Local Delegation Highlights Bills and Resolutions from the Recent Legislative Session

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The local delegation gave brief updates from the regular legislative session at The Houma-Terrebonne Chamber of Commerce luncheon, which covered just a few updates out of the 1,665 bills and resolutions covered in the sessions.

 

State Representative Beryl Amedee began by highlighting a literacy problem in the state. They found that only 45% of third-graders in Louisiana are reading at grade level. This led them to try to address the issue in the recent legislative session. They focused on pandemic recovery since students have seen interruption to traditional school for two years now. They realized some students need to catch up which led to bills being passed that will try to help those students struggling along the way. They also found out the education department does not currently have literacy standards between three years of age and third grade. They are now developing reading standards to help address the literacy gap. There was also a bill passed that would require individual literacy plans for struggling students that also put an accountability system in place, called the Steve Carter Literacy Program, for grades kindergarten-second. 


 

Adult education has also been covered with the M.J. Foster Promise Program. This program, Amadee said, is sometimes deemed at the “Tops for adults.” According to the program, any Louisiana resident over the age of 21 who is below 300% of the federal poverty threshold which is approximately $38,000 a year, are eligible to receive up to $3,200 a year and $6,400 total to attend one of five high-demand fields from community or technical colleges. Amedee said this gives individuals a chance to breathe because they will finally be able to go into a field that will have a livable wage.

Other bills Amedee covered were about election integrity. Although Louisiana is said to not have any issues, they still want to ensure public trust when it comes to elections. It was passed requiring voter identification for absentee ballots, and one bill outlawing ballot drop boxes. She also mentioned one bill, that was already vetoed, that would have prohibited the use of private funds to pay election-related expenses. One hot topic that was also passed was related to the Second Amendment. Law-abiding citizens 21 and over in Louisiana will not need the government’s permission to carry a concealed firearm. 

 

There were some bills about pandemic recovery, specifically vaccine passports, such as not requiring residents to put the vaccine status on driver’s licenses, and a bill that prohibits discrimination by government agencies based on vaccine or immunity status. Amedee also updated on the governor’s emergency power petition which was a part of the COVID response that is still in court today. There was a law passed, Amedee said, that a petition may be signed by both houses of the legislature which takes away the judge’s initial argument.


 

Amedee explained there were a few pro-life bills, one required disclosure to women who chose to terminate by a chemical abortion, which is a two-pill process. The bill would have simply notified the woman that after she has taken the first pill, and she decided not to follow through with the second, that there is a protocol that may reverse the effects of the pill and save the baby. This has been vetoed. Amedee also brought up the fairness in women’s sports bill that said to play on a woman’s or girl’s sports team, you must be a biological female. Governor John Bel Edwards has vetoed that bill as well.

Louisiana State Representative Jerome “Zee” Zeringue continued with covering the state’s budget which is $37.1 billion, of which, $19.2 billion of that is federal dollars. 80% of the budget is allocated to three main areas; healthcare, higher education, and k-12 education. Public safety covers children and family services, which takes approximately 2% of the budget. Zeringue said they have also allocated funding for infrastructure projects. They have a $13 billion backbone in terms of bridges and projects associated with oil transportation and development. They have also provided $490 million to the unemployment trust fund, which took a huge hit due to COVID. 

 

A big topic was clean water systems. There are still communities in Louisiana that are drinking and bathing in ‘brown’ water. In the recent fiscal session, over $300 million for the water sector program to improve clean water systems and sewers. $77 million was allocated to tourism and $10 million were able to help small businesses and non-profit organizations. The Rainy Day Fund was replenished to close to $500 million and $90 million was used to support unemployment insurance. 


 

Zeringue also updated attendees on a marijuana bill that allows physicians to recommend raw group forms of therapeutic marijuana in addition to oils and other forms. He spoke of nine constitutional amendments that will be up for voting in the fall. One of them will allow the reduction of the deficit spending for the governor’s limits. Zeringue proudly announced how it has been a pleasure to work with the rest of the delegation and how much they have accomplished for the community. They have been able to provide funding for the Morganza to the Gulf, Houma Navigation Canal dredging, a maritime training academy for Fletcher Technical Community College, funding for various Fletcher and Nicholls State University programs, Bayou Lacarpe pump station, Terrebonne sports complex, Valhi extension to Savanne Road, Terrebonne Churches United Food Bank, and funding for a new health unit on Tunnel Boulevard in Houma. 

Senator Mike Fesi continued with infrastructure updates. He said this is the first time a major infrastructure bill has been done since the 1980s. Some other major projects will help alleviate some traffic congestion around the state such as the Lake Charles 1-12 bridge in Calcasieu Parish. He said this bill will help business travel around the state much easier. 

 

Senator Fesi explained that $5 million will be used for port security which will not only create more jobs but also help the area with waterway cleanup and security surveillance options using drone boats. Fesi was passionate about the State Police Bill that was passed. The bill says that no matter how long the officer has been in service, they still get retirement if they pay the ultimate sacrifice. “Every morning they wake up, they go to work, and they know their families could be taken care of if the ultimate sacrifice came,” Fesi said.


 

Fesi said the Wildlife and Fisheries had to alter some things on the license structure. The changes are part of a wide-ranging effort recently approved by Louisiana’s Legislature and Gov. John Bel Edwards to streamline the state’s antiquated licensing structure and increase fees to raise revenue for the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. Fesi said with the recent oil field shrinkage, the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries lost between $10 and $13 million. This deficit had to be made up for and they understand the impact it may have on some individuals. 

Senator Brett Allain brought up important tax reform efforts that he said are huge for our state. He said the delegation has fought over the last year and a half to try to get ‘real’ tax reform in the state which is much needed. A major issue has been an antiquated tax structure here in the state while other states have broadened the base and lowered rates. To help with the issue, he covered some of the seven direct tax reform bills. He said a bill will be on the ballot for the authority to do centralized sales tax. This could eventually lead to the establishment of a centralized sales tax commission. Louisiana relies on 54 different collecting agencies including individual parishes, cities, sheriffs, police juries, school boards, and other government entities. If this is accepted by voters, the amendment will allow the legislature to enact statutory provisions that provide more detailed duties and functions of the commission. Such provisions would require a two-thirds vote of the legislature, and if not enacted, the state will continue using its current collections systems.

 

Senator Allain also announced Constitutional Amendment Number two which he said: “is going to be the authority for us to finally lower personal and corporate income tax rates in the state of Louisiana.” He said they are going to do that by making some adjustments to the deductions such as the Federal Income Tax Deduction. He said other states in the union have long given up this deduction and it is time Louisiana does as well, “going from Reagan to Carter, to every president since then, Trump and now Biden.. but every time they raise the taxes, it costs us money. Every time they go down, we lose money. This is a rollercoaster that we can no longer be on. Louisiana is the only state in the nation that still has this embedded in the constitution and we need to get it out. We need to be independent and our revenues that, that ‘Zee’ so importantly, tries to spread around.” Allain said the state just cannot have holes in the budgets and that will hopefully be the first step to eventually do away with the personal income tax in the state of Louisiana altogether like Texas, Florida, and other states. One of the reasons people are not relocating to the state, he said, is because these other states do not have personal income taxes, and this could eventually lead to the state’s growth. 


 

Allain said the state will also be lowering corporate income tax rates and will start phasing out the franchise tax. He said the bill that is in place right now will ‘do away with’ franchise tax for 80% of the franchise taxpayers in the state. In Louisiana, if you have capital below half a million dollars, you will no longer pay franchise tax in the state. Allain smiled while saying, “and I’m happy to announce that the governance yesterday did a press release, and he signed every one of these bills.”

 

Allain proudly concluded by assuring the audience that the delegation has been working hard on the behalf of the people. “We’re going to become attractive to the rest of the state as far as invested capital here and attracting people that come here.” He said this is just the first step and the rest is yet to come.