Brief: House punts several bills, clearing space for Wednesday pot debate

Photo by Robert Buckman

The Louisiana House of Representatives traditionally kicks controversial cans down the road on Mondays, and Monday was no exception, when the much-anticipated vote on HB699 to legalize recreational marijuana was deferred until Wednesday.

So was its ancillary bill, HB440, also by Rep. Richard Nelson, R-Mandeville, which would set a $2,500 fee for a cannabis business license and $100 for a personal cultivation license.

Instead, Monday’s order of business was devoted almost exclusively to non-controversial bills with little opposition, clearing the agenda for Wednesday floor debates over legalized marijuana and other high-interest bills. The House passed a bill to decriminalize possession of small amounts of pot Tuesday.

Also returned to the calendar, but not yet scheduled for floor debate, was a seemingly benevolent bill by Rep. Jean-Paul Coussan, R-Lafayette, HB131, which would grant an income tax deduction for contributions of “tangible movable property” to educational institutions. For used property, the donor could deduct 29% of the value of the new property. Benevolence aside, the fiscal note attached to the bill estimates the loss to the general fund at $7.2 million over five years, which would have to be made up from somewhere.

By the same token, the House deferred action until Wednesday on HB7 by Rep. Aimee Adatto Freeman, D-New Orleans, which would make feminine hygiene products exempt from the state sales tax. Several states have eliminated the “tampon tax” in recent years. Louisiana exempts groceries and prescription drugs, and women’s rights groups argue feminine hygiene products are similarly necessary. The exemption would cost the state $10.2 million in lost revenue next fiscal year and $53.5 million over five years.

Even two of the supposedly non-controversial bills proved contentious Monday, drawing some heated questioning. HB393 by Rep. Joseph Orgeron, R-Larose, would allow a wine producer or manufacturer to sell sparkling and still wine on or off premises and ship directly to a consumer. It passed 53-39. Among Lafayette Parish’s seven representatives, Republicans Julie Emerson and Jonathan Goudeau and Democrat Vincent Pierre voted for it, while Coussan voted against it and Republicans Gerald Beaullieu and Stuart Bishop and Democrat Marcus Bryant didn’t vote.

Another contentious bill, HB430 by Rep. Edward James, D-Baton Rouge, tweaks the “officer’s bill of rights” involving disciplinary matters. It extends the investigation period for alleged disciplinary violations from 60 to 75 days but cuts the time allowed for an officer to secure legal representation from 30 to 14 days. It passed 56-45. 

Beaullieu, Bishop, Bryant and Pierre voted for it, Emerson and Goudeau voted against it and Coussan did not vote. 

Also passing, 88-10, was HB571 by Rep. John Stefanski, R-Crowley, which would allow stores with liquor licenses to contract with “third party” delivery companies like Uber or Waitr to deliver from liquor stores. The Legislature has passed several bills in recent years opening up alcohol delivery by app-based delivery companies. All the Lafayette representatives voted for it except Beaullieu, who didn’t vote.

The bill that consumed the most floor debate time was HB512 by Rep. Larry Frieman, R-Abita Springs, which would provide reimbursement under workers compensation for implant surgery required by on-the-job injuries. After nearly an hour of sometimes heated questioning, it failed on a 53-42 vote.Lafayette Parish Reps. Beaullieu, Bishop, Bryant, Coussan, Goudeau and Pierre voted against it; Julie Emerson voted for it.

The passed bills have gone to the Senate.