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La. Senate panel approves 2 cent tax on cellphones

Littice Bacon-Blood, Associated Press

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) -- A new 2 cent monthly tax on cellphones aimed at helping provide services for people with hearing impairment won the support Thursday of the Senate Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Committee.

The House-backed bill would change the current law by reducing the amount of tax levied per month from 5 cents on landline phones to 2 cents and would broaden the tax to include wireless devices. Data-only wireless devices or prepaid cellphones would be exempt.

Representatives from the Louisiana Commission for the Deaf told senators the change was needed because the dollars raised by the existing tax have dropped significantly with the increased use of cellphones.

The reworked tax would generate about $1.9 million a year, which would supply about 70 percent of the agency's annual budget to continue providing services, said Brandi Berkeley, chair of the commission.

"The revenue generated from the nickel per month from the landline phone services has decreased exponentially to the point that it's insufficient to meet the needs of the deaf communities," Berkeley said.

Tax dollars provide hearing aids, sign language interpretation, captioning and telecommunications services for hearing-impaired indigent and elderly. Berkeley said the commission served 21,396 people in 2012.

Earlier this session, the House approved the idea despite opposition from Gov. Bobby Jindal, who opposes anything that would raise taxes.

Rep. Patrick Williams, D-Shreveport, the bill sponsor, said he continues to work with the Jindal administration on an alternate funding method. But he said they have not come to an agreement.

Supporters have argued the bill isn't a tax hike because it would bring the tax revenue up to the levels previously collected before cellphones caused a drop in landline phone use.

The bill, approved without objection by the Senate committee, heads next to the full Senate for consideration.