02 May 2018

Committee action, May 2: SB 380, HB 628, HB 723, SB 364

SB 380 by Sen. Wesley Bishop would give public money to low-performing students who improve their performance. He told the House Education Committee it addressed students who scored low (17, 18, 19) on the American College Test who maintained at least a 3.2 grade point average through their first 60 hours, with an amendment that was adopted, where they could have the last 60 hours qualify for a Taylor Opportunity Program for Students. They number 47 across the state. He said it was a more expansive version of SB 394 by Sen. Bodi White, which applied to community college graduates.

Rep. Pat Smith said this would be great for students, even class valedictorians, that she knew of in this situation. She moved to report it, and it advanced without objection.

HB 628 by Rep. Marcus Hunter said his slimmed-down bill would allow children 13 to 18 to accompany parents into the voting booth. He told the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee this was an educational opportunity.

Sen. Neil Riser wondered whether this could invite fraud. He said a younger-looking person could go with a voter, then cast the actual vote, thereby voting multiple times. Hunter conceded this could happen, but didn’t know whether anybody would.

Sen. Jim Fannin thought outreach efforts by the Secretary of State would provide a sufficient educational opponent. The state clerks of court objected to the effort, saying it would cause more work and confusion for election commissioners, slowing things down.

After a similar critical comment by Sen. J.P. Morrell, at that point Hunter bade farewell, and the committee deferred the bill.

HB 723 by Rep. Ray Garofalo would have government pay attorney fees when it launches a suit against someone requesting information and the requester wins at least in part. He told the Senate and Governmental Affairs committee these “reverse public records law suits” had started occurring.

Sen. Greg Tarver expressed surprise this would ever happen, and was told it had, four times, in Louisiana, and much more across the country. With no more real discussion, without objection the committee approved it.

SB 364 by Sen. Rick Ward would prevent overly-restrictive speech codes in higher education. It would codify First Amendment principles into Louisiana’s colleges’ regulations. Bill proponents pointed out that, despite lip service to the Constitution, too much patently unconstitutional restriction on expression occurs on campuses, including in Louisiana.

Ward offered amendments, saying these would address administrators’ concerns. He said policies resulting from the bill would save the state money from lawsuits.

Rep. Joseph Bouie asked why groups eligible under the law included those seeking official recognition on a campus. Ward said inclusion of these was needed to prevent discrimination on the basis of beliefs in awarding official status. A set of amendments initially offered by Rep. Steve Carter, on behalf of Louisiana State University, would excise that language.

Ward said he didn’t know that he had agreed to all of that set, which was not his. LSU representative Jason Droddy tried to explain these briefly. Ward said two, which addressed the issue brought up by Bouie, and another, which would allow schools to designate areas to speak in, would gut the bill.

Droddy tried to defend the designation by saying schools had to balance an educational mission with free speech. But proponents, who had litigated across the country successfully on that issue, said that allowed for prior restraint and that giving permission to speak in small groups in only certain areas consistently had been struck down by courts.

Rep. Reid Falconer also pointed out the amendments would permit differential charging of rental rates for holding an event, based upon subjective criteria including viewpoint. Smith claimed without the amendments that allowing so much expression could lead to violent behavior, but Ward said the bill did not condone that activity. Smith said bad things could still happen despite that.

Smith instead offered those amendments, which failed 6-5 with all Republicans present voting against except for Carter, and all Democrats there in favor. However, a snafu prevented Ward’s amendments, which overlapped some with Smith’s, from having been distributed, so Ward said he would see that they were brought to the floor.

After testimony from students illustrating the problem, and a thinly-disguised critique of the bill from the Board of Regents while claiming to be offering only information, Ward asked for passage as is but with a promise to move amendments on the floor. It passed 8-4, with all Republicans present voting for it and all Democrats there against.

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