Legislative Session Recap
The Louisiana legislature finished its 60-day fiscal session on June 6 and successfully passed a more than $30 billion state budget. For the first time since Gov. Edwards and the current legislators were elected in 2015, there was no call for a special session.

With the additional sales tax revenue stream secured in 2018, the legislature did not face the budget drama of year’s past. Major focuses of the session included teacher pay raises, abortion, gambling proposals, medical marijuana and money for infrastructure.

The travel industry saw mixed results from this session. Infrastructure funding, approved regulations for ride-sharing services and some local occupancy tax measures were positives for the industry. A stable state tax base allowed for “somewhat” consistent funding for the Office of Tourism’s FY 19-20 budget; with reduced interagency transfers needed for other departments within CRT. But, the legislature has required LOT to increase funding for Essence Festival from $500,000 in FY 18-19 to almost $950,000 in FY 19-20 without General Fund appropriation. A hard-fought battle to capture occupancy tax from short-term rentals, however, ended with no action.

Below are more details on the travel industry’s key takeaways from the session:
Hotel definition bill fails to reach finish
Despite months of work, HB 339 did not make it to the finish line this session. Our hotel definition bill, which sought to capture occupancy tax from short-term rentals statewide, garnered zero opposition from short-term rental proponents. However, concerns from the business and agricultural communities ultimately led to an impasse.

As a pro-business industry, we along with the bill’s author, Rep. Stephen Dwight, set ourselves at odds with those concerned about workforce housing. Although workforce housing was unrelated to the original intent of the bill, this issue garnered opposition from LABI, oil & gas, the Farm Bureau Federation and others.

The opposition was able to successfully pass an unfavorable amendment on the bill in the House, exempting “man camps,” or what can be referred to as “pop-up hotels,” and placing our bill in the throws of an on-going lawsuit in Calcasieu Parish. This exemption for big business and industry would have hurt Louisiana hoteliers who are collecting, remitting and paying all of their taxes. With no possibility of achieving the original intent of the bill without hurting our industry, we worked with the author to voluntarily defer the bill. 

Final occupancy tax bill updates
  • River Parishes – 2 percent occupancy tax addition successful
  • Iberia Parish – occupancy tax bill withdrawn
  • St. Bernard Parish - $3 occupancy tax hike successful, but funds will benefit fire protection
 
Uber/Lyft approved statewide
After multiple attempts over the last few years, a bill creating statewide regulations for ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft has passed. With its successful passage, Uber and Lyft are expected to expand their services into smaller, more rural areas of the state. Louisiana has been one of only a handful of states that had not yet created a clear framework for Transportation Network Companies to operate statewide. Inconsistent local regulations created an unstable market throughout the state, whereas statewide regulations will boost local tourism and provide an expected service for visitors.
 
Seafood labeling
Louisiana restaurants soon will be required to post information about imported crawfish or shrimp on menus or signs at their main entrances. The measure drew unanimous support in the legislature and strong backing from the seafood industry.

Historic preservation bill fails
An effort to extend the state’s historic building tax credit program through 2026 failed late in the session . An amendment in the House that would have capped the total amount of credits the state can issue in a single year at $150 million proved controversial and ultimately led to the bill’s demise in the Senate. The program is currently set to expire in 2021 and technically cannot be considered during the 2020 session because it is not a fiscal session.
 
$700 million directed to investment in roads and bridges
Legislators passed a measure to redirect nearly $700 million in Deepwater Horizon oil spill recovery money that had been earmarked for trust funds to instead finance roadwork, bridge upgrades and port improvements.

Under the bill, $150 million will pay for improvements to LA Highway 1 in Lafourche Parish, a highway that leads to the critical oil and gas hub of Port Fourchon. Another $125 million will fast-track an LA Highway 415 road project in West Baton Rouge Parish aimed at alleviating traffic snarls. Projects in both north and south Louisiana on I-49 will receive $100 million and $150 million, respectively.

Legislators expect some of the projects to be matched with local, federal and private dollars, boosting the investment to $1 billion.

While HB 578 only makes a small dent in the state’s nearly $14 billion backlog of road, bridge and other transportation work, the tourism industry benefits from all infrastructure improvements, traffic alleviation and efforts to improve access to rural areas. 

New Orleans reaches tourism funding compromise
New Orleans’ tourism leadership has reached a tentative agreement with the City of New Orleans, offering aid to the city’s infrastructure needs through funds that are traditionally dedicated to tourism marketing and development.

As we understand in the current agreement, the city will receive about $26 million from the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, $16 million federal community development block grants and other one-time funding totaling $48 million. About $27 million of recurring revenue has been agreed upon, including three types of funding: a new short-term rental tax that could increase up to 6.75 percent, a hotel tax of 1 percent and a reallocation of revenue that currently goes to the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corp.
Revenue from the short-term rental tax will be split, with 75 percent going to infrastructure and 25 percent going to promote tourism. The city will resume collecting the hotel tax, sometimes referred to as the “ lost penny ”, that was halted in 1966 so a state tax could capture the same amount to fund construction of the Superdome.

The legislative proposals would be funded through  HB 43 and HB 522 . The redirection of funding from the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corp. will need the New Orleans City Council’s approval to go into effect. The final piece of the bill package, HB 617, will allow the convention center to use its reserve funding for a new hotel complex.

Harrah’s contract extended
In other New Orleans tourism news from the session, the legislature extended Harrah’s contract to operate Louisiana’s land-based casino in New Orleans for 30 years. Support for the contract extension was a turnaround from last year, when the initial 30-year proposal failed. Harrah’s will manage the casino until 2054, in exchange for adding new restaurants, a second hotel and more entertainment space. Meanwhile, the state will get millions more dollars from the contractual arrangement than it receives today.
NTTW social media campaign garners significant reach
During National Travel & Tourism Week in May, LTA once again launched a tourism awareness campaign aimed at showcasing the many and varied benefits of our industry in Louisiana. The week-long social media campaign, which featured elected officials, tourism pros and Louisiana Tourism Leadership Academy class members talking about why travel matters, reached more than 17,800 on Facebook and 35,000 on Twitter. This year, LTA members also utilized our Travel Impact Toolkit and #TravelMatters tweet sheet to spread the tourism message.
Thank you to our sponsors
Our advocacy efforts would not be possible without the contributions and leadership from our 32 advocacy sponsors (listed below) and the Advocacy Council. This year, LTA saw a significant shift in advocacy engagement from our industry. More than ever before, our members were hungry for information about the legislative session. You were also reaching out to your legislators in a significant way that often had an immediate impact. Twenty-nine of our advocacy sponsors participated in Tourism Day at the Capitol, with tables showcasing tourism activities around the state. Even more of you showed up that day to raise your voice – and it mattered! 
ADVOCACY SPONSORS
Alexandria-Pineville Area CVB
Ascension Parish TC
Cajun Coast VCB
Hoffman Media
Houma Area CVB
Jeff Davis Parish CVB
Jefferson Parish CVB
Lafayette CVC
Lake Charles/Southwest LA CVB
LBA Hospitality
Livingston Parish CVB
Louisiana Kitchen & Culture
Louisiana's Cajun Bayou
Miles Partnership
Monroe-West Monroe CVB
Natchitoches CVB
New Orleans & Company
New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corp.
Plaquemines Parish Tourism
River Parishes TC
Ruston Lincoln CVB
Shreveport-Bossier CTB
St. Bernard Parish Office of Tourism
St. Landry Parish TC
St. Martin Parish TC
St. Tammany Parish TCC
Tangipahoa Parish CVB
Toledo Bend Lake Country
Vernon Parish TC
Visit Baton Rouge
Visit Kenner
Webster Parish CVC
West Baton Rouge CVB