Newly passed bills become law

Published 8:16 am Friday, July 3, 2015

Much has written and reported on the new cigarette tax that went into effect on Wednesday that raised the price of cigarettes by 50 cents to 86 cents per pack.

Louisiana State Rep. Harold Ritchie, D-Pine, authored HB 119 that raised taxes on tobacco products throughout the state. His original bill sought to triple sought to triple the 36-cent tax to $1.08 per pack, but the state’s House of Representatives rejected that increase and settled on a more modest increase of 32 cents. There was a compromise and the tax was agreed at a rate of 50 cents.

Before the new tax rate, Louisiana had one of the lowest per-pack taxes nationally. The state now moves up to 35th. The new law will bring in an estimated $106 million per year.

But the new tax was not the only law or regulation that went into effect Wednesday.

Concerning smoking, new laws make it illegal to light up within 25 feet of public entrances to state office buildings. Those violating the new law can be fined $25 for a first offense, $50 for a second offense and $100 for subsequent offenses.

Regarding Louisiana drivers, a new law states that state residents need only renew their licenses every six years instead of four, as it stood previously. Apparently lawmakers felt the new law would lessen the time citizens had to sit and wait at the Office of Motor Vehicles. The fee for a basic driver’s license rose from $28.50 to $42.75. Fees for other licenses also increased.

Also, car buyers and sellers will now pay $50 more for vehicle and salvage titles. That move raised the fee to $68.50. The price of receiving an official state driving record rose from $6 to $16. It is estimated the new fees will bring in approximately $82 million and will help balance the state budget

Also new on the books, the state’s penalties for having small amounts of marijuana was lowered.

A person caught with less than 14 grams of marijuana now faces up to 15 days in jail and up to six months if caught with less than 2.5 pounds but more than 14 grams. A second offense has dropped from a felony charge to a misdemeanor crime, carrying a sentence of no more than six months.

Conviction on a third offense of marijuana possession carries with it a felony charge and a penalty of up to two years in prison. The maximum penalty on later offenses has dropped from 20 years in prison to eight years.

Gov. Bobby Jindal signed this and another bill concerning marijuana into law on Monday. The second bill set up the framework for a network of pharmacies to dispense medical-grade cannabis grown by the state to qualified patients. Medical marijuana had already been legal in the state for many years, but no system for legal dispensation had ever been established.

Payday loan companies were also targeted by new laws. Online payday lenders will have to register with the Office of Financial Institutions and be subject to the same regulations as storefront lenders. Borrowers have the right to enter into an installment payment plan for no extra fee if they cannot pay back loans on time.

Regarding the movie industry in the state, lawmakers capped film tax credits at $180 million for the next three years. Other business subsidies are lowered by 20 percent, 25 percent and 28 percent through January 2018.

Finally, Louisiana’s 1-cent solar sales tax credit exemption on business utilities was suspended.