Legislative Wrap Up highlights River Region priorities

Published 10:34 am Wednesday, August 2, 2023

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RESERVE — The recent Legislative Session marked progress toward accomplishing local economic and business development priorities, according to elected officials who served as speakers during the River Region Chamber of Commerce’s Legislative Wrap-Up Meeting.

The informational event was held last week at the River Parishes Community College Reserve campus. Speakers from GNO, Inc. opened the meeting by recapping the biggest takeaways from the 2023 Regular Session, which Senior Vice President of Public Policy Jasmine Brown-DeRousselle deemed a success for economic development. Tax credit incentives for research and development, motion pictures, and rehabilitation of historic structures were extended, albeit with some opposition.

Brown-DeRousselle was pleased to see locals have a seat at the table as legislators took a step in the right direction for a simplified tax structure. She also views Act 378, which lays out notification requirements for carbon sequestration projects, as a great win for the state.

GNO, Inc. Public Policy Director Peter Waggonner touched on updates to Louisiana’s Fortified Roof program, for which the legislature has allocated $30 million to be administered through the Department of Insurance. Funds are expected by become available this fall on a first come, first served basis. An additional $10 million went to the Insure Louisiana Incentive program to encourage companies to write new premiums in Louisiana, a market that has proven challenging in the insurance world post-Hurricane Ida. Waggonner would like to see further steps taken to address ambiguity in the current law regarding bad faith, which has led to an abundance of lawsuits.

“Lawyers have the ability to argue insurance companies are acting in bad faith, not necessarily because they are acting in bad faith. Hopefully in the next session, we will see the Legislature take another stab at that,” he said.

GNO Inc.’s priorities align with the River Region Chamber of Commerce’s federal, state and local priorities to promote a healthy business environment. On the local level are flood protection and infrastructure projects including the West Shore Lake Pontchartrain Levee, the Upper Barataria Project, the proposed I-10 Connector in Reserve, and a four-way connection between River Road and 3127 in St. Charles Parish. Other local items of interest include economic/workforce development and budget/tax reform.

State and federal legislative priorities also have potential to make a significant local impact. The River Region Chamber of Commerce defends incentives that keep a pro-business environment by creating permanent jobs. The Committee is keeping a close eye on carbon capture and sequestration, coastal restoration, and National Flood Insurance Program updates relevant to local business development.

Sen. Ed Price, Rep. Greg Miller, Rep. Clay Schexnayder and Sen. Gary Smith were featured guests at the Legislative Wrap-Up event.

Price was pleased to recount progress in cost of living adjustments for Louisiana’s retirees. After poor stock market conditions led to six or seven years without COL adjustments, it was costing Louisianans to play catch-up.

“They are part of economic development, too. We have a lot of retirees, and if they don’t have money to spend, they’re not going to be buying clothes or medication,” Price said.

Price said this year’s session also saw a big push for teacher pay raises. Stipends were secured, and there are plans to make permanent changes to MFP funding in this next session. Gaines also noted a lot of interest in the Fortified Roof program.

Sen. Smith spoke about investments made to the River Region, including funds allocated to the Port of South Louisiana’s GlobalPlex.

Smith added that this year’s $46.5 million budget is an increase from last year, and the state’s rainy day fund savings account has grown bigger than ever to provide a safety net for hard times.

Rep. Schexnayder added that this year marked the first time in state history that Louisiana has paid almost $700 million in old debt. He is confident the state is in a good financial position moving forward.
“Everybody in the state should be proud of what we’ve done,” he said. “We have money that hasn’t even been touched yet, waiting for future development.”

Another notable development, according to Schexnayder, was the approval of bonuses to incentivize police officers to come to Louisiana.

In another win for the region, Rep. Miller sponsored a bill recently signed into law that creates the River Parishes Juvenile Justice District to provide much-needed facility space and services for juveniles awaiting adjudication.

Rep. Miller also spoke about the state’s investments in ports and sewage, addressing a backlog of infrastructure needs.

“If we can’t get people from point A to point B, then we won’t be able to grow,” Miller said.