Sen. Jean-Paul Morrell, D-New Orleans, answers questions about one of the bills he authored during legislative action on the state Senate floor May 17, 2017.

Advocate Staff Photo by PATRICK DENNIS

The state Senate on Wednesday gave a strong endorsement to having taxpayers continue subsidizing the filming of movies and television shows in Louisiana.

The Senate overwhelmingly approved an industry-backed bill to stabilize the cost to taxpayers, provide enough incentives to bring filmmakers back to Louisiana and encourage more of a homegrown industry.

“We’re particularly happy for the number of people in the industry who have left the state and who have been waiting for the bill to be approved,” Robert Vosbein, a New Orleans attorney and film industry supplier who heads the Louisiana Entertainment and Film Association, said afterward. “We just have to get it through the rest of the process.”

Senate Bill 254, which was approved 33-3, now goes to the House Ways and Means Committee, the next step in the process to becoming law. It has the support of Gov. John Bel Edwards.

State Sen. JP Morrell, D-New Orleans, told his colleagues that his SB254 would “slim” the program by limiting the cost to $180 million per year initially and then effectively to $150 million per year after three years.

The cost of the program is currently limited to $180 million per year under legislation approved in 2015 but the cap is scheduled to expire next year, Morrell noted.

He also noted that SB254 would cancel the program after eight years unless the Legislature voted to renew it, giving lawmakers the opportunity to judge its continued effectiveness.

“What this bill seeks to do is streamline the program, make greater accountability, create a better return on investment and promote local development,” Morrell said in an interview immediately after the Senate approved the bill.

The film tax credit program has many critics.

State Sen. Conrad Appel, R-Metairie, voiced their concerns when he offered an amendment that would cap the program at $50 million per year.

“The problem here is we have a classic case of a program that has grown far out of its proportion from what it was supposed to be,” Appel told his colleagues and then pointed to independent studies showing that it generates only 22 cents in state tax revenue for every $1 that taxpayers give to producers.

“We can’t fund our education system,” Appel said. “We’re underfunding higher ed by a substantial amount.”

Senators defeated Appel’s amendment on a 9-26 vote.

Morrell’s bill would reduce the basic tax credit per production from 30 to 25 percent, provide an additional 5 percent credit for filming outside of metro New Orleans and cap each credit at 40 percent. It also would limit the cost per movie to $20 million from $30 million and set aside $15 million per year for productions that originate in Louisiana.

Follow Tyler Bridges on Twitter, @tegbridges.