Legislators support efforts to help veterans start businesses, get hired

Gov. John Bel Edwards spoke in support of the Veterans First Business Initiative at a press event for Central Louisiana business development at the State Capitol on May 22, 2019. (Photo credit: Madeline Meyer, LSU Manship School News Service)

By: Madeline Meyer, LSU Manship School News Service

Published: May 22, 2019

BATON ROUGE–Legislators are supporting efforts to help veterans start businesses and get hired in Louisiana. The Senate Commerce Committee on Wednesday advanced a proposal for the Veterans First Business Initiative.

The popular bill would be the first of its kind in the country.

The proposal, authored by Rep. Franklin Foil, R-Baton Rouge, was co-sponsored by 71 other legislators. The House voted unanimously in late April to advance the bill.

Foil’s proposal now moves to the Senate floor.

Under the initiative, the Louisiana Economic Development — the state’s business development agency — would create a registry for veteran-owned businesses. These businesses would also be able to post a sign or marker to indicate that they are veteran-owned.

To qualify as veteran-owned, veterans must own 51% or more of the business and must not have been dishonorably discharged.

“If you are a returning veteran and you’re looking for employment,” Foil said, “you can find other veteran-owned businesses that are owned by people who have gone through similar experiences.”

Read more in KATC News.

Several bills being supported to regulate abortions in Louisiana

Pro-choice protesters rallied outside of the State Capitol in Baton Rouge on Tuesday as legislators advanced several abortion bills. (Photo credit: Hunter Lovell, LSU Manship School News Service)

By: Lauren Heffker & Hunter Lovell, LSU Manship School News Service

Published: May 21, 2019

BATON ROUGE–Abortion continues to top the legislative agenda this week as Louisiana lawmakers in the House Health and Welfare Committee supported several bills on Tuesday that would further regulate abortions in the state.

Two key proposals would require abortion providers to give their patients detailed background information before performing an abortion and permit abortion facilities to report suspected human trafficking crimes to law enforcement.

Both bills were sponsored by Sen. Beth Mizell, R-Franklinton, and now move to the House floor for final passage.

One of the bills would change the existing Women’s Right to Know law, which means that women must give informed consent prior to having an abortion.

Mizell’s proposed legislation would expand the existing law. Abortion providers would have to supply written information about their background, including qualifications, past conduct and the location of the physician’s residency.

In Louisiana, patients can research their doctor’s qualifications, but information about the identities of physicians who perform abortions is not disclosed online.

Read more in KALB.

Senate panels advance bills to curb domestic violence

In an effort to tighten laws protecting domestic abuse victims, Rep. John Stefanski, R-Crowley, left, discusses legislation named after Tracy Andrus’, right, daughter who was murdered by her husband. (Photo credit: Madeline Meyer, LSU Manship School News Service)

By: Madeline Meyer, LSU Manship School News Service

Published: May 21, 2019

BATON ROUGE–Louisiana legislators advanced bills in Senate judiciary committees Tuesday that would curb domestic violence, take steps to prevent sexual abuse of youth athletes, and study incentives to reduce the state’s high divorce rate.

Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have taken strides to address and prevent domestic violence.

Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat seeking re-election in the fall, has expressed his concerns about the high number of domestic violence incidents in the state.

“It is shocking but true, Louisiana ranks third nationally when it comes to domestic violence, and we should all be moved to bring an end to this senseless act,” the governor said at an event last October in which he raised awareness for survivors and their families.

Members of the Senate Judiciary C Committee advanced House Bill 36 by Rep. John Stefanski, R-Crowley, which would require local law enforcement officers to receive and review a copy of protective orders. The bill would also require law enforcement agency to inform victims that filing a protective order does not automatically press criminal charges against their perpetrator.

Protective orders, commonly referred to as restraining orders, prohibit a person from being near another person with the intention to prevent abuse.

HB36, referred to as “Heather’s Law,” is named in honor of Heather Mouton, who was shot and killed by her husband last May in Crowley while their three children were present. Although Mouton had filed a restraining order, the courts had not yet taken up the case to enforce the order.

Read more in The Advocate.

Committee advances bill to phase out half-cent sales tax by 2023

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Rep. Lance Harris, R-Alexandria, presents his proposal before the House Appropriations Committee on Monday to phase out the extra 0.45 of a cent of the state sales tax that the Legislature extended last year. (Photo credit: Tryfon Boukouvidis, LSU Manship School News Service)

By: Tryfon Boukouvidis, LSU Manship School News Service

Published: May 20, 2019

BATON ROUGE — The House Appropriations Committee on Monday advanced a proposal on a 12-5 vote along partisan lines that would phase out the portion of the state sales tax that the Legislature extended last year after nearly five months of partisan dispute.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Lance Harris, R-Alexandria, would reduce the extra 0.45 of a cent of sales tax by one-tenth of a penny every year from 2020 to 2022 and repeal the rest in 2023.

Under this proposal, the state is projected to lose $392 million in revenues by 2024.

“This particular piece of legislation speaks to giving individuals and taxpayers some of the money back that we extract out of their pocket on a temporary basis,” Harris said.

Matthew Block, who represents the governor, expressed that Gov. John Bel Edwards–a Democrat seeking re-election this fall–does not support this proposal.

“This bill eliminates and tries to roll back a hard-fought but well-supported compromise in which not everybody got what they wanted,” Block asserted. Keeping the compromise in place, Block added, would put the state “on a sound fiscal footing for the first time in a long time.”

Read more in The Advertiser.

House panel advances Senate-passed bill to require drug testing after serious traffic accidents

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Lawmakers discuss several bills on drug testing after serious traffic accidents and fine exemptions for uninsured drivers during the House Transportation Committee on Monday, May 20, 2019. (Photo credit: Hunter Lovell, LSU Manship School News Service)

By: Lauren Heffker & Tryfon Boukouvidis, LSU Manship School News Service

Published: May 16, 2019

BATON ROUGE–The Louisiana House Transportation Committee advanced two bills on Monday that would permit drug testing in severe traffic accidents and waive penalties for uninsured drivers under special circumstances.

Sen. Ryan Gatti, R-Bossier City, sponsored Senate Bill 138 that would mandate either chemical, blood or urine testing in a traffic crash involving serious bodily injury or death. Gatti’s bill defines serious bodily injury as one that is “severe” or “incapacitating.”

Louisiana’s current law allows for post-accident drug testing only when a collision results in an on-site fatality. The proposed bill, however, would expand the existing law.

If the bill were to become law, it would be known as “Katie Bug’s Law,” named after 4-year-old Katie Grantham of Bossier Parish, who was killed in an auto accident in 2017. Though Katie’s mother, Morgan Grantham, suspected the driver who hit them was impaired by drugs, he was not tested by police since Katie did not die at the scene.

Katie suffered critical injuries to her spinal cord and was taken off life support after seven days in the hospital. The driver, who ran a red light north of Bossier City, served 10 days in prison. Without more sufficient evidence, such as a drug test, prosecutors could only charge him with a traffic violation, instead of negligent or vehicular homicide.

Read more in The Advocate.

House committee rejects bills for minimum wage changes, equal pay for women

Rep. Roy Duplessis, D-New Orleans, questions critics of a bill that would allow local authorities determine minimum wages. (Photo credit: Madeline Meyer, LSU Manship School News Service)

By: Madeline Meyer & Lauren Heffker, LSU Manship School News Service

Published: May 16, 2019

BATON ROUGE–The House Labor Committee rejected bills on Thursday to let local authorities determine their own minimum wage rates and to implement equal pay measures for all women in Louisiana.

The panel voted 9-6 against the minimum wage bill.

Rep. Royce Duplessis, D-New Orleans, who sponsored the bill, said the state should not keep cities “in a chokehold and prevent them from being able to do what they think is in their best interest.”

The committee voted 9-6 to reject the bill to require equal pay for all women, including part-time workers.

In 1997, Louisiana was one of the first states to adopt the federal minimum wage. At that time, the state passed a law that revoked local governments’ authority to set minimum wages. Duplessis’ bill would have repealed that decision.

Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat who is up for re-election, has advocated raising the minimum wage across the state for the past three years. In April, the governor also endorsed a constitutional amendment that would ask voters to decide on a $9 minimum hourly rate.

Sixteen people spoke in favor of Duplessis’ bill. Almost 100 people attended the hearing to support the bill.

Read more in KALB.

PTSD would be added to the list of injuries eligible for public employee benefits under bill

Rep. Kenny Cox, D-Natchitoches, commented on the bill. (Photo credit: Madeline Meyer, LSU Manship School News Service)

By: Lauren Heffker, LSU Manship School News Service

Published: May 16, 2019

BATON ROUGE–In a move to address mental illness among firefighters and police officers, a House committee advanced a bill Thursday that would add post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, to the list of injuries eligible for public employee benefits.

The Senate had already approved the bill, and it now moves to the House floor.

“In the old days, we said ‘suck it up, buttercup,’ and ‘man up,’ and that became not really a good coping skill to teach people,” said Sen. Ryan Gatti, R-Bossier, who sponsored the bill.

Members of the House Labor Committee discussed the bill in an emotional hearing during which several public servants and employees spoke about their mental health problems.

“Our numbers are rising,” said Matt Kinney, who works for the Bossier City Fire Department. “Our firefighters and police officers are dying. They don’t have the support or the means that they need.”

Kinney pointed out the detrimental effects of not treating PTSD, including substance abuse and high divorce rates among firefighters.

Read more in The Advocate.