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Film crews stand outside of the home for a filming of a movie on St. Charles avenue in New Orleans, Friday, March 17, 2017. In the beginning of April, State legislatures will look at the possible future of film tax credits with the LouisianaÕs tax structure reforms.

Advocate Staff photo by SOPHIA GERMER

The program that awards generous tax credits to underwrite film and tax productions in Louisiana won strong support from the state House on Thursday.

Senate Bill 254, passed by 89-8 in the House, must return to the Senate for almost-certain approval before it can become law.

SB 254 represents the latest effort to revamp a program that has brought major Hollywood productions to Louisiana and created thousands of jobs – at a cost of more than $1 billion to taxpayers.

The bill would continue to have taxpayers subsidize the filming of movies and TV shows in Louisiana but would impose limits to stabilize the cost. It includes incentives that aim to bring more productions to Louisiana and encourage more of a homegrown industry.

“This is reining in a program that has already showed benefits to the state, and I believe it will show many more benefits,” state Rep. Jean-Paul Coussan, R-Lafayette, told his House colleagues. Coussan was handling the bill on behalf of state Sen. JP Morrell, D-New Orleans, the main sponsor.

SB 254 would extend the program until at least 2025. State Rep. Kevin Pearson, R-Slidell, offered an amendment to limit the extension to 2022. He noted that independent studies have shown that the program generates only 20 to 25 cents per dollar in state taxes for every $1 in taxpayer money it provides producers. The House rejected Pearson’s amendment.

Under SB 254, taxpayers would continue to give up to $180 million per year to producers, but it would limit the amount of tax breaks that the state could certify to $150 million per year after three years – in an effort to reduce the backlog of credits that producers have yet to cash in. Coussan said the backlog numbers $280 million.

Morrell crafted the bill with support from the Louisiana Film and Entertainment Association, the main industry group, and Louisiana Economic Development, the state agency that manages the tax credit program. Among the changes contemplated in the bill, it would give greater incentives for productions filmed outside of metro New Orleans – where most are filmed today – and for Louisiana-based productions.

The measure’s biggest critic has been Will French, a former president of the entertainment association who heads a New Orleans-based company that arranges financing for films and the sale of tax credits. French has said the bill tilts too far in favor of the Hollywood studios.

French favored House Bill 686, which he said would provide more benefits to Louisiana-based producers because it would set aside $20 million for them and allow the state to invest in them and make money on profitable productions. The House passed HB 686 last week.

However, the Senate Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Committee, which Morrell chairs, killed HB 686 without discussion on Thursday. In an interview, Morrell said French’s idea was unneeded because the tax credit program has been working well and will get even better with SB 254.

French, however, had a different view.

“With this action, the committee has turned its back on the House and on Louisiana companies to win the favor of out-of-state interests,” he said in an email.

Follow Tyler Bridges on Twitter, @tegbridges.