2014 Legislative Session Review
The top priorities advocated for during the 2014 Louisiana Legislative Session by BRAC were K-12 public education, crime, small business, workforce, TOPS reform, and tort reform. The organization took an offensive position on several of these issues, aiming to make large-scale changes. A summary of the outcomes of the session can be found below. For a full recap of BRAC’s efforts, download the legislative review.
Transforming Local Schools in East Baton Rouge Parish
Lead governance changes in EBR schools to ensure that every student in the parish has access to a high-quality education [SBs 672 and 636 by Senator White and Claitor, HB 1177 by Representative Carter, HB 1178 by Representative Honore’]
SB 672 and HB 1178 would have reduced the number of school board members from eleven to seven, the average size of school boards across the country. The local school board is largely unpopular, primarily because of in-fighting and parochial protectionism. Trimming the school board would have saved the system nearly $100,000 annually. It would have provided less contentious decision-making, and – with the inclusion of an at-large member – would have allowed for a voice on the school board that had the interest of the entire district in mind.
HB 1178 failed to secure the necessary votes to make it through the House floor, while SB 672 never went to the Senate floor. However, the school board has recently voted to commission maps for potentially reducing its size.
SB 636 and HB 1177 sought sweeping changes in the balance of power within the school system. There is a palpable crisis of confidence in EBR education, driving pull-out school districts, city incorporation signatures, and dividing people across the parish – all because of the weakness of the EBR school system. BRAC’s legislation was founded on the tenet that those who are closest to children are best positioned to direct their education. These bills were designed to move significant amounts of authority away from the school board and down to the superintendent and school principals. It would also require that each child be assigned a dollar amount for educational funding, based on an equitable examination of that child’s special characteristics (i.e.: special education, at-risk, gifted and talented, etc.), that would follow the child to their school.
SB 636 advanced, obviating the need to proceed with HB 1177. Passing committees and the Senate floor with strength, SB 636 made it through three-quarters of the legislative process before it unfortunately failed on the floor of the House of Representatives.
Expanding Tools to Grow Louisiana’s Small Businesses
Lead the growth and development of Louisiana’s small businesses by providing greater access to state contracting opportunities [HB 479 by Representative Ponti]
HB 479 by Representative Ponti sought to provide greater awareness and access to state procurement and contracting opportunities. The bill directs the commissioner of administration to create policies and procedures to establish the method by which the state’s chief procurement officers and the director of contractual review will work with PTAC to provide procurement assistance. The bill is pending the governor’s signature.
Advocating for Violent Crime Reduction Strategies
Support two parts of BRAC’s five-pronged approach to crime reduction, through the long-term funding of a local truancy center and twenty-four-hour misdemeanor jail [SB 54 by Senator Weston Broome, SB 478 by Senator Claitor, HB 915 by Representative Williams]
SB 54 by Senator Weston Broome creates the Nineteenth Judicial District Attorney Early Intervention Fund and authorizes the assessment of $25 for each misdemeanor criminal defendant and $50 for each felony criminal defendant in East Baton Rouge Parish courts. The revenues generated as a result of these assessments will be dedicated to the newly created fund to provide a long-term funding stream for the truancy center. SB 54 by Senator Broome is pending the governor’s signature. This assessment has been approved by the Judicial Council of the Louisiana Supreme Court, a necessary precursor to the introduction of legislation providing for the assessment of a court cost on criminal and civil defendants.
Twenty-Four-Hour Misdemeanor Jail
Already signed into law by the governor, Act 308 of the 2014 Regular Session, formerly SB 478 by Senator Dan Claitor, provides for the operation of a twenty-four-hour misdemeanor jail in East Baton Rouge Parish. The bill authorizes the assessment of a $50 bench warrant recall fee in all courts in East Baton Rouge Parish, with the exception of the Baton Rouge City Court. For this court, the assessment is $25 due to the city court’s current $25 contempt of court fee. The bill becomes effective August 1, 2014. Representative Alfred Williams authored a duplicate measure in the House of Representatives.
Promoting Improvements to Higher Education
Pursue reforms to TOPS and return control over tuition and fees to higher education management boards [SBs 520 and 343 by Senator Donahue, SB 599 by Senator Erdey]
SB 520 by Senator Donahue was designed to raise the bar for the minimum academic standards required to secure a TOPS award. The bill as originally filed would have increased the eligibility requirements for TOPS, beginning in the 2017-2018 school year, as follows:
- Opportunity Award – Shift from a 2.5 to 3.0 GPA and 20 to 24 on the ACT
- Performance Award – Shift from a 3.0 to 3.25 GPA and 23 to 27 on the ACT
- Honors Award – Shift from a 3.0 to 3.50 GPA and 27 to 29 on the ACT
- Dedicate 10 percent of savings to Go Grant
After a series of Senate Education Committee amendments to weaken the proposed GPA and ACT benchmarks, and lengthy debate on the Senate floor, the bill failed to gain final passage with a vote of sixteen yeas to twenty-three nays. Senator Donahue’s constitutional amendment providing for tuition and fee autonomy, SB 343, was approved by the Senate Education Committee but failed to advance from the Senate Finance Committee.
BRAC determined that additional data indicators collected by the Louisiana Office of Student Financial Assistance (LOSFA), within the Board of Regents, was being gathered and analyzed but was not included as part of the program’s reporting to the executive branch and to the public. SB 599 by Senator Erdey would provide that the program’s annual reporting also include:
- Demographic information of program award recipients, including but not limited to race, gender, and parents' household income;
- High school grade point average and ACT or concordant Scholastic Aptitude Test scores of program award recipients grouped by mean, median, and mode; and
- High school grade point average and ACT or concordant Scholastic 3 Aptitude Test score cross-referenced with those students who lost the award and those who were placed on probationary status and the reasons therefore.
SB 599 by Senator Erdey is pending the governor’s signature.
Tackling the State’s Workforce Needs
Support measures designed to align the state’s K-12 and higher education systems to meet today’s workforce demands [HB 944 by Representative Fannin, HB 1033 by Speaker Kleckley]
HB 944 by Representative Fannin overhauls the state’s career education system by aligning career and technical education in high schools with high-growth, high-wage jobs in a newly designed Jumpstart program. The measure promotes collaboration by providing career courses and workplace experiences to high school students, certifying them for the career fields most likely to lead to high-wage jobs. The bill also provides for the creation of regional jump start teams where industry partners and education leaders can work in tandem to identify career opportunities specific to each region of the state. HB 944 by Representative Fannin is pending the governor’s signature.
HB 1033 by Speaker Kleckley creates the Workforce and Innovation for a Stronger Economy (WISE) Fund, a $40M workforce incentive fund designed to support degree and certificate production and research productivity in high-demand fields. The funds would support the efforts of the state’s four-year and two-year universities by rewarding dollars on a competitive basis to state research institutions that produce nationally recognized commercial research and to state colleges and universities that produce graduates with four and five STAR job ready degrees. Funding for the initiative is contained in HB 1, which is pending the governor’s signature.
Enhancing Economic Development Funding
Seek increased state funding to support job attraction and recruitment efforts throughout the state [HB 663 by Representative Robideaux]
The Louisiana Regional Leadership Council (LRLC) is comprised of the eight regional economic development organizations. Like BRAC, these organizations serve as the engines for economic growth for their respective metropolitan areas. State support for regional economic development has declined by 80 percent since 2008. The LRLC tacked on a Senate Floor amendment by Senator Francis Thompson to SB 663 by Representative Robideaux that allocates $4M in state funding to be shared by each of the eight regions for economic development and workforce development. HB 663 provides for the Louisiana Tax Delinquency Amnesty Act, with $100M projected from the act to be directed toward the state’s general operating budget. The monies slated for the LRLC would be those revenues collected over and above the current budget projection of $100M. HB 663 is pending the governor’s signature.
Improving the State’s Judicial Climate through Tort Reform
Support reforms to the state’s legal system in an effort to strengthen Louisiana’s economic competitiveness [HB 917 by Representative Garofalo, HB 799 by Representative Stuart Bishop, HB 482 by Representative Shadoin]
The centerpiece of the organization’s tort reform efforts was the support of the LABI-led HB 917 by Representative Garofalo, which sought to remove the state’s jury trial threshold of $50,000. Louisiana has the highest jury trial threshold in America. Of the fourteen states that have any kind of jury trial threshold, none comes close to Louisiana’s.