We’ve just had a couple of posts here at The Hayride this morning on the various tort reform measures aimed at driving down Louisiana’s outrageous car insurance rates, and how the trial lawyers in the Senate Judiciary A Committee have shot those down.
But something very interesting just happened in the House Insurance Committee this morning. Namely, that after a rather contentious discussion resulting in SB 173, the bill pushed by Attorney General Jeff Landry and Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon to address health coverage for those with pre-existing conditions in the event Obamacare is found unconstitutional, a rather humdrum bill on commercial vehicle registration by Sen. Conrad Appel came up for the committee to debate.
HB 372 is the omnibus tort reform bill which contains several measures designed to bring Louisiana law in line with that of most other states where it comes to lawsuits arising from car wrecks – including increasing the prescriptive period for car accident lawsuits to two years from the current one year period, lowering the jury trial threshold from $50,000 to $5,000, forcing plaintiffs to name parties involved in suits rather than just directly suing their insurers and a few other items. The bill passed the House with 68 votes, but went to Judiciary A in the Senate where it was scuttled by that committee’s cabal of trial attorneys.
But now, with Seabaugh’s amendment injecting Talbot’s bill onto Appel’s SB 212 – an instrument which has already passed the Senate – Judiciary A is no longer in the picture.
SB 212 will now go to the floor, where it’s expected it will pass with something close to the 68 votes HB 372 passed with earlier in the session. Then the bill will go back to the Senate, where the business community believes there might be a 20-vote majority to pass it. The word was that an attempt on the Senate floor yesterday to graft Talbot’s bill onto a bill by Sen. Rick Ward, the Judiciary A chair, that would have repealed the seat belt gag rule in exchange for the two-year prescription period (which is the one tort reform the trial lawyers like) had a majority. Ward returned his bill to the calendar rather than lose that vote and therefore control of his bill.
SB 212 might need to be amended again to include a repeal of the seat belt gag order, which likely strengthens the bill, in order to put it in a posture to capture a Senate vote. If that were to happen it would essentially recreate the circumstances of Monday afternoon without Ward having the ability to kill the bill unilaterally.
Either way, tort reform is very much on the table again, and if it doesn’t pass this time it will be directly on the head of Senate President John Alario and, by extension if not in fact (because the bill might very well pass in the Senate based on current appearances), Gov. John Bel Edwards. If Edwards, who has been delighted to see tort reform efforts die before he’s had to suffer the political risks of vetoing them so far in his tenure, vetoes this bill in an election year he will become the face of Louisiana’s least-affordable car insurance rates from now through November – something he wants perhaps less than to disappoint his allies and colleagues in the trial bar.