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Gun law raises funding concerns for school hunting programs

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lailluminator.com – Samantha Dietel – 2023-09-02 15:00:49

Gun law raises funding concerns for school hunting programs

by Samantha Dietel, Louisiana Illuminator
September 2, 2023

WASHINGTON — Republican lawmakers are concerned that the Biden administration is interpreting last year's bipartisan gun safety law to cut funding for school archery and hunting programs, though programs themselves say they haven't been affected.

A provision in the law – a bipartisan effort to curb gun violence that established new criminal offenses, and expanded background check requirements and the scope of existing restrictions, according to the bill summary — bans education funding for “training in the use of a dangerous weapon.” Republicans in Congress have noted concern that could lead to funding cuts for school programs that encourage gun safety.

The law included a provision that “prohibits the use of elementary and secondary education funds to provide any person with a dangerous weapon or training in the use of a dangerous weapon.”

The Department of Education has interpreted this provision to defund school archery and hunting programs across the country, scores of Republican lawmakers say, which prompted wide disapproval.

However, there is little evidence that any programs have yet been affected.

Patrick O'Connell, director of training and technology at the National Archery in the Schools Program, an organization that coordinates school archery programs across the country and has spoken out in defense of archery and firearm safety education, said he is unaware of any schools that have been affected by a loss of funding.

“Just a large number of schools concerned about that possibility,” he said.

Spokespeople for the Education Department did not return messages seeking comment.

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Criticism from lawmakers

Funding for hunting and archery programs generally comes from student fees, organized fundraisers, donations or state funds — with federal money adding relatively little, Michael Bloxom, the NASP Alabama state coordinator, said.

But congressional Republicans have still voiced objections about potential losses in that funding.

In an Aug. 4 letter, 66 House Republicans pressed Education Secretary Miguel Cardona to restore funding for archery and hunting programs.

The representatives praised the long safety records of such programs and the opportunities that they provide for students.

“These scholastic programs are where millions of kids learn safe and responsible firearm handling and storage, and this egregious, irresponsible overreach by your Department will have far-reaching negative consequences,” the representatives wrote.

In an Aug. 11 letter to President Joe Biden, 19 Republican senators demanded that the administration withdraw Education Department guidance specifying that federal funds cannot be used for firearm training programs. That reversal would allow school archery and hunting programs to continue receiving federal funds, they said.

Kennedy, GOP senators recoil over blocked funding for archery, hunter education

The senators, led by U.S. Sen. John Barrasso, a Wyoming Republican and the third-ranking member of the Senate GOP, used the letter to highlight the importance of school archery and hunting programs.

“While the administration claims to be eliminating dangerous activities, this guidance will, in fact, have the opposite effect,” the senators wrote. “These programs provided thousands of students with the opportunity to learn proper instruction for firearm and archery safety.”

The senators, none of whom were among the 14 Senate Republicans who joined the full Democratic caucus in voting for the bill last year, called on the Biden administration to reverse “this misguided decision and ensure funding for these vital programs is not withheld.”

Objections haven't come only from Republicans. Sen. Jon Tester, a Montana Democrat, also wrote a letter to Cardona to express concern about how the interpretation of the gun law may affect school archery and hunting programs.

“In Montana, our schools have long offered shooting sport and hunter safety classes that play an important role in teaching safety and personal responsibility to students,” Tester said in his letter. “Outdoor recreation is foundational to our western way of life and any reduction of federal support for these educational programs is unacceptable.”

U.S. Rep. Mark Green, a Republican from Tennessee who chairs the U.S. House Homeland Security Committee, introduced a bill on Aug. 1 meant to ensure federal funding for school archery and hunting programs would continue.

Green said that the Biden administration should not prevent Tennessee schoolchildren from receiving safety and skills training in archery, hunting or other shooting sports.

“The classes President Biden wants to defund aren't only about hunting and archery, they are about teaching young Americans how to respect nature and to focus on a goal,” Green said. “The Biden administration's decision to strip funding for these important classes doesn't just miss the mark, it misses the entire target.”

The Department of Education issued a statement to Fox News last month that it would work to restore federal funding for these programs.

Signs of impact

Officials with state chapters of NASP say they have been unaffected by the recent funding interpretation.

Generally the only cost to the schools may come in the form of teacher salaries, Bloxom, the Alabama NASP coordinator, said.

Still, there has been confusion and concern from people involved in the program.

“There was a lot of concern and discussion among teachers and parents, and a lot of that fear was due to a lack of information,” Bloxom said.

Alabama's programs have not been interrupted so far, he said.

“We are hopeful a compromise on the interpretation by the US DOE will permanently alleviate the fear that these important programs could be affected in the future,” Bloxom said.

Wyoming NASP coordinator William Poole said the legislation has been misinterpreted and that it is unclear how it would impact schools in his state.

“Our agency and partners are working to understand the intent of the legislation,” Poole said. “We will continue to support and advocate wholeheartedly for hunter education and archery in the schools. These programs play a vital role in fostering conservation ethic in our youngest citizens.”

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Louisiana Illuminator is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Greg LaRose for questions: info@lailluminator.com. Follow Louisiana Illuminator on Facebook and Twitter.

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Louisiana Illuminator

After U.S. Supreme Court decision to allow bump stocks, U.S. Senate rejects bill to ban them • Louisiana Illuminator

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lailluminator.com – Ariana Figueroa – 2024-06-19 06:25:13

by Ariana Figueroa, Louisiana Illuminator
June 19, 2024

WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Pete Ricketts blocked a bipartisan bill Tuesday that would ban bump stocks following a Supreme Court decision that repealed a Trump-era rule against using the gun accessory.

Ricketts, a Nebraska Republican, objected to New Mexico Democratic Sen. Martin Heinrich's request that the chamber approve his bill — cosponsored by Nevada Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto and Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins — by unanimous consent.

Heinrich attempted to pass the bill, which the trio introduced last year, following the Supreme Court ruling last week that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives lacked the authority to ban bump stocks.

“As a firearms owner myself, there's no legitimate use for a bump stock,” Heinrich said. “What they are tailor made for is a mass shooting.”

The bill, S. 1909, would ban the sale of bump stocks that allow semi-automatic weapons to rapidly fire multiple rounds like a machine gun.

Ricketts argued that the Supreme Court made the right decision and said the bill didn't just ban bump stocks but also “targets other firearm accessories.”

Ricketts added that the bill is a violation of the Second Amendment.

“This bill is about banning as many firearm accessories as possible and giving ATF broad authority to ban most semi-automatic firearms,” Ricketts said. “It's an unconstitutional attack on law-abiding gun owners.”

Heinrich said the bill would not ban a large amount of firearm accessories, but would ban things like Glock switches, which can be attached to the side of a Glock handgun to convert a semi-automatic pistol into a fully automatic firearm.

“I think the American people understand what common-sense gun safety looks like,” Heinrich said.

Senate procedure requires 60 votes to proceed on most legislation. But for the chamber to approve a measure by unanimous consent, no senator can object.

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Supreme Court ruling

The Supreme Court on Friday overturned an ATF regulation, enacted during former President Donald Trump's administration after the Las Vegas mass shooting, which defined a semi-automatic rifle equipped with a bump stock attachment as a machine gun. Machine guns are generally prohibited under federal law.

In that mass shooting, a gunman used rifles outfitted with bump stocks to fire into a crowd of 22,000 people at a music festival, killing 58 people that night and two more who died of their injuries later, and injuring more than 500.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said on the Senate floor that the bill was needed because the Supreme Court's decision was “an utter disgrace.”

“It will endanger our communities, endanger law enforcement, and make it easier for mass shooters to unleash carnage,” Schumer, a New York Democrat, said.

The opinion, written by Justice Clarence Thomas, who is a strong defender of Second Amendment gun rights, deemed that the ATF exceeded its statutory authority in prohibiting the sale and possession of bump stocks, which he said differed importantly from machine guns.

“Nothing changes when a semiautomatic rifle is equipped with a bump stock,” Thomas wrote. “Between every shot, the shooter must release pressure from the trigger and allow it to reset before reengaging the trigger for another shot.”

Additionally, the decision, which was split along ideological lines, limits the federal government's ability to address gun violence in the absence of congressional action.

More federal gun legislation unlikely

With a split Congress, any gun-safety related legislation is unlikely to pass. However, after Friday's decision, President Joe Biden called on Congress to ban bump stocks and assault weapons.

“Americans should not have to live in fear of this mass devastation,” Biden said at the time.

The last time Congress passed gun legislation was in 2022 after two mass shootings that occurred less than two weeks apart.

One was at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, where 19 children and two teachers were killed. The other was in Buffalo, New York, where a white supremacist targeted a predominantly Black neighborhood and killed 10 Black people.

The 2022 gun safety legislation did not ban any firearms but provided funds for mental health and to help states enact red flag laws, which allow the courts to temporarily remove a firearm from an individual who is a threat to themselves or others, among other provisions.

That same year, the Supreme Court decided on a major gun-related case that invalidated a New York law against carrying a firearm in public without showing a special need for protection.

Because of that decision, there's another gun-related case before the court that will test a federal law that prevents the possession of firearms by a person who is subject to a domestic violence protective order. A decision on that is expected this month.

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Louisiana Illuminator is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Greg LaRose for questions: info@lailluminator.com. Follow Louisiana Illuminator on Facebook and X.

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Louisiana lags on electric vehicle charging program, but DOTD sees ‘no reason to rush’ • Louisiana Illuminator

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lailluminator.com – Wesley Muller – 2024-06-19 05:00:24

by Wesley Muller, Louisiana Illuminator
June 19, 2024

Two years after receiving federal funding to build electric vehicle charging stations across the state, Louisiana has yet to ask for bids from companies that might want the money. However, state transportation officials say there is a reason for their sluggish pace. 

The Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD), plans to start the request-for-proposal process as soon as it identifies an appropriate “contracting mechanism” under state law to use the money, DOTD spokesperson Rodney Mallett said. 

The Federal Highway Administration allocated $73.4 million to Louisiana under the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (NEVI) program in 2022. NEVI is a product of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law that Congress approved in 2021. It included billions for state transportation agencies to build a network of rapid chargers along major highways. 

Louisiana's initial response was on par with other states. DOTD submitted its NEVI deployment plan by the federal deadline of August 2022. However, while states such as Ohio, Pennsylvania and others now are disbursing the grant money or have already built some EV charging stations, Louisiana hasn't yet figured out how to spend it. 

“There's no real reason to spend two-plus years figuring out how to get this money to grant recipients when other states are already opening up chargers,” said Ryan McKinnon of the Charge Ahead Partnership, an EV charger lobby group. “Lots of states will be opening up chargers pretty soon, and it sounds like Louisiana will be sitting on the sidelines.” 

McKinnon said Louisiana is one of 11 states that have still not asked for bids to use the NEVI grant money. 

Some congressional Republicans and anti-union groups have directed their criticism at the Biden administration, claiming the delays are the result of mismanagement or of labor requirements within federal rules. Officials closest to the situation say the delays are largely because it is a new program that they want done correctly.

Mallet said the federal rules for the NEVI program don't “fit cleanly” within DOTD's usual contracting methods. DOTD often writes contracts for projects in which the agency owns and maintains the infrastructure, such as highways. In contrast, the EV charger grants will pay for the construction of infrastructure for which “ownership and operation will be transferred” from the state, in most cases, to a private entity, he said.

Although the Biden administration has aimed for a goal of building 500,000 charging stations by 2026, Mallet said the NEVI funds do not lapse, so there is no hard deadline to complete the projects.

“The key is to do it right for the long term,” Mallet said. “No reason to rush it through.”

States to receive $2.5B from feds for electric vehicle charging infrastructure

Tyler Herrmann with Louisiana Clean Fuels, a nonprofit working with DOTD on the NEVI rollout, said earlier, smaller EV charger programs saw build-outs at sites that weren't very practical. 

The chargers were often installed at public libraries or apartment complexes — places with no real interest or resources to maintain them. Without that routine maintenance, chargers would break and often stay that way for years. 

The government learned from those programs and is now taking care to avoid making those same kinds of mistakes, Herrmann said.   

“It is a unique situation,” Herrmann said of DOTD's efforts to administer the NEVI grants. “The program is pretty much completely different from what the DOTD does normally.”

In the meantime, Louisiana Clean Fuels has been working to build a workforce of technicians who can install and repair EV chargers and supply equipment.

Baton Rouge Community College just recently saw its first class of students graduate from a three-week course in which they learned some of the fundamentals required to become nationally certified Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment technicians. 

Herrmann said about a dozen students completed the first course, which will soon be offered at other community colleges across the state.

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Louisiana Illuminator is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Greg LaRose for questions: info@lailluminator.com. Follow Louisiana Illuminator on Facebook and X.

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St. Tammany’s embattled coroner targeted under new state laws • Louisiana Illuminator

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lailluminator.com – Julie O'Donoghue – 2024-06-18 17:43:54

by Julie O'Donoghue, Louisiana Illuminator
June 18, 2024

Gov. Jeff Landry has signed two new laws to weaken the authority of St. Tammany Parish's controversial coroner who is already the subject of a recall campaign. 

Dr. Christopher Tape drew scrutiny from lawmakers after a WWL-TV investigation revealed he had been accused of child sex abuse in New Mexico decades ago and then settled a lawsuit over workplace sexual harassment allegations in the past few years. Charges in the New Mexico case were quashed after the prosecutor failed to move the case forward in a timely fashion. 

Almost immediately after taking office, Tape also tried to cancel a multi-parish program housed in the St. Tammany coroner's office that provides nurses to perform sexual assault exams on victims. The service helps police collect evidence and assists Northshore district attorneys who prosecute sex crimes. 

Legislators responded to Tape's actions, as well as his refusal to resign from his job, by filing legislation to limit his power.

Sen. Patrick McMath, R-Covington, sponsored a new law to give the St. Tammany Parish Council greater authority over the coroner's public finances and the ability to remove any coroner convicted of violent crimes. Moving forward, candidates for St. Tammany coroner must submit records regarding their criminal background to the local clerk of court.

Sen. Beth Mizell, R-Franklinton, authored a second law that allows the state attorney general to move sexual assault victim programs to another parish if the local coroner is unqualified or unwilling to perform those duties. 

In Tape's case, a transfer has already happened. Last month, the Jefferson Parish Coroner's Office took over the sexual assault examination program serving the Northshore region. The two parishes have entered into a cooperative endeavor agreement that allowed Jefferson Coroner Gerry Cvitanovich to hire the nurses who worked for the St. Tammany program.

Meanwhile, the organizers of Tape's recall must gather 35,000 signatures from qualified voters before mid-October for an election potentially forcing Tape out of office to take place.

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Louisiana Illuminator is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Greg LaRose for questions: info@lailluminator.com. Follow Louisiana Illuminator on Facebook and X.

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