Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Who took the Ws and Ls in the Louisiana legislative session?

by BIZ Magazine

By Louisiana Illuminator staff

For a fiscal-oriented session, the Louisiana Legislature sure managed to fit in a multitude of bills this year that had nothing to do with the state’s spending plan. 

Debate over whether the state’s annual spending cap should be lifted dragged on for so long, the budget-making process ended with a cram session in the final hours of the session. Volatile proposals involving library books, gender identity and juvenile justice also contributed to the time crunch.  

From the fray emerged those who could claim victory for their causes, while others were left empty-handed or further marginalized. 

As we recap who took the wins and losses from this year’s statehouse doings, keep in mind the governor still holds the fate of many of these measures in his veto pen.     

Taking the W: Cultural conservatives

Lawmakers who sponsored anti-LGTBQ+ bills were able to obtain legislative approval this year after running into walls in previous sessions. Rep. Gabe Firment, R-Pollack, got his ban on gender-affirming health care for trans youth passed.

Rep. Raymond Crews, R-Bossier City, gained approval for his bill that lets school employees refuse to call students by their names and pronouns other than the ones assigned to them at birth. Rep. Dodie Horton, R-Haughton, pushed through legislation that bans discussions of gender identity and sexual orientation in public schools.      

Firment might be wise not to count his chickens yet. A federal judge in Florida has blocked a similar ban on gender-affirming care recently approved there.

Taking the L: LGBTQ+ youth 

The aforementioned bills approved in the Louisiana Legislature fall in line with national law-making trends that target LGBTQ+ children and adolescents. 

Crews’ proposal was billed as a win for parental rights, but teachers with religious or moral objections could opt to override parental consent to use a student’s preferred name and pronouns. Referencing a person by pronouns other than what they identify as is referred to as misgendering. 

There is no recourse for educators who have a religious or moral objection to misgendering their students. 

Horton’s proposal would outlaw Gay Straight Alliance extra-curricular clubs, long considered by advocates to be a haven for kids who may not be accepted at home.

Taking the W: Higher education 

Other Southern states have been slammed with bills that curb diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts, and attack academic freedom and tenure. But Louisiana’s institutions of higher learning came out of the session relatively unscathed. 

A bill to codify tenure practices never received a committee hearing, and a resolution seeking reporting on DEI spending was shut down in the House Education Committee. The legislature approved money for faculty raises for a second year in a row, a much needed boon after years without cost-of-living adjustments, and made another round of investments in campus infrastructure. 

Taking the W and L: K-12 teachers

Lawmakers spent the better part of the session trying to figure out how to give public school teachers and other staff raises this coming year. In the end, they got the bump in pay, but it’s not permanent.  

Teachers received an extra $2,000 and staff received an extra $1,000 on a temporary basis. For the increases to remain after the next year, the legislature, state school board and next governor are going to have to agree to incorporate it into the state school funding formula. There’s no guarantee that will happen, which has frustrated teachers unions.

Taking the W: Big corporations 

Major businesses got a big tax cut from lawmakers when they passed a bill to gradually phase out the state’s corporate franchise tax, a measure that will cost the state millions in revenue over a five-year period. 

The measure, sponsored by Sen. Bret Allain, R-Franklin, has a companion bill that will partially offset the revenue loss by cutting the Quality Jobs tax credit program, but the combined package will still cost the state an estimated $163 million in the next five years. 

Taking the L: Low-wage workers

People receiving minimum wage again lost a chance for a pay bump. Republican lawmakers dismissed an attempt to get workers in Louisiana an increase from the federal base of $7.25 per hour, which hasn’t changed since 2009. 

Senate Bill 149, sponsored by Sen. Gary Carter, D-New Orleans, would have established a state minimum wage of $10 per hour beginning in 2024, increase it to $12 in 2026 and then $14 in 2028. 

Most minimum wage bills in previous legislative sessions stalled at the committee level, but Carter’s measure got out of two Senate committees and onto the Senate floor. Although it ultimately failed on the floor in a 25-13 vote, the proposal forced Senate Republicans to go on record in opposing a minimum wage increase. 

Taking the W: Hollywood South

Even with a budget surplus, the fiscal crosshairs were placed on Louisiana’s lucrative movie and television tax credit. A proposal from House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales, left the lower chamber with a step-down approach to do away with the $150 million annual incentive entirely by 2035.

The Senate Finance Committee moved the sunset date up to 2030 but kept the ceiling amount at $150 million. Another year was added on the Senate floor.

It’s a pretty happy plot twist for a program that was set to expire in two years. Instead, it was extended six more years with no change.  

Taking the L: TicketMaster, LiveNation

Rep. Paula Davis, R-Baton Rouge, sponsored a bill that would have placed strict limitations on the ability of consumers to resell, exchange or even give-away their tickets to live concerts and sporting events. The proposal would have put the clamps on the burgeoning secondary ticket market, where sites like StubHub and SeatGeek lead the way,

An increasing number of performers are bypassing the primary and secondary markets entirely, creating their own fan exchanges where tickets can only be resold at face value. The Davis bill, which would have also ended that practice, stalled permanently in a Senate committee.

Taking the W: Lafayette 

With several lawmakers in leadership positions, Lafayette Parish was a big winner in this legislative session. Whether it’s scoring $17.5 million in cash for the community’s new jail or $33.2 million for research and outreach efforts at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, the community benefited significantly from the state’s current largesse.

Key people in charge of building the budget this year – Senate President Page Cortez and Rep. Stuart Bishop in particular – are from Lafayette. The head of the Legislative Black Caucus, Rep. Vincent Pierre, and Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Gerald Boudreaux, are also from the Hub City.

Taking the L: House fiscal hawks

House conservatives who always push to keep Louisiana’s government spending under control ultimately lost their fight to keep the state from breaking its spending cap.
In the end, an overwhelming number of House members voted to spend as much as $1.65 billion more over the next year than the hawks wanted. They needed 36 votes in the House to block the spending cap from being breached, and they could only garner 19.

Taking the W: Hungry students

A bill from Rep. Kyle Green, D-Marrero, will have the state cover the remaining cost of breakfast and lunch for K-12 students who qualify for reduced-cost meals at school. In short, breakfast and lunch will be free for more students. 

Taking the L: Industry neighbors, environmentalists

Bills to address concerns of those living next to industrial facilities and proposed carbon capture sites were shot down this session.

Those who live near petrochemical plants — especially in  predominantly Black communities along the highly industrialized section of the Mississippi River known as Cancer Alley — have long said air pollution makes them sick. Their contentions are supported with data that show higher rates of cancer and other acute health conditions. 

Taking the W: House leadership 

House leaders ended up having the final say on the budget and what projects remained in the plan. Senate President Page Cortez said he didn’t even see the final budget documents until less than an hour before his chamber adjourned, meaning he wasn’t able to review them thoroughly before the vote.

Typically, the House complains about the Senate “jamming” them on the spending plan in the final moments of the session. But this year, it seems like the Senate got left in the dark about what might be included in the final budget documents.

Taking the W: Anti-abortion advocates

Louisiana Right to Life and other anti-abortion advocates were able to fend off any changes to the state’s strict abortion ban that went into effect about a year ago.
Legislators’ efforts to add exceptions for rape and incest to the abortion ban as well as to ease the burden on medical providers who have to terminate a pregnancy failed, despite polls showing they are popular with a majority of the general public.

Anti-abortion advocates also managed to establish a new tax credit for people who donate to maternal wellness centers, the new name for anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers. The benefit won’t kick in until 2025

Taking the L: Health care services 

In the final minutes of the session, legislative leaders announced their budget plan includes a $100 million reduction to the Louisiana Department of Health funding. That cut could soon grow to hundreds of millions of dollars lost, because almost every dollar the state puts into health care is used to draw down many more in federal funding.
It’s not clear which services might take the hit, but hospitals are likely to be in line for a reduction. The governor could also possibly veto that health care cut and take that $100 million from another part of the budget. 

Taking the W: Election conspiracy theorists 

Deniers of the 2020 presidential election results gained false legitimacy through a bill from Rep. Blake Miguez, R-New Iberia, that stems from conspiracy theories accusing Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg of trying to influence local election officials. 

Gov. John Bel Edwards has vetoed similar bills in the past, but this year’s proposal will bypass his desk and go straight to voters with ballot language that plays on fears of foreign corruption. 

Miguez’s legislation is a constitutional amendment that would prohibit the use of private donations to conduct elections, though the ballot language frames it as a way to stop foreign countries from corrupting parish election officials. It will be on the Oct. 14 statewide ballot. 

Taking the L: Bears and alligators

Rep. Travis Johnson, D-Vidalia, successfully pushed through a resolution that calls for the feasibility of a Louisiana black bear hunting season. It turns out the state’s official mammal has become a nuisance in some rural areas where its population has rebounded.

A comparable resolution from Rep. Chad. Brown, D-Plaquemine, calls for the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries to evaluate alligator markets, populations and hunting. 

Taking the W and L: Libraries

Public libraries will have to create a card system that lets parents place restrictions on what materials their children can check out under legislation sponsored by Sen. Heather Cloud, R-Turkey Creek. 

In a separate bill, Rep. Paul Hollis, R-Covington, attempted to codify an opinion from Attorney General Jeff Landry that would let parish governing authorities fire members of library review boards at will. In some parishes, far-right forces have attempted to oust library board members who have stood in the way of efforts to pull LGBTQ+themed titles from shelves. 

The Hollis bill could have led to a major purge of anti-censorship advocates, but his proposal was killed in committee.     

Greg LaRose, Julie O’Donoghue, Wesley Muller, Piper Hutchinson and Claire Sullivan contributed to this article.

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