BATON ROUGE—The Louisiana Senate is refusing to give up on attempts to tap the state's "rainy day" fund and to delay a tax break as a way to stave off budget cuts next year.
The House has yet to debate either proposal - but House leaders oppose both financing plans and so far have derailed the proposals. So, the Senate on Wednesday tacked the language into a must-pass House bill and sent it back to the full House for debate.
The move comes as House and Senate leaders remain at an impasse over how deeply to cut public colleges, health services and other state programs in the budget year that begins July 1.
In other legislative action:
Louisiana's lawmakers have agreed to stiffen the penalty for drivers who refuse to submit to a breathalyzer test when they are stopped on suspicion of drunken driving.
Under current law, a suspect who refuses to take the test loses his driver's license for six months. The bill headed to Gov. Bobby Jindal's desk - with a unanimous House vote on Wednesday - would increase the suspension to one year.
Supporters of the measure by Houma Rep. Damon Baldone said the current law seems to encourage the refusal to submit to the test. Jindal is expected to sign the bill, which he supported as part of his legislative agenda.
Louisiana should try to increase its own emergency shelter space by upgrading public buildings, like schools or government sites, so they can house hurricane evacuees, a House committee agreed Wednesday.
Without objection, the House Judiciary Committee approved a proposal pushed by Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration as a way to save millions in evacuee transport money and to avoid the annual negotiating with other states over whether they can take in Louisiana's evacuees.
"We need to fulfill our own responsibility before we ask others to do more," said Rep. Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans, who is a co-sponsor of the measure.
The bill (Senate Bill 279) by Sen. Mike Walsworth heads next to the full House for debate. The idea is modeled on a similar Florida law. It already has approval from the Senate.
The measure would ask local emergency officials to recommend public places they think would work as shelters. The state would improve the buildings so they meet American Red Cross sheltering standards, using $7.5 million set aside in another bill to pay for building upgrades and any available federal money.
A push to tighten regulations on mobile dental clinics at public schools advanced Wednesday to the full Senate for debate, but only after the Senate Health and Welfare Committee further watered down a bill that started as a proposal to ban the clinics outright.
As it heads to the Senate floor, the House-passed bill by Rep. Kevin Pearson, R-Slidell, would direct the Louisiana State Board of Dentistry to come up with new regulations for the mobile units, with guidance on areas the board should consider.
But the bill (House Bill 687) would leave much of the decision-making to the dentistry board - with the House and Senate health care committees able to reject those regulations if they find them insufficient or objectionable.
Barry Ogden, executive director of the dentistry board, said the board hoped to have regulations for review by mid-August.
"I don't believe we have any problem with the legislation. We will get it done," Ogden said.
The mobile clinics bill has become one of the more contentious and most heavily lobbied issues of the legislative session.
The facilities have increased in recent years as the state increased reimbursement rates for dental work through the Medicaid program for the poor. Critics of the clinics say it is unsanitary and unsafe to drill on children's teeth in school gyms and libraries. Others argue the mobile clinics bring care to poor children who otherwise would never see a dentist.
A House committee reversed course and narrowly approved a bill that would require voter approval of the New Orleans Master Plan, despite criticism the move contradicts New Orleans residents' 2008 vote to give the master plan the force of law. Supporters of the Senate-approved bill (Senate Bill 75) said city residents should be allowed to vote on the plan once it's clear how it will impact neighborhoods. The House municipal affairs committee, which previously deadlocked on the proposal, on Wednesday voted 9-7 to send it to the full House for debate.
A Senate committee on Wednesday killed a proposal to fund online crime investigations by charging an extra 10 cents on every monthly Internet service bill in Louisiana.
The Senate's commerce committee voted without objection to defer Rep. Bodi White's House-backed bill, preventing a full Senate vote. Money raised from the proposed 10-cent charge would have gone to the state Attorney General's office for investigation of online crimes such as child pornography and financial fraud.
Internet provider companies opposed the idea, as did anti-tax advocacy groups and the state Republican Party. The vote came after lengthy debate over whether the 10-cent charge would be a fee or a tax hike in disguise.
The bill originally would have imposed a 15-cent charge on each Internet bill, but the panel approved a suggested amendment from White, R-Denham Springs, to reduce it to a dime. The committee rejected a proposed amendment from Sen. A.G. Crowe, R-Slidell, that would have instead allowed for voluntary donations to the Attorney General's online investigations unit.