(The Center Square) – The Louisiana House of Representatives on Tuesday voted to spend more taxpayer money on this fall’s elections while banning local officials from taking private money to fund election expenses.
Though there was little discussion by the full House, in committee Democrats argued it made no sense to turn down free money as the state faces additional election expenses. But the Republican majority said outside funding has the potential to corrupt an election’s integrity and lead to unequal treatment of voters.
House Bill 59 by Rep. Beau Beaullieu authorizes the Secretary of State’s office to pay poll workers an additional $100 per day. Many of the people who fill those jobs are older and are reluctant to work at polling locations because of concerns about COVID-19, officials say. The change could cost up to $6.3 million, according to the Legislative Fiscal Office.
Republican Rep. Blake Miguez filed House Bill 51, which would prohibit funding any aspect of the state’s elections with private funds, after Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and wife Priscilla Chan offered $250 million in grants to local election officials around the country to ensure “every eligible voter can participate in a safe and timely way and have their vote counted.”
Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin encouraged clerks of court statewide to apply for the grants, which according to committee testimony could be worth $8 million in Louisiana. Debbie Hudnall, executive director of the state clerks of court association, said the clerks were excited to apply until Attorney General Jeff Landry told them accepting the donations might violate the law. Miguez said he wants to clarify the relevant law.
In other action Tuesday, the House approved:
House Bill 94: Exempts many types of businesses affected by COVID-19 from paying license renewal fees for six months following the end of a declared state of emergency. Companies would have to have 50 employees or fewer to qualify.
House Bill 72: Would ensure at least $7.5 million of the grants the state’s $275 million Louisiana Main Street Recovery Program distributes goes to bar owners.
Rep. John Stefanski, the bill’s author, said government should make bars a priority since bar owners were ordered to shut down and in many cases still cannot legally open for on-premise service. Opponents said bar owners had a chance to apply for the program just like everyone else and said it was unfair to change the rules after the fact.
State Treasurer John Schroder has stopped taken applications for the fund, which he thinks will run out of money by the time all applications are processed. HB 72 would only apply to bar applications currently pending.
House Bill 85: Also calls for helping bar owners. It calls for $2,000 grants but does not specify a funding source.
David Jacobs, Staff Reporter for the Center Square, is a Baton Rouge-based award-winning journalist who has written about government, politics, business and culture in Louisiana for almost 15 years. He joined The Center Square in 2018.