La. House Tries End Run Around Edwards’ Potential Veto

Car Accident

BATON ROUGE – Louisiana House Republicans are attempting an end run around a potential veto to temporarily change how the state handles automobile accident claims.

Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards vetoed a bill passed during this year’s regular session that would have made several changes supporters argue could lead to cheaper auto insurance. Senate Bill 418 passed the House 66-31, falling short of the required supermajority necessary to override a veto.

On Tuesday, the House approved concurrent resolutions suspending for one year three laws many Republicans and business lobbyists would like to change permanently. The resolutions could go into effect with a majority vote of each body and would not be subject to a veto.

One measure would suspend a law that keeps evidence about seat belt use from being discussed in court. Another temporarily would eliminate the state’s jury trial threshold, which would allow a party in a civil lawsuit to demand a jury trial regardless of how much money is at stake. A third would put on hold the ability to sue an insurance company directly.

Rep. Alan Seabaugh, the Shreveport Republican who sponsored the resolutions, said he would prefer to change the laws permanently. But he said the concurrent resolution route might be the only way to avoid the governor’s veto pen, and passage of the resolutions could give Republicans additional leverage in any negotiations over bills, he suggested.

“There’s nothing to stop us from suspending it again and again [in future years],” Seabaugh said. “This is a tool in our tool box.”

A concurrent resolution is a legislative instrument that can be used to suspend a law for a year but not change the law permanently. For example, Seabaugh’s House Concurrent Resolution 20 would temporarily get rid of the jury trial threshold entirely, whereas the bills addressing the issue seek to lower the current $50,000 threshold to $5,000 or $10,000.

The House voted to link Seabaugh’s resolutions to House Bill 57 by House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, which has similar goals to Senate Bill 418 but is less ambitious. The suspensions only would take effect if Schexnayder’s bill fails to pass or gets vetoed.

Much like in prior debates, Democrats argued the changes would unfairly disadvantage average people going up against insurance companies without leading to lower insurance rates. They also objected to the possibility that the resolutions would create chaos in the courts by changing the rules for active lawsuits.

“This legislation is brewing litigation,” said Rep. Robby Carter, an Amite Democrat. “It’s going to wreak havoc on the legal system.”

Seabaugh said the courts would decide whether the changes apply retroactively or not. Rep. Joe Marino, a political independent from Gretna, pointed out that the legislature might suspend a law this year then allow it to go back into effect next year, creating further confusion.

Rep. Aimee Freeman, a New Orleans Democrat, said she was sick of listening to the lawyers in the legislature on both sides of the issue argue without being able to come to any agreement, drawing applause from some of her fellow non-attorneys.

“I’m embarrassed that we are using this methodology,” she said.


By David Jacobs of the Center Square


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