Letter: Governor’s veto of HB 29 puzzling

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Gov. John Bel Edwards has been providing updates on coronavirus cases in Louisiana | Catherine Hunt/LSU Manship School News Service

2020 is a year that I wish not to repeat. From government-mandated lockdowns, multiple hurricanes that have ravaged our coast, and the free-fall in which the oil and gas industry now finds itself, Louisianians have had a challenging year. It’s time to close the book on this year and look to a brighter future.

The people of Louisiana are hurting. Families in my district are out of work, and businesses of all kinds – particularly those in the oil and gas industry – have had to close their doors. For those lucky enough to find work, that work is in other states–forcing some to work through the upcoming holidays and miss precious time with their loved ones—or possibly even move.  

The Second Extraordinary Legislative Session of 2020 provided an opportunity to give relief to the families and companies that rely on oil and gas production or employment. I filed House Bill (HB) 29, which provided a reprieve from severance tax for orphaned wells, newly drilled or newly completed wells for a certain period of time to encourage oil and gas investment in Louisiana. The bill received robust debate from those in opposition, those in support, and by both chambers of the legislature. HB 29 made its way to the Governor’s desk.

On the 4th floor of the Capitol, Governor Edwards penned an anemic veto message claiming that HB 29 was not well vetted, there was “limited access for … meaningful comment,” that there was no legitimate evidence or testimony for job creation, and that it was unrelated to the COVID-19 response.

By the governor’s standards, the 144-member lawmaking branch of Louisiana state government, elected by the people, is inept.  The legislature either lacks the qualifications deemed necessary by the Governor or the Governor distrusts those that elected this branch–you.

As long as you weren’t running a fever and weren’t having COVID-like symptoms, anyone was allowed to enter the Capitol to participate. If anything, access to the legislature was increased, as the legislature allowed anyone to submit testimony and show support or opposition via email in lieu of attending in person.

Contrary to the Governor’s claim that there was no legitimate evidence or testimony, several oil and gas companies gave in-person testimony in support of HB 29. Additionally, many others issued letters of support to the Governor stating that should HB 29 be signed, they were eager to begin hiring workers. There was also testimony in opposition.

Furthermore, to claim that this legislation is not related to the COVID-19 response is nonsensical at best. Outside of bogus lawsuits against oil and gas companies, COVID-19 is one of the largest hits the industry has taken in recent history, and it has had a crippling effect on Louisiana’s economy.

My goal with this legislation was simply to get people back to work by encouraging new activity in Louisiana. HB 29 would have reduced the burden on the unemployment trust fund and increased sales tax and income tax collection for Louisiana’s state general fund. Maybe this was destined to happen because 2020 has been an unusual year, or maybe this is what we can expect for the final three years of Governor Edwards’ administration.

Phillip R. DeVillier
State Representative District 41