New state sales tax law takes area’s commercial fishermen by surprise

The new schedule of items exempted from Louisiana sales taxes – and those which are not – includes loss of protection for people who buy antique airplanes and have other esoteric interests.

But it also suspends, for now, the exemption on paying sales tax for commercial fishermen, on items like nets and other equipment essential to their trade.

“Oh my God,” was the reaction offered by Trudy Luke of Houma, whose family buys crabs and seafood, and harvests the products as well.

The same law that imposes the sales tax on commercial fishermen exempts racehorses and a slew of farm equipment and supplies, including fertilizer and seeds. Crawfish and catfish farms also retain their sales tax exemption on feed and supplies. Sales of airplanes are also exempted from the sales tax.

The exemptions were contained in an 80-page report from a conference committee within about five minutes of the scheduled vote. It was spearheaded by Rep. Jay Morris, R-Monroe, whom local commercial fishing interests are holding responsible. The tax exemption suspensions will be phased out between this year and 2018. But fishermen say the blow will still be hard.

“Jay Morris doesn’t even know anything about the seafood industry nor does he care about Louisiana to do what he did,” said Kimberly Chauvin of the David Chauvin Seafood Company in Dulac, whose family also operates fishing vessels. “In my opinion, it’s time to let him know that we exist. I’m going to get all of his contact information. Then we need to flood his offices with emails and phone calls … We are one of the only industries that deal with the flood of imports year after year.”

Chauvin said that if all exemptions were eliminated across the board the hardship might be easier for commercial fishermen to swallow. But the retention of some exemptions like those for crawfish farmers and purchasers of airplanes, she said, exhibit what she sees as

Most local lawmakers voted against Morris’ House Bill 61, which eliminated the commercial fishing exemptions.

Two local lawmakers – Rep. Dee Richard, I-Thibodaux, and Rep. Jerry Gisclair, D-Larose – voted for the bill. Neither was aware that commercial fishermen would be targeted.

Richard said Monday that if the Legislature meets for an additional special session – seen as a likelihood given the state’s current difficulties – he plans to file an amendment.

“That’s the process and it’s wrong,” Richard said of the the conference committee tool as used for passing controversial pieces of legislation. “We had such a short amount of time to look at that.”

Republican House members Beryl Amedee, Tanner Magee and Jerome Zeringue voted against the bill.

“Jay Morris’ House Bill 61, which was pushed through at the last second, basically held everyone hostage,” Magee said. “There was funny stuff going on with the bill. All I had time to look at was the signature page. When I saw that (Rep. John) Alario’s signature was not on it, I voted against it.”

Without knowing more, Magee said, and no time to read the whole instrument, there was no way he would approve it.

“Ultimately where we need to go is lower the sales tax down and take the exemptions out,” Magee said. “You will probably generate more money with a three-percent tax and no exemptions.” •

Shrimp seasonFILESeafood processor and commercial fishing boat owner Kimberly Chauvin says elimination of the sales tax exemption for fishermen while others remain intact is unfair and should be undone.COURTESY