BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - A Senate panel put the brakes on a bill that would have forced some TOPS students to pay back part of their scholarships.
Under SB 110, if a TOPS recipient moves away from Louisiana in the years immediately following graduation, they would have to repay the state up to 50 percent of their total award. A TOPS recipient who drops out of college and leaves the Bayou State would also have to repay part of the money.
"Maybe it's the encouragement that they need to stay in this state and be productive citizens here," said Sen. Jay Luneau, D-Alexandria, who authored the bill.
The bill would have required that TOPS students live in state for a length of time equal to the number of years they received the award. For example, if they got TOPS for four years, they would have to be a resident for four years.
The rule would have gone into effect starting with the high school graduating class of 2017-18.
"They're not going to be contributing to the state of Louisiana as a taxpayer. I don't think it's too much to ask them to pay back a portion of what they got to help another student who is a citizen of this state and who is going to stay here," said Luneau.
The proposal comes as TOPS is funded at only 70 percent this year. The governor's budget proposal for next year would have the program funded at around the same level.
Luneau calls the program "unsustainable" and says his plan could help save some money. He says for every three students who repaid part of their scholarship, the state could afford to give an award to at least one more student.
"Is this going to take care of everything? No, it's not, but it is a step in the right direction to make people accountable," said Luneau.
However, several Republicans on the committee called the bill unfair to students, saying some graduates may have no choice but to move out of state for work.
"We're penalizing young people for the failures of us as adults to create an atmosphere where we're generating jobs that they can get," said Sen. Conrad Appel, R-Metairie.
"We all want our children to be in Louisiana to flourish, but I think the onus is on Louisiana," said Sen. Beth Mizell, R-Franklinton.
The panel moved to defer the bill 4-2, with votes falling along party lines. Republicans voted to defer, while Democrats voted to not defer. The panel chair, Sen. Blade Morrish, R-Jennings, did not vote.
Several other bills reforming TOPS are up for consideration at the capitol this spring, including one increasing GPA requirements.