Edwards Vetoes Sweeping Changes to How Courts Handle Auto Injury Claims

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State Sen. Kirk Talbot, R-River Ridge, talks with Sen. Jay Morris, R-Monroes, as the Senate convenes in the Senate chamber in Baton Rouge, La., Monday, May 4, 2020. (Gerald Herbert / AP)

BATON ROUGE – Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards has vetoed legislation that would have drastically changed how the state’s legal system deals with automobile injury claims.

Senate Bill 418 by state Sen. Kirk Talbot, R-River Ridge, was one of the regular session’s top priorities for Republicans and business lobbyists, who argued that it could lead to lower auto insurance rates. However, even many supporters found the final version unacceptable and were hoping to strip out some of its provisions during this month’s special session.

Other bills with similar goals are in play during the special session, and Edwards said he remains “willing to work with anyone operating in good faith to reach a compromise.”

“It is important to note that not a single insurance company testified in committee that Senate Bill 418 would actually reduce rates,” the Democratic governor said in a letter explaining his veto. “Further, the rate reduction in the bill is permissive, rather than mandatory, and actually allows for rate increases if the insurers are able to demonstrate one would be needed.”

Lana Venable with Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch expressed disappointment in the veto, calling Senate Bill 418 “the most comprehensive package of legal reforms passed in the legislature since the 1990s.”

“Louisiana’s business climate is ranked second-worst in the country and is consistently ranked near the top of the national ‘Judicial Hellholes’ list,” she said. “As we continue the important work of rebuilding our already struggling economy, these reforms – benefitting both families and businesses – are more critical than ever.”

Louisiana Association of Business and Industry President Stephen Waguespack said insurance reform is needed.

“The Governor’s veto of Sen. Talbot’s SB 418, the bill to reduce frivolous lawsuits and insurance rates was not unexpected, but make no mistake, leaving this special session without legislation signed into law to address the insurance crisis is not a feasible option,” Waguespack said. “Everyone knows the insurance affordability and availability problem is very real.”

Other bills passed during this year’s regular session that Edwards has vetoed include:

House Bill 197: Would have added water control structures to a list of “critical infrastructure” for which unauthorized entry could lead to five years of prison time and/or a $1,000 fine, or up to 15 years and a $5,000 fine when the crime is committed during a state of emergency.

Edwards said “water control structure” is poorly defined in the bill, adding that since Louisiana is “in a constant state of emergency,” the harsher penalty would have become the default.

Edwards said he would be willing to work with Rep. Jerome Zeringue, the bill’s sponsor, for a “reasonable solution” that does not produce “unintended consequences.”

Senate Bill 406: Was meant to promote access to broadband internet service in rural areas. Edwards said the legislation could put the state in violation of the Federal Telecommunications Act of 1996. He has endorsed a bill pending in the special session that seeks to achieve the same goal without running afoul of federal law.

Senate Bill 132: Would have required the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget to approve any contract or cooperative endeavor agreement worth $25 million or more. Edwards said the legislation violates the state constitution by requiring legislative approval for a purely executive function.

Senate Bill 395: Sought to require attorneys who advertise clients’ settlements to state the amount the client actually pocketed, minus attorneys’ fees and other costs, rather than the amount of the full settlement. Edwards instead signed Senate Bill 115, which has basically the same goal but leaves enforcement to the Louisiana Supreme Court rather than the attorney general, which Edwards argues is the constitutionally proper approach. 

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