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Legislative notes from Baton Rouge

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BATON ROUGE, La. (KNOE 8 News/AP) - Lawmakers in the House on Thursday rewrote and passed a Senate-approved bill to lengthen the possible jail time for heroin dealers in Louisiana.

Under the revamped version (Senate Bill 87), the minimum sentence for distribution of heroin would be increased from five years to 10 years. The maximum sentence for a first offense would remain 50 years, but would grow to 99 years for later convictions.

Critics of the measure said that allowing what is essentially a life sentence for drug dealing was too high a penalty.

"You don't think that's excessive?" asked Rep. Ted James, D-Baton Rouge.

James said someone convicted of manslaughter can get a lesser sentence for killing someone than would be allowed for a heroin dealer under the bill.

Rep. Joe Lopinto, R-Metairie, who handled the proposal in the House, described the measure as a compromise with Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, who sought tougher penalties.

"I don't have a problem with the 50 years, but we compromise in this body every day," Lopinto said.

Claitor's rewritten bill heads back to the Senate with a 54-33 vote of the House. The Senate will consider whether to agree to the changes or send it to a legislative compromise committee.

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In other legislative action:

-Lawmakers have agreed to set a minimum prison term of five years for anyone convicted of the crime of home invasion who is armed with a weapon. The bill (Senate Bill 313) by Sen. Mack "Bodi" White, R-Baton Rouge, received final passage Thursday with a 80-8 vote of the House. The measure heads to Gov. Bobby Jindal.

-A highway overpass in Iberia Parish will be named the "George Rodrigue Memorial Overpass" in honor of the famed Blue Dog artist who died in December. The Senate gave final passage to the bill (House Bill 402) requiring the naming with a 33-0 vote Thursday. The measure by Rep. Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia, goes next to the governor's desk.

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