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‘Regulatory relief’ package aimed at Louisiana business in the works

Gov. John Bel Edwards said today he will back legislation reducing the number of Louisiana’s occupational licensing boards and repeal some longstanding regulations on the books of multiple state agencies in the coming months.

Legislation will come in the regular session this year as part of a “regulatory relief package,” said the governor’s spokesman Richard Carbo. The ideas sprung out of a series of meetings the governor held with business executives throughout the state last year, gatherings that were designed to get input on the looming $1 billion-plus “fiscal cliff” that’s coming at the end of this fiscal year.

“We are looking at ways to end regulations that have been on the books in multiple agencies over the years without ever being looked at to see if they’re necessary,” Edwards said during his address to the Press Club of Baton Rouge today, adding the goal is to “allow the people doing business in Louisiana to do business in a way that’s less burdensome (and) less costly.”

The governor said he will release more information as the regular session gets closer.  

Licensing reform will likely be welcome news to Louisiana business groups, who in the past have pushed for changes to how the state licenses jobs. A 2012 report from the Institute for Justice found Louisiana licenses more low-income occupations—71—than any other state in the U.S.

“That’s news to me, but that’s welcomed,” Committee of 100 for Economic Development CEO Michael Olivier said of the governor’s plan. “We have a multitude of boards in this state. They’re superfluous. We encourage that.”

The business-friendly items in Edwards’ regular-session agenda are coupled with at least two bills that business groups have staunchly opposed: A minimum wage increase and legislation aimed at reducing Louisiana’s worst-in-the-country gender pay gap. The governor has introduced those bills before but failed to gain enough support among the GOP-dominated Legislature.

Edwards also said he’ll back changes to the state’s Medicaid program to add a work, education or volunteer requirement. The state is working with a consultant that has worked to implement similar requirements in Kentucky, he added.

And as lawmakers weigh possible changes to TOPS, Edwards said he “doesn’t favor changing TOPS.”

“I favor funding TOPS,” he said, adding the program will not be funded unless tax hikes are approved to replace the temporary taxes set to expire this year.

Edwards had a meeting scheduled this afternoon with House Speaker Taylor Barras and House GOP leader Lance Harris, among others, to discuss a possible agreement on legislation to avert the upcoming fiscal cliff.

The governor had previously imposed a Jan. 19 deadline—the day he’ll present a budget outline that could include north of a billion dollars in spending cuts, largely to higher education and health care—to reach a deal with House leadership on tax and budget changes. But he said today that deadline is flexible if talks progress.

Edwards reiterated his position that he won’t call a special session in February unless lawmakers find common ground with the administration on tax and budget issues. Republicans have thwarted the governor’s past attempts at tax code changes, instead calling for a plan that focuses more heavily on spending reductions.

“We haven’t seen anything that looks like a plan at all,” Edwards said of GOP lawmakers. “Maybe today will be the day.”

—Sam Karlin

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