HIGHLIGHTS THIS WEEK
This week we conclude the second week in the ongoing Special Legislative Session, bringing us to nearly the half way point. Due to the oncoming Hurricane Delta, some meetings were moved up until earlier in the week, most notably both the House Education and Senate Education Committees conducted their weekly meetings at the same time on Wednesday morning. They both considered important legislation, but here are some of the highlights:
>> House Bill 16 by Rep. Frieman came before the House Education Committee. In its original form, this legislation could have undone our work over the summer (in Act 9 by Rep. Mincey) to institute minimum COVID-19 safety standards in schools, as laid out by BESE.
Fortunately, LFT was able to work to get the bill amended on Wednesday, and it will no longer take away the safety standards in place to protect our students and school staff. Thank you to Rep. Jefferson for his pointed questions, Rep. Hilferty for her amendment, and everyone who worked together to ensure our kids’ safety is the #1 priority!
You can watch the 33-minute discussion on our Facebook page.
>> Senate Bill 31 by Sen. Fields successfully passed out of the Senate Education Committee this week. This bill would prohibit the use of VAM scores conducted during the 2020-2021 school year from being used to evaluate teacher performance.
>> House Bill 83 by Rep. Romero came about in response to a situation in Jefferson Parish in which a young student was threatened with expulsion because his brother had a BB gun visible in the background during virtual school. This bill would provide more opportunity for parents to challenge a student’s suspension and require School Boards to actively review their own discipline policies every year.
Perhaps most importantly, this legislation would require school boards to meet before the end of the year and update policies relative to conduct that occurs at home during virtual instruction. The unfortunate situation in Jefferson Parish highlights what teachers are experiencing all over the state: School Districts were unprepared to begin virtual learning and with so many kinks still being worked out, teachers and students are raising concerns about its efficacy. This bill successfully passed out of House Education this week.
BILLS TO WATCH
However, we still have more than two weeks left in this session and a lot can happen. This is the Second Special Legislative Session of 2020. It began on Monday, September 28th and shall end no later than 6 P.M. on October 27, 2020. There are 70 different items that may be subject to legislation including state tax revenue and school funding, among others.
Because the call for this session came so late, there wasn’t much time for legislators to pre-file their bills, so legislation was submitted throughout the first week, and has continued to roll in. Things could change at any moment, but here are some important bills that we support:
>> House Bill 18 by Rep. Gadberry – Extends sick leave/assault leave benefits that are currently available to teachers and staff at traditional schools to those working at schools under the jurisdiction of the office of juvenile justice. (SUPPORT)
>> Senate Bill 15 by Sen. Milligan – this bill would ensure that teachers and school employees have health insurance coverage beginning their first day of work during an emergency or disaster (most specifically, the COVID-19 pandemic). Unfortunately, for too many employees, right now coverage does not begin on their first day, and they must wait up to 90 days for their health insurance coverage to being. (SUPPORT)
>> Senate Bill 36 by Sen. Fields/House Bill 40 by Rep. Garofalo – modifies initial eligibility requirements/deadlines for a TOPS award to help students impacted by Hurricane Laura. (SUPPORT)
>> HCR 1 by Rep. Dwight/HCR 17 by Rep. Romero - Requests the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to discuss possible adjustments to the Minimum Foundation Program formula in order to ensure school systems affected by Hurricane Laura are not financially penalized this year. (SUPPORT)
>> Senate Bill 23 by Sen. McMath – This bill would require school boards to accept certification of illness from a nurse practitioner or physicians assistant, when employees use leave due to personal illness. As it stands right now, the law requires certification of illness from a physician, but especially in rural areas of the state, that can be inconvenient and unnecessary. (SUPPORT)
One of the most major threats to public education in this Session comes from legislation that deals with the state budget and tax revenue. Louisiana, like much of the rest of the country, is in the midst of a financial crisis. Unemployment is high, revenue is down, and we have yet to see the Federal Government make progress on a second relief bill. So right now, it is vital that legislators take measures that will protect our public institutions, like education. Unfortunately, we’ve seen an onslaught of legislation that would undermine state revenue and reward only Louisiana’s richest citizens:
>> House Bills 8, 28 and 29 by Rep. DeViller – These bills would exempt oil companies from paying taxes on their oil produced from certain wells, particularly on that which they intend to sell in other states. These three bills would cost Louisiana nearly $200 million in lost revenue over five years according to the Legislative Fiscal Office. As this legislation has been debated, concerns have been raised that these bills, particularly HB 29, may not in fact create jobs in Louisiana. (OPPOSE)
>> House Bill 78 by Rep. Beaullieu - This legislation would allow a parish, municipality, and any other unit of local government, including a school board or special district to waive ad valorem property taxes for certain tax payers. This legislation could exacerbate the same problems caused by the ITEP program and further politicize our local governments. It’s impossible to know exactly how much this would cost local governments in lost revenue, but since Local municipalities fund schools, this will undoubtedly have an impact on local resources for public education and take away power from Local School Boards throughout the state. (OPPOSE)
As legislators debated this bill, Rep. Mincey and Rep. Willard stepped forward with concerns that it was possible this legislation would have an adverse impact on local government, particularly our public schools.
>> Senate Bill 1 by Sen. Ward – This bill would extend the period in which certain businesses can delay paying ad valorem taxes on inventory to local governments from 5-years to 10-years. In this bill we would see the State giving away revenue that would go to Local governments, and which those localities may be depending on. (OPPOSE)