Legislative Roundup: Mixed action on tax reform; Senate OKs compromise power-based abuse bill; House passes Juneteenth holiday; Senate asks Biden to lift lease ban

Lafayette Rep. Jean-Paul Coussan on the House floor
Lafayette Rep. Jean-Paul Coussan on the House floor. Photo by Travis Gauthier

Coussan rejects Senate amendments to two of his bills; third stalls

Normally, the House and Senate unanimously concur in amendments attached to their bills as long as the bills’ authors don’t object to them.

But Wednesday, Rep. Jean-Paul Coussan, R-Lafayette, voiced heartburn over Senate changes to two of his pet bills, a land swap between the City of Lafayette and the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, and a severance tax exemption for orphaned wells placed back into service.

The Senate had approved amendments by Sen. Bret Allain, R-Franklin, to both measures. Allain amended Coussan’s HB335—which would authorize the exchange of a tract of UL-owned land along Cajundome Boulevard for the city-owned Fire Station No. 5 on Johnston Street—by adding a similar land swap between Terrebonne Parish and Nicholls State University.

“I want to take another look at this,” Coussan told the House. “I ask you to reject the amendment.” It did, 94-0.

A few minutes later, the House took up amendments to Coussan’s orphan wells tax exemption, HB662. Allain had added a seemingly nit-picking change over calculating the operational costs of the well. Coussan’s original bill said calculation of the costs would begin “from the date that production is established.” Allain’s amendment changed that to “the date that production commences.”

“Members, Sen. Allain and I are still working on these two bills and I ask you to reject the amendment,” Coussan said. Once again, the House complied, 94-0.

HB335 passed the House 93-0 on April 29 and the amended version passed the Senate 37-0 last Tuesday. HB662 passed the House 100-0 on May 11 and the amended bill passed the Senate 34-0 last Wednesday.

Another of Coussan’s pet bills, HB71, which would allow the Department of Environmental Quality to establish a “voluntary self-audit” program, in effect allowing energy companies to inspect themselves, hit a snag in the Senate.

Theoretically, the bill would save the DEQ manpower. The bill passed the House 87-8 last month and was up for third reading and final passage in the Senate Wednesday. 

Because of the deluge of House bills on the digest, Senate President Page Cortez, R-Lafayette, with the Senate’s consent, invoked a rule by which a bill could be deferred for final action if any member objected to it, clearing the agenda for uncontroversial bills requiring little or no time-consuming debate. Some senator did object, and HB72 was shoved to the back burner for now.

Senate passes tax reform bill, but not constitutional amendment

In a puzzling development Wednesday, the Senate deferred action on the constitutional amendment on tax reform by Rep. Stuart Bishop, R-Lafayette, but unanimously passed a companion tax bill that depends on the constitutional amendment.

The Senate was operating under a rule Wednesday afternoon by which a bill could be deferred for action if any member objected to it, and someone objected to Bishop’s HB274, the constitutional amendment that would remove the federal income tax deduction from the state income tax so the Legislature could enact a new sliding scale for the state income tax.

The bill that establishes that new formula, SB278, passed the Senate 36-0. But it is moot unless the constitution is amended. If SB274 eventually passes, it must be ratified by the voters on Nov. 8, 2022.

HB278 lowers the rates to be paid by individuals for the first $12,500 of net income (after credits) from 2% to 1.85%; on the next $37,500 of net income from 4% to 3.5%; and on any amount over $50,000 from 6% to 4.25%.

It also allows 100% of medical expenses claimed on federal income tax returns to be deductible from the state income tax.

Income tax would rise somewhat for residents who itemize their federal deductions but would decrease modestly for those who take the standard deduction, according to the bill’s digest.

Both the constitutional amendment and the enabling bill passed the House last month. SB274 can be brought back up for Senate consideration as early as Thursday.

Senate OKs compromise power-based abuse bill

Just one day after the House and Senate unanimously passed similar bills providing for greater accountability by colleges and universities in cases of power-based abuse, the Senate on Wednesday unanimously approved the hybrid version the Republican and Democratic sponsors worked out.

The House on Tuesday passed SB230 by Sen. Beth Mizell, R. Franklinton, 102-0. Rep. Aimee Adatto Freeman, D-New Orleans, authored the companion bill, HB409. Both bills stem from sexual misconduct scandals erupting from LSU athletics this year that revealed laxity, alleged to be purposeful, in the school’s enforcement of Title IX protections. 

“HB409 and my bill became one and the same and I concur,” Mizell told the Senate Wednesday. The Senate approved the unified bill 36-0.

Current law covers only sexually oriented offenses. The new law would cover “power-based abuse,” which would include domestic abuse, sexual assault, sexual harassment, stalking and voyeurism. 

Any university employee who witnesses or receives “direct information” of such an abuse must report it to the school’s Title IX coordinator. Overhearing a conversation is not included. The coordinator would have to report the alleged incident to the school chancellor, who would report it to the system president, who would report it to the Board of Regents. Failure to do so would be grounds for termination.

It now goes back to the House for its final approval, and from there to the governor’s desk. It will go into effect immediately.

House approves making Juneteenth a state holiday

With a suspiciously high number of abstentions, the House on Wednesday unanimously approved a bill by Rep. Larry Selders, D-Baton Rouge making “Juneteenth” a state holiday.

Selders explained that June 19, 1865, was the date that slaves in Texas were informed of their emancipation. For decades, Texas Blacks observed June 19 as an unofficial holiday celebrating their freedom, and the observance has since spread to Louisiana and across the nation in recent years.

The House passed HB554 87-0, meaning 18 members were recorded as absent. On the vote immediately before HB554, 97 members voted and only eight were absent. Rep. Beau Beaullieu, R-New Iberia, who represents part of southern Lafayette Parish including Younsgsville, was among the 10 members suddenly abstaining. Republicans Jean-Paul Coussan, Julie Emerson and Jonathan Goudeau joined Democrats Marcus Bryant and Vincent Pierre in supporting the holiday. Rep. Stuart Bishop, R-Lafayette, missed both votes.

The bill would not grant most state workers a paid holiday, however. It creates “Juneteenth Day,” which would be held on the third Saturday of June and be “a day of public rest and a legal holiday.” The bill has been sent to the Senate, where it was referred to the Education Committee.

Senate joins House in asking Biden to lift offshore lease ban

The Senate on Wednesday approved a concurrent resolution by Rep. Joseph Orgeron, R-Larose, that “urges and requests” the Biden administration to lift the ban on new offshore oil leases.

HCR71 passed the House last Wednesday 92-0 in a remarkable display of bipartisan unity. It passed in the Senate 36-1. Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans, was the only nay vote.

The resolution argues that “broad and predictable access to offshore oil and natural gas resources will help support and grow more jobs and activity in Louisiana and the Gulf region, reduce America’s reliance on overseas imports, and increase revenues to the state and its localities.”