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BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — For a second time in two weeks, the Senate health care committee turned down a proposal to expand Louisiana's Medicaid program as allowed under the federal health care law.
The vote was 5-3 Wednesday against the proposal (Senate Bill 10) by Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans. Peterson's constitutional amendment would have bypassed the governor's desk and allowed the state's voters to decide on the expansion.
Supporters of the Medicaid expansion say it would extend health insurance coverage to nearly 300,000 working poor, with the federal government picking up nearly all the cost. They also say it would help health care providers burdened with uninsured patients.
Opponents, including Gov. Bobby Jindal, say the increased coverage would be too costly for Louisiana and the federal government and would improperly expand government-run health care.
The vote Wednesday was the same as when the Senate committee killed a similar bill last week. The House health care committee also has rejected a Medicaid expansion proposal during the legislative session.
The House on Wednesday approved a resolution calling for states across the country to hold a convention to amend the U.S. Constitution in ways that would restrict federal power.
The resolution was brought by Rep. Ray Garofalo, R-Chalmette, and passed on a 60-38 vote amid questions from Democrats who were skeptical about whether Garofalo's proposal was a good use of legislative time, or even legal.
"One of the reasons I ran for office is because I believe the federal government is out of control," said Garofalo, who during floor debate was armed with a 2,000-signature petition supporting the measure. "The problem in Washington is grave enough that we should be addressing it so that Louisiana has a seat at the table."
The resolution (House Concurrent Resolution 2) calls for reductions in the size of federal government, term limits for federal elected officials and restrictions on federal spending.
According to Garofalo, the U.S. Constitution could be amended if 34 states support the resolution, a convention is held, and three-fourths of U.S. states ratify the proposed changes.
The proposal goes next to the Senate for consideration.
A bill that would have outlawed allowing children under the age of 12 to fire an Uzi submachine gun was voluntarily removed from consideration before the House criminal justice committee Wednesday.
Louisiana's lawmakers have been strong proponents of gun rights, so the bill (House Bill 86) was expected to face opposition. Rep. Barbara Norton, D-Shreveport, defended her proposal before withdrawing it.
"Putting a machine gun in a 12-year-old's ... hand, I don't think that's a way to protect our children," she said.
Norton said she was inspired to bring the bill after watching a news report of a young child who killed a shooting instructor with an Uzi after losing control of the firearm at an Arizona gun range last year.
"That gun was so powerful to the person, she could not control it," Norton said. "When I think about the fact of a 12-year-old with a machine gun, I think it's more important that we put a book in their hand."
The committee did not debate the merits of the bill because the legislation was withdrawn. Norton said she would study the issue and sponsor a similar bill next year.
Lawmakers on the House Education Committee supported allowing public schools to teach gun safety and accident protection to their students — but only if the curriculum wasn't required in classrooms.
Rep. Blake Miguez, R-Erath, stripped language from his bill (House Bill 446) that would have made the classroom instruction on gun accident protection mandatory in Louisiana's public schools.
Miguez, a freshman lawmaker, said the National Rifle Association has a gun accident prevention program offering instruction to schools for free. He described it as similar to instruction warning students against child predators, saying it doesn't promote gun ownership or involve handling guns in any way.
"The goal is to save children's lives and protect our youth," Miguez said.
With a 10-3 vote, the committee also removed the requirement that if schools taught the gun safety information that they had to use the NRA's program instruction after Rep. John Bel Edwards, D-Amite, said he disagreed with taking discretion away from schools.
After the changes, the bill was sent to the full House for consideration with no objections.
In other legislative action:
—At the request of a constituent, Sen. Rick Gallot, D-Ruston, sought legislation that would let Louisiana's citizens enact laws through ballot initiatives. But his colleagues had no interest Wednesday. The Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee shelved the measure (Senate Bill 201) without objection, killing the constitutional amendment for the legislative session.
Louisiana Legislature: www.legis.la.gov