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Senate President Page Cortez, R-Lafayette, right, makes announcements after calling the joint session to order as House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales, left, watches as the 85 day regular legislative session begins Monday March 9, 2020, in Baton Rouge, La.

The group of lobbyists and business executives crafting the agenda for Louisiana’s legislative leadership has released its list of more than 40 proposals for the special legislative session, including cutting taxes on businesses, doling out tax breaks and protecting companies from lawsuits.

Senate President Page Cortez and House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, both Republicans, formed the task force of business owners and others to come up with ideas for coronavirus recovery. Cortez and Schexnayder have embraced the proposals as their priorities for the legislative session that ended June 1.

After recommending a host of legislation long sought by business groups, the task force is again calling on lawmakers to cut taxes or suspend taxes, rework the state’s largest tax incentive, the Industrial Tax Exemption Program, to make it more friendly to business, and expand incentive programs to cover more industries like retail and restaurants.

The phase two report is aimed at the special session that began June 1 and runs through the end of the month. The list of topics crafted by Cortez and Schexnayder line up with those recommendations.

“Businesses hire the employees and establish the tax base with which government can operate,” Cortez said during a remote meeting of the task force Thursday morning. “Absent having a good business climate and good tax base we can’t provide the needed services, whether that’s education or health care or corrections.”

Democrats have slammed the ideas as giveaways for corporations that have nothing to do with coronavirus recovery. And amid plummeting tax collections from rising unemployment, business closures and cratering oil prices, opponents worry the ideas would further reduce revenue to fund services. 

State Rep. Sam Jenkins, chair of the House Democratic Caucus, said he agrees the Legislature needs to help businesses, but also needs to provide aid to people affected by the coronavirus. He floated the idea of tax breaks for health care and other front-line workers. 

"I'm just hoping we'll be able to embrace the needs of people as much as businesses," Jenkins said. 

The task force backed an idea by Republican lawmakers in the regular session to take $300 million in funding that Gov. John Bel Edwards is planning to use for local governments and instead dole it out to small businesses in the form of grants. It's not yet clear whether the governor will sign or veto the bill, but he has indicated his opposition to it. Jenkins said he agrees with the governor that local governments need the money. About $511 million under the Republicans' plan would be left for locals. 

Of the list of more than 40 proposals created by the task force, 15 would cut taxes or expand tax breaks. Other ideas include tort reform--the No. 1 priority of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry that is expected to garner more debate in the special session--as well as providing legal liability protection for businesses, among others.

The Legislature passed a major piece of legislation to rework how car wreck lawsuits are handled, an effort to save insurance companies money, in the regular session. But both Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards and LABI have indicated a last-minute addition gave the bill a major flaw, which means the Legislature will likely take up the topic again in the special session.

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