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Lawmakers: Acadiana prospered during coronavirus sessions; what's next?

Area lawmakers said Wednesday that Acadiana enjoyed numerous successes during the 2020 legislative sessions.

But challenges to business recovery from COVID-19 will loom largest if lawmakers return for a special session in the fall, perhaps in October. Discussion about a fall session would not likely start until August, lawmakers said.

Five Acadiana legislators, all Republicans, met on a Zoom conference — more than 130 people were on the call — and touted these among boosts or potential benefits to the economy in a time of pandemic:

  • State Rep. Beau Beaullieu said Louisiana Main Street Recovery, administered through the Office of the Treasury, will help small businesses that have seen no previous aid through grants of up to $15,000. Applications will open next week. The program applications from favors women, minorities and veterans.
  • State Rep. Stuart Bishop said the franchise tax has been suspended a year for small businesses, under a House resolution. The cost to the state is about $7 million, he said.
  • Businesses that collect sales taxes to send to the state will be able to keep a modest amount more than previously, State Rep. John Stefanski said.
  • Enterprise zones will expand to include additional business, Beaullieu said. That will include restaurants, bars and hotels, whose businesses have been gravely affected with business downturns during the pandemic. He said that would help small businesses, especially in “strapped communities,” to hire more help when needed. “They’ve been hit the hardest,” he said.
  • Stefanski said lawmakers passed tort reform legislation that dropped the threshold for jury trials from $50,000 to $10,000, which many observers say would ostensibly limit “judge shopping.” Attorneys will also be allowed to discuss some matters of insurance and whether crash victims wore seat belts, among other reforms. The changes, Stefanski suggested, would help to make the costs of auto insurance more competitive.
  • Bishop, who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee, said he worked hard on the capital outlay bill this year, trimming programs in a cash-strapped year except for major priorities and projects underway, including infrastructure projects like roads and bridges, ports and levees. “We removed a ton of projects,” he said, which brought the final capital outlay bill below its cap for the year. It also funded projects in which a state match was needed.

Lawmakers also discussed continuing efforts for cooperation to keep U.S. House District 3 intact, which would mean keeping Lafayette and Lake Charles in the same district.

The combined areas style themselves as a “super district” now with close ties in chamber of commerce and industrial recruitment efforts. Lawmakers said the two have shared interests, as well, which might include political backgrounds, agriculture, the energy industry and the Louisiana coastline.

Stefanski said it was important to keep the two largest population centers — Lafayette and Lake Charles — in the same district.

To that end, One Acadiana’s Andre Breaux, who moderated the meeting, reminded lawmakers and participants on the call to keep pushing for a full count during this U.S. Census year, which will affect redistricting of political lines.

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