Jim Beam column: ‘You win some; you lose some’

Published 6:33 am Wednesday, May 15, 2024

When it comes to reforming Louisiana insurance laws, it appears that the Legislature is making some progress on property insurance changes, but not so much on auto insurance.

The Advocate said Louisiana legislators have been engaged in a long-running battle for years on whether to limit personal injury lawsuits that have pitted trial lawyers against business interests.

The newspaper said after being stymied repeatedly for eight years during the administration of former Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards, “conservatives are winning victory after victory” with Republicans in solid control.

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However, there is an exception. While trial lawyers previously supported Edwards, they have switched their support to Republican Gov. Jeff Landry. With his help they have killed or watered down bills supported by insurance industry lobbyists and the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI).

The Advocate said Landry, who told trial lawyers privately last year that he would not push for measures they opposed, “showered Landry with campaign contributions, after having favored John Bel Edwards in the previous two governor’s races.”

A governor’s office memo circulated earlier this session that was obtained by the newspaper showed Landry kept six pro-industry bills from passing in their original form.

State Sen. Alan Seabaugh, R-Shreveport, one of the Legislature’s most conservative members, rated Landry’s performance.

“Compared to (the situation with) John Bel, it’s an A-plus,” Seabaugh said. “But compared to levels of expectations after the elections, it’s a B-minus. With a Republican supermajority, there’s no reason it’s not an A-plus.”

Insurance and business interests won a battle to prevent injured persons from suing insurance companies directly, a practice known as “direct action.” Supporters believe judges and juries award bigger claims when they know that deep-pocketed insurance companies are on the hook. However, they didn’t get everything they wanted because of opposition from Landry and trial lawyers.

Other insurance and business victories came on property insurance reforms. Landry signed bills that make it easier for insurance companies to drop property policyholders, raise rates and have more time to pay claims after a storm, a controversial package of bills that is supposed to draw more insurance companies to the state.

Insurance Commissioner Tim Temple isn’t happy, however, with pro-industry legislation tailored to the personal industry landscape that isn’t going well.

“Let me be clear: If these auto insurance reform bills don’t move to the floor where the full Senate can debate them, our best chance for improvement in the auto market will have been killed in the Senate Judiciary A. Committee,”  Temple said.

Louisiana currently has the second highest average annual auto insurance rate in the country at $2,546, according to carinsurance.com. Florida has the highest average at $2,560, but that is only $14 higher than Louisiana’s average. Texas has a $1,875 average; Mississippi, $1,606; and Arkansas, 1,597.

A spokesman for LABI said the organization is “incredibly frustrated” by some of its favored bills getting held up in that Senate committee.

Sen. Greg Miller, R-Norco, and chairman of the Senate Judiciary A Committee, said, “I feel like I’m in the middle of refereeing a high stakes match of people with competing views. I’ve been accused of being in the pockets of everybody.”

Senate President Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, explained what the Legislature is trying to do.

“If your house has been destroyed by a hurricane, you don’t want to be prohibited from suing an insurance company for not paying your claim,” Henry said. “And you don’t want to make it any more difficult than it already is. The flip side of that is you can’t make it so easy to sue insurance companies that they don’t want to come here. That’s the balance between the two. It’s not easy, but we’re trying to get there.”

The Advocate said Henry and House Speaker Phillip DeVillier, R-Eunice, would like to see some lower insurance rates for the foreseeable future.

“We’d like to get a set of bills that actually work, that adjust everything,” Henry said. “We can leave them in place for a year or two and see if they actually change insurance rates. If they do, then we can continue going down that path. If they don’t, we have to switch paths.”

Unfortunately, it appears auto insurance rates won’t be changing much.

Jim Beam, the retired editor of the American Press, has covered people and politics for more than six decades. Contact him at 337-515-8871 or jim.beam.press@gmail.com.


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