Legislature approves ban on private funding for elections

By David Jacobs | The Center Square

The Louisiana Senate has approved a House-passed ban on private election funding that Gov. John Bel Edwards vetoed last year.

Rep. Blake Miguez, R-Erath, filed House Bill 20 in response to what he called “Zuckerbucks,” referring to grants Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, paid for last year to ensure “every eligible voter can participate in a safe and timely way and have their vote counted.”

Local clerks of court in Louisiana initially wanted to apply for the grants but were advised not to by Attorney General Jeff Landry, who said the grants might violate law. Miguez and other supporters of the bill said they wanted to clarify the law, arguing money from private sources has the potential to lead to the donor having influence on elections.

Slidell Republican Sen. Sharon Hewitt, who presented the bill in her chamber, said if private donations are available, some jurisdictions might get money and some wouldn’t, leading to unequal treatment of voters. Some lawmakers, however, said private money, if handled correctly, could pay for valid expenses and save the taxpayers money.

When asked whether it would be OK if the money flowed through the secretary of state, who runs the state’s elections, Hewitt said that would be “less objectionable,” but she would not support an amendment. Senators passed the bill without amendments with a 26-11 vote.

In other legislative action Thursday:

• The House rejected House Bill 610, which would have boosted the maximum state unemployment benefit by $28 per week and called for a back-to-work bonus of up to $1,000 for unemployed workers who find a job.

• The House advanced House Bill 506, which would increase the amount of operating losses businesses can carry over for tax purposes. The Legislative Fiscal Office estimated the change would save businesses collectively about $20.3 million per year, deducting that amount from state finances.

• The House approved House Bill 103, which seeks to protect from legal liability, and losing licenses and permits, businesses that don’t mandate COVID-19 vaccination.

• The House rejected House Bill 382, the “crown act,” which sought to protect from discrimination Black people who wear their hair naturally.

• The House advanced House Bill 498, which would prohibit government agencies from “discriminating against persons based on vaccination or immunity status.” Current immunization standards for students are exempt, but a COVID-19 vaccination requirement could not be imposed.

• The Senate approved Senate Bill 196, which provides for lawsuits against large social media companies that “disfavor or censor” political or religious speech.

• The House approved House Bill 597, which would prohibit state entities from contracting with companies that “discriminate” against firearms companies, even if the company was the low bidder.