State Representative and State Senator explain legislation
This year’s legislative session in Baton Rouge was interrupted by the COVID outbreak. As a result the state legislature, on its own, called for a special session to finish wrapping up business items on the table.
“We did that because we felt like there was a lot of things that hadn’t come across the table that was important to Louisianaians, and a lot of that was related to tort reform that we hadn’t seen yet,” said State Representative Rhonda Butler (R-Turkey Creek) in an interview with KVPI.
“These bills have not gone through the House and have not gone through the Senate,” she continued. “It’s important for us to vote on those bills, so we decided to go into session for another month to get this done.”
Since reconvening, Representative Butler said the legislature has been passing bills which “protect a lot of our Constitutional rights, businesses, and taxpayer money.”
One of these bills eliminated the state’s franchise tax on small businesses. “We relieved our small businesses of that,” said Representative Butler. “We needed to relieve our small mom-and-pop businesses. They just didn’t need that tax. We don’t need to put a burden on them.”
According to Representative Butler, who sits on the natural resources committee, legislation also deals with the state’s severance taxes which are among the highest in the country at 12.5-percent.
“We’re trying to get that oil back,” she said. “I co-authored a bill with Representative Philip DeVillier, and we brought some relief on the severance taxes that can reduce that gradually over time and get us to be more competitive with other states.”
State spending controls is another area that has been debated since returning to session.
“The biggest driver of every fiscal cliff we had in our state was because of state spending,” Representative Butler said. “State government doesn’t spend every penny we have; we spend every penny we think we have. To keep us in spending check, we passed a bill that says the state can only spend 98-percent of it’s revenue that it’ll think it’ll have. That will save us around $196 million a year.”
In a separate interview with KVPI, State Senator Heather Cloud (R-Turkey Creek) said she has had her attorney advertising bill passed.
“For some years now,” she said, “legislators have tried to address the pervasiveness of attorney advertising. Because of constitutional protected rights under the 1st Amendment, it’s difficult to address this.”
The problem for Senator Cloud was the advertising was not true because the client did not walk away with a million dollars. After fees and costs, the client may have only received $500,000.
“We’re seeing these advertisements wet onlookers appetites for jack pot justice,” she said. “It’s setting up false expectations. I believe it can contribute to staged accidents. They are risking their lives so they can hit the jack pot.”
“My bill is the first measure in years that may actually pass constitutional muster. It says if you advertise a settlement amount you have to make sure it’s the net amount. It’s a truth in advertising bill.”
Senator Cloud explained her bill won passage in the Senate on a 29-10 vote. It is now before a House committee before the full House.
One key area still being debated at the capitol is tort reform.
“This is why my constituents sent me to Baton Rouge,” said Senator Cloud. “The majority of the people across District 28 said they wanted me to lower their insurance. This is a dinner table topic. It affects businesses and families.”
She continued, “We got that bill through Judiciary A and through the body of the Senate, and it was heard in the civil law committee in the House. It’ll ultimately have to survive a potential governor’s veto.”
Representative Butler said “tort reform is coming to help lower these insurance costs.”
She has co-authored several bills on the issue.
Overall, tort reform in the state will look to cut down on legacy law suits which will affect car insurance.
Senator Cloud believes there are enough votes to win final passage of the tort reform. “A lot of the buzz around the capitol among the legislators is we came with a mandate by our constituents to lower their insurance rates. I believe it’s going to go through committee and through the entire legislative process. I hope and pray our governor does not veto it.”
Both Representative Butler and Senator Cloud are also making strides in Baton Rouge to help the state’s rural areas.
Representative Butler has been named vice chairman of the rural caucus.
According to a press release from the House, “The Rural Caucus is established to better the condition and objectives of rural areas in Louisiana. By representing the rural communities of the state, the caucus is formed and conducted for the purpose of effectiveness in legislation and representation.”
The press release continued, “The caucus, consisting of 63 members, elected Rep. Butler to serve as Vice Chairman for the 2020-21 session alongside Chairman Chris Turner of Ruston and Secretary-Treasurer Kenny Cox of Shreveport.”
“I was very excited because serving on the board of tourism for 10 years put me in a lot of rural areas, so I understand our rural businesses and our rural people and how important it is for our festivals and the things that make communities thrive in these small rural areas.”
Senator Cloud reported the state has received $1.8 billion from the federal government related to COVID-19 funding.
“That money is supposed to be used to cover expenses related to the COVID crisis,” Senator Cloud said. “Often times, we see rural areas not get a lot of assistance on the side of the federal and state government, so we kind of look for crumbs out here.”
As a result, she has come up with a Business Grant Opportunity package that will address business who have already paid for their licenses and permits before having to close down.
“Businesses have made investments at the beginning of the year off of last year’s operations, and government said they have to shut down,” said Senator Cloud. “The question is how do we help reimburse businesses more fairly especially in rural areas.”
She continued, “It’s an indirect approach for us all to get a piece of the pie not just New Orleans or Baton Rouge.”
With all the proposed legislation going through, Representative Butler concluded, “I’m just excited to see what our future will be like for all the people in District 38 in Louisiana.”