By Mark Ballard

The State Bond Commission barred two of the largest banks in the world from participating in efforts to fund some highway projects in Louisiana because of gun sales policies instituted after recent mass shootings.

On 7-6 vote, the commission decided not to grade the bids of Citibank and Bank of America.

State Treasurer John Schroder made the motion.

"I personally believe that these policies are an infringement," of Louisiana citizens' constitutional right to purchase guns, Schroder said.

Citibank has pushed its retail clients to refrain from selling firearms to customers who haven't passed a background check or are under the age of 21, with the exception of those who have passed gun or hunter safety courses or are in the military or law enforcement.

Bank of America wants to limit doing business with retailers and manufacturers that sell military-style weapons.

Bank of America handles 18 percent of the state's general obligation bonds and Citibank administers 5 percent.

Excluding Bank of America and Citibank from the process because of a social policy could open state to litigation.

"It puts us in an awkward position," said Senate President John Alario Jr., R-Westwego, who sits on the Bond Commission. "And I am worried about the bottom line to the state of Louisiana."

The commission's chief consultant said the move would cost the state taxpayers more in terms of interest on the loans.

Matthew Block, the governor's executive counsel, agreed. "We owe it, all of us, to the taxpayers, to understand the decision we are making," Block said.

"You can't put a price tag on the Second Amendment," state Rep. Blake Miguez, an Erath Republican who was serving as a proxy Representative of the House, adding that he thought the policies infringed on the constitutional rights of Louisiana citizens.

Miguez said the Louisiana Bond Commission should not be doing business with Citibank and Bank of America because of policies that restrict sales of certain styles of weapons used in mass shootings.

"The ability of the merchant to sell the item is being restricted by you," Attorney General Jeff Landry said, pointing at executives from the two institutions.

"We're not putting out a bid," Landry said, "we're basically trying to evaluate underwriters."

The Bond Commission has the authority to decide if the state should hire an agent that believes in restricting the citizens right to bear arms, he said.

"It was not us who brought the social police into this issue," Landry said. "It was the financial institutions who did by approving the policies."

House Speaker Taylor Barras, a Republican who is a banker in New Iberia and a member of the Bond Commission, said after the meeting that interest rates are set by the market. "This was deciding who we would pay a fee to be a senior advisor," Barras said. "As we evaluate bidders, it's within our jurisdiction to ask those questions."

Schroder said after the meeting that he doesn't plan on disrupting those existing relationships but would bring the issue up when those contracts expire.

(c)2018 The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La.