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Louisiana House votes to ban ‘free’ to describe government giveaways


Louisiana House votes to ban ‘free’ to describe government giveaways

Apr 20, 2024 | 10:00 am ET
By Julie O'Donoghue
Louisiana House votes to ban ‘free’ to describe government giveaways
The Louisiana Legislature is considering a bill that would prohibit the use of the word "free" to describe giveaways of government products, services and benefits. (Getty Images)

The Louisiana House voted 55-46 this week to ban the use of the word “free” when referring to government benefits, products or services, though similar descriptions such as “ provided at no cost” or “complimentary” would still be permissible.

“It’s a bill that I’ve nicknamed my ‘Don’t Say Free’ bill,” said Rep. Beryl Amedée, R-Schriever, sponsor of legislation, in a hearing earlier this month. “If we’re going to move forward in society and have people not be dependent on the government for everything, then we need to begin to change the vocabulary.”

“The use of the word free is rather insulting to all taxpayers because it’s not free,” she said. “It’s been paid for by all of us.” 

House Bill 265 would prohibit state and local government entities from using “free” when the word “refers to a benefit, product or service financed with public funds.”  

Amedée held up marketing campaigns for free food from food banks, free blood pressure screenings at health clinics and free counseling for alcohol dependency as examples of when she thought the word “free” was used inappropriately. 

She also doesn’t approve of using “free” in the description of public suicide prevention services, vaccines, ultrasounds and over-the-counter overdose treatments when they have been paid for with public money. 

“No government program is actually free. The taxpayer always pays,” said Amedée, one of the leaders of the Louisiana House Freedom Caucus. “We should be honest and use appropriate language.”

“It could say: ‘At no cost to you’ for example,” she said. 

Democratic legislators balked at the bill.

“I don’t like this bill,” Rep. Ed Larvadain, D-Alexandria, said during the committee hearing. “I don’t want us controlling language. I don’t like us telling people what words to use.”

“Out of all the bills, this is the most peculiar bill I read,” he said.

“What is the difference between ‘free’ and ‘at no cost?’” House Democratic Caucus Chairman Matthew Willard of New Orleans during the House debate on the bill.

“By moving away from the use of the word ‘free,’ it brings awareness that someone is paying for this for you,” Amedée said.

Amedée’s legislation could cost public money to implement. Government agencies might have to change websites, branding and printed marketing products to remove the word “free” and replace it with similar language. There has been no estimate about what those public might be yet.

The Pelican Institute, a conservative Louisiana think tank, supports the legislation. 

A few conservative Republican legislators suggested the bill might cut down on public waste.

“People will go pick up a free lunch and never eat it, just because it is free,” Rep. Les Farnum, R-Sulphur, said.

The Louisiana Senate needs to approve the legislation before it can become law.