Washington Watch for Feb. 18, 2013

By Jordan Blum

Advocate Washington bureau

Young students from the Batiste Cultural Arts Academy in New Orleans received a treat last week in the form of a White House visit and a special movie screening with Michelle Obama.

The first lady wanted to honor the Oscar-nominated “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” which was filmed in Louisiana and share the film with more young people. Also on hand were director Benh Zeitlin and Louisiana actors Dwight Henry and 9-year-old Quvenzhan√© Wallis, who is the Oscar-nominated star.

“It’s a movie that makes us all think deeply about the people we love in our lives who make us who we are,” Obama said. “It shows us the strength of our communities, no matter what they look like. It shows us that those communities can give us the power to overcome any kind of obstacles. And it also tells a compelling story of poverty and devastation, but also of hope and love in the midst of some great challenges.”

The New Orleans students also visited the U.S. Capitol and met with Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans.

Cassidy hosts town hall meeting

Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, is hosting a town hall meeting Tuesday in Baton Rouge.

Cassidy, who also still practices as a physician, is planning to discuss the economy and ways to sustain Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security. He also will discuss the links between mental health issues and gun violence.

Cassidy also will answer audience questions.

The town hall is scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Jones Creek Regional Branch Library, 6222 Jones Creek Road.

The event is open to the public.

Online sales tax sought

Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., renewed her push last week to allow states to collect sales taxes for online purchases.

The slightly tweaked Marketplace Fairness Act sponsored by Landrieu and 52 other members of Congress is intended to level the playing field between brick-and-mortar retailers and online businesses.

Sales taxes are not collected for most online purchases from Amazon.com and countless other Internet companies. So the end result would mean people paying more for what they buy online.

Under the Marketplace Fairness Act, states would have the option to require the collection of sales and use taxes by out-of-state sellers.

The National Conference of State Legislatures estimates $23 billion of sales tax revenue nationwide is not collected and remitted by Internet vendors; in Louisiana, an estimated $800 million of state sales tax revenue goes uncollected every year.

“Small retailers in Louisiana and across the nation are being put at a disadvantage against large online businesses because of the nature of our tax code,” Landrieu said in the announcement. “This legislation is simply about fairness and leveling the playing field for all our businesses.”

This bill would overturn a 1992 U.S. Supreme Court decision that found that states cannot reach beyond their borders and require out-of-state Internet vendors to collect the sales and use tax owed by state residents and businesses.

In unrelated legislation, Landrieu also filed the Lower Mississippi River National Historic Site Study Act. The bill directs the federal government to study the feasibility of designating sites in Plaquemines Parish along the lower Mississippi River as units of the National Park system.

“This area in southeastern Louisiana has contributed much to our nation’s history, and there are many stories that have yet to be preserved for future generations,” Landrieu said. “Unless Congress acts to protect these historical assets, they will be lost forever. That is why I am again, for the fourth time, introducing this legislation.”

Federal highway money

Sens. David Vitter, R-La., and Mary Landrieu, D-La., announced last week that the U.S. Department of Transportation awarded a $24.1 million to the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development to repair federal-aid-funded highways affected by Hurricane Isaac.

“Louisiana’s roads and highways have suffered significant damage from Hurricane Isaac,” Vitter said. “This grant will begin the process to rebuild or repair that infrastructure.”

The grant is funded through the Federal Highway Administration Emergency Relief program and will be used to fund emergency repair work to help restore roads and highways.

Compiled by Jordan Blum, chief of The Advocate’s Washington bureau. His email address is jblum@theadvocate.com.