Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

State education budget has a $105 million hole; House rejects 72 percent APR cap on payday loans; Jindal administration must provide feds with voucher data; and Oil and gas industry seek to kill costal restoration lawsuits. $55 million — Money needed to balance current-year budget for K-12 public education (Source: The Associated Press)

State education budget has a $105 million hole
Superintendent of Education John White was the bearer of bad news Tuesday, telling members of the House Appropriations Committee that the current year’s budget is $55 million shy of what is needed to pay for all public school students. White says the shortfall is mainly due to higher-than-predicted student enrollment for the 2013-14 school year. While the Division of Administration disputes the size of the shortfall ­— saying that the Department of Education is overestimating the enrollment figures — lawmakers must close any gap in this year’s budget by June 30. White also told state lawmakers yesterday that Gov. Bobby Jindal’s proposed 2014-15 budget is short $50 million of what’s needed to pay for the school financing plan submitted by the state education board.

House rejects 72 percent APR cap on payday loans
The effort to rein in predatory payday lending suffered another setback Tuesday, when the House rejected a proposal to cap payday loan interest rates at 72 percent, which is well above legal loan-sharking limits in Louisiana. Payday lenders are specifically exempted from the loan-sharking statute, which makes it a felony to lend money at APRs above 45 percent, allowing them to charge customers annual interest rates of 700 percent or more. Rep. Ted James, D-Baton Rouge, offered the 72 percent rate cap as an amendment to a bill by Rep. Erich Ponti, R-Baton Rouge, which gives borrowers the option to repay loans with installments if they cannot repay their loans by their due date. Ponti said James’ amendment was too harsh on the payday loan industry. The full House then passed Point’s bill without James’ amendment with a 91-5 vote. The measure now moves to the Senate for consideration.

Jindal administration must provide feds with voucher data
A federal judge ruled Tuesday that the state Department of Education must provide federal officials with regular reports on students and schools participating in the state’s voucher program. The Justice Department sought the files from the state to ensure that the implementation of the voucher program does not promote segregation — which would violate the terms of an order from a 1971 desegregation case. As Nola.com reports, U.S. District Judge Ivan Lemelle’s order, released Tuesday, requires that the state provide federal officials with lists of voucher applicants and information including whether they were approved for private-school funding and which school they will attend. The lists will have to be provided 10 days before the student’s families are notified of their voucher eligibility. Lemelle’s order also calls for a series of reports at various times of the year. The reports would have to include a variety of data on enrollment data and racial breakdowns at all public schools, similar data on private schools participating in the voucher program and reasons why students found ineligible for the voucher program are rejected.

Lawmakers will continue giving Tulane legislative scholarship
The only-in-Louisiana practice of letting state lawmakers award full scholarships to a private university will continue as state Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, voluntarily withdrew a bill that would have ended the practice. Claitor also shelved the “Legislative Scholarship Fairness Act”, which would have banned scholarship awards to relatives and donors of legislators and require public disclosure of who gets the scholarships. Tulane University’s legislative scholarship program, which allows every Louisiana legislator to award a one-year scholarship worth an estimated $43,150 to the private university each year, has faced increasing scrutiny since an investigation The Advocate and WWL-TV found state Rep. Harold Ritchie, D-Bogalusa, has given his scholarship for the past two years to a son of St. Tammany Parish District Attorney Walter Reed.

Oil and gas industry seek to kill costal restoration lawsuits
Louisiana’s oil and gas industry is supporting several bills that attempt to kill costal protection lawsuits filed by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East, Jefferson Parish and Plaquemines Parish. As The Lens reports, debate on House Bill 862 by Rep. Joel Robideaux, R-Lafayette, begins next week. The bill would require the state Department of Natural Resources to uncover violations of oil and gas permits before parishes could seek legal action against oil and gas companies. It would also require any funds awarded by the court to be placed in the state Coastal Resources Trust Fund — leaving trial attorneys with no money and giving the Legislature control of the award money. While the bill aims to kill the current lawsuits, attorneys representing the parishes and flood authority say the law could not be retroactively applied.  

$55 million — Money needed to balance current-year budget for K-12 public education (Source: The Associated Press)