Legislators approve medical marijuana expansion, a tax break for the working poor and bulletproof backpacks for students

Third session likely this month

Louisiana legislators are likely fast headed into their third special session later this month to take another shot at resolving the budget crisis, but taxpayers can anticipate some changes from the other sessions.

Although legislators held a recent special session to address the state’s budget crisis that ended in stalemate, they did give a tax break to the state’s working poor families.

Effective next year, they can claim a higher earned income tax credit, up from 3.5 percent to 5 percent. Democrats wanted to offset the one-center sales tax renewal, which they maintained hit these families hardest.

This year’s regular session also resulted in passage of bills that are bringing change.

Gov. John Bel Edwards signed the bill that expanded Louisiana’s medical marijuana program to cover more diseases and ease regulations to allow marijuana in oil form to get into patients’ hands sooner. However, legislators maintained the cap on “marijuana pharmacies” at 10.

For the St. Charles Parish area, the allowed pharmacy will be in Houma. Green Leaf Dispensary has gotten a license and is expected to open this summer.

Louisiana legislators agreed to let schoolchildren carry bulletproof backpacks to class.

Edwards also signed this measure into law, which was sponsored by Sen. Mike Walsworth, a Republican, and got little opposition in the session. It was among more than 20 bills filed this year related to the shooting at a Florida high school where 17 people were killed.

The main concern raised about this move is the cost of the bags, which can range from $60 to a few hundred dollars, according to Walsworth.

School safety was on legislators’ minds when they approved a bill that made a hazing death a felony.

The parents whose son was a college student who died in a drinking contest last year appealed to legislators to toughen anti-hazing laws. The measure won widespread legislative support.

Also passed in the regular session is a law that will allow voters to decide on the November ballot whether to get rid of a state law that allows serious felony convictions to be decided by juries that split on verdicts. Legislators also toughened laws on bestiality and rejected an effort to end the death penalty.

In light of the national movement to address sexual harassment, the Legislature approved enacting the first government-wide policy against sexual harassment and established a process for handling complaints.

In pay, legislators again refused to raise minimum wage in the state and close the pay gap between men and women.


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