Brass legislation clears way for new tax without voter approval

District 58 Representative Ken Brass

UPDATE: Governor John Bel Edwards signed House Bill 460 into law, transforming it into ACT 627 which becomes effective on August 1, 2022.

D-Day has arrived in more ways than one as Louisiana’s Regular Legislative Session comes to a close today at 6:00 p.m.  Representative Ken Brass, whose District 58 includes voters in 19 of Ascension Parish’s 74 voting precincts as of Election Day (October 12, 2019), authored three bills already enacted into law with a fourth sent to Governor John Bel Edwards for a signature.  House Bill 460 will clear the way for Ascension’s Parish Council to levy a new tax without voter approval.

The Brass bill passed the Senate unanimously after a 77-17 (with 10 absents) approval in the House.  Three more House members who represent parts of Ascension (Tony Bacala, Kathy Edmonston, and Speaker of the House Clay Schexnayder) all voted in favor of the legislation.

HB 460 amends Louisiana Revised Statute 15:1099.5, the statute that specifically allows municipal governing authority’s to levy a certain tax without public vote. Paragraph C(1) reads:

“A governing authority may levy a special annual tax not to exceed one mill for a period of not more than twenty years for the purposes of acquiring, constructing, equipping, operating, maintaining, and managing a youth center and providing rehabilitative programs within a structured environment for children who enter the juvenile justice system or who are children in need of care or supervision…”

It is the statute pursuant to which Ascension’s Parish Council (the governing authority) levied a one-mill property tax on October 17, 2013 by an 8-1 vote.  The enacting ordinance claimed the revenues generated would go…

“To fund Participation Agreement(s) for the care and maintenance of juveniles awaiting prosecution for crimes committed in Ascension Parish, and subsequently to acquire, construct, equip, maintain, and operate a juvenile detention facility in Ascension Parish.”  (20 years in duration, the tax is set to expire on December 31, 2032).

Nearly a decade’s worth of collections, and the Juvenile Detention tax has generated well over $10 million.

$8.6 million in Juvenile Justice fund, when is AP building detention center?

Insufficient, apparently, to undertake construction of the juvenile detention facility; nor an early childhood development center.

Enter Representative Brass whose HB 460 adds “for preventative programs” to the list of items fundable the statutorily allowed tax without voter approval. The bill, having been approved by both legislative chambers, awaits Governor John Bel Edwards’ signature.  What constitutes a “preventative program?”

The Brass bill passed the Senate unanimously after a 77-17 (with 10 absents) approval in the House which included the support of three more members who represent parts of Ascension.  HB 460 adds a new sub-paragraph to Paragraph C(1) of the current statute.

“For purposes of this Paragraph, preventative programs include early childhood care and educational programming and infrastructure, and programs that address adverse childhood experiences as well as any related services and support for parents with the goal of ensuring children do not enter the juvenile justice system in the future.”

A worthy goal, to be sure.  But, given that expansive language, the more salient question is; what does NOT qualify as a preventative program?

President Clint Cointment’s administration, especially CAO John Diez, has taken up the cause with a particular focus on the West Bank.  Representative Brass’ district includes the entirety of west bank Ascension.

Is there hope for Donaldsonville and west bank Ascension Parish?

And the Council seems to have bought in too.

Plans for an Early Childhood Development Center already underway, a $250,000 tutoring center added into the mix recently…the price tag continues to grow.

Once the governor applies his signature, how long will it take Ascension’s governing authority, i.e. the Parish Council to add another mill to the property tax rolls?