(The Center Square) – The last bill of the Louisiana Legislature’s June special session proved to be a contentious one, as lawmakers on Tuesday approved a measure meant to shield K-12 schools and colleges from lawsuits if a student or teacher contracts COVID-19.
House Bill 59 by Rep. Buddy Mincey, a former school board member, went through several iterations. Originally, it covered any infectious disease, but Mincey reluctantly accepted limiting the bill’s scope to the current pandemic.
“This bill has been able to have at one or another, most everybody against it or for it,” Mincey said. “Sometimes twice in one day.”
But in its final version, the bill actually could create more liability for the state, Rep. Ray Garofalo argued. He said last-minute changes requiring university boards of supervisors and the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to set policies for their schools will subject them to lawsuits if the schools or districts fail to follow those plans.
Garofalo also said Department of Education attorneys told him legislation approved during the regular session adequately covers schools.
“This opens up the state of Louisiana, BESE, [and] boards of supervisors to more litigation on this issue,” he said.
Also on the session’s final day, lawmakers approved:
House Bill 4: Extends the state’s tax credit program for renovations of historic buildings and caps the amount of credits that taxpayers can reserve at $125 million annually.
Many lawmakers, including those skeptical of tax incentives generally, consider the historic tax credits to be one of the more effective programs, helping to revitalize older districts in cities and towns across the state while delivering a solid return on investment for taxpayers.
Sen. Bret Allain, who chairs his body’s revenue and fiscal affairs committee, argued unsuccessfully for a cap on the amount that can be redeemed over the next two years, citing the current economic uncertainty.
“Tax exemptions are spending,” he warned. And unlike a spending bill that only applies to the next fiscal year, tax credit programs commit the state to multiple years of spending, he added.
House Bill 11: Increases the proportion of sales tax collections businesses are allowed to keep as compensation from 0.935 percent to 1.05 percent, while lowering the total amount per month vendors can keep from $1,500 to $1,200.
The changes were billed as a way to boost the cash flow of the smallest businesses while limiting the impact on state finances.
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.