FILE - Sports betting

Sport betting at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas

Sports betting 'hitchhiker' added to fantasy sports measure

House Bill 459, which establishes the legal framework for the online fantasy sports contests most parishes legalized last year, was amended in the Senate Monday in a last-ditch, long-shot effort to pass a sports-betting legalization measure. The bill’s sponsor, River Ridge Republican Kirk Talbot, has said in committee he would oppose the expected hitchhiker.  

“One person is trying to kill this bill,” said Sen. Danny Martiny, referring to House Appropriations Chairman Cameron Henry, who helped knock down Martiny’s bill to let voters decide whether to allow sports betting at casinos and racetracks in their parishes and is currently keeping it “bottled up” in the Appropriations committee.

HB 459 is scheduled for concurrence discussions between the House and Senate Tuesday.

Also on Monday, House Bill 600, which imposes taxes on fantasy sports, fell short of the two-thirds majority of senators needed for final passage Monday, though there is still time to try again before the session ends Thursday. The bill would impose a 15.5 percent tax rate, tied for highest in the nation, though some senators think it should be higher to match rates paid by other types of gaming that create jobs and invest in the state.

House approves more money for jails

The state House of Representatives on Monday voted to spend $2 more per prisoner per day to house state inmates at parish jails. The change will go into effect over two years, costing an additional $6.5 million next year and more than $12 million each year thereafter.

Katrina Jackson, the Monroe Democrat who sponsored the measure, said housing the prisoners saves the state money because parish officials can do it for half the cost. She said the money would allow parish facilities to offer more treatment and rehabilitation programs while allowing prisoners to remain connected to their communities, reducing recidivism.

Jackson had sought a $5 increase that was shaved down by a Senate committee.

Ridesharing framework approved

The House of Representatives has granted final passage to a bill creating a statewide legal framework for companies like Uber and Lyft that allow riders to summon third-party drivers with a smartphone app.

Louisiana is one of a handful of states that don’t currently allow such companies to operate statewide.

House backs industrial hemp and CBD legalization

The House of Representatives unanimously approved the final version of House Bill 491, which sets up a framework for industrial hemp production and legalizes CBD derived from hemp.

The Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry will submit the state plan to the federal government for approval. The department plans to issue four types of licenses for the hemp industry for growers, processors, seed producers and carriers.

Legal CBD would have to be derived from hemp produced under an approved state plan and accurately labeled.

Taxpayer refund measure advances

The House of Representatives on Monday overwhelmingly supported Senate Bill 198, which clarifies Louisiana Board of Tax Appeals rules and exempts veterans’ disability payments from income taxes. House Appropriations on Sunday amended the bill to essentially include House Bill 265, which calls for a new way for taxpayers to get refunds for taxes paid under an unconstitutional or improperly administered law.

Currently, taxpayers can pay under protest or sue the state and hope money is appropriated by the legislature to pay them. The bill seeks to allow them to file for a refund and be repaid with interest without having paid under protest first.

The change would not apply to past disputes. Department of Revenue Secretary Kimberly Robinson said the state’s policy has held up in court for many years and changing it could create unpredictable future costs for the state. But Rep. Phillip DeVillier, who sponsored HB 265, argued small businesses and individuals might not know a tax could be unconstitutional before they pay it.

Alcohol delivery may be nearing legalization

The House of Representatives has concurred with the Senate amendments to House Bill 508, which would allow retailers to deliver both high- and low-content alcoholic beverages. Delivery is only permissible during normal business hours in places where alcohol sales are generally legal, and the employee who delivers the beverage is to verify the age of the recipient and make sure the customer isn’t already visibly drunk.

The House has rejected Senate amendments to House Bill 349, which allows for delivery of only low-alcohol-content beverages along with a food order. Unlike HB 508, it would allow restaurants to participate and allows for third-party delivery companies like Waitr. The bill is pending in conference committee.

Reporter

David Jacobs is a Baton Rouge-based award-winning journalist who has written about government, politics, business and culture in Louisiana for almost 15 years. He joined The Center Square in 2018.