A bill that would allow Louisiana’s 15 floating casinos to operate land side has been at least temporarily derailed in the state Senate by key African-American lawmakers who seem intent on sending a signal to the sponsor of the casino legislation.
The Black Caucus members lawmakers are unhappy that state Sen. Ronnie Johns, R-Lake Charles, voted against a measure two weeks ago that would raise Louisiana’s minimum wage.
“Sometimes you have to stop and recalibrate to get people to refocus on what’s fair and what truly makes our democracy work, give and take,” said state Sen. Troy Carter, D-New Orleans, who appears to be leading the effort. “It’s an attack on the indifference on the significance of providing a living wage for Louisianans.”
He and several other African-American senators said in interviews on Thursday that they are opposing, at least for now, Johns’ Senate Bill 316. It would allow each of the 15 boats to operate within 1,200 feet of their designated berth site and would replace the longtime cap of 30,000 square feet of gambling space with a limit of 2,365 gambling positions.
Johns planned to have the Senate vote on his bill Wednesday but then pulled it back because he was short of the minimum 20 votes he needed to pass it and send the measure to the House.
“I know some people have major concerns with his vote on the minimum wage bill,” said state Sen. Wesley Bishop, D-New Orleans.
The hold-up on SB316 has stalled another gambling measure, Senate Bill 417, which would allow the DiamondJacks casino on the Red River in Bossier City to move to the Tangipahoa River in Tangipahoa Parish. It was scheduled to be considered on Wednesday, but the sponsor, state Sen. Bodi White, R-Central, said he has promised not to push SB417 until SB316 is voted on first.
State Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego, who has expressed his concern about the major effort to enact pro-gambling measures this year, said he welcomed a delay.
“We need to slow them down and think through them,” Alario said, noting that a measure that passed the Senate Judiciary B Committee on Tuesday, Senate Bill 266, would authorize sports betting at the Harrah’s New Orleans casino, the 15 floating casinos, the four racetrack casinos, the 200 truck stop casinos and the more than 1,000 bars and restaurants that have video poker machines. That bill is now pending before the Senate Finance Committee.
Betting on sports would become legal at gambling facilities throughout Louisiana – even at bars and restaurants – under legislation approved T…
“We almost needed a wheelbarrow to carry out everything they’re legalizing,” Alario said of SB266. “Pretty soon you’ll be able to make a bet in a beauty parlor for a football game.”
But the Senate did not look favorably on a bill to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to $8.50 hour within two years. The vote against Senate Bill 162 was 17-21.
Johns cast one of the 21 "no" votes.
State lawmakers have again rejected an effort to set a minimum wage in Louisiana, for the first time, that is higher than the federal rate.
“He should have voted for it, said state Sen. Greg Tarver, D-Shreveport. “He has a lot of poor constituents who need the higher minimum wage. The bill barely lost.”
All but three Republicans voted against the minimum wage increase, but Tarver and the others believe that Johns should have supported it given the makeup of his district.
Carter said 38 percent of Johns’ constituents are African-American and noted that 76 percent of voters said they supported raising the minimum wage to $8.50 an hour, according to the annual Louisiana Survey conducted by the LSU Public Policy Research Lab in 2016.
“Another one or two votes could make a difference in getting the instrument off the floor to the House,” said Carter, adding that one lawmaker has promised his vote if needed to win a majority.
The bill is scheduled for another vote on Monday.
Carter said African-American legislators often help colleagues by voting for measures they don’t fully support but don’t think they receive reciprocal votes often enough. He said he is also concerned about the failure to pass legislation to mandate equal pay for women who do the equivalent work of men and to establish better rights for gay and lesbian citizens.
Tarver said Johns has satisfied concerns expressed by him and state Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans, on a separate issue, the failure of three floating casinos to meet their goals for hiring minority firms.
Johns “realized there were concerns on his bill and our ability to communicate relative to our concerns,” Carter said.
Johns declined to discuss those concerns, preferring to focus on the merits of SB316. He noted that it resulted from 17 months of hearings by a task force that he co-chaired and that heard testimony from a parade of floating casino owners.
“I’m trying to not let politics play a part of a process that we spent 17 months on,” Johns said. “I will move my bill at the proper time.”
Alario said this kind of disagreement frequently happens during the legislative session.
“It’s a give and take,” he said. “But you have plenty of time for people to work things out.”