Despite opposition from Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration, lawmakers continue to advance a bill to reverse a $15 boost in the cost of a state driver's license.


Despite opposition from Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration, lawmakers continue to advance a bill to reverse a $15 boost in the cost of a state driver's license.
Already approved by the Senate, the measure received the backing Wednesday of the House Transportation Committee without objection. The bill (Senate Bill 407) by Sen. Joe McPherson, D-Woodworth, is expected to head to a House money committee before it can reach the House floor.
Jindal wants the $13.6 million expected to be raised by the license hike next year to help cover costs for the state police.
Lawmakers were caught unaware when the Department of Public Safety ordered the increase more than two months ago, and many lawmakers said they should have to approve any price hike, arguing the department raised the cost through a loophole in the law.
A new or renewed basic license now costs $36.50 for four years, up from $21.50.
Opponents have argued passage of McPherson's bill would harm funding that will pay for the Louisiana State Police, the Office of Motor Vehicles and other agencies in the Department of Public Safety.
Col. Mike Edmonson, head of the public safety department, said the price hike pays for a federal mandate requiring the state to participate in a national driver's license registry.
A second legislative panel has killed a proposal to let gay parents adopt children together in Louisiana.
The House Civil Law and Procedure Committee agreed without objection Wednesday to reject the bill (House 738) by Rep. Juan LaFonta, D-New Orleans. That matches earlier action this session by a Senate committee that voted 3-1 against a similar measure (Senate Bill 129).
Supporters of the idea said people should be encouraged to adopt children and gay couples could offer loving homes to children who otherwise might live in group or foster homes.
Opponents, largely religious and church groups, argue the adoptions would encourage immoral behavior and violate the spirit of a voter-approved constitutional ban on gay marriage.
Louisiana law allows married couples or a single person to adopt a child. If a single person adopts a child and is in a relationship - whether straight or gay - the partner in that relationship has no legal parental rights, even if the partner is involved in raising the child. Gay couples aren't allowed to marry in Louisiana and can't legally adopt children together.
A toughening of the state ban on texting while driving is nearing final legislative passage.
Without objection, the House Transportation Committee on Wednesday approved a Senate-backed bill to make texting while driving an offense for which a driver could be stopped without any other infraction.
Currently, a driver can only be cited for texting while driving if a police officer stops the driver for another alleged violation.
Sen. Butch Gautreaux, D-Morgan City, proposed a measure (Senate Bill 9) to make texting while driving a primary offense - meaning that police officers could stop a driver for that traffic violation without needing another reason.
The Senate voted 22-9 for the bill, which heads next to the full House for debate.
The measure also would make a ban on inexperienced drivers from using cell phones a primary offense. Drivers under 18 already aren't allowed to talk on cell phones while driving, but it's currently a secondary offense.
An attempt to derail a bill that would expand the state's religious freedom protections was reversed by the state Senate on Wednesday.
Sen. Danny Martiny's proposal (Senate Bill 606) would prohibit government from burdening the free exercise of religion, unless it can prove "it has a compelling governmental interest."
After the measure narrowly escaped a Senate committee on Tuesday, the bill was redirected to a second Senate panel at the request of an opponent of the bill, Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge.
Martiny, R-Kenner, and most of the other senators didn't realize the bill had been shuttled to another committee, so Martiny took to the Senate floor to complain, calling it a "sucker punch."
Claitor shot back, saying, "I have followed the rules of the Senate, and it just blows my mind that in this instance it's unfair because I did it."
Claitor said he asked for the bill to be sent to the Senate Finance Committee because he was concerned about its potential costs. But a financial analysis didn't indicate it would cost anything.
The Senate agreed in a 25-8 vote to reconsider the decision to send the measure to a second committee hearing, and the bill instead will be debated on the Senate floor.
Supporters of the bill say it would combat efforts to limit religious expression, while opponents argue the measure is unnecessary and could lead to a rash of new legal disputes.
"I don't know who's right. I don't know who's wrong. That's not unusual is it?"
--Sen. Robert Adley, R-Benton, joking during a procedural debate about the movement of a bill.