By MELINDA DESLATTE / Associated Press
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) -- Lawmakers in the House Wednesday put the brakes on efforts to place new restrictions and transparency rules on the nearly $7 million in Tulane University scholarships handed out each year by legislators.
The House and Governmental Affairs Committee killed the proposal by Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, despite criticism the program is shrouded in secrecy and allows political cronyism.
The committee voted 6-1 against the bill, which had Senate backing.
The 130-year-old program, created in 1884, lets each state lawmaker give one student a Tulane scholarship annually. The scholarship is worth up to nearly $47,000 a year.
The program was heavily criticized in the mid-1990s when it was disclosed that lawmakers had given out awards to children of other elected officials, donors and their own family.
Criteria were tightened slightly, but critics have charged the program has so few limits that lawmakers can use it to steer the pricey perks to political allies, fellow politicians and campaign contributors.
House committee members said Tulane planned to disclose more information about students receiving the scholarships, and they felt no need to limit flexibility to issue awards. The private university bans lawmakers from giving awards to their own family members.
"Frankly I think what we've done internally has really addressed it. I just don't think we need to legislate more than we have to," said Rep. Tim Burns, R-Mandeville, chairman of the committee.
Claitor said the university could always change its policies if lawmakers don't require them in state law.
"Sometimes we have to tell people what they've got to do," he said. "We're the stewards of this thing."
His proposal also went further than Tulane's policies.
Claitor's bill would have banned lawmakers from giving scholarships to their immediate family members, elected officials or family members of other statewide elected officials and members of Congress.
Tulane would have had to disclose if recipients are related to other elected officials and the name of that official. The measure also would have required information about the scholarship program to be posted on the legislative website.
Lawmakers would have to try to give scholarships to students in their own districts if possible. Otherwise, the bill would have set up a process for legislators to choose scholarship recipients from a statewide pool of Louisiana residents accepted to Tulane.
Rep. John Schroder, R-Covington, said his constituents wanted to see more restrictions on the scholarships and more information about who gets them. But he was the only lawmaker on the committee to vote for Claitor's bill.
Tulane officials said the school plans to start disclosing online for the next school year whether recipients are related to an elected official.
Earlier in the session, the House rejected a more expansive proposal by Rep. Harold Ritchie, D-Bogalusa, to put restrictions on the scholarship program.