Legislative Roundup: Income tax reform advances; Supreme Court expansion fails; compromises on mandatory kindergarten, abortion reporting reached; and more

Louisiana State Capitol
Photo by Travis Gauthier

House again blocks Supreme Court expansion constitutional amendment, but OKs income tax reform amendment

For the second time this week, a proposed constitutional amendment that would have expanded the Louisiana Supreme Court from seven to nine members fell short of the needed two-thirds majority.

But minutes later, the House overwhelmingly approved a substitute bill to amend the constitution for the controversial scuttling of the federal income tax exemption from the state personal income tax in exchange for a statutory three-bracket sliding scale that reduces tax rates.

On Monday, after lengthy debate, SB163 by Sen. Patrick McMath, R-Covington, the bill to expand the Supreme Court, received 62 ayes and 32 nays—eight short of the 70 required for a constitutional amendment.

But Monday was also the 57th day of the session, after which any vote to reconsider a bill also requires a two-thirds vote. Before then, it requires a simple majority.

On Wednesday, the bill’s House sponsor, Rep. John Stefanski, R-Crowley, pleaded with his colleagues to let the bill be reconsidered.

“I’m asking you to let me have a full debate and hear this one more time,” he said. But the vote to reconsider was 67-27—three short.

Stefanski told the House on Monday, “We have the most malapportioned supreme court in the nation.”

Rep. Robby Carter, D.Amite, asked Stefanski when the expansion would take effect; Stefanski replied 2025.

“What’s the urgency then?” Carter demanded. 

“We’re heading into a redistricting process,” Stefanski replied, referring to next year’s required redistricting of all federal and state districts. “This is the best option for Louisiana going forward.”

The Lafayette delegation split along party lines in the Monday vote on the bill, as did the House in general. Republican Reps. Beau Beaullieu, Stuart Bishop, Jean-Paul Coussan, Julie Emerson and Jonathan Goudeau voted for the constitutional amendment and Democrats Marcus Bryant and Vincent Pierre voted against it. The bill’s hopes were dashed by 11 members who abstained, including Speaker Clay Schexnayder.

Lafayette’s Republicans also voted for reconsideration of SB163 on Wednesday, as did Schexnayder. Pierre voted against it and Bryant was among the 11 abstentions.

Minutes later, the House voted 95-6 to approve a Senate-House conference committee report on SB159 by Sen. Bret Allain, R-Franklin, a constitutional amendment that would be the first major overhaul of the state income tax in a generation if it is ratified by voters next year.

All seven Lafayette Parish representatives voted for it.

SB159 is the companion bill of Bishop’s HB274. The proposed amendment would eliminate the federal income tax deduction on the state income tax and authorize the Legislature to replace it with a new sliding scale based on income. 

That enabling bill, Bishop’s HB278, passed the House 70-24 last month and passed the Senate 36-0 on June 2. It lowers the percentage collected on the first $12,500 of income from 2% to 1.85%; on the next $37,500 from 4% to 3.5% and in excess of $50,000 from 6% to 4.25%. 

The House approved the conference committee report on SB278 Wednesday afternoon, 97-4.

“This bill will give Louisiana the lowest tax brackets of any Southern state that has an income tax,” insisted Beaullieu, who managed it on the floor for Bishop. 

SB159 passed the Senate 36-3 in April and the House passed an amended version 94-1 in May. Bishop and Allain decided to go with Allain’s version.

If signed by the governor, Bishop’s HB278 would take effect Jan. 1, 2023 if the constitutional amendment is approved by voters in the midterm election on Nov. 8, 2022.

House, Senate approve compromises on mandatory kindergarten, abortion reports; ‘tampon tax’ exemption blocked

The Senate and House of Representatives spent most of the penultimate day of the session Wednesday voting on hurriedly prepared conference committee reports, including the controversial bills mandating kindergarten at age 5 and one requiring hospitals to file quarterly reports on treatment for abortion complications.

The compromise version of the kindergarten bill, SB10 by Sen. Cleo Fields, D-Baton Rouge, was approved by the Senate 38-0 at 3:37 p.m. and by the House two hours later, 70-32.

The bill had drawn fire, especially in the House, over the issue of parental rights. The House also changed the cutoff date for a child’s fifth birthday from Sept. 30 to March 31. The bill’s House manager, Rep. Jason Hughes, D-New Orleans, told the House the conference committee restored the Sept. 30 cutoff and gave parents more flexibility without facing penalties for non-compliance.

“We spent a lot of time working on the disagreements,” Hughes said. “This gives parents the right to opt out and put their kids in a pre-K program or a home-school program.”

In the Lafayette delegation, Republican Reps. Stuart Bishop and Jean-Paul Coussan and Democrats Marcus Bryant and Vincent Pierre voted to accept the compromise, Republicans Julie Emerson and Jonathan Goudeau voted against it and Republican Beau Beaullieu abstained.

Moments later, Emerson told the House that a conference committee had “clarified” the language on her abortion reporting bill, HB423, and moved to adopt the conference report. The vote was 79-21, reflecting continuing opposition from pro-abortion rights members. Lafayette Parish’s five Republicans voted for it and the two Democrats against it.

Another contentious measure, because of the $50 million the state would lose in revenue over five years, is HB7 by Rep. Aimee Adatto Freeman, D-New Orleans, which would exempt feminine hygiene products and diapers from the state sales tax. It, too, came out of conference committee Wednesday, but when Freeman asked for the rules to be suspended to vote on it, usually a routine procedure, one member objected, forcing a vote on suspension of the rules.

The House voted 45-54 not to suspend the rules, giving Freeman just one more day to see it pass. 

Bishop, Bryant and Pierre voted to suspend the rules to bring the conference report to a vote, Coussan, Emerson and Goudeau voted against it and Beaullieu again abstained. Schexnayder also voted against suspension.

New law sets rules for Lafayette city marshal’s salary

In response to the controversy surrounding former City Marshal Brian Pope pocketing some fees, Sen. Gerald Boudreaux authored a now-enacted law establishing strict rules exclusively for Lafayette city marshals.

Gov. John Bel Edwards signed Boudreaux’s SB120 into law Friday.

The current law stipulated that all city marshals, except those of Lafayette and Shreveport, would receive the same fees as constables of justices of the peace.

Boudreaux’s bill makes a distinction that the Lafayette city marshal will be paid “the same fees as are payable to constables of justice of the peace courts, not to exceed fifty percent of the salary paid to the marshal by the city of Lafayette. The remainder of the fees and commissions collected shall be used to defray the operational and necessary related expenses of the office of the marshal.”

It passed the Senate 34-1 on April 17, but languished in the House judiciary Committee for four weeks before being reported to the House. It finally passed the House 94-1 on May 26, without amendments.