Brief: Orphan wells, voluntary industrial audits and abortion reporting

Rep. Jean-Paul Coussan’s HB662, which would exempt re-opened orphaned wells from the 12.5% severance tax for up to two years or until they pay off, breezed through the House 100-0 Tuesday afternoon.

Coussan, R-Lafayette, told the House the bill represents a “win-win for the industry and for the environment,” because there are more than 4,000, orphaned (abandoned) wells in Louisiana and they “have become an environmental issue all the way up to the national capital.”

He said the bill would incentivize “mom and pop” operators to try to make a go of reopening wells, but if they decided to abandon them they would be responsible for the cost of plugging them. Plugging a well costs an average of $30,000, an expense the state has often had to bear.

Rep. Chad Brown, D-Plaquemines, needled Coussan by asking, “Could you explain to me what a mom-and-pop well is, because my mom and pop never had a well.”

“You have majors, middies and mom-and-pops,” Coussan replied.

Coussan has authored seven energy-related bills this session. He pulled a second one from Tuesday's calendar, HB72, which would require the Department of Environmental Quality to establish a program of voluntary industry self-audits, for consideration Wednesday.

“I’m working with the (Edwards) administration and the DEQ on this,” Coussan said. “This is a DEQ bill.”

Another of Coussan’s bills, HB661, would exempt newly drilled wells or wells undergoing mandated enhancements from severance taxes for 12 months or until payoff. But unlike HB662, which would not cost the state revenue because orphaned wells aren’t producing anyway, HB661 would cost the state $2.6 million the first year in lost revenue and $58.1 million over five years, according to the fiscal note attached to the bill. That bill is still languishing in the Ways and Means Committee.

Emerson’s abortion reporting bill up for debate

Rep. Julie Emerson, R-Carencro, has a potentially incendiary abortion measure up for floor debate in the House Wednesday.

Her HB423 would require hospitals to report to the Louisiana Department of Health any treatment for abortion complications, and would require the LDH to provide quarterly to the Department of Children and Family Services and to the attorney general “copies of all abortion reports” for girls under the age of 13. It was reported favorably by the House Health and Welfare Committee last month.

“The bill is simply adding to the reporting requirements involving abortions and also adds reporting of abortion complications,” Emerson tells Straight News Online. “Hospitals do a lot of reporting on a variety of procedures, injuries and diseases. Just like everything else, this will all be non-identifiable and protect a patient’s confidential data. Questions regarding this information have come up in the lawsuits challenging some of our laws regarding abortion, and the attorney general’s office didn’t have the information. So, it’s just simply to provide data.”

Asked if she anticipates much opposition on the floor, she says, “I’m sure there will be some.”

Another Emerson bill is up for final House passage Wednesday. HB421 would authorize public school governing bodies to establish “learning pods” for small group instruction.

Lafayette delegation supports sports betting by 6-1

Emerson was the only House member from Lafayette Parish who voted against a bill that paves the way for legal sports betting.

The House approved the bill, HB697 by Rep. John Stefanski, R-Crowley, 78-24. The other six Lafayette Parish delegation members, Republicans Gerald Beaullieu, Stuart Bishop, Coussan and Jonathan Goudeau and Democrats Marcus Bryant and Vincent Pierre, voted with the majority. Bryant and Pierre are co-sponsors.

The bill prohibits betting by computer by anyone under 21 years of age.