Capitol Views: Lawmakers snub new requirements for TOPS

State senators today rejected legislation that would have forced recipients of the popular TOPS scholarship program to both work and pay taxes in Louisiana. If graduates fail to do so, Senate Bill 110 would have called for a repayment method for the state to recoup its education investment.

“TOPS is a great program, but it shouldn’t be an entitlement,” said the bill’s author, Sen. Jay Luneau, D-Alexandria, before later adding, “It is unsustainable in the fashion we’re going in.”

Luneau attempted to sell the bill as a way to “keep our kids in Louisiana.” His proposal would have required TOPS recipients, after graduating or resigning, to prove that they have been working and paying taxes in Louisiana for a number of years equal to the duration of their scholarship. “I think there are a lot of kids who don’t plan to stay in the state and they still take advantage of TOPS,” Luneau said.

According to an analysis of the bill prepared by the Legislative Fiscal Office, such a verification process would have cost the state nearly $2 million over the next five years.

Some members of the Senate Education Committee, which heard the legislation today, argued that government and elected officials need to do more to keep young people in the state after they graduate. “We’re the ones who caused this problem,” said Sen. Conrad Appel, R-Metairie, who believes a better business climate and more jobs is a possible solution.

It’s unlikely to be the last debate over the scholarship program this session. There have been roughly a dozen bills related to TOPS introduced for debate, and many of them are still pending initial committee hearings.

—Jeremy Alford

Jeremy Alford will publish a daily update throughout the legislative regular session on Daily Report PM. Alford reports on Louisiana politics at LaPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook. He can be reached at JJA@LaPolitics.com.

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