Baton Rouge

Monday, April 10, 2017

As 2017 legislative session begins, Baton Rouge lawmakers already appear divided along partisan lines

Posted By on Mon, Apr 10, 2017 at 5:49 PM

Louisiana House Speaker Taylor Barras, left, and Senate President John Alario, both Republicans, await the arrival of Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, to address a joint session of the opening session of the 2017 Legislature. - SARAH GAMARD/MANSHIP SCHOOL NEWS SERVICE
  • SARAH GAMARD/MANSHIP SCHOOL NEWS SERVICE
  • Louisiana House Speaker Taylor Barras, left, and Senate President John Alario, both Republicans, await the arrival of Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, to address a joint session of the opening session of the 2017 Legislature.

When state lawmakers ended their work last year, having passed a host of temporary tax increases to help fill a looming budget hole, many shrugged off the fact they did not make significant long-term changes to a tax code widely considered broken.

After all, the temporary taxes, most notably a one-cent increase to the sales tax, would roll off in 2018, putting pressure on the Legislature this year to make bold changes to the tax code and budget. Plus, the 2017 regular session is a fiscal session, meaning lawmakers can consider tax changes without entering a special session, ordered by the governor.

On Monday, the Legislature began its 60-day session with that fiscal cliff once again looming. But lawmakers appear still to be politically divided, and few had optimism the various factions will be able to find compromise in an increasingly partisan and tense Legislature.

“We knew this day was coming, and I don't see the political will to get it done,” said State Rep. Rob Shadoin, R-Ruston. “I hope I’m wrong. But until we put aside the ridiculous partisan politics that has absolutely gridlocked Washington, we can expect to see some more here."

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Gov. Edwards addresses the opening of the 2017 Louisiana legislative session

Posted By on Mon, Apr 10, 2017 at 4:08 PM

Gov. John Bel Edwards had a message for Republicans opposing his plans for tax reform: Chart a new path. The call to action came during his State of the State address – the second of Edwards’ tenure – that opened the Louisiana State Legislature’s 2017 regular session.
  • Gov. John Bel Edwards had a message for Republicans opposing his plans for tax reform: Chart a new path. The call to action came during his State of the State address – the second of Edwards’ tenure – that opened the Louisiana State Legislature’s 2017 regular session.

Gov. John Bel Edwards had a message for Republicans opposing his plans for tax reform: Chart a new path.

The call to action came during his State of the State address — the second of Edwards’ tenure – that opened the 60-day Louisiana State Legislature’s 2017 regular session. Much of the speech centered on the governor’s proposals for tax reform, which includes eliminating one penny of the five-cent sales tax and implementing a commercial activity tax (CAT) for businesses.

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Friday, April 7, 2017

Agents of change: Remembering Lolis Edward Elie and state Rep. Ralph Miller

Posted By on Fri, Apr 7, 2017 at 1:57 PM

Civil rights attorney Lolis Edward Elie (left) and former State Rep. Ralph Miller, both of whom died recently, each was an agent of change in his own way. - ELIE: COURTESY THE LOLIS EDWARD ELIE FAMILY
  • ELIE: COURTESY THE LOLIS EDWARD ELIE FAMILY
  • Civil rights attorney Lolis Edward Elie (left) and former State Rep. Ralph Miller, both of whom died recently, each was an agent of change in his own way.

Change doesn’t come easily. It typically requires great risk by people willing to take on the status quo against daunting odds. Louisiana recently lost two agents of change with the passings of civil rights lawyer Lolis Edward Elie and former state Rep. Ralph Miller.

Elie fought in the trenches of the local civil rights movement, often representing clients that no other attorney would take. Though not large in stature, Elie had a lion’s heart. “He was fearless,” recalled longtime friend Don Hubbard, a businessman, veteran politico and a former leader in the local chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), one of Elie’s early clients.

Miller, also an attorney, worked the legislative halls pushing bills that opened local and state government to public view for the first time. They included strengthening Louisiana’s Sunshine Law (open meetings), Public Records Act and campaign finance disclosure laws. When Miller arrived in Baton Rouge in 1968 as a freshman lawmaker from his hometown of Norco (where he lived until his death), “open government” was a radical concept. Today, no investigative reporter could function without those laws.


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Thursday, April 6, 2017

Leger in no hurry to announce for mayor

Posted By on Thu, Apr 6, 2017 at 4:23 PM

Sate Rep. Walt Leger.
  • Sate Rep. Walt Leger.

State Rep. Walt Leger III, D-New Orleans, has been mentioned in many quarters as a possible candidate for mayor later this year, but he says he’s in no hurry to announce his intentions. The lawmaker had hired a team of consultants, but they’re on hold until after the annual legislative session ends June 8.

“There will be a time in the future when my attention will shift more keenly toward local political and policy issues,” Leger said in an emailed statement to Gambit. “However, at this time, as the Speaker Pro Tempore of the House and a member of the Appropriations Committee, the most important thing that I can do for our city and state is to focus on my near-decade-long crusade for criminal justice reform, ongoing efforts to stabilize our budget and tax situation, fighting for equal pay, access to quality healthcare, fair wages and working closely with Gov. Edwards on generating revenue for and investing in crucial infrastructure….

“There is plenty of time to focus on local political campaigns and issues, but for me the next few months is a time of real action, not campaigning.”

Qualifying for mayor, City Council, sheriff and clerks of court will be July 12-14. The primary will be Oct. 14; runoffs, as needed, will be Nov. 18.

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Louisiana Legislature to consider banning the death penalty in this year's session

Posted By on Thu, Apr 6, 2017 at 4:11 PM

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The Louisiana State Legislature is slated to consider a ban on the death penalty in this year's legislative session, after three former law enforcement officials introduced bills in both the state Senate and House of Representatives.

Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, the chairman of the senate’s Judiciary C committee and former prosecutor in New Orleans, filed one of the bills.

He collaborated on the initiative, he said, with Rep. Terry Landry, D-New Iberia. Landry, who was a state police superintendent under former Gov. Mike Foster, wrote another bill with support from Rep. Steven Pylant, R-Winnsboro, a former sheriff of Franklin Parish.

Both Claitor’s Senate Bill 142 and Landry’s House Bill 101 would eliminate the death penalty and instead mandate life in prison without the possibility of parole for defendants convicted of first degree murder, first degree rape or treason.

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Editorial: Legislative forecast: more gridlock

Posted By on Thu, Apr 6, 2017 at 1:40 PM

CREATIVE COMMONS/401KCALCULATOR.ORG
  • CREATIVE COMMONS/401kcalculator.org

State lawmakers return to Baton Rouge next week for an annual session that by law must focus mostly but not exclusively on fiscal matters. This year’s session, like most in recent memory, seems destined to be marked by partisan squabbles over the state’s taxing and spending policies. If history is any indicator — and it usually is — Louisiana taxpayers should not expect much progress toward the oft-stated but elusive goal of fiscal reform. Kicking the proverbial can down the road always seems to be the Legislature’s default course of action.

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Number of women in Louisiana state legislature still low, survey says

Posted By on Thu, Apr 6, 2017 at 12:55 PM

Rep. Julie Stokes, R-Kenner, testifies during the 2017 special legislative session on the House floor. Behind her is House Speaker Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia.  Stokes is one of the 22 women lawmakers in the 2017 session.  They comprise only 15 percent of the 144 legislative seats, well below the national average. - SARAH GAMARD
  • SARAH GAMARD
  • Rep. Julie Stokes, R-Kenner, testifies during the 2017 special legislative session on the House floor. Behind her is House Speaker Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia. Stokes is one of the 22 women lawmakers in the 2017 session. They comprise only 15 percent of the 144 legislative seats, well below the national average.


The current National Conference of State Legislatures’ list of states ranked by percentage of women in the state legislature shows Louisiana has improved to 44th place after being dead last in 2015.

That year, Louisiana had 13 women in the House and four in the Senate. In 2016, those numbers had increased to 17 and five, respectively. The 22 women represent 15 percent of the total delegates.

State Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans, noted that more than 50 percent of Louisiana’s population is female. To only have five out of 39 senators is, as she put it, “wholly inadequate.”

“Many women are beginning to step up and address some of the issues and concerns that our publics are faced with, just as men have done over the years,” says Rep. Barbara Carpenter, D-Baton Rouge, who was part of the 2016 increase.

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Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Morrell prefiles bill to exclude tampons and diapers from state sales tax

Posted By on Wed, Apr 5, 2017 at 5:22 PM

State Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, wants to exclude tampons and other women's hygiene products, as well as small diapers, from state sales tax.
  • State Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, wants to exclude tampons and other women's hygiene products, as well as small diapers, from state sales tax.
A New Orleans lawmaker wants to exempt tampons and other feminine hygiene products, as well as diapers, from the Louisiana sales tax. But pre-session blowback to Senate Bill 24 is already starting, he says.

State Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, says some males already are arguing against the prefiled proposal as a “special handout” to women, and say it's only fair their beer and fast food be exempt as well.

If signed into law, SB24 would ban state sales tax from tampons, menstrual pads, sanitary napkins, panty liners, menstrual sponges, menstrual cups and cloth and disposable diapers size 7 and smaller.

And the beer argument is only one of many that Morrell expects, predicting he will encounter “plenty” of opposition: “No one wants to talk about it because it’s uncomfortable,” he says.

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Friday, March 31, 2017

Edwards' CAT finally out of the bag: the governor and the proposed 'commercial activity tax'

Posted By on Fri, Mar 31, 2017 at 1:56 PM

Gov. John Bel Edwards.
  • Gov. John Bel Edwards.

A lot has already been said about Gov. John Bel Edwards’ proposed “commercial activity tax,” or CAT, but the early rumblings against it are nothing compared to what’s to come. The governor undoubtedly knows that, which explains why he quickly promised to find ways to reduce the tax’s adverse impact on low-margin businesses.

Edwards presented his new tax last week as part of a “budget stabilization plan” that he hopes lawmakers will adopt in the annual session that begins next Monday, April 10. This year’s session, like others in odd-numbered years, will focus heavily though not exclusively on fiscal matters. Because the “temporary” sales tax increase adopted last year expires in 2018 — a “non-fiscal” year for legislative sessions — this year’s session presents an opportunity for Edwards and lawmakers to adopt long-term fiscal reform.

The chances of that happening appear to be even slimmer than the likelihood of the Republican-controlled (and very partisan) House of Representatives embracing Edwards’ newfangled CAT, which is actually a gross receipts tax — that is, a tax on businesses’ gross earnings. Even companies that lose money would pay an income tax on their gross receipts.

Only four other states levy such a tax, which is just one of the reasons it faces long odds of passage in its present form.

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Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Gov. John Bel Edwards unveils far-reaching tax plan

Posted By on Wed, Mar 29, 2017 at 3:55 PM

Gov. John Bel Edwards.
  • Gov. John Bel Edwards.

Gov. John Bel Edwards on Wednesday unveiled a far-reaching tax plan to fix a $1.2 billion fiscal precipice the state is approaching next year, calling for a striking departure from how businesses are currently taxed and cutting income taxes for most Louisiana residents.

A key part of the plan is the addition of a commercial activity tax (CAT) — essentially a 0.35 percent tax on gross receipts for businesses. That tax would raise between $800 and $900 million per year. Businesses making less than $1.5 million would not be subject to the CAT, and would instead pay $250 to $750 per year.

Edwards called for a reduction to personal and corporate income tax rates, an end to corporate franchise taxes phased out over 10 years and eliminating the fifth penny of sales tax that lawmakers raised last year temporarily to cover a more than $1 billion budget hole.
Louisiana currently has the highest combined state and local sales tax in the nation.

“Our problem is easy to identify. We’re operating on a broken outdated structure,” Edwards said at an afternoon news conference at the Capitol. “The central piece of this plan involves leveling the playing field that has been unfairly tilted toward the big guy.”

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