Tort reform is coming to the Louisiana legislature, and there is an excellent chance of it passing with margins large enough to withstand a veto by John Bel Edwards. This was something fairly widely known in political circles the minute the legislative elections were done and Republicans had won 27 of 39 Senate seats and 68 of 105 House seats.
The only real question is what form tort reform will take.
It’s entirely likely that a bill similar to the one then-Rep. Kirk Talbot passed through the House last year, only to have it die in a trial-lawyer-dominated Senate Judiciary A Committee, will come back. The current chairman of Judiciary A, Barrow Peacock, is a reliable pro-business conservative and unlike the previous makeup of that committee, this time Jud A has at least a 4-3 majority in favor of almost any tort reform package which might hit that committee.
That’s also true of the House Civil Law and Insurance committees, through which tort reform bills would move.
So while the plaintiff bar might have scored in keeping Edwards in the governor’s mansion in last year’s election, they’re definitely on the defensive where it comes to tort reform this year, and the fight will be a desperate one.
What to do? Well, the usual plan is to bring in some well-paid spin doctors to conduct a propaganda campaign in hopes of pressuring just enough of the legislature to oppose whatever bills move in this spring’s legislative session.
And Edwards certainly has those. Enter Trey Ourso, who was the guru behind Gumbo PAC, and Eric Holl, one of the Louisiana Democrat Party’s flacks last year. Ourso and Holl just stood up a website on the tort reform issue, and it’s covered with a lot of the same crap voters rejected when Ryan Gatti attempted to lay it on them after voting in Jud A to kill Talbot’s bill.
And the good news is nobody seems to be fooled by Ourso and Holl anymore. They’re known. As an example, here’s the Baton Rouge Business Report’s writeup of Ourso and Holl’s little project…
The leaders behind a new self-proclaimed “nonpartisan nonprofit” advocating for insurance reform—notably not the Republican-pushed tort reform bill—all have strong ties to the Democratic Party.
Gov. John Bel Edwards’ former campaign communications director Eric Holl has been tapped to lead the new nonprofit, Real Reform Louisiana, to advocate for “lower car insurance rates and stop corporate court-rigging,” the organization announced today. Holl is a native of the Washinton, D.C., area and an LSU graduate. He has also worked as a campaign communications director for the Louisiana Democratic Party.
In addition to Holl, the group’s leaders include Milton “Trey” Ourso, who’s listed as president on the group’s business filing with the Secretary of State’s office, and treasurer Kate Magsamen.
Ourso is the former executive director of the Louisiana Democratic Party and is also behind Gumbo PAC, the Democratic super PAC that supports Edwards.
The organization’s domicile address is listed as 352 Napoleon Street in Baton Rouge, the same address as Ourso’s political consulting firm. Holl didn’t respond to a question seeking confirmation of Ourso’s link to Gumbo PAC.
Magsamen has been involved in Democratic politics for 15 years and has held finance roles in campaigns for former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, former Senator Mary Landrieu and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, according to her biography on Emerge Louisiana’s website, where she also serves as a co-founder and advisory council member.
“Business groups and insurance companies have gone largely unchallenged as they spend untold millions to push a false narrative about tort reform,” Holl says in the announcement. “Tort reform won’t lower car insurance rates, but it will make it easier for insurance companies and big corporations to avoid compensating legitimate victims of negligence.”
The Business Report had a great quote from LABI president Stephen Waguespack…
“This new group has no credibility whatsoever. In fact, it is just the latest in a long line of glossed up, smear campaigns created to convince the working people of this state to just keep paying up so that a handful of big trial lawyers can keep their big gravy train rolling,” Waguespack tells Daily Report today via text. “It is embarrassing what they are doing, it is hurting many families and small businesses across Louisiana and it is time to take a stand.”
What Ourso and Holl will talk about are, they say, three things. They want to mandate that insurance companies base their premium rates on driving records and not other factors like credit ratings, which sounds fine but in reality is a serious overregulation of the industry. You might have a great driving record but that isn’t going to stop somebody from running into you and then suing you for whatever soft tissue injury their attorney and bought-and-paid-for doctor can dream up, and when your insurer has to pick up the bill for that they’re going to try to get their money back somehow. Or there’s the fact that someone with poor credit is statistically more likely to make one of the bogus claims or file one of the junk lawsuits we all know are the reason why insurance rates are so high. In a healthy market that insurer has to be careful about how much they raise their rates to compensate for the risk of paying out, because if your rates go up too much you’ll just find a new provider.
We don’t have a healthy market here. Too many major insurers won’t write business in Louisiana because the risk is too high to justify writing policies. Consider that Nationwide Insurance doesn’t write car insurance in Louisiana. Peyton Manning is their spokesman, for crying out loud, and they won’t write policies here. Making demands on those insurers without doing something about their costs is only going to make things worse, not better.
The second thing Ourso and Holl want is “increasing transparency in insurance rate-setting and expenses,” which they describe thusly on their website…
To bring down insurance rates, we need to know how insurance companies make their money and how they spend it. How much of your premium goes to the countless insurance commercials on TV? How much goes to naming rights of football games? Right now we just don’t know.
Isn’t that hilarious? These clowns, bought and paid for by trial lawyers whose faces line every highway and byway from Shongaloo to Dulac on billboards and who parade through every TV set in the state via ad after nauseating ad promising big paydays to people who just got in car accidents, want to audit insurance companies for their spending on TV commercials.
The nerve of that is, well, frankly it’s damned admirable.
And finally, Ourso and Holl attack Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon, saying it’s his fault insurance rates are so high and castigate him for having taken campaign contributions from the industry.
Again, seeing who bankrolled Edwards and the legislative opponents of tort reform (several of whom are now ex-legislators in no small part due to that opposition), it’s pretty rich to claim the insurance industry having bought up the Insurance Commissioner is solely responsible for this issue and that tort reform won’t lower rates.
This is laughable stuff, and it’s an obvious pack of lies. But hey – Ourso and Holl spent all last year spinning obvious lies, and they worked well enough to stave off disaster and kept Edwards from losing re-election. Maybe this initiative, backed as it’ll surely be by a host of TV and radio commercials paid for by the Morris Barts and Gordon McKernans of the world (by the way, did you see that McKernan bought an ad during the Super Bowl to wish a happy birthday to his dog?), will have a similar effect on efforts at tort reform.