Legislative Roundup: Sales tax collections amendment headed to voters; sports betting clears House; social media censorship bill falters

Louisiana House of Representatives
The House meets during the waning days of the 2021 regular session. Photo by Travis Gauthier

Sales tax collection amendment headed to voters

The proposed constitutional amendment to consolidate local sales tax collections under state control cleared its last hurdles Thursday when the House and Senate unanimously and almost simultaneously approved the compromise version worked out in a conference committee.

The conference report on House Speaker Clay Schexnayder’s HB199 was approved 101-0 in the House and 37-0 in the Senate.

Rep. Beau Beaullieu, R-New Iberia, whose district includes part of southern Lafayette Parish, served as House floor manager. He explained that the bill creates an eight-member commission to oversee consolidated sales tax collections. It will require a two-thirds vote by the commission, followed by a two-thirds vote in each house of the Legislature, to alter the sales tax laws without the need for a constitutional amendment. 

“We don’t touch any of the revenue levied by local authorities,” he said in answer to a question from the back mic.

After the unanimous vote, Beaullieu thanked the members and said, “You’ve made a big deal for the state of Louisiana today.”

It will appear on the midterm election ballot on Nov. 8, 2022.

The House delayed a final vote Thursday on another of Schexnayder’s projects, HCR40, which would direct the Department of Economic Development and the State Board of Commerce to suspend tax incentives, subsidies and “other public financial support” for solar projects not regulated by the Public Service Commission. The House was scheduled to vote on the Senate’s amended version. It will likely be brought back up when the House reconvenes on Monday.

Cortez’s sports betting bill clears House

A slightly amended version of SB247 by Senate President Page Cortez, R-Lafayette, which sets up the ground rules for legalized sports wagering, cleared the House Thursday, but only after several members hurled some questions at its House sponsor, Rep. John Stefanski, R-Crowley.

The bill had been amended to include wagering on horse racing at all licensed locations. In the original, it would have been available only at riverboat casinos, not land-based ones, Stefanski said.

Rep. Larry Frieman, R-Abita Springs, asked Stefanski why the bill has a cap of 20 licenses when sports wagering was approved by local option in 55 parishes last November. Stefanski explained that he and Cortez put a lot of thought and effort into the bill and acknowledged that it will create “dead zones” for legal sports wagering in the state.

“If you don’t have a cap, you’ll have a casino on every corner, and that’s not the intent of this,” Stefanski said. “We thought it would be in the best interest of the state. This is a good starting point.”

Rep. Robby Carter, D-Amite, extracted an assurance from Stefanski that the bill “will not hurt my horse racers.”

“If anything it will help the horse racers,” Stefanski told him.

SB247 passed 78-15. Six of Lafayette Parish’s seven representatives voted for it; Rep. Stuart Bishop was absent.

The bill gives priority for the 20 licenses to the existing 16 riverboat casinos and four land-based casinos under state jurisdiction.

It now goes back to the Senate to concur in the House amendments or reject them. The original version passed the Senate 31-6 on May 19.

Social media censorship bill stuck in House committee

In a rare move that may be a bellwether of the House’s opinion of the bill, the House on Thursday voted down a motion to direct the Commerce Committee to report a bill that would allow Louisianians to sue social media companies for “censoring” their “religious or political” opinions.

The motion to discharge the bill from committee was rejected 25-38, with 42 members abstaining. Among the Lafayette delegation, Republican Reps. Beau Beaullieu and Julie Emerson voted to force the bill out of committee, Republican Jonathan Goudeau and Democrat Vincent Pierre voted against it and Republicans Stuart Bishop and Jean-Paul Coussan and Democrat Marcus Bryant abstained.  

Speaker Clay Schexnayder voted nay, something he seldom does.

SB196 by Sen. Jay Morris, R-West Monroe, has been controversial from the start. It initially fell one vote short of the 20 votes needed to clear the Senate early in the session, but it eventually passed 37-0 on May 20. It has since bounced around the House like a pinball. On May 20, Schexnayder referred it first to the Civil Law and Procedure Committee, where it languished for a week without a hearing before being discharged on Wednesday and recommitted to the Commerce Committee. No hearing has been scheduled, and with less than a week until the end of the session its chances of passage appear remote.

The bill would have authorized up to $75,000 in actual civil damages to plaintiffs who can prove a social media company has censored their content.

Term limits for Congress resolution stalls in Senate

HCR51 by Rep. Mark Wright, R-Covington, which calls for a national constitutional convention to establish unspecified term limits for the U.S. House and Senate, was tabled in the Senate Thursday on a 21-13 vote.

It also faced stiff vocal opposition in the House, where it passed 66-23 on May 24.

Sen. Edward Price, D-Gonzales, warned that “this is a very, very scary path to open up the Constitution. We need to be very careful doing this.”

Sen. Jay Morris, R-West Monroe, recalled that after this resolution came up last session, several members were intimidated. “I don’t know who was behind it,” Morris said, “but I move to table.”

Two of Lafayette Parish’s senators, Republican Bob Hensgens and Democrat Gerald Boudreaux, voted to table. Senate President Page Cortez, R-Lafayette, abstained.