By Kathleen Peppo, LSU Manship School News Service
BATON ROUGE–Legislators voted Monday to provide one-time payments of $250 to front-line workers during the COVID-19 stay-at-home order and to protect schools and colleges against lawsuits that could arise if students or staff-members contract the virus.
The $250 stipend passed by unanimous votes in both chambers. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Sam Jenkins, D-Shreveport, now makes its way to Gov. John Bel Edwards, who has already voiced his support.
Under the bill, up to 200,000 public and private workers will be eligible to receive a check. To apply, the worker must make $50,000 a year or less. He or she also must have worked at least 200 hours in an essential job, such as in a grocery store or a nursing home or as a first responder, while the stay-at-home order was in effect from March 22 to May 14.
The bill will use $50 million of the state’s $1.8 billion in federal coronavirus aid funds.
In response to the financial crisis created by the COVID-19 shutdown, Republican lawmakers slated $300 million of the federal relief dollars to provide grants for Louisiana businesses and $565 million to provide aid to local governments.
The bill takes $25 million from the business relief appropriation and $25 million from the government relief appropriation to be able to give $50 million of the relief dollars to people who had to come into contact with the public during a time when officials advised citizens that doing so could result in contracting the virus.
The protection for schools provides public and private K-12 school systems with immunity from civil liability for damages caused by exposure to COVID-19. It would only allow for a civil lawsuit only if the person who contracted the virus could prove gross negligence during a public health emergency on the school system’s part.
The bill also protects colleges and universities.
The bill was passed in an effort to prevent schools from implementing only distance learning when planning for the upcoming school year.
Critics argued that the bill was tailored to protect schools rather than children and students.
The main House bill creating a $35 billion state operating budget for the next fiscal year, which starts Wednesday, was amended by the Senate last week, and those amendments were rejected by the House Monday. A House-Senate conference committee must reconcile the two versions of the bill before the special session ends tomorrow.