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Louisiana lawmakers pass bill to protect ‘freedom’ to buy gas vehicles

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Louisiana lawmakers pass bill to protect ‘freedom’ to buy gas vehicles

May 17, 2024 | 9:02 pm ET
By Wesley Muller
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Louisiana lawmakers pass bill to protect ‘freedom’ to buy gas vehicles
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Louisiana lawmakers passed a bill Thursday to prohibit any state agencies from limiting the use or sale of combustion engine vehicles and to protect the public’s “freedom of choice” in buying the kind of car they want — unless it’s a Tesla.

House Bill 515, sponsored by Rep. Dodie Horton, R-Haughton, sailed through the Legislature with little opposition. 

According to the bill’s text, it protects the “freedom of choice for private individuals in the selection of vehicles” and specifically prohibits state agencies from limiting “the use or sale of a new motor vehicle with an internal combustion engine.”

That same protection does not extend to electric vehicles, though a separate provision in the bill more broadly prohibits state restrictions based on the energy source of a motor vehicle. 

The state has other laws that have indirectly limited the sales of certain electric vehicles such as Tesla and Rivian, two of the most popular electric vehicle (EV) manufacturers in the nation. Both companies sell their cars directly to consumers rather than through dealerships. However, Louisiana currently prohibits direct-from-manufacturer car sales, making it difficult for Louisiana residents to purchase from Tesla and Rivian. 

During a March 19 House Transportation Committee hearing on a proposal nearly identical to Horton’s bill, Republican lawmakers spent much of the hearing invoking consumer choice and “free market” arguments while voting in favor of the bill. 

Lawmakers vary on providing ‘choice’ to Louisiana auto buyers

However, they quickly reversed their own arguments when Rep. Aimee Freeman, D-New Orleans, presented a bill immediately afterwards that would have given Louisiana residents the freedom to purchase electric vehicles directly from manufacturers.

It’s unknown just how much of a hindrance the state’s dealership requirement has had on EV sales. The rate of EV registrations in Louisiana lags far behind most other states but is not the worst in the nation, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Manufacturers that still use the dealership model such as General Motors and Ford have a growing electric fleet available, and even Teslas are a relatively common sight on the roadways throughout large metro areas like New Orleans. 

Consumers have found ways of getting around the state law. Freeman testified that she authored her bill because of a constituent who got an out-of-state relative to purchase a Rivian EV on his behalf and ship it there before driving it home and registering it in Louisiana. 

The impetus behind Horton’s bill is an open letter that 16 Republican governors sent to President Joe Biden in January in which they accused him of enacting an EV mandate and a ban on gas-powered cars. It was part of national conservative talking points that claimed the Biden administration was taking certain possessions away from American citizens such as gas stoves and gas vehicles, though no such mandates or bans existed.

In 2022, Tesla filed a lawsuit against the Louisiana Motor Vehicle Commission and the Louisiana Auto Dealers Association, accusing them of anti-trust violations and conspiring to limit competition with policies such as the states dealership requirement. The U.S. Department of Justice is backing Tesla in the lawsuit, which is pending on appeal with the U.S. 5th Circuit in New Orleans.

Horton’s bill will head to Gov. Jeff Landry, who is expected to sign it into law.