Louisiana’s Republican legislators weren’t happy about Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards extending his stayat-home order until May 15 because of the coronavirus pandemic, and that was one of the reasons they gave for calling their own special session.
Edwards said he has no problem with the call, but thinks 41 subjects is a bit much for a special session. He also added that it’s unfortunate lawmakers weren’t able to use the time they had (May 4 to June 1) to get their essential work done.
The Advocate reported the special session is likely to develop into a power struggle between the GOPdominated Legislature and the governor. The newspaper said that is because lawmakers will be in a special session in the event Edwards vetoes any of their key bills from the regular session, which has to be done during a session.
Rep. Tanner Magee, R-Houma, and No. 2 leader in the House, complained when the stay-at-home order was extended. Magee said legislative leaders aren’t planning to be antagonistic with the governor at the special session, but lawmakers want a seat at the table.
“I think part of the deal is trying to make sure we’re involved in all of the conversations and the governor can’t dismiss us because we’re not here,” Magee said after earlier blaming Edwards for lack of communication in recent weeks.
Republicans are definitely going to keep their roles alive as they take advantage of their overwhelming numbers to try and enact businessfriendly measures that have failed many times in the past.
Getting a state budget completed before the required June 1 adjournment of the regular session appeared to be possible because Republicans pretty much accepted the budget written by the Edwards administration. However, that isn’t going to happen now, and the GOP may have other budget ideas over the course of the special session.
Tort reform, which is aimed at reducing the insurance industry’s payouts to auto accident victims and their attorneys, has been No. 1 on their list. It is also the top priority of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry.
The Legislature passed a similar tort reform bill in 1997. It required a 15 percent reduction in combined rates for bodily injury and property damage. It also deleted a provision that allowed insurance companies to delete the reduction if it would result in inadequate rates.
Since that reform bill was passed 23 years ago, Louisiana’s auto insurance rates have become the second highest in the country. Reform didn’t happen then, and it is questionable whether it will with the current legislation.
This year’s reform proposal provides for a 10 percent rate reduction, but a company can get relief if it can demonstrate to the state insurance commissioner its costs haven’t gone down enough to justify that reduction. One opponent of this year’s legislation said that is why it is an insurance company and insurance commissioner measure and not a consumer bill.
Attorneys who try auto insurance cases have been major supporters of Edwards, and the auto insurance bill appears to be headed to the governor’s desk. A veto is certainly possible, and the House is now three GOP votes short of the 70 needed for an override. Vetoes have only been overridden twice since Louisiana became a state in 1812.
Oil and gas interests want to kill a number of lawsuits filed by parish governments that are seeking funds for coastal restoration. The suits are seeking monetary payments for what the parishes insist were property damages caused by oil and gas drilling.
Edwards said he is opposed to the effort to kill those suits because the parishes deserve their day in court and the bill is retroactive. The Louisiana Police Jury Association also opposes the bill as an infringement against local government.
The governor gave local governing bodies a role to play in granting industrial tax exemptions on local property, and Republicans want to change that in some way during the special session. How far GOP lawmakers are willing to go to offend their public officials back home remains to be seen.
The special session call also has an item dealing with sales tax collections. Parish and city officials generally oppose centralized sales tax collections, but what Republicans aim to do in that area won’t be fully known until legislation is filed. Democratic legislators weren’t involved in calling the special session.
Rep. Sam Jenkins, D-Shreveport, and chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, called the session topics “heavily pro-business,” and added, “I wish there were more things in there to consider for the people.”
Efforts are definitely under way to give tax breaks to business interests that have been major contributors to GOP legislators’ political campaigns. The COVID-19 session has been a probusiness session from start to finish with GOP plans to continue down that road during the special session.
What else Republican lawmakers have in mind is anybody’s guess.