News + Notes

Legislative Roundup: Legal marijuana pulled again after tax bill fails

Photo by Robert Buckman

After the bill to levy a tax on retail sales of marijuana failed by one vote in the House Tuesday afternoon, its author, Rep. Richard Nelson, R-Mandeville, once again returned to the calendar his bills to legalize recreational marijuana and establish fees for marijuana licenses

Nelson’s HB434 would have levied a 15% tax on the retail sale of cannabis, with 30% going to local government for law enforcement, 20% to sheriffs and 50% into the general fund. After about an hour of debate, it failed 47-48. Ten potentially decisive members did not vote.

That rendered moot the votes scheduled later in the day on Nelson’s HB699 to legalize recreational marijuana and HB440, which would assess a fee of $2,500 for a commercial cannabis cultivation or retail license and $100 for individual cultivators.

House Speaker Clay Schexnayder and nine other members were absent or not voting. Yet, Schexnayder was recorded voting on roll call votes immediately before and after the vote on HB434. 

Among Lafayette Parish’s seven members, Republican Jean-Paul Coussan and Democrats Marcus Bryant and Vincent Pierre voted yea and Republicans Beau Beaullieu, Stuart Bishop, Julie Emerson and Jonathan Goudeau voted nay.

Nelson drew his most vocal opposition on the taxing bill from his fellow Republican, Rep. Bryan Fontenot, who took to the front microphone to complain that the bill designated nothing for early childhood education or mental health.

Nelson and Rep. Barry Ivey, R-Baton Rouge, invited Fontenot to offer an amendment to designate such funds, but Fontenot said he wanted the bill to be defeated pending further study.

“The truth is, right now we’re making zero (in revenue),” Nelson pleaded before the vote. “It’s all going to drug dealers, and it’ll all go to drug traffickers next year and the year after that. We all love studies and doing nothing, but it’s not the way to go.”

According to the bill’s fiscal note, it would have generated $12 million in revenue the first year and $82 million over five years.

Nelson could ask for a vote to reconsider HB434, but that would depend on whether he can round up enough votes from the 10 members who didn’t vote, and Schexnayder’s support — or lack of it — will be the key to whether it passes or fails.

House approves bill to overturn emergency declarations

Despite opponents’ warnings that it is of dubious constitutionality, the House voted 57-33, not quite veto-proof, on Tuesday to approve a bill that would allow either house of the Legislature to terminate a governor’s emergency or disaster declaration.

HB149 by Rep. Larry Frieman, R-Abita Springs, was largely viewed as a jab at Gov. John Bel Edwards’ emergency declaration for the Covid-19 epidemic, although Frieman insisted, “This is not about Gov. Edwards.”

The Lafayette delegation split along party lines, with Republican Reps. Beaullieu, Bishop, Coussan and Julie Emerson supporting it and Democrats Bryant and Pierre opposing it. Republican Rep. Goudeau did not vote.

Current law mandates that the entire Legislature could terminate an emergency or disaster decree upon presentation of a petition signed by a majority of members of either house. Frieman’s bill allows just one house to produce a petition, which would be delivered to the governor, whereupon the decree would be terminated immediately.  

Bill to scrutinize voter rolls, scrub non-voters passes House

The House voted 63-30 along largely party lines Tuesday to approve a bill that would, among other things, call for a supplemental annual canvass of registered voters and would scrub people from the rolls who haven’t voted in 10 years. Voting rights groups like the progressive Brennan Center for Justice have raised concerns that voter roll purges often scrub out eligible voters along with names justifiably removed. 

The author of HB138, Rep. Les Farnum, R-Sulphur, drew some heated questioning about why a supplemental canvass is necessary or whether its $215,000 expense is justified. 

“We don’t have the manpower for this!” protested the only Republican to vote against it, Joseph Stagni of Kenner. The House’s lone independent, Rep. Roy Adams of Jackson, also voted against it. Louisiana already maintains a centralized voter registration database that cross checks ballots cast in each parish.

Lafayette Parish’s five Republicans, Reps. Beaullieu, Bishop, Coussan, Emerson and Goudeau voted for it and Democrats Bryant and Pierre voted nay.

The complex bill’s stated purpose of the supplemental canvass is to identify voters who have moved and need to update their voter registration to their current addresses. It tasks the secretary of state to identify registrants who have moved out of state or to another parish and to send confirmation cards to registrants with questionable addresses. If they fail to respond, they are placed on an “inactive list” for a period of two federal general elections. Registrants who have not voted for 10 years would have their voter registration canceled.

If passed by the Senate, it faces a probable veto by the Democratic governor.

Senate OKs ‘windfall elimination’ resolution

The Senate unanimously approved a resolution Tuesday already unanimously approved by the House that calls on Congress to repeal the so-called windfall elimination provision that deprives Louisiana state employees of all or part of the Social Security benefits they may have earned on other jobs or in other states.

HCR7 by Rep. Mike Johnson, R-Pineville, passed the Senate 33-0. It passed the House 100-0 on May 11.