A report from Wednesday’s Bossier Parish Police Jury meeting

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Stacey Tinsley, Bossier Press-Tribune

At Wednesday’s Bossier Parish Police Jury meeting, the jury heard Ginger Adam-Corley report on the 2020 Special Legislative Session.

“The majority-Republican House and Senate called themselves into a 30-day special session on June 1. It was only the second time in state history that lawmakers set their own agenda for a special session rather than letting a governor dictate the agenda. The ‘call’ was crafted in heavy consultation with business lobbying groups and featured the expansion of several tax breaks and reforms to the civil justice code,” Corley said.

“Senate leaders limited the impact on the budget to $25 million for new or expanded tax incentives. To offset the fiscal impact, the Legislature used a pool of unclaimed property cash that had been set aside. After a legal battle over the use of this cash between the State Treasurer and the Governor, two bills passed that outline the use of the unclaimed property fund in the State Treasury. Senate Bill 12 by Senator Mike Fesi is the constitutional amendment that creates a new and protected fund and Senate Bill 18 is the statutory companion dedicating the funds,” she added.

The Legislature approved 14 bills presented to them by the Louisiana Economic Recovery Task Force (LA-ER). Senate President Page Cortez and Speaker of the House Clay Schexnayder created this group to provide guidance and economic recovery suggestions as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. There were roughly 62 business leaders chosen by House and Senate leadership to draft ideas to jumpstart Louisiana’s economy. Bossier Parish monitored the virtual meetings of this group. 

Below is a listing of the 14 instruments:

  • House Bill 11 by Rep. John Stefanski provides for the number of compensation persons required to collect state sales and use tax may deduct for remitting taxes. 
  • House Bill 13 by Rep. Mark Wright authorizes certain retail businesses to participate in the Enterprise Zone Tax incentive program. 
  • House Bill 19 by Rep. Thomas Pressly extends the eligibility requirements for certain industries to participate in the Quality Jobs Program.
  • House Bill 37 by Rep. Lance Harris requires the Department of Revenue to waive penalties and interest for certain taxpayers for tax years 2019 and 2020.
  • House Bill 57 by Speaker Clay Schexnayder enacts the Civil Justice Reform Act of 2020. The bill lowers the jury trial threshold to $10,000 from $50,000, reforms direct action suits against insurance companies, repeals the seat belt gag rule and addresses the collateral source rule allowing judges the discretion to award no more than 40 percent of the difference between the amount billed and the amount paid after the verdict. The Governor worked with House and Senate leadership on this compromise after three suspension resolutions advanced on the House side to the Senate Floor. Each one would have suspended a provision of law as it relates to jury trial threshold, direct action, and seat belt gag rule for one year. 
  • House Bill 62 by Rep. Jerome Zeringue provides for state income tax withholdings on unemployment compensation benefits for those receiving temporary federal emergency benefits.
  • House Concurrent Resolution 12 by Rep. Ray Garofalo urges and requests the Louisiana Workforce Investment Council to study and submit a report to the Legislature relative to funding and programs for workforce development.
  • House Concurrent Resolution 17 by Rep. Barbara Carpenter and Senate Concurrent Resolution 11 by Senator Mike Reese requests certain state agencies and private businesses to recognize the value that justice-involved persons bring to the workforce and society and to act with the intent to empower, train, and employ such individuals.
  • House Resolution 31 by Speaker Clay Schexnayder requests a study of a centralized sales and use tax collection system in the state. The Speaker filed a bill but it did not advance due to opposition from local government. All parties will continue to work on this issue during the legislative interim. 
  • Senate Bill 6 by Senator Brett Allain suspends state franchise taxes for a one-year period ending June 30, 2021, for small corporations with taxable capital of one million dollars or less.
  • Senate Bill 13 by Senator Rick Ward restarts the New Markets Jobs tax credit against a company’s state insurance premium tax liability for private capital investment in a low-income community business and expands the types of businesses eligible under the program.
  • Senate Bill 24 by Senator Jimmy Harris provides for eligibility for the Angel Investor Tax Credit for investments made in federal opportunity zones. 
  • Senate Bill 26 by Senator Sharon Hewitt extends the application deadline for the Quality Jobs Program, a state tax incentive program administered by the Louisiana Economic Development Department.
  • Senate Bill 27 by Senator Bodi White creates the Streamlining Government Commission. This commission was created several years ago and was disbanded. The goal is to reduce the cost of state government and identify efficiencies as a result of the pandemic.

CAPITAL OUTLAY

House Bill 2 by Rep. Stuart Bishop passed and the Governor signed it without any vetoes. Included in the bill were the following projects:

Bossier Parish: 

Sewerage District Number 1             Non-Recurring Revenues:    $210,700

Extension of Crouch Road to Swan Lake    Non-Recurring Revenues:      $34,230

                        Priority 1:            $191,270

Department of Transportation and Development:

    Jimmie Davis Bridge Rehabilitation, Lighting, Design

    Priority 1          $8,991,700

    Priority 5        $15,000,000

    LA 3227-LA 157 Intersection Realignment

    Priority 5        $4,500,000

“Rep. Stuart Bishop, chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, was successful in setting aside $105 million that the Governor wanted to use on construction projects and funneled it away into a state savings account. Louisiana had a roughly $535 million surplus left from the 2018-19 budget. Of that total, $134 million went to the Rainy Day Fund and $53 million went to pay down retirement debt. Given the uncertainty with the state’s economy, Rep. Bishop wanted to have some money available in the event there is a mid-year budget shortfall. The newly created Capital Outlay Savings Accounts was legislated in House Bill 35,” said Corley.

OTHER LEGISLATION OF INTEREST

Senator Beth Mizell filed Senate Bill 10 to allow electric cooperatives to utilize their existing electric delivery systems for broadband services with an affiliate, a service provider, or an operator. In a related matter, Rep. Darryl Deshotel filed House Bill 69 that allows for a sales and use tax rebate on purchases of fiber optic cables that are not paid for with state or federal funds. The Louisiana Uniform Local Sales Tax Board is charged with promulgating rules. 

Another bill that passed was House Bill 4 by Rep. Tanner Magee. The bill extends the date of eligible expenses to qualify for the tax credit for the rehabilitation of historic structures and extends the effectiveness of the credit.

House Bill 6 by Rep. Barry Ivey establishes a State Cybersecurity and Information Technology Fund and dedicates revenues to the fund. It supports the efforts of the Joint Legislative Committee on Technology and Cybersecurity (Act 301, 2020 Regular Session). There is currently no money appropriated to it. The goal of the newly created committee is to coordinate technology and cyber procurement at the state level. The author testified that there is a disconnect between the executive and legislative branches of government. 

Senate Bill 5 by Senator Ronnie Johns exempts the first $5 million of promotional play wagers from net gaming proceeds as it relates to state gaming taxes. The same author also requested the Gaming Control Board to report on the fiscal impact of the promotional play exception to the definitions of net gaming proceeds, gross revenue, and net slot machine proceeds. This request is contained in Senate Concurrent Resolution 29. 

House Democrats successfully carved out a small piece of federal coronavirus aid to give thousands of grocery store workers, janitors, nursing home employees, bus drivers, EMS workers, sanitation workers, and health care employees a one-time $250 payment. This is roughly the equivalent of a week’s worth of state unemployment.  The money and provisions are spelled out in House Bill 70 by Rep. Sam Jenkins and will be dispersed on a first-come, first-served basis to as many as 200,000 people who apply and meet the criteria. They can earn no more than $50,000 a year and had to report to a job outside of their home for at least 200 hours from March 22 through May 14. They also have to hold one of the long lists of jobs considered “essential critical infrastructure,” under the bill.

The Legislature passed a $35 billion budget using federal dollars to balance it. Roughly $900 million in federal CARES Act funding was used to plug the budget hole as a result of the pandemic; $300 million was set aside for businesses; $500 million was allocated to local governments, and $50 million was for front line workers who qualify for this money.

The Revenue Estimating Conference, the body tasked with determining the amount of money the state has to spend, estimated a $1 billion decrease due to the pandemic but did not officially adjust the estimate at its meeting in June. The four-member panel will reconvene in the fall to adjust the revenue forecast. The Legislature is expected to go back into another special session in October to make necessary budget adjustments and possibly receive more federal aid. 

ON THE BALLOT

Voters statewide will decide whether to adopt seven proposed amendments to the Constitution on November 3. The first five were passed during the 2020 Regular Session.

Act 366 would change the state’s expenditure limit growth formula.

Act 367 would allow the use of up to one-third of the Budget Stabilization Fund (Rainy Day Fund) to cover state costs associated with a federally declared disaster.

Act 368 would allow the presence and production of oil and gas to be included when assessing the fair market value of an oil or gas well for ad valorem property tax purposes.

Act 369 would increase the income limit from $50,000 to $100,000 for those who qualify for the special assessment level for residential property receiving the homestead exemption.

Act 370 would establish an ad valorem tax exemption for property subject to a cooperative endeavor agreement requiring the property owner to make payments in lieu of taxes.

Act 447 of the 2019 Regular Session stipulates that no provision of the Constitution protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of an abortion.

Senate Bill 12 of the 2020 1st Special Session would dedicate unclaimed property funds and create the Louisiana Unclaimed Property Permanent Trust Fund.

The police jury also approved the site plan for Rosedale Playground, located on Lot 8000, Rosedale Place Subdivision, Unit No. 8, in Sections 33 and 34, Township 19 North, Range 13 West, Bossier Parish, LA. (Police Jury District 6), approved the scheduling of a public hearing on September 2, 2020, to consider approval of the plat of the proposed development of Dogwood South Subdivision, Unit No. 21, located in Section 9, Township 18 North, Range 12 West, Bossier Parish, LA. (Police Jury District 2) and heard reports on meetings of the Road/Subdivision Regulations Committee, Insurance Committee meeting and the Juvenile Committee meeting.