Louisiana lawmakers advance measures regarding paying a state debt, marijuana enforcement, sports betting

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The Louisiana House voted Tuesday to use state sales taxes collected in five parishes to help pay for the state’s billion-dollar debt for a hurricane and flood protection system in southeast Louisiana.

As amended Tuesday, House Bill 639 would put state sales taxes collected in St. Charles, Jefferson, Plaquemines, St. Bernard and Orleans parishes toward a fund meant to help the state pay its share of the federally constructed Hurricane and Storm Damage Risk Reduction System in the New Orleans region. House Appropriations Chair Jerome Zeringue, who authored the bill, said the state’s first $400 million payment is due in September and an additional $400 million would be due next year.

Money would be deposited only this fiscal year and next year, and each deposit would be capped at $400 million. The bill doesn’t have a fiscal note to explain how much money might be raised.

Another option would be to sell bonds to pay the debt, but that would cut into the amount of money the state can borrow to fund construction projects, which most lawmakers would prefer not to do. But diverting sales taxes away from the state general fund could create a hole in the state budget.

The House also voted to reduce penalties for possessing small amounts of marijuana. Under current law, convictions for marijuana possession can lead to escalating fines and a felony conviction with jail time.

Under House Bill 652 by Rep. Cedric Glover, D-Shreveport, someone caught with 14 grams or less would be subject to a $100 fine but no more. Shreveport Republican Rep. Alan Seabaugh, one of the chamber's most conservative members, joined Democrats in asking lawmakers to support the bill, which passed 70-19.

A Senate judiciary committee advanced without objection Senate Bill 202 by Senate President Page Cortez. It is part of a package of instruments to establish taxes and regulations for sports betting, which 55 of 64 parishes legalized last year.

Among other measures, the bill calls for the Louisiana Lottery Corporation to issue no more than 20 licenses to operate a sports book. The state’s 16 casinos and four horse racing tracks would be the first eligible applicants, with fantasy sports and video poker operators next in line if any licenses are available.

The House approved House Bill 697 on Monday. It calls for a 10% tax on the net proceeds of an operator for on-premise sports wagering and an 18% tax on net proceeds from mobile betting. The bill also calls for the Louisiana Lottery to oversee sports betting through kiosks placed in bars and restaurants, which is meant to allow retail establishments to benefit.

The Senate is scheduled Wednesday to take up Senate Bill 142, which in its current form would direct fines and fees related to sports betting to the state general fund, though some lawmakers would prefer to dedicate revenue to early childhood education.





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