Tax reform, marijuana, guns, and construction projects on state legislature’s agenda

Updated: Apr. 9, 2021 at 6:08 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Louisiana’s lawmakers head to the state capitol building on Monday to start the 2021 regular legislative session and things like tax reform, huge construction projects, teacher pay, and marijuana are expected to command a lot of attention.

Local legislators say they are focused on protecting the people and measures that are important to the communities they represent.

Rep. Royce Duplessis, a Democrat, is part of the New Orleans legislative delegation.

“This is a fiscal session, so we’ll be dealing with a lot of bills with respect to tax reform and ensuring that our tax reform is smarter, more effective for its citizens and for its businesses,” said Duplessis.

Rep. Mandie Landry, D-New Orleans, also represents the city in the legislature.

“And we want to make sure that whatever ends up getting passed doesn’t hurt the average New Orleanian, you know, we have a lot of people who are living near or below the poverty line and we want to make sure those tax laws don’t hurt them,” Landry stated.

Republican Rep. Stephanie Hilferty represents both New Orleans and neighboring Jefferson Parish.

She expects a push to centralize sales tax collections. “We are different from I think almost all the other states in that we do have multiple tax collectors,” said Hilferty.

While Hilferty is not proposing the change, herself she says some businesses call it a burden to have to deal with multiple tax remittance policies. She is also aware many local governments may oppose centralizing tax collections.

“We’re certainly following the debate closely and I think as long as we’re making sure locals have a seat at that table and that the timeliness is maintained as well as their correct remittance of the sales tax back to the parish, those are the two key factors and so as long as those two items are addressed I think there will be good support for the effort,” Hilferty stated.

Monika Gerhart is Director of State Relations for New Orleans city government.

“Really focused on anything that could negatively impact the financial position of the city over the long term,” said Gerhart.

Among other things expected attempts to tinker with the inventory tax is on the city’s radar.

“And any efforts to erode the city’s ability to collect revenue on that; that’s a $14 million value locally and not just the city of New Orleans but also to the RTA, to Audubon, the School Board,” said Gerhart.

And in terms of the state’s capital outlay budget, legislators will fight for local construction projects.

“Specifically, as it relates to New Orleans, we know that protecting Sewerage and Water Board, continuing to invest in our infrastructure is going to be crucial,” said Duplessis.

Hilferty agrees.

“Certainly, on the Orleans Parish side we are looking at the power plant for Sewerage and Water Board that is a big effort for Orleans Parish,” she said.

And Hilferty is concerned about infrastructure projects in Jefferson Parish as well.

“I represent parts of Bucktown, in between West Esplanade and the lake, currently that water is actually drained to Bonnabel, we’re looking to receive some of that and allow that to pump into the 17th Street Canal,” she says.

Landy has legislation to expand background checks for gun purchases.

“I filed a bill HB 353 that would expand background checks on gun sales. I think it’s high time we’ve done that in the state,” said Landry. “Right now, you only have to go through a background check to determine if you are a violent felon, or if there’s a domestic violence protective order filed against you, you only need to go through a check if you buy from a dealer, you don’t have to go through a check if you buy from an individual, this would close that loophole as it’s called.”

Duplessis and Landry said they will support efforts to decriminalize marijuana.

“Yes, I personally support it very strongly, I also know that my constituents support it very strongly as do the majority of Louisianans, both Democrats and Republicans,” said Duplessis.

Landry says voters she encountered while campaigning made it clear they do not want people jailed over marijuana.

“Ultimately, this is a plant, it’s not like methamphetamine, it’s not an opioid, it’s a plant that we can regulate and tax and hopefully make some money from it and stop incarcerating people,” Landry said.

A higher minimum wage at the state level will again be pushed by Democrats.

“It’s an issue that gets advanced by Democrats in the legislature or advocated for in the legislature, but we know that Democrats and Republicans outside of the legislature, just your everyday citizens they all support, so we have to get beyond the politics of the minimum wage and just do what’s right,” said Duplessis.

Duplessis said because there is not a fiscal crisis confronting legislators this year more spending priorities should be given serious attention.

“That is a good problem to have, so now it’s a question of priorities. What do we as a state prioritize? Do we truly prioritize our teachers, do we truly prioritize our young people? Are we going to invest in early childhood education? Are we going to invest in teacher pay raises?” Duplessis stated.

Hilferty thinks there will be strong support for hiking teacher salaries.

“I expect that we’ll see a lot of support for that effort, and I would certainly support seeing our teachers paid a fair amount because they have just done so much obviously over the long haul but especially under these very changing, dramatically changing circumstances,” she said.

Rep. Gary Carter, D-New Orleans, says it is critical that the state wisely invest the billions it is receiving from the federal American Rescue Plan which was passed this year by Congress to help individuals, as well as state and local governments recover from the pandemic.

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