State Capitol

A full slate of proposals await legislators today at the State Capitol. The 2019 legislative session continues through June 6.

(The Center Square) – The Louisiana Senate on Friday unanimously approved giving $250 in “hazard pay” to workers who were on the front line of the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic.

To be eligible, an applicant has to have made $50,000 or less last year and worked at least 200 hours between March 22 and May 14. The program is reserved for occupations considered part of the essential infrastructure during the public health crisis when most people were encouraged to stay home, including health care workers, first responders, grocery store employees and many more.

Legislators have set aside $50 million from federal CARES Act pandemic relief for the program, which will operate on a “first come, first served” basis. Lawmakers have approved hundreds of millions of dollars in business tax breaks this year, but House Bill 70 is the first to create a benefit for individuals, Democratic Sen. Jay Luneau said.

The bill goes back to the House for one final vote.

Senators also gave final passage to a potential constitutional amendment that, if approved by voters in November, will ban state government from spending money in the treasury’s unclaimed property fund. The money would be invested, and lawmakers could spend the interest, not the principal.

The legislation would resolve a lawsuit between Gov. John Bel Edwards, who wanted state government to continue spending some of the money as lawmakers had in the past, and State Treasurer John Schroder, who argued it wasn’t state government’s money to spend. As part of a compromise with the Edwards administration to resolve the lawsuit, Schroder agreed to give up $37 million of unclaimed assets to offset the immediate costs of tax breaks legislators approve this year.

This month's special session must end by 6 p.m. Tuesday.

Also on Friday, senators approved:

House Bill 44: The bill started out as an omnibus bill to change how Louisiana’s legal system handles automobile accident claims much like Senate Bill 418 from this year’s regular session, which Gov. John Bel Edwards vetoed.

Republican Rep. Ray Garofolo, the bill’s author, gutted his legislation so that it does not conflict with House Bill 57 by House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, which has similar goals. HB 44 now only deals with the “collateral source” issue, which Schexnayder’s bill doesn’t address.

The measure is meant to ensure a plaintiff can only collect damages for health care expenses the plaintiff has paid or owes, rather than the “sticker price of a procedure, which might be much higher. Senators voted 27-9 to send the amended bill back to the House.

House Bill 55: Allows courts to consider whether a plaintiff’s seat belt usage (or lack thereof) contributed to their alleged injuries. Senators sent it back to the House with a 32-4 vote.

House Bill 69: Would create a 50 percent sales tax rebate for the purchase of fiber optic cable. Only companies participating in the federal government’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund auction, meant to promote broadband access in unserved areas, would be eligible.

Senators voted 37-0 in favor of the bill, which heads back to the House.

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