Louisiana Legislature deals with education, tax code and criminal justice

BATON ROUGE – With billions of dollars in federal aid for COVID-19, lawmakers in Louisiana tackled several big issues this spring and made progress on simplifying the tax code, supporting education and l broadening of criminal justice reform.

Some public interest groups have hailed the tax changes as important steps toward strengthening Louisiana’s economy, while others have expressed concern that some of the changes could lead to a budget crisis in the future.

The Council for a Better Louisiana viewed the major changes – lowering state tax rates for individuals and corporations and eliminating deductions for what they pay in federal income taxes – as “a positive step forward. While noting that this was only the beginning of straightening out a complicated and messy system.

Governor John Bel Edwards indicated after the end of the legislative session that he would support this exchange of the state’s source of tax revenue as long as it does not cost the state dearly in the short term. The changes would require adjustments to the state’s constitution, and if he signs the bills, residents will have to vote on them in October.

The Public Affairs Research Council said if voters approve, the state’s tax structure will become “simpler, fairer, more competitive and better ranked nationally.”

But the Louisiana Budget Project, which studies how state policies affect the poor and the working class, issued a statement warning that lawmakers are relying too heavily on federal relief dollars that will soon disappear.

The group’s executive director, Jan Moller, supported the “excellent premise” of the tax swap, but lamented the way it was executed.

“Unfortunately, our lawmakers missed a historic opportunity to fix Louisiana’s failing tax system,” Moller said. “Lawmakers could have used the income earned by eliminating this deduction to make new investments, or to reduce racial disparities in our tax system by reducing state sales tax. Instead, they used the income to lower personal and corporate tax rates. “

Moller also questioned a bill that was passed at the end of the session to gradually increase up to $ 300 million a year to improve roads and bridges.

The bill dedicates an existing tax on the sale and rental of motor vehicles to a state building fund. But in doing so, it would displace $ 300 million from the state’s general fund, which could lead to cuts in health and higher education spending if the state hits another budget crisis, Moller said.

Edwards said he shared this concern. He said he would carefully review the bill before deciding whether to sign or veto it.

Edwards has already signed a $ 38 billion budget bill. Considering all of the federal aid and higher than expected state tax revenues, this represented what the governor called “one of the best budgets of the past 15 years” and “far from previous years” when the state was. facing a financial crisis.

Here are some of the highlights of the budget and other bills passed during the session:

Unemployment checks

The legislature voted to increase the state’s unemployment wage from $ 28, to $ 275 per week, starting next year, if Edwards ends temporary federal unemployment benefits, which are equivalent to $ 300, d ‘by July 31.

Edwards has indicated he will enter into the deal to help raise the overall level of state benefits, which he said is among the lowest in the country.

Education K-12

Kindergarten to Grade 12 public school teachers will each receive a salary increase of $ 800 and tutoring workers will receive $ 400, bringing them closer to the Southern region average salary. Kindergarten will become compulsory for five-year-olds with a few exceptions.

Higher Education

Public universities and colleges will share additional funds, with salary increases of $ 19.8 million for faculty that could average 2% to 2.5% or more.

Edwards also touted an $ 11.1 million increase in GO Grant funding for needy students and the creation of the MJ Foster Promise program to provide workforce training to adults in Louisiana. He said the total need based on needs had increased four times, to $ 40 million, since he became governor.

Report of sexual assault

After a scandal involving LSU football players, lawmakers created new regulations on how colleges deal with allegations of sexual assault, harassment and other misconduct, including the requirement to terminate employees who fail to do so. not properly report allegations.

Sports games

Lawmakers have passed three bills that structure how the state will host gambling at sporting events. Bets can be placed online, in casinos or at kiosks in restaurants and bars.

Part of the funds raised through taxation will go to the Preschool Education Fund. The state hopes to start taking bets before the next football season.

Decriminalization of marijuana

Edwards said he was “interested” in signing Representative Cedric Glover’s bill that decriminalizes marijuana.

Glover, a Democrat from Shreveport, drafted the bill that makes possession of half an ounce of the plant a misdemeanor subpoena without threat of arrest. The fine could go up to $ 100.

Currently, the state fines an individual $ 300, or 15 days in jail, for the first offense. On a second conviction, the person can be jailed for six months, and the sentences become more severe for each bust.

Police practices

Following the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, the legislature voted to ban strangulations unless an officer reasonably believes he is in grave danger, restricts the use of search warrants without suddenly and requires the dashboard cameras to be the police cars automatically activate when the car’s hazard warning lights come on.

But a move to limit the qualified immunity police officers enjoy from civil lawsuits if they kill or injure while acting unreasonably has died in a Senate committee.

“Pink tax”

Representative Aimee Freeman, D-New Orleans, narrowly passed a bill that would “end the pink tax.” The measure would eliminate the state sales tax on feminine hygiene products and all diapers.

Veto likely

Edwards said he would veto two laws, the ban on transgender athletes and a concealed handgun bill. He also seemed skeptical of a bill that would prohibit state agencies from discriminating against individuals based on their COVID-19 vaccine status.

The Concealed Carry Bill would allow any eligible person over the age of 21 to carry a handgun without a license or training. Edwards favors the current system which requires training and background checks.

Supporters of banning transgender youth from playing on sports teams opposed to their assigned birth sex have said the move would protect girls from harm and loss of scholarships.

The NCAA has said it will not host championship games in states that pass “anti-trans” bills.

Under the bill that was passed by the Legislature, a ban on discrimination based on COVID-19 vaccination status would remain in place until vaccines receive full approval from the Food and Drug. United States Administration.

The bill’s passage came after hundreds of LSU faculty members called on the university to require students to be vaccinated before coming to campus in the fall. The resolution was passed by 570-37 at a meeting of the Faculty Council.

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