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Legislative notes from Baton Rouge

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BATON ROUGE, La. (KNOE 8 News/AP) - An effort to add modest regulations to state law governing the nearly $7 million in Tulane University scholarships that lawmakers dole out each year received the backing Wednesday of a Senate committee.

Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, rewrote his bill (Senate Bill 1) after the House killed similar legislation last week.

The program, which dates to the 1880s, lets each state lawmaker give one student annually a Tulane scholarship. Critics say the way lawmakers award scholarships favors political allies, fellow politicians and campaign contributors.

Claitor's scaled-back proposal would spell out that lawmakers couldn't give scholarships to elected officials, their immediate family members or family members of other statewide officials. Language prohibiting campaign contributors' family members from receiving the scholarships was stripped from the bill.

The measure would require information about the scholarship program to be posted on the legislative website and would suggest that lawmakers try to give scholarships to students in their own districts if possible.

"This to me is an easy codification of what we ought to be doing at this point," Claitor told the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee.

Tulane posts on its website the names of legislative scholarship recipients, where they live and which legislator nominated them. James MacLaren, Tulane undergraduate dean, said the school plans to start disclosing online whether recipients are related to an elected official.

Senators advanced Claitor's bill without objection. It heads to the full Senate for debate.

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A bid to prohibit most public employees from paying union dues through a deduction on their paychecks stalled Wednesday in the House labor committee.

Committee members deadlocked in an 8-8 vote on the bill (House Bill 451) by Rep. Alan Seabaugh, trapping the measure in committee.

Seabaugh, R-Shreveport, said he doesn't believe public employees should be involved in collecting money for a private entity that could use those dollars for political purposes. He said public workers instead could get the money directly deducted from their bank accounts.

Opponents described the proposal as a union-busting tactic that could stifle political freedom and make it more difficult to organize.

"This bill does not prevent anyone from joining a union," Seabaugh said.

Rep. Patricia Smith, D-Baton Rouge, said public agencies don't hire additional workers to collect the union dues, and she said they decide whether to allow the payroll deduction or not.

Seabaugh's bill would have continued to let police officers and firefighters pay their union dues through their paychecks.

The vote fell along party lines. Republicans supported the measure and Democrats opposed it, along with a lawmaker with no party affiliation. Seabaugh could try again to bring up the proposal.

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Law enforcement officers, both active and retired, soon may be able to carry concealed handguns in nearly any place open to the public, as a bill to allow that is nearing final legislative passage.

The proposal (Senate Bill 361) by Sen. Neil Riser, R-Columbia, already has passed the Senate. It advances to the House floor for consideration, with backing Wednesday of the House Judiciary Committee without objection.

Under the measure, the current and retired officers would be required to carry photo identification, be sober and not be federally banned from having a firearm to meet the terms.

Active law enforcement would have to be full-time and get permission from the officer's agency to carry concealed firearms. Retired law officers would have to be in good standing with the agency they retired from, be mentally sound and go through annual training.

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