No one had particularly lofty expectations for this year’s legislative session. It’s an election year, after all, which means lawmakers were reticent to do anything that might prove controversial.
Despite that dynamic, however, the business community notched at least one major—and somewhat unexpected—win in the category of transportation infrastructure spending. It also played successful defense on a couple of employer mandates, including an effort to raise the minimum wage.
But there were as many negative outcomes as positive from the session. Comprehensive tort reform went down in flames, as did an effort to streamline the Industrial Tax Exemption Program.
“It was a good news, bad news session,” says Louisiana Association of Business and Industry President and CEO Stephen Waguespack. “We knew it would be tough going into an election year session. But with term limits, we’re going to have a lot of new faces in the Legislature come 2020, so there is going to be a tremendous opportunity to tackle some of the longstanding issues we’ve needed to address for years.”
Here’s a quick recap of how the business community’s agenda fared.
Biggest win: A bill redirecting $700 million in BP oil spill money to specific transportation infrastructure projects. Among those are two key projects in the Capital Region—a long-awaited flyover ramp connecting La. 415 to Interstate 10 on the west side of Mississippi River and improvements to Hooper Road—which, together, will get $140 million of the total.
Biggest loss: A major push to enact comprehensive tort reform showed early signs of gaining traction in the House, which passed several bills by overwhelming majorities. But the measures were ultimately killed by the Senate, either in committee or on the floor. Waguespack which was behind the tort reform effort, says the issue is far from dead and he is putting trial attorneys on notice. “Tort reform is coming,” he says. “The status quo figured out a way to kill it this time, but their days are numbered.”
Other business community wins:
• Establishment of a statewide framework for ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft.
• State requirement to return taxpayer money from a tax that is later declared unconstitutional. (It is unclear whether Gov. John Bel Edwards will sign this bill.)
• Staving off administration-sponsored efforts to impose new mandates on employers, including raising the minimum wage.
• Allowing charter schools to use tax exempt bonds to finance construction projects, putting them on a level playing field with other public schools.
• Establishment of regulations to allow for the cultivation of hemp.
• Making it less risky for developers to invest in blighted properties.
• Allowing the Baton Rouge Police Department to promote officers based on merit, not just seniority.
Other business community losses:
• A failed effort to streamline ITEP.
• Creation of a sustainable revenue source—i.e., a gasoline tax—to fund transportation infrastructure projects never made it out of committee.
• There were no efforts to address system issues like comprehensive fiscal reform or the need for a constitutional convention.
• Failure of a bill to extend to 2026 the state’s historic building tax credits program, which is currently set to expire in 2021.