Editor’s Note: A summary of key bills moving this week in the Louisiana legislature…
CIVIL JUSTICE REFORM
In partnership with the Coalition for Common Sense, chambers of commerce, and trade associations across the state, LABI is strongly supporting lawsuit reform legislation this session. The list below represents key pieces of legislation. Additionally, LABI continues to support many other bills filed by our partners.
1. Limit contingency fee contracts and add transparency and oversight to this process. Contingency fee contracts can incentivize a range of concerns to businesses and taxpayers, not the least of which is state overreach and the regulation of private industry through litigation. National experts note these lawsuits “seek to expand liability rather than enforce existing law” (US Chamber).
House Bill 799 by Rep. Stuart Bishop will codify the Supreme Court’s ruling to prohibit the state’s use of contingency fee contracts without express statutory authority. Best-practice reforms to restrict the use of contingency fee contracts include transparency provisions, fee schedules with maximum rates, and improved record-keeping—all part of House Bill 799. This bill passed the Senate Judiciary A Committee on a vote of 5-1 and the Finance Committee on a vote of 9-2. It will be debated on the Senate floor this week.
2. Reduce litigation by state boards, commissions, and regional flood protection authorities.
Senate Bill 469 by Sen. Bret Allain will prohibit any governmental entity, except those that have authority under the Coastal Zone Management Act, from filing suit based on activities regulated by state or federal coastal use permits. Current law authorizes the Secretary of the Department of Natural Resources, the Attorney General, certain District Attorneys, and local government to bring injunctive, declaratory, or other actions to ensure that only permitted activities are conducted in the coastal zone. SB469 re-affirms this language while specifying that any other state and local entities are prohibited from bringing a cause of action from activity regulated by state or federal coastal use permits. The bill also specifies that money received by state or local government for the enforcement of the Coastal Zone Management Act must only be used for integrated coastal protection and “improving the resiliency of the coastal area.” The bill was passed on a vote of 13-6 from the House Natural Resources Committee and will likely be debated on the House floor on Thursday, May 29.
3. Lower the jury trial threshold.
House Resolution 156 by Rep. Pat Connick will authorize and direct the Louisiana State Law Institute to compile data on the impact of Louisiana’s $50,000 civil jury trial threshold. The resolution outlines nine specific areas for data collection, such as the amount of cases settled under the $50,000 threshold, the cost of impaneling a jury, and the number of cases transferred from city court to district court for jury trial. The Law Institute is directed to return the results to the appropriative legislative committees 60 days before the 2015 regular legislative session. Of note, the resolution also requires a study on Louisiana’s prescriptive period. The resolution is scheduled for debate in the House Civil Law Committee on Tuesday, May 27.
EDUCATION AND WORKFORCE
In recognition of the industrial and manufacturing renaissance taking place in Louisiana, LABI has made education and workforce a top priority in 2014. The workforce solution will require a public-private partnership, and much of the actions and activities to support a strong workforce are underway or do not require legislation. In the K-12 arena, LABI supports the Common Core State Standards, the new JumpStart program, courses aligned with career and college readiness, and innovative training and delivery at LCTCS schools. Legislation in 2014 focuses on bringing new actors to the workforce table, including higher education and the formerly incarcerated.
4. Incentivize the production of college graduates in high-demand fields.
House Bill 1033 by Speaker Chuck Kleckley and Senate Bill 526 by President John Alario create the Workforce and Innovation for a Stronger Economy (WISE) Fund to support degree and certification production and research priorities in higher education in high-demand fields to help meet the state’s workforce and innovation needs. Subject to appropriation, the bill provides for a $40 million annual deposit to the Board of Regents that will be distributed to two and four-year institutions in accordance with a statewide workforce demand and gap analysis developed by the WISE Council. This group will be made up of the four system presidents, the higher education commissioner, the Secretary of the Louisiana Department of Economic Development, the director of the Louisiana Workforce Commission, and the chair of the Louisiana Workforce Investment Council. The Council is charged with creating a formula for distribution that includes a distribution of 80% based on degree and certification production in high-demand fields and 20% based on federally funded research expenditures. To qualify for funds, the management boards must certify a minimum 20% private match, which can take the form of cash, in-kind donation of technology, construction materials, property, facility modification or construction, internships or scholarships, and faculty sponsorships or endowments. The legislation also specifies that allocations from the WISE Fund must not be included in the general Board of Regents formula calculations, nor supplant any State General Fund allocations provided to institutions. The House version of the bill passed the Senate Finance Committee and is scheduled for debate on the Senate floor this week.
LABOR AND EMPLOYEE RELATIONS
5. Bring Louisiana’s plumbing code into alignment with other states.
House Bill 1048 by Rep. Erich Ponti will require the Louisiana State Uniform Construction Code Council to adopt the International Plumbing Code by January 1, 2015. The bill prohibits the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals from establishing rules or policies that supersede or circumvent the International Plumbing Code. The bill clarifies that the local building official has the authority to enforce and interpret the plumbing provisions. The bill passed the Senate floor 36-3 with an amendment to remove commercial plumbers, which LABI opposes. The bill is now in Conference Committee.