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Halfway there

With session nearing midpoint, legislators’ attention turns to state budget

Wednesday will mark the halfway point for the 2014 legislative session, with several major issues left to be decided by senators and representatives.

“I believe in the first half we addressed a quarter of the bills that need to be addressed. In the last half, I expect there will be some late hours and late adjournments,” said State Representative Henry Burns, R-Haughton.

While many legislator-driven bills have been addressed, the state budget, HB1, still ominously lies in wait.

“I am concerned (about the budget). We started out with the briefing we had a balanced budget, since then there have been a few discoveries of shortfalls,” said Burns. “People will come with special concerns and we’ll have to fend those off because if money is directed to other sources, then services will be cut. I’m trying to minimize anything that affects the elderly and special needs.”

Representative Jeff Thompson, R-Bossier City, expects the budget debate to draw figurative body blows.

“We have to use the money responsibly and where we should. We need to make sure funding for law enforcement, higher education, health care, and roads are taken care of. We have more requests than money so we have to make sure the right projects are funded,” he said. “We’re at the point where each chamber only has a number of weeks and the the committees are about to start working on each others’ bills. It can only get busier as we go forward.”

Senator Barrow Peacock, R-Bossier City, said the session is entering a period where the budget becomes more and more of the focus.

“As finance committees look at the budget and what we can do, some tough decisions have to start being made,” he explained. “There’s a lot of noise out there, but you have to clarify what’s true and what’s not true.”

Still, Peacock is focused on making sure his corner of the state is taken care of.

“Some (cuts) are troubling, I have not heard any concerns from higher education, but there are always some issues. We always have to be concerned and make sure our services here are well funded.”

Thompson is particularly ready to go to battle over ensuring that the proposed increase for higher education is maintained and the community and technical colleges’ funding is improved — especially when it comes to Bossier Parish Community College (BPCC).

“BPCC gets the least amount even though we do the best and are growing and being recognized nationally, so we’re tying to make sure the money to bring BPCC to a level playing field stays intact. We’re going to vigorously appose any challenges to fund BPCC,” warned Thompson.

Beyond the budget, Common Core State Standards is another hot topic that will be dealt with in the second half of the session.

The delay of implementing Common Core’s Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) assessment is the current aspect up for debate.

“Everyone is in favor of higher standards, more rigor, and higher accountability. Where the problem comes in is the PARCC testing,” said Thompson. “It is moving too quickly to establish a true baseline and it’s implementing it too quickly without knowing how to exactly use that.”

Burns’ HB163 — which prohibits administration of PARCC assessments in favor of keeping the Louisiana Educational Assessment Program (LEAP) tests — is to his knowledge, the only bill that is a live instrument that can eliminate PARCC testing.

“We’ll see how the dynamics of the session goes and wether it can be utilized,” Burns explained.

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