Part of the policy yield from six lawmaking sessions held over the past 18 months is several new laws recently enacted.
They included the official state budget, which weighs in at $28 billion and took effect on July 1, the start of the 2017-18 fiscal year. It was the only measure enacted from the week-long special session that was adjourned last month.
In all, 31 new laws were added to the books on July 1, including three that were passed as bills by lawmakers during the 2016 regular session.
If you like to shop online, then you’ll be interested in an act from Speaker Pro Tem Walt Leger, D-New Orleans, that addresses the sales tax portion of your purchases, which is supposed to be paid, but is often overlooked by individuals.
Online businesses must now inform consumers that they should be paying state sales taxes on their purchases. Retailers are also required to send an annual report to the Louisiana Revenue Department detailing all such transactions.
Another new law that went into effect came from Sen. Beth Mizell, R-Franklinton. It mandates that all public schools teach cursive writing. Instruction is slated to begin for students in third grade and conclude in the 12th grade.
The vast majority of the new laws — 27 acts — are a result of this year’s regular session.
Several policy trends surfaced on the first day of the fiscal year. One concerned local tourism revenue. The town of Jonesboro now has a way to collect a hotel occupancy tax; the West Feliciana Parish Tourism Commission was granted the authority to increase its hotel tax; and Orleans Parish received approval to change the way it spends tourism dollars.
The Insurance Dept. can begin assessing $76,000 in new fees each year on certain adjusters and settlement providers. The Revenue Dept., meanwhile, has to start adding enhanced safeguards of the personal information of taxpayers, due to an act authored by Rep. Joe Marino, I-Gretna.
In the energy sector, the severance tax rate for inactive wells has been reduced, and eliminated in certain cases — a change in law sponsored by Rep. Stuart Bishop, R-Lafayette, that the Louisiana Oil and Gas Assoc. calls a “tremendous step in the right direction.”
Of interest to coastal areas will be new guidelines drafted by Sen. Norby Chabert, R-Houma, which dedicate a certain portion of the dollars from the federal Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act to hurricane protection projects as long as they’re consistent with the state Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority’s master plan.
Many Officials Running Again
Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon and Agriculture and Forestry Commissioner Mike Strain will be coming your way on a ballot very soon — that is, if you consider the fall of 2019 soon. The two veteran politicians told the audience at the Louisiana Farm Bureau Annual Convention they would both seek re-election during the next statewide election cycle.
And they aren’t the only statewide elected officials getting ahead of the curve. Gov. John Bel Edwards has been saying since last year he would seek re-election in 2019. He has been aggressively fundraising.
Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser has said he has the job he wants right now and intends to pursue it again.
Secretary of State Tom Schedler and Attorney General Jeff Landry have said much the same, although Landry’s name continues to be tossed into news stories about potential candidates for governor.
The biggest question mark, of course, is hovering over the position of state treasurer, which is vacant. Voters will place someone in that job during this fall’s elections.
Delegation Members Back In D.C.
It’s once again time for our federal legislators to start focusing on policy, particularly in the arena of healthcare access. President Donald Trump’s proposal to repeal the Affordable Care Act seemed to have some momentum in the House as spring gave way to summer, but it has since met resistance in the Senate.
U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, a physician, has been giving interviews suggesting that the original repeal plan may be stalled and that a thorough rewrite of the ACA, as being drafted by senators, is on uncertain ground.
Cassidy is the lead co-author of an alternative proposal, the Patient Freedom Act, which is a complicated piece of legislation that doesn’t go nearly as far as a complete dismantling of the ACA. “We have been stressing the importance of making sure we have a replacement plan ready to go with the repeal of Obamacare, in order to ensure that no one sees a gap in their healthcare coverage,” he said.
Cassidy has also reintroduced the Medicaid Accountability and Care Act, or MAC Act, which is designed to “improve Medicaid financing through controlled spending, value-based incentives and fraud reduction.”
U.S. Sen. John Kennedy, meanwhile, is waiting to see how the Senate version shapes up — and he’s trying to convince Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to cancel the upcoming August recess so key votes can stop being postposed.
“We need to focus on passing meaningful reforms for healthcare and taxes,” Kennedy co-wrote in a letter to McConnell that was signed by him and other senators. “We don’t have time to go on vacation when there’s work that remains to be done for the American people. You wouldn’t put a cake in the oven and then leave to go on vacation before it has finished baking.”
Par: Legislature Not Done
The Legislature adjourned its special session in June. Advocacy and policy groups have been worrying about what comes next.
The Public Affairs Research Council is one group that’s worrying. It made as much clear recently in its report summarizing the legislative sessions of 2017.
“As busy as our elected officials have been, they have a lot of work left to do and a lot of politically difficult decisions to make,” the report states.
PAR said some of this undone work included taxes. Gov. John Bel Edwards wanted lawmakers to address the temporary tax revenue — mostly in the form of an increase in the state sales tax structure — that expires in 2018.
But that didn’t happen. As a result, Edwards is expected to call another special session, which would be the fifth of this term, sometime in the fall or perhaps early next year.
“Unfortunately, the Legislature still has a $1 billion-plus problem left to handle,” according to the PAR report. “The fiscal cliff is staring us in the face and the state will have to deal with it head-on.”
Political History: Remembering Lindy Boggs
July 27 marked the fourth anniversary of the death of Marie Corinne Morrison Claiborne Boggs, known better to friends and family as Lindy Boggs.
Born on a plantation in New Roads, Boggs served in the U.S. House from 1973 to 1991. No other woman has been elected from Louisiana to serve in the lower chamber since she retired.
Boggs was a uniquely Louisiana figure. In 1997, she went from spending time at her home on Bourbon Street to being appointed, by former President Bill Clinton, as the official U.S. ambassador to the Holy See — the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the Catholic Church in Rome. She held that position until 2001.
Boggs made her own way in a male-dominated Louisiana, starting out as a law partner to her husband, former U.S. House Majority Leader Hale Boggs.
When her husband’s plane disappeared over Alaska, she ran successfully as a Democrat in the 2nd Congressional District and reclaimed the seat for the family. After that, her smallest showing at the polls was 64 percent. But she usually garnered more than 80 percent of the vote.
Boggs was also the first woman to preside as chair over a national political convention — in the 1976 Democratic National Convention, which gave us the Carter-Mondale ticket.
She was the mother of four children, including TV journalist Cokie Roberts, the only surviving child; lobbyist Thomas Hale Boggs, Jr.; former Princeton Mayor Barbara Boggs Sigmund; and William Robertson Boggs, who died as an infant.
Temporary Commissioner On The Job
The Public Service Commission has a new member. Former state Rep. Damon Baldone of Houma was sworn in after being appointed to the elected job by Gov. John Bel Edwards.
Baldone replaces former Commissioner Scott Angelle of Breaux Bridge, who received an appointment of his own this spring — from President Donald Trump to head up the federal agency that regulates offshore oil and gas drilling.
Angelle’s term was set to expire on Dec. 31 — the date which now marks the end to Baldone’s temporary service.
Baldone could, however, choose to run for the District 2 seat permanently this fall.
House Chairs Seem Set
During this year’s trio of legislative sessions, few knew what the future held for some of the caucus and delegation chairmen in the state House. But now there’s a clearer picture.
House Democratic Caucus Chair Gene Reynolds of Minden now intends to finish his term as the minority leader after announcing a month ago that he was stepping down. Caucus members managed to convince him to stick it out.
Meanwhile, the question of who will become the Democratic Caucus’ next vice chairman has been answered. Rep. Sam Jenkins of Shreveport has been elected to take the place of Sen. Ed Price of Gonzales, who was elected to the upper chamber in May.
Rep. Joe Bouie of New Orleans, the chairman of the Black Caucus, will serve until December, which is when it’s expected that Rep. Randal Gaines of LaPlace will be selected as his replacement.
House GOP Delegation Chairman Lance Harris of Alexandria is planning to finish his term in his current leadership position. He’ll also be taking part in a unique outreach exercise. With both men crossing the proverbial aisle, Harris and Reynolds entered the summer break with plans to meet and prepare — together — for next fiscal year’s $1.2-billion budget shortfall.
They Said It
“It’s like Christmas Eve; it’s five in the afternoon and you forgot to go shopping for your family of 10.”
“You can’t wait to appropriate.”
— Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne, addressing the spending habits of legislators.
For more Louisiana political news, visit www.LaPolitics.com or follow Jeremy Alford on Twitter @LaPoliticsNow.