A look at some bills, budget changes Louisiana legislators passed this session

Gov. John Bel Edwards said the state is in a good financial position after the budget crises of the past. (Photo by Catherine Hunt/LSU Manship School News Service)

Published: June 11, 2021

By: Matthew Bennett, Adrian Dubose and Ryan Nelsen | LSU Manship School News Service

BATON ROUGE–Buoyed by billions of dollars in federal COVID-19 relief aid, Louisiana legislators took on several big issues this spring and made progress in simplifying the tax code, supporting education and expanding criminal-justice reform.

Some public-interest groups praised the tax changes as important steps toward strengthening Louisiana’s economy, while others expressed concern that some of the changes could lead to a budget crunch down the road.

The Council for a Better Louisiana viewed the main changes—lowering state income tax rates for individuals and corporations and eliminating deductions for what they pay in federal income taxes–as “a positive step forward,” while noting that it was only the beginning of righting a complicated, messy system.

Gov. John Bel Edwards indicated after the legislative session ended that he would support this swap in the source of state tax revenues as long as it does not cost the state much in the short run. The changes would require adjustments to the state Constitution, and if he signs the bills, residents will have to vote on them in October.

The Public Affairs Research Council said that if voters approve, the state’s tax structure will become “simpler, fairer, more competitive, and better-ranked nationally.”

But the Louisiana Budget Project, which researches how state policies affect the poor and the working class, issued a statement warning that lawmakers were relying too heavily on federal relief dollars that will soon be gone.

The group’s executive director, Jan Moller, supported the “excellent premise” of the tax swap, but bemoaned the way it was executed.

Read more at BRProud

La. lawmakers agree police need to change policies

Published: June 11, 2021

By: Kathleen Peppo, LSU Manship School News Service

crime scene tape

BATON ROUGE, La. — The chance to change police practices in Louisiana did not seem very good when Rep. Ted James presented a resolution to study them shortly after George Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis police officer.

James had to agree in advance to demands from Republicans to remove Floyd’s name from the resolution.

Image preview
Rep. Ted James, D-Baton Rouge

One Republican, Rep. Tony Bacala of Prairieville, was not privy to that conversation. And when the resolution came up for debate on the House floor, Bacala, a former chief sheriff’s deputy in Ascension Parish, said language in the resolution about blacks being three times more likely to be killed by law enforcement officers than whites addressed only one side of the issue.

Rep. Tony Bacala, R-Prairieville

“If we’re going to talk, let’s talk,” Bacala said. “Let’s don’t limit what we’re willing to speak about to things that only some people want to speak about,” he said. “Of 800,000 law enforcement officers in this country, in that same period of time, 584 were killed in the line of duty, which means that the rate that cops die in the line of duty is 40 times higher than blacks.”

“Tony,” James responded, “I was pepper sprayed in handcuffs by a police officer. A white one.”

James also described being questioned by law enforcement officers for standing with four other black men outside of a barber shop in Baton Rouge. The questioning only ended when James handed the officer a card that identified him as a state legislator.

Read more at westcentralsbest.com

Bill to shift some state funding over to roads, bridges advances to Gov. Edwards

(Source: KALB)

Published: June 10, 2021

By: Adrian Dubose, LSU Manship School News Service

BATON ROUGE, La. (LSU Manship School News Wire) – A bill that would gradually move $300 million annually to roads and bridges moved to the governor’s desk Thursday as the legislative session came to an end.

House Bill 514 by Rep. Tanner Magee, R-Houma, passed the House 87-13.

The bill was originally authored as a sales tax bill for marijuana but turned into an infrastructure bill.

The bill dedicates the existing tax on the sale and lease of motor vehicles to a state construction fund. The bill will shift $300 million from the state’s general fund to transportation projects.

Read more at KALB

Louisiana could end $300 federal unemployment boost after last-minute deal

House Bill 183 by Rep. Chad Brown, D-Plaquemine, would raise the state’s unemployment wage by $28 a week, starting next year.

Published: June 10, 2021

By: Ryan Nelson, LSU Manship School News Service

BATON ROUGE, La. — In the final hour of the session Thursday, the Legislature passed a bill that could slightly raise the state’s unemployment benefits, but only if the Governor ends participation in the federal COVID-19 aid program that pays more.

House Bill 183 by Rep. Chad Brown, D-Plaquemine, would raise the state’s unemployment wage by $28 a week, starting next year. But Gov. John Bel Edwards must choose to end the extra federal unemployment benefits, which equates to $300, on July 31.

It is not clear if Edwards, a fellow Democrat, will sign the bill into law.

Read more at 4WWL

Legislature passes 3 tax bills involving personal income tax, corporate tax deductions

Credit: WAFB

Published: June 10, 2021

By: Matthew Bennett, LSU Manship School News Service

BATON ROUGE, La. (LSU Manship School News Wire) – The Legislature passed three tax bills involving personal income tax and corporate tax deductions on the last day of the session Thursday, including one that lowers personal income tax brackets.

The tax overhaul will allow individual taxpayers and corporations to lower their income tax rates while giving up the right to deduct federal tax payments on their state returns.

Legislators backing the bills believe that the so-called “tax swap” would simplify the tax code without changing taxpayers’ balances significantly. Republican leaders expect the state to bring in roughly the same amount in tax dollars if the new laws are implemented, while other analysts suggest some short-term loss of revenue.

The bills, which were a major priority for Republican leaders, received final passage in the Senate just hours before the legislative session was due to expire. They will now move to Gov. John Bel Edwards’ desk.

If he approves them, they will be placed before the state’s voters in October.

The three bills joined four other bills that lawmakers had passed earlier in a sweeping effort that Republican leaders pitched as making the state more attractive to businesses and investment.

The bills were not without opposition, with Sen. Karen Carter Peterson D-New Orleans, speaking out against one of the bills, SB159 by Sen. Bret Allain, R-Franklin, which reduced the maximum allowable personal income tax rate from 6 percent to 4.75 percent.

“The problem that I have with the bill is that it goes into the Constitution,” Peterson said. “This is appropriate for statutory law but not Constitutional law. Every time we ever want to touch the income tax rate again, we have to go back, pass it in the Legislature and pass it again with the people. I think that this is a bad policy decision for the state.”

Read more at KALB

Domestic violence bill withdrawn after verbal altercation

Published: June 10, 2021

By: Adrian Dubose, LSU Manship School News Service

BATON ROUGE, La – Democratic Rep. Malinda White of Bogalusa tearfully withdrew her domestic violence bill Thursday, a day after a verbal altercation with Rep. Alan Seabaugh, R-Shreveport, on the House floor.

House Bill 159 would have expanded the definition of domestic abuse to include coercion and control by the abuser.

“I come today with a lot of heartache,” White said. “I’m disappointed we have to let down victims of domestic violence.”

Image preview
Rep. Malinda White, D-Bogalusa
Image preview
Rep. Alan Seabaugh, R-Shreveport

White promised victims of abuse that she would bring the bill back up next year in an improved version.

Seabaugh raised questions about what the bill meant and did during the debate that led to the confrontation.

Read more at westcentralbest.com

Lawmakers OK bill banning discrimination on COVID vaccination status

Published: June 10, 2021

By: Adrian Dubose, LSU Manship School News Service

John Bel Edwards
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards receives his first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine on Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2021.Pool footage courtesy of Louisiana Public Broadcasting

BATON ROUGE, La. – Louisiana lawmakers gave final passage Thursday to a bill banning discrimination by state agencies based on an individual’s COVID-19 vaccination status, sending the bill to the governor’s desk.

House Bill 498 by Rep. Kathy Edmonston, R-Gonzales, passed the House 71-28.

The bill prohibits government agencies from refusing to issue licenses, permits and degrees to someone who has not been vaccinated against COVID-19.

The bill also prohibits state agencies from barring access to public facilities or colleges to anyone who has not received a COVID-19 vaccine.

The ban would remain in place until the COVID-19 vaccinations have received full authorization from the U.S. Federal Drug Administration.

Hundreds of LSU faculty members have called on the university to require students to get the vaccines before coming to campus in the fall. Vaccination rates in Louisiana lag behind those in most other states, and professors also would like to see the university maintain its mask mandate and reduce the number of students in each classroom to keep faculty members and students safe.

The Chronicle of Higher Education has reported that 488 college campuses plan to require students to get the vaccines. They include several private universities in Louisiana, including Tulane, Loyola, Xavier and Dillard, that are not subject to Edmonston’s bill.

It is not clear whether Gov. John Bel Edwards will veto the bill. LSU President Tom Galligan said university leaders speak to state officials about policies and concerns but does not lobby them.

Read more at KTBS3

Bill to increase compensation for people wrongfully convicted of crimes clears Legislature

(Source: Associated Press)

Published: June 10, 2021
By: Adrian Dubose, LSU Manship school News Service

BATON ROUGE, La. (LSU Manship School News Wire) – A bill to increase the amount paid to people who have been wrongfully convicted of crimes in Louisiana cleared the Legislature Thursday.

House Bill 92 by Rep. Joseph Marino, I-Gretna, increases compensation for people wrongfully convicted of crimes from $25,000 annually with a cap of $250,000 to $40,000 annually and a cap of $400,000.

The bill also would extend the deadline to file for the compensation.

At first, Marino asked for $50,000 per year, but the chambers agreed to $40,000 with the $400,000 cap.

The increased compensation would go into effect on July 1, 2022. Filers on or after the new effect date have the option to receive a lump sum payment of $250,000 instead of receiving $40,000 per year.

Many states – including Texas, Alabama and Florida – offer money to the wrongfully convicted.

Read more at KALB

Louisiana lawmakers pass bills to finalize sports betting ahead of football season

Sen. Rick Ward, R-Lake Charles, discussed his legislation on sports betting. (Photo by Ryan Nelsen/LSU Manship School News Service)

Published: June 10, 2021

By: Ryan Nelsen | LSU Manship School News Service

BATON ROUGE—Lawmakers passed the final pieces Thursday to create sports gambling in the state, and it could start before the upcoming football season.

Gov. John Bel Edwards signed the first of the three bills last week, and the other two bills faced last-minute adjustments on the final day of the legislative session Thursday.

“We’re simply putting in place the rules and regulations for something that our constituents have told us they wanted,” Sen. Rick Ward, R-Lake Charles, said earlier in the debates.

Last fall, 55 of 64 parishes voted in favor of some form of sports betting, and over 64% of voters in the state approved the measure.

Ward and three other Republicans spearheaded the writing of how Louisiana would welcome legal wagering on sports events. Sen. Ronnie Johns, R-Lake Charles, and Senate President Page Cortez, R-Lafayette, authored the bills along with Rep. John Stefanski, R-Crowley, authored the bills and co-sponsored other measures.

Before the session, the looming decision for the state was to either mimic Mississippi’s approach and limit sports wagering to in-person bets placed in casinos or allow betting over the internet. States that have allowed online betting have seen more lucrative tax collections.

Louisiana chose to allow betting in-person or online and to allow bars and restaurants to have kiosks similar to video poker machines. The nine parishes that did not favor sports gambling will be “geofenced” out from participating in online wagering.

Read more at BRProud

Kindergarten is about to be mandatory in Louisiana as bill heads to the governor

Published: June 10, 2021

By: Adrian Dubose, LSU Manship School News Service

BATON ROUGE — Lawmakers gave final approval Wednesday to a bill that would make kindergarten mandatory in Louisiana.

Senate Bill 10 by Sen. Cleo Fields, D-Baton Rouge, requires parents to send their children to kindergarten at age 5 or offer a home-school equivalent in Louisiana.

The final version of the bill passed the House 70-32 and the Senate 38-0.

SB 10 will now go to the governor’s desk. Gov. John Bel Edwards has said he will sign it into law.

Under the bill, a child who is five years old on or before September 30 must be enrolled in kindergarten unless a parent feels they are ready. In that, the parent may put the child in pre-k or home-school.

Rep. Jason Hughes, D-New Orleans brought the bill back to the House floor after a House-Senate conference committee made amendments.

Some lawmakers raised concerns about compulsory attendance laws and options for if a child is not ready for kindergarten in the parents’ opinion.

Read more at The News Star