Final OK on local property tax exemption for businesses

The Louisiana House gave final legislative approval Thursday afternoon to two measures that would allow certain non-manufacturing businesses to be exempt from local property taxes to help with state industry recruitment efforts.

The House voted 94-0 for the Senate version of the proposed constitutional amendment, House Bill 674 which goes to voters Nov. 6. Then, the House voted 88-0 for its companion statutory change, HB694 which spells out details,

State Rep. Joel Robideaux, R-Lafayette, sponsored both of the measures which state economic development officials said are needed to help Louisiana entice certain types of businesses for which today’s tax burden is too high.

The legislation would allow a local option property tax exemption for corporate headquarters, distribution facilities, data services facilities, research and development operations and digital media and software development centers. Under the bill, the businesses would have to make a minimum $25 million investment, involve at least 50 new direct jobs with at least 50 percent of their sales out-of-state

The property tax exemption would have to be agreed to by the parish governing authority, the municipality, the local school board, the law enforcement district and the assessor.

Businesses would be eligible for a ten-year property tax exemption. But the exemption would not apply to the first $10 million of fair market value or the first 10 percent of the fair market value, whichever is greater. .

Senate advances budget bill

On a 39-0 vote, the state Senate advanced a $25.6 billion state spending plan Thursday that funds hospitals, schools and other state services.

Few questions were asked on House Bill 1, the state operating budget for the fiscal year that begins in July.

The Senate Finance Committee greatly revamped the budget before it reached the Senate floor. The committee restored one-time money that the House purged. Some Republicans in the House argued that it is irresponsible to continually rely on dollars that likely will materialize once.

At Gov. Bobby Jindal’s urging, the Senate Finance Committee restored the dollars, plumping up the budget by more than $300 million.

State Sen. Jack Donahue, R-Mandeville and the committee’s chairman, told the Senate Thursday that he is comfortable with the budget.

In contrast to tension in the House that resulted in the House taking two days to advance the budget, the mood in the Senate Thursday was lighthearted.

The Senate zipped through the 329-page budget in less than two hours while members of the governor’s staff watched from the sidelines.

State Senate starts debating budget

Debate on the state budget bills is under way Thursday morning in the state Senate.

State Sen. Jack Donahue, R-Mandeville, started with miscellaneous budget bills before tackling House Bill 1, the $25 billion state operating budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1.

Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego, joked that he needs to fix his typewriter to finish amendments before debate on HB1 can begin.

HB1 will fund hospitals, colleges and other state services.

The legislation is the subject of a dispute between the Louisiana House and the state Senate on the best way to balance the budget.

At issue is one-time money from various state government funds, expected real estate sales and legal settlements. Gov. Bobby Jindal wants to use more than $200 million in one-time money to make the budget work.

Some Republicans in the House want to completely eliminate all one-time money, arguing it is irresponsible to pay recurring expenses with dollars likely to materialize once.

So far, the Senate has sided with the governor by putting the one-time money back into the budget.

Rental car tax can continue, Senate says

Legislation to continue an expiring local tax on rental cars in East Baton Rouge Parish breezed through the state Senate Thursday morning.

The Senate made some tweaks to House Bill 971 by state Rep. Regina Barrow, D-Baton Rouge, before voting 32-4 to return it to the Louisiana House.

The bill would allow the parish to create an automobile rental tax district to generate dollars for the arts and local government.

The legislation is a way to keep taxing authority for the tax.

The Senate adopted an amendment to direct some of the proceeds to the East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney’s Office.

The Arts Council of Greater Baton Rouge and the Shaw Center for the Arts also would benefit.

Tax refund debit cards bill OK’d by state Senate

The state Senate voted 38-0 Thursday morning in favor of legislation that would allow Louisiana taxpayers to opt against receiving income tax refunds on debit cards.

The state Department of Revenue’s shift from paper checks to the debit cards in a cost-cutting measure sparked protests by legislators and led to House Bill 1092 by state Rep. Jim Fannin, D-Jonesboro.

The bill would allow taxpayers to choose a check, debit card or direct deposit for receipt of their refunds. The bill would be effective for three years, beginning in the 2013 tax year.

HB1092 now returns to the Louisiana House for concurrence on Senate changes that put the three-year sunset on the legislation.

Midwife bill goes to conference

Louisiana boasts only eight midwives.

Yet, senator after senator went to the microphone on the state Senate floor Thursday morning on legislation involving them.

At issue was Senate Bill 320 by state Sen. Danny Martiny, R-Metairie. The measure involves health care providers.

Martiny said state Rep. Nancy Landry, R-Lafayette, hijacked the legislation in the Louisiana House by adding in beefed up licensing standards for midwives. He wanted the Senate to reject her amendment and let a conference committee decide how the bill should read.

State Sen. Fred Mills Jr., R-St. Martinville, said the midwife amendment simply would elevate standards by requiring that they be certified by the North American Registry of Midwives.

“This is becoming a turf war that does not need to be fought,” he said.

State Sen. Sharon Broome, D-Baton Rouge, asked the Senate to agree to the House amendment. She said Landry did no damage to the bill.

She said Landry’s amendment would fall out if the legislation went to a conference committee.

“Do you trust me?” Martiny asked.

“Uh, oh,” Broome said, avoiding answering the question.

In the end, the Senate rejected the House amendment, booting the bill to a conference committee.

Abortion bill receives final passage

 The Louisiana Senate gave final legislative passage Thursday to a bill aimed at further restricting abortions in Louisiana.

The Senate voted 33-3 to concur in House amendments to the legislation and shipped it to Gov. Bobby JIndal’s desk for signing into law.

Under Senate Bill 708, a woman would be given the option of listening to their unborn baby’s heartbeat before receiving an abortion.

The legislation, sponsored by state Sen. Sharon Broome, D-Baton Rouge, would require women to hear the heartbeat of the unborn fetus unless they specifically refuse.

SB708 would also change the wait between examination and procedure from two hours to 24 hours.

ISSUES TO WATCH THURSDAY

  • HB1 The state’s budget for the fiscal year beginning July is scheduled for a vote by the full state Senate.
  • SB47 Final average compensation is scheduled for a vote by the full Louisiana House of Representatives.
  • SB740 cost of living adjustment payments for retirees is scheduled for a vote by the full Louisiana House of Representatives.
  • SB475 that would change the “performance based” tax rebates for entertainment events held in public facilities is scheduled for a vote by the full Louisiana House of Representatives.

House convenes at 1:00 p.m.

Senate convenes at 9:00 a.m.

 

HOUSE COMMITTEE MEETINGS

Municipal, Parochial & Cultural Affairs. 10:00 a.m. in Committee Room 6. Agenda includes:

SB187 Provides relative to the collection, analysis and reburial of exposed human skeletal remains from municipal and abandoned cemeteries.

SB408 Provides for shifting of private mains to accommodate a public system.

SB562 Provides relative to the tax upon the occupancy of hotel rooms, motel rooms, and overnight camping facilities levied and collected by the Abbeville Film and Visitors Commission District.

SB600 Provides for the levy, collection, allocation, and use of certain taxes collected by the Vermilion Parish Tourist Commission.

 

SENATE COMMITTEE MEETINGS

Local & Municipal Affairs. 8:30 a.m. in Committee Room C. Agenda includes:

HB988 Provides for a five-year deferred retirement option plan for certain members of the Firefighters’ Retirement System.

 

Legislative news at it happens, including supporting documents, available on the Internet at  http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog/

Hearings and debate streamed live on the Internet at www.legis.la.gov

 

Budget bill takes center stage Thursday

Albert Robichaux Jr. came to the State Capitol Wednesday on a mission to explain dollars and cents to legislators.
As executive director and chief executive officer of the Jefferson Council on Aging in Metairie, Robichaux pushed for additional funding for senior centers a day ahead of the $25 billion proposed state spending plan hitting the state Senate floor.
Robichaux left happy, confident that he eliminated confusion over how much money the senior centers need. “There was a problem with the addition and subtraction,” he said, explaining the centers’ complex funding formulas.
Others are less happy as the state Senate prepares to tackle a state budget that funds hospitals and colleges. Senate debate and a voted is scheduled for Thursday afternoon.
Advancement of House Bill 1, the state operating budget for the fiscal year that starts in July, will set the stage for a battle in the Louisiana House.
At issue is how much nonrecurring, or one-time, money should be used to pay expenses that must be met year after year.
The state Senate and Gov. Bobby Jindal want to use the one-time money to get the state through rough economic times. Some Republicans in the House contend it is irresponsible to rely on money likely to materialize once. The Legislature must adjourn by Monday at 6 p.m.
Once HB1 passes the Senate, it will move to the House for concurrence on changes that restored the one-time money a group of state representatives purged.
Jindal ventured into the Senate chamber Wednesday to help laud Louisiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Kitty Kimball, who is retiring. Afterward, Jindal posed for pictures with visiting beauty queens.
The governor said the state Senate Finance Committee improved the budget by restoring one-time money to it. He brushed off concerns about the dispute between the House and the Senate.
“We’re going to get a budget done. This happens every year,” Jindal said.
A self-described “fiscal conservative” said the disagreements are huge. “Our position right now is we’re not going to support the budget,” state Rep. Brett Geymann said Wednesday.
Geymann, R-Lake Charles, said he would not rule out the possibility of a special session to iron out differences on the state spending plan.
Across the hall in the Senate, legislators seem to be resigned to using one-time money, at least for a few years.
“We have to balance the budget,” said state Sen. Danny Martiny, R-Metairie.
Martiny said he is not happy with using the one-time money to balance next year’s budget. He said he is uncertain the state could sustain higher education and health care without the one-time money.
State Sen. Mike Walsworth, R-West Monroe, said he can live with the budget as it stands now.
“Is it where I would love it to be? No,” he said.
Walsworth said the Senate compromised by keeping the use of one-time money within limits.
Another compromise being offered is Senate Concurrent Resolution No. 103 by state Sen. Jack Donahue, R-Mandeville, to study the impact of tax credits, exemptions and rebates on the state budget. The thinking is that adjustments eventually might be made to some of those tax breaks to free up state revenue.
The House Committee on House and Governmental Affairs advanced SCR103 Wednesday.
Walsworth said he hopes House Republicans opposed to the use of one-time money will change their minds. “We all have friends on both sides, and we’re talking to colleagues,” Walsworth said.

Advocate Staff Photo by Travis Spradling. Gov. Bobby Jindal, left, and Senate President John Alario, right, R-Westwego, applaud Wednesday, in honor of retiring Louisiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Catherine “Kitty” Kimball, seated, of Ventress. She is flanked, left to right, by former U.S. Rep. Charlie Melancon, D-Napoleonville, Kimball’s daughter and husband, Catherine Kimball and Clyde Kimball. On his way back to his office, Jindal said he is not worried about the budget passing.

Changes to higher education package approved

A two-bill package intended to streamline operations in higher education passed without dissent in the state House Wednesday.

Both bills were backed by state Sen. Ben Nevers, D-Bogalusa. The both passed unanimously in the state Senate earlier in the legislative session.

The first bill, Senate Bill 103 requires colleges and universities to cap baccalaureate degree programs at 120 credit hours.

SB103 would exempt certain programs which require additional credit hours to meet certification or accreditation requirements. The measure stems from a recommendation from the legislatively formed higher education Governance Commission that wrapped up its work in January.

SB103 would remove some of the barriers students have while trying to earn a degree, Nevers has said.

Under Senate Bill 104, Louisiana’s postsecondary institutions will have to phase in over the next four years a common course numbering system.

The system, Nevers has said, will make it easier for students to transfer between institutions.

Louisiana Board of Regents Chief of Staff Kim Hunter Reed,  has said SB104 will ensure that Louisiana has a system in place where students will know the time and money spent to complete courses at one higher education institution, wasn’t done in vain should they transfer schools.