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Wednesday notes from the legislature

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BATON ROUGE, La. (KNOE 8 News/AP) - Students at poor-performing public schools could have the possibility of switching to higher-performing schools, under a bill that received the unanimous support Wednesday of the Senate.

Sen. Ben Nevers, D-Bogalusa, said he proposed the measure (Senate Bill 61) to offer choice to public school students, like the state has offered through the taxpayer-funded voucher program.

"It gives our public school students the same rights as our scholarship students in private schools," he said.

The proposal would start with the upcoming 2014-15 school year.

Parents would be able to enroll their children in the public school they choose if the student was assigned to a school that was graded with a D or F in the state's school grading system. The school that a parent chooses must be rated at an A, B or C level - and it must have the space to take the student.

The bill contains an exception for schools under court orders. It also would require parents to get their children to the newly-selected school if it's located outside the geographic boundaries of the school system or would cost the system more than it would otherwise pay for transportation.

Louisiana's public schools would be given explicit authority to put up nativity scenes and Christmas trees as part of a holiday display, under a proposal that received the backing of the House Education Committee.

Rep. Alan Seabaugh, R-Shreveport, said he sponsored the proposal (House Bill 876) to "support Merry Christmas."

The displays on school properly could include a menorah, nativity scene, a Christmas tree or other symbols "associated with traditional celebrations in winter" if the display either represents more than one religion or includes one religion and at least one secular symbol. The display couldn't include a "message that encourages adherence to a particular religious belief."

Seabaugh's bill also would spell out in law that students and staff can say "Merry Christmas," ''Happy Hanukkah" or other holiday greetings at school.

The committee approved the measure without objection, sending it to the full House.

Home-based bakers who sell their pies to the public would be exempt from some state licensing standards, if lawmakers agree to a bill advancing in the Legislature.

Rep. John Schroder, R-Covington, is seeking to add pies to a law passed last year giving the exemptions to people who sell cakes and cookies they baked at home, a law that keeps them from adhering to sanitation rules that require commercial grade equipment.

Schroder's bill wouldn't apply to people who make chicken pot pies, crawfish pies or other pies with meat or fish.

The proposal (House Bill 216) received the backing of the House Health and Welfare Committee in a 9-5 vote Wednesday. It moves to the House floor for consideration.

Opponents of such bills have raised concerns about food-borne illnesses and food safety.

In other legislative action:

-The Senate wants the Louisiana Legislature to lodge a formal request with the USDA to develop "tastier food options" for school lunches through its National School Lunch Program. The resolution (Senate Concurrent Resolution 41) by Sen. Rick Gallot, D-Ruston, was sent to the House with a 36-0 vote. Gallot said it was introduced after talking with high school students who complained about their lunch options.

-Information deemed "commercially sensitive" to a public utility authority would be exempt from public disclosure, if lawmakers agree to a bill (House Bill 1121) that received the unanimous backing Wednesday of the House and Governmental Affairs Committee. The protected information would include fuel costs, power pricing details, and customer billing and usage information. The measure by Rep. Mike Danahay, D-Sulphur, moves next to the full House for consideration.

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