By: Kristian A. Gerrets
Prepared by Advantous Consulting on December 18, 2020
Say what you want, but nobody will ever forget the year 2020. For all of the past year’s shortcomings and betrayals (of which there were many), it was also a year that brought out the best in some. Many people and organizations stepped up to provide assistance to those most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and the destruction caused by the unprecedented and hyperactive hurricane season, with which Louisiana’s coastline had to deal.
In that same vein, the Louisiana Legislature attempted to lessen the impact of the mayhem for which 2020 will forever be known. Although most of the relief legislation was passed into law during the Second Extraordinary Session of 2020, a handful of important bills were enacted during the First Extraordinary Session.
HB 70 (Act 12) by Representative Samuel Jenkins granted “front line” workers with a one-time hazard pay rebate by providing $250 to workers such as nurses, emergency medical service personnel, grocery store personnel, and long-term care facility personnel who worked in-person, outside of their homes during the height of the governmental health restrictions put in place because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The most negatively impacted businesses as a result of the Coronavirus were retailers and those in the hospitality industry. Consequently, hotels, restaurants, and retailers were desperate for some help. The Louisiana Legislature attempted to answer that call and provide them a lifeline, which came in the form of Acts 28 (by Representative Mark Wright) and 29 (by Representative Thomas Pressley) of the First Extraordinary Session granting restaurants, hotels, and retailers access to the state administered Enterprise Zone (“EZ”) and Quality Jobs (“QJ”) Programs, respectively. Both programs provide employer-participants tax credits and cash rebates based on qualifying hiring activity as well as certain capital expenditures.
The Second Extraordinary Session capitalized on the momentum built-up by the legislature during the First Extraordinary Session, and additional relief legislation was enacted. For example, SB 72 (Act 60) by Senator Kirk Talbot provided restaurants and bars some further, much needed relief in the way of a one-time refundable income tax credit based on a portion of the annual license or permit fees paid by the owners or operators of the food and/or alcohol service establishments in the state.
Speaker of the House, Representative Clay Schexnayder, authored a bill that provided for a sales and use tax holiday in late-November to provide relief and spur economic activity in light of the massive damage the Central and Southwest regions of the state endured at the hands of Hurricanes Laura and Delta as well as those still suffering as a result of the governmental health restrictions enacted because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Finally, 2020’s destruction also spread to the state’s Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund, which is used to bolster unemployment insurance funds in the event of unanticipated spikes in the state’s claims of unemployment benefits, decimating the trust fund from more than a billion dollars to around $49 million by late-September. Existing law at the time was to have imposed a solvency tax on Louisiana employers, assessing a tax in addition to the unemployment insurance premiums they were already paying into the state. However, Senate Concurrent Resolution 9, authored by Senate President Patrick Page Cortez, took some remedial action and suspended that law in an effort to give already hurting Louisiana employers some much needed breathing room.
In retrospect, the performance and fruits of the 2020 Louisiana Legislature are somewhat congruent with the demands and challenges of the year itself. It is unlikely that any of Louisiana’s lawmakers anticipated facing off with the pressure and hardships of a worldwide pandemic. However, they did their best to make lemons out of lemonade and may have even managed to mix in some sweet tea.