Louisiana’s 2020 Regular Legislative Session Opens Today…

…and there will be lots of bills to talk about as the session goes along, but two major ones will likely dominate the discussion.

First, we’re going to have a colossal battle over tort reform. There are a host of bills covering that topic, but the guess here is the biggest one of the bunch will come out of Sen. Kirk Talbot’s stack. Talbot passed an omnibus tort reform bill through the House last year only to see it die in Senate Judiciary A courtesy of a stacked committee full of trial lawyers, but now Talbot is in the Senate. He has a bill, SB266, which would address Louisiana’s Collateral Source Rule, a major sore spot where tort law in the state is concerned, and it’s going to start in a Jud A committee which looks completely different from what it was.

In case you don’t know what the Collateral Source Rule is, in Louisiana a defendant in a personal injury lawsuit is prohibited from introducing evidence that a plaintiff has received payment from a third party.

For example, let’s say a plaintiff is injured in a car wreck and he sues. The plaintiff was hospitalized for his injuries, but his health insurance provider pays all of his hospital bills. Then he files a personal injury action against the other party in the accident. Under Louisiana’s collateral source rule, the defendant isn’t allowed to bring evidence that the plaintiff’s hospital bills were paid by his health insurer. So, if the plaintiff wins the case, he may be able to recover the amount of his hospital bills from the defendant, even though the health insurance already paid that amount. The collateral source rule is not limited to insurance payments – it applies to most payments to a plaintiff by third parties.

Trial. Lawyer. Bonanza.

Another bill this session, HB9 by Rep. Ray Garofalo, is essentially Talbot’s omnibus bill. It lowers the state’s jury trial threshold from $50,000 to $5,000, it extends the prescription on personal injury lawsuits, it kills the Collateral Source Rule in the state and it does away with direct action, meaning that if you’re going to sue somebody’s insurance company after a car wreck you have to sue them as well (suing somebody’s insurance company is as ho-hum a thing as there is, but when you actually have to sue the person himself you might not opt to sue unless your case is real). The bill also demands that insurance companies lower auto insurance rates, but doesn’t put a number on that; it simply says rates are to be lowered based on actuarial data.

There is some pushback here and there on the idea of forcing car insurance rates down in these omnibus bills. Talbot was going to include that in his package last year but didn’t, largely because (1) he didn’t think it would help to pass the meat of the tort reforms and (2) there are people in the business community who don’t like the cramdown aspect of the state government making that demand, believing that if you bring Louisiana’s tort system in line with other states, you’ll have lots of new entries into the auto insurance market and those new entries will cause a price war that brings rates down.

They’re right, of course, but this isn’t market economics, it’s politics. And with John Bel Edwards’ spin doctors doing everything they can to muddy the waters on tort reform, including proposing legislation that would forbid auto insurers from underwriting car insurance on anything other than driving record (which sounds good until you give it anything more than five seconds of thought), to get a veto-proof majority in both houses for things that would actually lower insurance rates you might have to impose a reasonable mandate on insurance rates dropping in order to bring across some Democrats who don’t understand economics and thus force Edwards’ hand.

Because who would vote against a mandatory five or 10 percent drop in car insurance rates, right? Especially when that goes with a host of reforms which probably cause insurance rates to drop a lot more.

We’ll see if that’s necessary. Our sense is it isn’t, as tort reform is such a 70-30 issue in Louisiana right now that not very many in the legislature will be willing to vote against whichever bill ends up being the bog dog on the porch. After all, a big rate reduction would have the effect of a decent-sized tax cut for Louisiana’s working poor, and that will matter to the Legislative Black Caucus.

But the other thing which is going to be a big deal in this session is SB172, by Sen. Beth Mizell. We talked about the Save Women’s Sports Act a week or so ago; it’s Louisiana’s bill which requires kids playing amateur sports in Louisiana to stay in the lane God gave them. Meaning, guys who decide they feel like gals don’t get to compete in women’s sports – if your plumbing says you’re a guy, you have to play with the guys. And vice versa.

Republicans in state legislatures are bringing these bills all over the country, and they’re moving pretty quickly because it’s a huge wedge issue cutting against the Left in an election year. Polls show it’s a 2-to-1 issue for the traditional side, and this is an example of cultural overreach by the Left which it’s great politics to highlight.

Mizell’s bill is likely to sail through the legislature and pass with a veto-proof majority, which means Edwards will be forced to sign it. He won’t want to, though, and there is likely to be very loud pushback from the small number of people on the opposite side. They already have a website up, and they’ll be bombing social media on the issue all session long. Every time this stuff pops up in a legislative setting in Louisiana it’s a circus, and this will be a circus.

Tort reform is the substance. But the trans-people will be the ones selling the popcorn this session.

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