Last night on the floor of the Louisiana Senate, the trial lawyers and environmental nuts took a beating, as a bill by Sen. Robert Adley to make illegal the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East’s $8 billion lawsuit against 97 oil and gas companies passed overwhelmingly.
The bill, SB 547, would greatly curtail the ability of governmental agencies like the SLFPA-E and Jefferson and Plaquemines Parishes to hire lawyers on contingency to launch civil actions like the ones currently descending on the state’s courts, and the opponents of the bill went ballistic during debate on the Senate floor.
State Sen. Karen Peterson, D-New Orleans, argued that the legislation, which was advanced by the Senate Finance Committee, should also be heard by the Senate Committee on Judiciary A. Most bills that deal with government contracts go through that committee.
Adley said it was the decision of Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego, to direct the legislation through the Finance committee, which vets fiscal matters, and that sending SB547 to another committee amounted to an effort to try to delay voting on the measure.
Peterson’s amendment failed on 13 for to 24 against vote.
State Sen. Ed Murray, D-New Orleans, then tried to add language that would have ordered the state Attorney General to quickly determine if SB547 could withstand a constitutional challenge.
Adley objected saying bills that are approved by the Legislature and signed into law by the governor are presumed to be constitutional.
That amendment failed on a vote of 14 to 23.
State Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, then tried to change SB547 to ensure that contracts entered into by the executive department would be included.
Adley agreed that the governor’s office should not be exempted and he did not think it was, but did not want to change the wording for fear of causing some unintended consequence. Claitor’s amendment failed on a vote of 15 for and 22 against.
The vote? 27-10 in favor of the bill, which now goes to the House.
Adley has another bill even more directly targeting the flood authority lawsuit, and it’s moving through the Senate this week as well…
The proposal, Senate Bill 553, won approval in the Senate Transportation Committee without objection.
State Sen. Robert Adley, R-Benton and chairman of the panel, said the bill is needed because the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East failed to follow state law when it hired lawyers to launch the legal challenge.
“We believe that the process that was followed was inappropriate and violated the laws of the state,” Adley said.
Backers of the bill include the Louisiana Chemical Association, Exxon Mobil, Louisiana Oil & Gas Association and Chevron.
The bill would require officials of the authority to win approval from the attorney general and the governor before they hire attorneys for special causes.
In addition, lawsuits that involve a contingency fee, which this one does, would have to win approval of the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget.
The proceedings at the committee hearing were highlighted by a series of presentations by opponents of the bill, most notably former SLFPA-E member John Barry, who is chiefly responsible for having instigated the lawsuit in question, and retired army general Russell Honore’, who currently heads up something called the Green Army. Barry and Honore’ both decried the “retroactivity” of the bill, which as it is written might be a legal argument for posterity but for the sake of practicality is something of a strange contention seeing as though Adley and what appears to be the majority of the legislature are trying to shut down an ongoing lawsuit.
Honore’ called it “vindictive” to make the bill “retroactive,” which was par for the course amid a rather impassioned harangue about the scarcity of birds in Mossville, the insufficiency of legal counsel for residents around Lake Peigneur and what he says are 6,000 abandoned oil wells in the gulf leaking oil onto the state’s shrimp and oyster populations.
Nobody spoke for the bill other than Adley and Gov. Jindal’s policy expert Stafford Palmieri. It wasn’t necessary to do so, as nobody on the committee was opposed to it.
The long and short is that SB 553 will pass in the Senate as easily as SB 547 did, and at least one of those (and most probably both) will pass in the House as well. The coastal lawsuit won’t survive this legislative session, though it’s entirely likely that the legislature’s attempts to kill it will themselves be the subject of litigation.
That, and when Honore’ can’t even get a single vote in the Senate Transportation Committee, which has four Democrats – Troy Brown, David Heitmeier, Ben Nevers and Gary Smith – among its seven members, it’s quite apparent that his Green Army lacks firepower at the Louisiana legislature.