and Welfare Committee explain a federal law authored by him was on the way to limit their use, saying states would have follow these restrictions or lose funding for the program. Henry thought that would mean a loss of nearly a half a million dollars.