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A glance at 2012 At The Capitol

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Posted: Jun 4, 2012 3:20 PM
Source: Associated Press

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Topics: capitol, louisiana, legislature, session, lawmakers, bills, house, senate, 2012, baton rouge

BATON ROUGE - Louisiana's lawmakers spent three months combing through bills in the regular legislative session. Nearly 2,000 bills were filed for consideration.

Here's a look at what happened to some of the issues, with the session ending Monday:

BUDGET: A $25.6 billion budget proposal for 2012-13 will finance the operations of state agencies and public colleges. The final version of the spending plans for the fiscal year that begins July 1 was drawn up by the Senate, which patched in more than $300 million in one-time money to make the plans work, against the wishes of a group of House conservatives who wanted deeper reductions to state spending. Even with the piecemeal funding, colleges face significant cuts next year. Nearly $205 million from the state's "rainy day" fund will be used to fill a budget deficit this year.

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EDUCATION: Gov. Bobby Jindal won passage of an historic overhaul of public education in Louisiana. The changes will make it harder for teachers to gain tenure while establishing a statewide voucher program for private school tuition and multiplying the ways to create charter schools. The bills also lessen local school board authority in hiring and firing decisions and expand online schools. Critics promised lawsuits. Parents and teachers may notice few immediate changes to the education system in the upcoming 2012-13 school year. Vouchers will be available to as many as 5,000 new students to attend private schools with public tax dollars in the fall; the program is expected to grow in later years. New charter schools will take at least a year to get through the application and approval process. The earliest a teacher can lose tenure under the new evaluation system is spring 2014.

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RETIREMENT: Lawmakers rejected Jindal's proposals to push back the retirement age for 55,000 rank-and-file state workers and public college employees and to charge them more for their pensions, even after the bills were heavily rewritten and watered down. Also scrapped by lawmakers were Jindal's attempts to make it much tougher for retirement systems to pass cost-of-living adjustments for retirees and to calculate the monthly retirement payment on an employee's top five years of salary instead of three years. The only significant retirement bill pushed by the governor that received final passage will create a cheaper investment account similar to a 401(k) plan for state employees hired after July 1, 2013, instead of a monthly retirement payment based on their salaries.

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GUN LIMITS: Louisiana voters will decide whether to toughen the state's constitutional protections for weapon owners and whether to remove a provision that gives the Legislature explicit authority to limit concealed handguns.

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TAX BREAKS: Louisiana's economic development secretary could be able to offer new tax breaks to businesses the state wants to keep or attract. The bills will give the state's economic development chief limited ability to offer rebates for payroll and relocation costs. But the tax rebate agreements will have to be approved by a joint House and Senate budget committee. The tax breaks include a payroll tax cut ranging from 6 percent to up to 15 percent for creating high-paying jobs with health care benefits and a 25 percent rebate over five years on relocation costs for certain companies that move their corporate headquarters to Louisiana.

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ABORTION: Abortion will be banned 20 weeks after fertilization, except in limited medical cases where the mother's life is in danger. Also, Louisiana's ultrasound requirement for women seeking an abortion will be changed, with the sonogram mandated 24 hours before the procedure, rather than two hours. The measure also will require doctors to offer women the ability to hear the fetal heartbeat before an abortion, adding new mandates to the sonogram requirement passed by lawmakers last year.

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OILFIELD CLEANUP: Lawmakers agreed to compromise legislation involving a dispute between the oil and gas industry and landowners over how to clean up environmental damage done in drilling years ago. The pair of bills will change the complex legal process for dealing with so-called "legacy lawsuits" that seek millions of dollars in damage claims and that the oil and gas companies claim are stymieing energy exploration in the state.

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PENN STATE ABUSE: It will be a felony crime for a person to witness but not report child sexual abuse, in response to allegations of unreported abuse involving a former Penn State University assistant football coach. People who report child sexual abuse to authorities will have whistleblower protection so they can't be fired, suspended or demoted because of the allegations.

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TOPS CHANGES: A near-annual proposal to put a cap on the amount of tuition paid through the TOPS program was rejected. The Taylor Opportunity Program for Students will cost the state an estimated $168 million in the new fiscal year that begins July 1.

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PRISON SALE: A Jindal administration proposal to sell an Avoyelles Parish state prison to a private company was jettisoned by lawmakers.

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TERM LIMITS: An attempt to put term limits on all statewide elected officials failed. But voters in each parish will be asked on the November ballot if they want to enact term limits on their local school boards.

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SEX OFFENDERS: Legislators approved a new attempt to ban certain sex offenders from Facebook and other social networking websites after the law passed last year was thrown out by a federal judge, who said it was so broad that it would effectively ban sex offenders from any use of the Internet. The new version will prohibit people convicted of a sex offense against a minor or of video voyeurism from websites whose primary purpose is "facilitating social interaction with other users of the website and which allows users to create web pages or profiles about themselves that are available to the public or other users."

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SMOKING BAN: The Senate refused to prohibit smoking within 25 feet of the entrance to any building where smoking already is banned, even after the measure was limited to state-owned buildings.

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ETHICS: The Louisiana Board of Ethics will have a limited right of appeal when it loses cases it brings against public officials accused of violating the state ethics code. Also tweaked was the one-year time limit the Board of Ethics has to file charges after receiving a complaint or voting to investigate a matter. A separate proposal to exempt architects, engineers and others doing government contract work from state conflict of interest and nepotism laws was derailed.

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BULLYING: A bill designed to curb bullying at schools received final passage. The measure defines bullying, describes ways to report allegations and sets the timeline for school administrators to respond. It requires anti-bullying training for school employees and teachers and allows a parent to move a child to another school if the harassment threat doesn't end. School employees will be required to report bullying if they see it or hear of it, or they will face penalties.

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CELL PHONE BAN: A ban on the use of hand-held cell phones while driving was rejected.

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CATS AND DOGS: The sale of dogs and cats will be banned from roadsides, flea markets, public parks and public playgrounds. Violation will carry up to a $250 fine the first time, then up to $1,000 for subsequent offenses.

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CASEY ANTHONY CASE: Florida mom Casey Anthony's trial and subsequent acquittal are leading to changes in Louisiana law. Caretakers who fail to report or give false information to law enforcement officials regarding missing or dead children will be penalized. The crime of failing to report a missing or dead child will carry jail sentences ranging up to 50 years.

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