Potential compromise bill seeks to lower Louisiana car insurance

The House passed a bill by Rep. Richard Nelson, R-Mandeville, who is seeking a compromise on so-called “tort reform” legislation.
The House passed a bill by Rep. Richard Nelson, R-Mandeville, who is seeking a compromise on so-called “tort reform” legislation. (Photo: Courtesy)

Published: June 24, 2020

By: Catherine Hunt, LSU Manship School News Service

BATON ROUGE–The House passed a potential compromise bill Tuesday aimed at winning support from Gov. John Bel Edwards, who vetoed an earlier effort that sought to lower car insurance rates by limiting injury lawsuits.

The bill, by Rep. Richard Nelson, R-Mandeville, passed 82-9, with 21 Democrats voting for it. Nelson said he was trying to break the logjam on an issue that Republicans have billed as one of their biggest priorities during this legislative season.

In other action Tuesday, the House voted 82-17 to pass a bill that would prevent students and teachers who contracted infectious diseases, including COVID-19, from suing K-12 schools and colleges unless they can prove “grossly negligent or wanton or reckless misconduct.”

Earlier this month, Edwards vetoed a bill by Sen. Kirk Talbot, R-River Ridge that had addressed several components of Louisiana’s tort laws that Republicans say lead to high auto insurance rates.

Republicans appear to be short of the votes needed to override the veto, so they are trying to pass replacement legislation before the special session ends July 1.

Like Talbot’s bill, Nelson’s would extend the time that parties have to file suits and would limit the amount of recoverable medical expenses and insurance premium payments. Nelson’s bill also would lower the monetary amount an injury has to be worth to be decided by a jury rather than a judge.

But unlike Talbot’s bill, it would reduce the default number of jurors to six from 12 to try to lessen the burden on courts and jurors. Judges expressed concerns that Talbot’s bill would overwhelm courts with jury trials and that rural areas could have trouble finding enough jurors for personal injury cases.

Read more at Daily Advertiser

Jockeying for lower car insurance kicks up again in La. senate

Clay Schexnayder
Clay Schexnayder (Photo: Courtesy)

Published: June 23, 2020

By: Catherine Hunt, LSU Manship School News Service

BATON ROUGE–The Louisiana Senate passed 29-9 another bill aimed at lowering insurance rates by limiting damage lawsuits.

The bill by House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales, attempts to change Louisiana’s legal climate that Republicans and business groups say results in Louisiana drivers paying the second highest insurance rates in the country.

A similar bill by Sen. Kirk Talbot, R-River Ridge, addressed several components of Louisiana’s tort laws that Republicans say lead to high rates, but it was vetoed by Gov. John Bel Edwards.

Schexnayder’s bill mirrors Talbot’s bill in some ways but leaves out provisions that some lawmakers say are important to lower rates.

Talbot’s bill would have decreased the monetary amount an injury has to be worth to be decided by a jury rather than a judge, called jury trial threshold; prohibited plaintiffs from suing insurance companies directly, called direct action; increased the time parties have to file lawsuits to encourage settling out of court, called prescription; and prohibited using evidence of a plaintiff receiving payment from sources besides the defendant, called collateral source.

His bill also would have allowed juries and judges to hear whether someone was wearing a seatbelt at the time of an accident.

Schexnayder’s bill, however, would only lower the jury trial threshold, prohibit juries from knowing what insurance company is involved in a suit rather than preventing companies from being sued directly and allow seat belt use into evidence.

Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon said Talbot’s changes could have resulted in premium reductions of at least 10%. However, companies could be excused from reducing rates if they can prove that doing so would lead to insolvency. Republicans assume Schexnayder’s bill would also lower rates but could not provide an estimate.

Read more at Daily Advertiser

Deacons group protected ‘outlaw town’ Ferriday’s black community from Klansmen in 1960s

Photo Credit: Alyssa Berry/LSU Manship School News Service

Published: June 22, 2020

By: Karli Carpenter, LSU Manship School News Service

Watch the video by Abigail Hendren

Ferriday, La.—David Whatley, the first black student to integrate Ferriday High in 1966, returned from tortuous days at school only to face just as many threats outside his home. Come nightfall, he’d study his lessons by a spotlight illuminating his grandmother’s lawn while keeping watch for violent Klansmen enraged over his involvement in the civil rights movement.

David Whatley was just a teenager when this photo was snapped a half century ago. By 1965, he was a member of the Deacons for Defense and Justice junior group and in 1966 he became the first black student to attend the all-white Ferriday High School. (Photo courtesy of the Concordia Sentinel)

In 1965, Klansmen had bombed the home of Whatley’s neighbor, Robert L. “Buck” Lewis Jr., who had raced outside with a shotgun to defend his family against the perpetrators. Minutes later, he, not his attackers, was arrested.

Not far from Lewis’ home lived Antonne Duncan, who days later ran through a Klan roadblock when he and other African American men transported Lewis home after his release from jail. Later on, Anthony “Lucky” McCraney’s gas station was firebombed, marking the sixth act of racial violence in Ferriday within a two-month period, according to CORE documents. Klansmen had learned that McCraney was a member of a secret organization of black activists, the Deacons for Defense and Justice.

These men had long been outraged by one horrid memory – the 1964 arson murder of Ferriday shoe shop owner Frank Morris. No one was ever arrested for the killing. Morris, a black man who had operated a business with a devoted interracial clientele for 30 years, had become a role model for young black men, many of whom got their first jobs as children helping Morris around his shop.

David Whatley was among the men inspired by Morris’ life and angered by his murder, and he would become the youngest member of the group that took on Klansmen and bad cops when they organized the Ferriday chapter of the Deacons for Defense and Justice. The Deacons were unlike any such group before or since. Born in Jonesboro before spreading most notably to Bogalusa, Homer and Ferriday, the Deacons’ main purpose was to fight fire with fire and to protect their communities.

Violent Klansmen had long been embedded with corrupt cops, some of whom wore robes themselves. The Deacons believed that arming themselves was the only way to hold off the Klan and protect their homes, neighborhoods and the white and black civil rights workers who came from across the country to help achieve equality.

‘RIFLES ON OUR SHOULDERS’

Ferriday’s population of more than 4,500 residents was roughly half black and half white in the mid-1960s, a time when black citizens quietly celebrated civil rights wins and white supremacists desperately tried to halt legislative and social change.

Read more at brproud.com

La. House rejects bill to limit qualified immunity for police officers

Supporters of the bill said qualified immunity protects “bad actors” in law enforcement

(Photo Credit: wwltv.com)

Published: June 17, 2020

By: Catherine Hunt, LSU Manship School News Service

BATON ROUGE, La. — A House committee rejected a bill Wednesday that would have prohibited police officers from receiving immunity in civil cases involving abuse allegations.

The bill by Rep. Edmond Jordan, D-Baton Rouge, aimed to address pushes for police reform after the death of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis.

Members of the House Civil Law and Procedure Committee killed the bill in a 9-7 vote, mostly among party lines. All Democrats on the panel voted in favor of the bill, while most Republicans opposed it. Reps. Thomas Pressly, R-Shreveport, and Richard Nelson, R- Mandeville, voted alongside Democratic members.

Qualified immunity protects government officials from civil lawsuits that claim the official violated a plaintiff’s rights. Suits are only permitted if an official violated “clearly established” rights.

Qualified immunity has been debated at the federal level as Democrats and some Republicans in Congress have called for its end in the wake of Floyd’s death. Congress has debated repealing the doctrine, and the Supreme Court announced Monday that it had declined to hear.

U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond,a Democrat who represents New Orleans and parts of Baton Rouge, wrote a letter to the state House committee urging members to support the bill.

“Many of you here have been upset that contact tracing or wearing a mask could violate your constitutional rights,” he said. “Isn’t the taking of a life a much more egregious violation?”

Read more at 4WWL

Louisiana Senate panels advances tax break for casinos

Ronnie Johns
State Sen. Ronnie Johns, R-Lake Charles (Credit:

Published: June 16, 2020

By:

The Louisiana Senate Revenue and Fiscal Affairs committee approved legislation to give the gaming industry an $83 million tax break over five years after the major hit it took from the COVID-19 shutdown.

Senate Bill 5 would allow each casino to give customers $5 million in free promotional play wagers without having to pay state taxes on those amounts. Anything above $5 million would be taxed at the normal rate, 21.5 percent.

The tax break would cost the state $11.2 million in revenues in the next fiscal year, starting July 1.

The Legislature is planning to cut spending on higher education by $21 million as it struggles to balance next year’s budget, and the added revenue losses from this bill and others aimed at helping businesses recover from the virus shutdown could force more budget cuts.

In May, the Senate committee rejected a more costly resolution to suspend taxes on all promotional play wagers in the gaming industry. That would have cost the state $29 million in tax revenues next year and $217.9 million over five years.

A promotional play wager is a marketing tactic used by casinos and race tracks nationwide by which the casino sends a potential customer a voucher for a set amount of money to encourage that potential customer to come to the casino. Ultimately, customers gamble from their wallets and make ancillary purchases from on-site bars and restaurants.

State Police reports that promotional play wagers accounted for approximately $251 million or about 10% of gaming operator revenue in 2019.

Read more at The Advocate

Lower car insurance in Louisiana still a possibility with two new bills

Published: June 16, 2020

By: Catherine Hunt, LSU Manship School News Service

BATON ROUGE —Two bills that aim to lower insurance rates in Louisiana by limiting damage suits by people injured in car accidents passed the House Monday and will move to the Senate for debate.

Both are generally similar to a bill by Sen. Kirk Talbot, R-River Ridge, that had been approved by the Legislature but was vetoed by Gov. John Bel Edwards on Friday.

It’s unclear if Republican legislators will attempt to muster the two-thirds majority vote needed to override Edwards’ veto of Talbot’s bill or hope that one of Garofalo or Schexnayder’s bills will have more success in the next two weeks before the special session ends.

Sen. Ray Garafalo, R-Chalmette, proposed an alternative bill related to auto insurance rates that passed the House on Monday.
Sen. Ray Garofalo, R-Chalmette, proposed an alternative bill related to auto insurance rates that passed in the house on Monday (Photo: Courtesy)

The new bills each passed the House by wide enough margins that suggest either could survive a veto if the governor opposed them.

Also Monday, Edwards signed a bill backed by Republican leaders to give $300 million of the more than $900 million in federal coronavirus relief aid to businesses instead of routing all of it to state and local governments, as the governor had preferred.

All three bills aim to lower car insurance rates for drivers in Louisiana, who pay the second highest premiums in the country after Michigan, by changing Louisiana’s tort laws that Republican say make it too easy for injured people to file lawsuits after car accidents.

The new bills were written by Rep. Ray Garofalo, R-Chalmette, and Speaker of the House Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales.

Both bills remove the last-minute flaw added into Talbot’s bill that would have required judges to award damages to injured plaintiffs at 1 ½ times the total premiums they had paid, resulting in tens of thousands of dollars more than the bill’s supporters had intended for many plaintiffs.

Read more at Shreveport Times

Homer ‘Deacons’ group vowed to ‘meet force with force’ against Klan, segregationists in 1960s

Published: June 16, 2020

By: Sydney McGovern, LSU Manship School News Service

A dozen times over three decades, Claiborne Parish resident Frederick Douglass Lewis had tried to register to vote in Louisiana, only to be denied time after time.

During his adult life, he had held numerous jobs to feed his family. He worked as a farmer, carpenter, stonemason and insurance salesman. He also taught Sunday School.

In almost every way, Lewis, who was born in 1905, had done his best to do what was right. All he had ever wanted was just a chance, a fair fight if nothing else, to enjoy the rights afforded to white Americans.

Frederick Lewis in front of Pineview High School on May 18, 1980. (Photo by Evelyn Lewis from the National Registry of Historic Places, United States Department of the Interior)

Lewis paid taxes but did not benefit as much from the taxes he paid. Because he was not allowed to register to vote, he didn’t have a say in government. He could not serve on the police jury, school board or in the state Legislature.

After years of frustration, Lewis decided he and his African American brothers had to do more.

On a summer night in 1965, he and a handful of other black men secretly formed a new chapter in Homer of an organization that would help bring about significant change in civil rights in Louisiana.

These men became members of the Louisiana-born group known as the Deacons for Defense and Justice. It sought, among other things, to protect those, black or white, who fought to advance the liberties and freedoms that had only been provided to white Americans.

Read more at BR Proud

 

 

BILL WOULD LET UNIVERSITIES RAISE STUDENT FEES

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Photo credit: LSU Manship School News Service/Elizabeth Garner
Rep. Jerome “Zee” Zeringue, R-Houma, proposed letting state universities raise fees for another year to make up for losses in funding

Published: June 12, 2020

By: Catherine Hunt, LSU Manship School News Service

BATON ROUGE — A House committee unanimously supported a bill Thursday that would let state universities continue to increase student fees at a time when they are facing tens of millions of dollars in cuts in state support and in costs from the COVID-19 shutdown.
The bill, by Rep. Jerome “Zee” Zeringue, R-Houma, attempts to mitigate those impacts while also considering student concerns about rising fees.

The House passed another version of his bill last month, but the Senate surprisingly failed to act on it before the regular session ended June 1.

Zeringue’s original bill would have allowed colleges and universities to set their own fee levels until 2023. He adjusted it so that the ability to do so ends at the end of the 2021 school year.

Some legislators worried that families would be negatively impacted by rising fees during a pandemic, which has caused over 300,000 Louisianans to file for unemployment.

Despite a projected drop in tax revenues, the Legislature has largely been able to avoid major cuts in much of the state budget for the next fiscal year, which starts July 1, by relying on roughly $1 billion in federal aid related to the pandemic.

But lawmakers are planning to cut the higher education budget by at least $21 million, even as they move to suspend various taxes and fees to help businesses at a significant cost in lost tax revenues for the state.

Several university leaders supported Zeringue’s bill at a hearing Thursday. They said they are still trying to determine how to handle virus-related costs that far exceed what they are receiving under the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security, or CARES, Act.

The federal funds for each school were determined by the percentage of students receiving Pell Grants who were not enrolled in online classes before the virus forced students to switch to online classes exclusively. Half of the funds provided under the act must be allocated to students.

Read more at St. Mary Now

Louisiana Department of Health to study spread of COVID-19 in nursing homes

Aimee Freeman
State Rep. Aimee Freeman, D-New Orleans.

Published: June 11, 2020

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The Louisiana Department of Health committed Thursday to studying the spread of COVID-19 in nursing homes throughout the state to better handle the spread of infectious diseases in the future.

State Rep. Aimee Freeman, D-New Orleans, said her district was the first to experience a cluster of COVID-19-related nursing home deaths. Health Department officials promised her that they would study the ways in which certain nursing homes prevented the virus’s spread and the ways in which other nursing homes failed.

“It’s my wish that we can study this in a way that we can understand what went wrong and what worked well,” said Freeman. “I have five nursing homes in my district, and some of them had no cases. So, there are things that were done well.”

Freeman said that 23 people died because of COVID-19 complications in the first nursing home to report a case.

Although Freeman’s district was the first, its situation was not unique.

“I know that I’m not the only member who had these issues in their district,” Freeman said. She said many House members called her for advice.

According to the health department website, as of June 8, 122 adult residential facilities have reported at least one case of COVID-19. Ninety-one COVID-19-related deaths and 630 total cases have been reported by these facilities. The information is updated each Monday.

The website also says that the spread of the virus is the greatest risk to the vulnerable residents of these facilities.

“It’s very important to understand what happened there and how that worked,” Freeman said, “and to make sure that we look at the COVID deaths that specifically happened in nursing homes throughout our community in Louisiana.”

Read more at The Advocate