Roundup: Legal marijuana delayed again; sales tax collection passes Senate; early voting for president expanded

Rep. Jean Paul Coussan, R-Lafayette, takes questions on HB72 from Rep. Mandie Landry, D-New Orleans. Photo by Robert Buckman

As the Legislature moved into the second half of the 60-day session Wednesday, the House once again delayed a final vote on legalizing recreational marijuana, while the Senate unanimously approved a constitutional amendment to allow the state to collect local sales taxes.

And at a time when other Southern states that voted for Donald Trump have passed laws that limit voting access, the Louisiana House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a bill that extends early voting in presidential elections by four days.

The marijuana legalization bill, HB699 by Rep. Richard Nelson, R-Mandeville, already postponed for final House action twice, has now been scheduled for floor debate on Tuesday. Nelson also deferred action slated for Wednesday on his HB440, which establishes a $2,500 fee for commercial marijuana retailing licenses and $100 for an individual cultivation license.

The sales tax consolidation amendment, HB199 by House Speaker Chad Schexnayder, passed the Senate 37-0. Its Senate sponsor was Sen. Barry Milligan, R-Shreveport.

“We’ve got to move forward with this,” Milligan told the Senate. “We’re being left behind. It’s not just about efficiency. It’s basically streamlining the whole process of collections.”

The bill expanding early voting in presidential elections, HB286 by Rep. Frederick Jones, D-Bastrop, sailed through the overwhelmingly Republican House 89-7. All the Lafayette Parish delegation voted for it except Republican Stuart Bishop, who did not vote.

The bill, which now goes to the Senate, expands early voting only for presidential elections from the current 14 to seven days before the election to 18 to seven days before.

Jones told the House his original bill expanded early voting for all elections, but it was amended in committee because, he said, several members had “heartburn” with it.

In other action, the Senate approved 34-1 SB10 by Sen Cleo Fields, D-Baton Rouge, for mandatory kindergarten for children five years of age.

The House indefinitely delayed a vote on HB7 by Rep. Aimee Adatto Freeman, D-New Orleans, which would exempt feminine hygiene products and diapers from the state sales tax.

Coussan delays vote on industrial self-audits

At the last minute, Rep. Jean-Paul Coussan, R-Lafayette, postponed a vote on HB72, which would allow the Department of Environment Quality to authorize industries to audit themselves.

Coussan returned the bill to the calendar until Thursday after he was unable to answer a detailed question from Rep. Mandie Landry, D-New Orleans, over the confidentiality aspect of the bill.

The bill currently allows audits to be kept secret for up to two years or until “a final decision,” whichever comes first, Coussan said in the dock of the House.

He said the confidentiality period was originally up to three years, but was reduced to two in committee.

“They (DEQ) already have confidentiality in place” for the auditing process, Coussan said. He insisted allowing companies to audit themselves would permit an additional 3,000 more audits than the DEQ is able to conduct.

Emerson’s abortion reporting bill sails through House

The House on Wednesday overwhelmingly passed HB423 by Rep. Julie Emerson, R-Carencro, which requires hospitals to notify the Louisiana Department of Health of any treatment for abortion complications. It passed 81-14. All members of the Lafayette Parish delegation voted for it.

The bill also would require LDH to provide “copies of all abortion reports” for girls under the age of 13 each quarter to the Department of Children and Family Services and to the attorney general.

Emerson’s HB421, which allows local school districts to establish “learning pods” for small-group instruction, also won passage, 98-0. Both bills have gone to the Senate.