BATON ROUGE, La.—Lawmakers in the Louisiana House don’t want to restrict how they can dole out $6.8 million in Tulane University scholarships each year.
The House on Wednesday rejected a proposal by Rep. Harold Ritchie, D-Bogalusa, that would have prohibited lawmakers from giving scholarships to their immediate family members and to students whose family members have contributed to their campaigns.
His bill also would have required publication of information listing the scholarship recipients and saying whether they are related to any elected officials.
Only 44 House members voted for the proposal. It needed 53 to pass.
Ritchie was seeking to address concerns that the awards can go to the politically connected and campaign contributors. He said the bill would help preserve a program that he described as valuable for helping students who couldn’t otherwise afford the private university.
“I wanted to make sure we have a fair process,” Ritchie said.
Rep. Jeff Thompson, R-Bossier City, said although the bill was well-intentioned, he saw no need to tweak the program because of public and media criticism of its current structure.
“We’re held accountable by our constituents and our conscience. That should be enough,” he said.
The program, which dates to the 1880s, lets each state lawmaker give one student annually a Tulane scholarship, an award 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 new complaints have emerged that the system still favors political allies and fellow politicians.
All students who receive Tulane legislative scholarships fill out a form saying whether they are related to an elected official. But the House and Senate refuse to release the information, saying it’s not public record.
Ritchie received criticism after he told New Orleans media outlets that he’s given his scholarship for the last two years to a son of the St. Tammany Parish district attorney. After the criticism, he said he went to the 10th grade civics class at a high school in his area to talk about the program and used the students’ ideas to craft his bill.
Senators are working on their own version of a bill to tweak the scholarship program, but that has stalled in committee amid negotiations over what changes should be made. A proposal to do away with the legislative scholarships was killed by a House committee.