The state legislature adjourned the 2023 regular session at 6:00 p.m. on Thursday, June 8th with a rather tumultuous finish by voting on all of the major spending bills in the last 30 minutes of the day. Although the manner in which the session concluded was unnecessarily chaotic, it is my opinion that significant victories can be claimed by conservative lawmakers on behalf of the people of Louisiana.
The last couple of weeks of the session were marked by heated discussions between the House of Representatives and Senate over a vote to exceed the constitutionally set expenditure limit designed to moderate the rate of growth for state government. The budget initially proposed by the House favored using surplus and excess funds to pay down large amounts of state pension system debt and staying below the spending cap, whereas, the state Senate advocated for using most of the money above the expenditure limit on one-time infrastructure projects. The final spending package reflects a compromise where both sides ultimately accomplished some of their goals and relented on some of their initial demands.
I was pleased to see that the final budget includes $691 million to pay off state retirement debt and save the state hundreds of millions of dollars in interest payments in coming years. This is a fiscally responsible measure designed to offset future revenue decreases caused by the upcoming expiration of the $0.45 sales tax and the re-allocation of vehicle sales tax revenue from the state general fund to transportation infrastructure. We also made a substantial deposit to the Rainy Day Fund, the state’s savings account, that brings the total amount available to near $1 billion dollars. I was disappointed to see that the teacher pay raise included in the budget was really a one-time stipend rather than a permanent pay increase, but there is a commitment to include the pay raise in next year’s school funding formula. As the husband of a public school teacher with 2 kids currently enrolled in public schools, I realize how critical it is that we continue to invest in our educators and schools.
District 22 will greatly benefit from the significant investments in infrastructure included in the budget passed by the state legislature. The spending bills passed by the legislature include funding commitments totaling over $75 million for important regional projects such as the Central Louisiana Juvenile Detention Center in Pollock, Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, and the Rod Brady Campus of CLTCC in LaSalle Parish. The budget also includes millions in funding for roads, water and sewer upgrades, law enforcement needs, and other important infrastructure projects for parishes, municipalities, and institutions across District 22. The Water Sector Program has been very good to the rural communities of District 22, and the legislature allocated another $50 million to this important program.
On a personal note, four of my bills passed the full legislature and have been sent to Governor Edwards. The governor has already signed HB110 which requires insurance companies to offer homeowners an endorsement that if purchased would pay for the additional cost to upgrade a storm-damaged roof to comply with Fortified Roof Standards. Passage of this bill is an important step in addressing the property insurance crisis we are facing, and in bringing sustainability and resiliency to the Louisiana insurance market. HB183 also received bipartisan support by the full legislature and has been sent to the Governor. HB183 prohibits the use of Assignment of Benefits contracts which were used by predatory contractors and unethical out-of-state attorneys to take advantage of vulnerable homeowners after hurricanes devastated our state in 2021 and 2022.
I passed two additional instruments to address the property insurance crisis that do not require gubernatorial approval. HCR55 memorializes Congress to pass federal legislation allowing for tax-advantaged catastrophe savings accounts. HR202 memorializes Congress to pass bipartisan legislation allowing for tax exclusion of amounts received from state-based catastrophe loss mitigation programs. This legislation would prevent homeowners receiving state Fortified Roof grants from having to pay federal income taxes on the state funds. It has been my pleasure to serve the past 4 years on the House Insurance Committee where I have had the opportunity to pass numerous consumer-friendly bills to protect policyholders and create stability in the insurance market.
I started working on HB43 over one year ago when a retired Natchitoches firefighter approached me about helping retired firefighters across the state receive a cost of living adjustment to counter the record inflation that had hit retirees and their survivors especially hard. After months of working with the Firefighters Retirement System board, employers, and retirees, we were finally able to reach an agreement that granted retirees and their beneficiaries a one-time supplemental payment in the amount of $2,500.00 to be paid by the system at no additional cost to taxpayers. HB43 passed both chambers of the legislature unanimously and is headed to the governor’s desk.
HB648 has prompted more conversation across the state than any legislation I have ever filed, and it has even received widespread national attention from media outlets such as CNN, Fox News, and NBC. However, the legislation was never intended to be controversial – it only seeks to protect children in Louisiana from harmful and experimental chemical and surgical sex change procedures. Every single Southern state has already passed similar legislation to end so-called gender affirming care to minors, and several very progressive European nations have recently completely reversed course and stopped performing these procedures on their children. Unfortunately, in the United States we have allowed divisive partisan politics to cloud our judgment on this issue and prevent us from strictly relying on medical science, systematic research, and the available data.
After hours and hours of debate and testimony in committee and on the floor, HB648 passed both chambers of the state legislature with overwhelming bipartisan support. Although Governor Edwards has indicated that he will veto legislation that he perceives as anti-LBGTQ, it is my sincere prayer that he will allow this bill to become law to prevent Louisiana from becoming THE destination for children from across the South to receive these irreversible, life-altering medical interventions. Should the bill ultimately be vetoed, it is my expectation that the people of Louisiana will demand that the legislature enter into a veto override session in July.
Other important legislation passed this session includes a bill to phase out the corporate franchise tax, and legislation affording tax exemptions for items like agricultural fencing and certain educational expenses. Several bills were passed to promote literacy in Louisiana schools, and legislation was passed to help recruit and retain teachers throughout the state. We listened to the people of Louisiana and sent legislation to the governor to crack down on the fentanyl crisis and to keep violent offenders in prison. Legislation was passed that amends the Louisiana Constitution to provide that the freedom to worship in a church is a fundamental right, and the people of Louisiana will have the opportunity to enshrine this right in the state Constitution in an upcoming election.
It has been a tremendous honor to serve as your state representative these past 4 years, and I look forward to serving you for many years to come. Please feel free to contact me at (318)765-9606 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you and God Bless.