Louisiana legislators should have the power to tax groceries, prescription medicines and home utilities without seeking public approval, according to backers of a proposed constitutional convention. Speaking at a Public Affairs Research Council webinar on Friday, Rep. Beau Beaullieu and former House Speaker Jim Tucker both said they favored removing the constitutional sales tax exemption on those basic necessities, although both men said the exemption should remain in state law. Julie O’Donoghue of the Louisiana Illuminator reports that ending the sales-tax exemption could potentially set up a tax-swap in next year’s “fiscal” session, as Gov. Jeff Landry and other conservatives seek to eliminate or reduce the state income tax: 

It would be difficult to meaningfully replace money produced by the income tax – which brings in $4.4 billion every year – without significantly widening the sales tax base to large swaths of new products. The tax exemptions for food for home consumption ($555.2 million), prescription drugs ($334.4 million) and residential electric power ($260.6 million) add up to $1.2 billion annually, according to state’s annual tax exemption budget. Advocates for low-income people have opposed proposals to swap out the income tax for broader sales taxes. Wealthy people and businesses pay the state income tax, but poor people do not. People who are struggling would carry a larger share of the financial burden of a sales tax on essentials like food, utilities and prescription drugs, according to the advocates. 

Beaullieu is the sponsor of House Bill 800, which calls for the constitution to be overhauled during a convention that would start no earlier than May 30 and run through Aug. 15 The Times Picayune | Baton Rouge Advocate’s Quin Hillyer writes that Landry’s push for a convention is a departure from conservatism: 

Then there’s Landry’s ongoing push for a state constitutional convention without giving a clue what his goals are. And, rather than allow the public to choose any delegates specifically for the convention, Landry wants it populated by the exact same legislators over whom he now rides herd, along with 27 other appointees of his own choosing. Landry essentially wants to refashion the entire state constitution at his personal direction, without public input or even telling the public why. This isn’t classical conservatism; it’s Central American caudillo envy — banana republic stuff without the bananas.

Lawmakers recently nixed language that would have allowed people convicted of violent crimes to access financial support while they train for jobs in high-demand occupations. Rep. Paula Davis’ House Bill 728 sought to expand the M.J. Foster Promise Program to include people convicted of violent crimes, and lower the qualifying age from 21 to 17. But as the Louisiana Illuminator’s Piper Hutchinson explains, lawmakers watered down the bill at a senator’s request:

[HB 728] sailed through the House with little objection and enjoyed support from a variety of organizations, including the powerful Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI) and the Louisiana Parole Project, a nonprofit that aids the formerly incarcerated.  Davis’ bill ran into problems Wednesday when Sen. Blake Miguez, R-New Iberia, took issue with giving state funding to those convicted of violent crime and insisted the language come out of the bill.  Proponents of the original version of the bill have said education is an important tool for reducing recidivism.  LABI voiced its support Tuesday to provide access to vocational training for the formerly incarcerated.

A proposal working its way through the state Legislature aims to tackle a $2 billion deferred maintenance backlog on Louisiana college campuses. Rep. Chris Turner’s House Bill 940 would allow schools to access a set amount of money each year for repairs and maintenance, instead of having to submit individual funding proposals for legislative approval. The Times Picayune | Baton Rouge Advocate’s Will Sutton applauds legislative leaders for uniting to fix our crumbling campuses: 

[Louisiana Commissioner of Higher Education Kim Hunter] Reed and other higher education leaders told me that House Speaker Phillip R. DeVillier is the reason this solution is moving forward. He met with Reed, higher education system presidents, representatives from the governor’s office and others early in the current session to figure out what might be done. They talked. He listened. Then, “I just stopped them and said I need you … to think differently.” Things clicked. State Rep. Chris Turner, R-Ruston took the ball and gathered bipartisan support.  

Congress is gearing up for a fight on the farm bill, a multi-year law that authorizes funding and sets the rules for federal agriculture subsidies and food programs. The text of the bill was released last week, and drew immediate criticism from Democrats for cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. States Newsrooms’ Ariana Figueroa reports

Another would limit future updates to the Thrifty Food Plan, the formula that calculates benefits for SNAP. “The economic impact of the SNAP cuts alone would be staggering,” [Rep. David] Scott said. A freeze in the Thrifty Food Plan would result in a roughly $30 billion SNAP cut over the next decade, according to the liberal-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. There are more than 41 million people who use SNAP benefits, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. However, the House farm bill would remove the ban on low-income Americans who have a drug conviction felony from obtaining SNAP benefits.

Gov. Jeff Landry wants to use the Legislature – along with 27 of his hand-picked appointees – in a rushed effort to overhaul the state constitution. Join the Power Coalition for Equity and Justice for a webinar on Wednesday, May 22 at 6:30 p.m. to learn more about a constitutional convention and its impacts. Register here

39 – New Orleans’ ranking among the 75 most populous areas in the U.S for the adoption of clean energy policies. The Crescent City was the most improved city from the previous year, jumping 28 spots. (Source: American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy via Axios)