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LABI: Tort reform top goal for 2020 legislative session

February 20, 2020
Originally posted on The Advocate

Stephen Waguespack on Thursday set before One Acadiana his organization’s game plan for seizing the moment for business interests during the 2020 legislative session, which opens March 9 and ends June 1.

Waguespack, president and CEO of the Louisiana Association of Business & Industry, said the organization was actively involved in recruiting and coaching legislative candidates during the 2019 elections. It endorsed 18 of 39 senators, 46 of 105 House members. The harvest, he said, was a strengthened political foothold — not necessarily veto proof, but stronger — that made the changeover of both legislative chambers “historic.”

LABI’s aggressive political efforts reflected a need based on economic signposts that suggest a troubled Louisiana economy and more peril ahead. For example, he said, the state’s job growth is “anemic” compared to growth in neighboring states and its unemployment rate of 4.9 percent outpaces that of other nearby states.

Louisianians are fleeing the state — 50,000 have left since July 2016, he said — especially damaging to the state long term.

“Our seed corn is leaving to go to other states,” he said. “Every time we lose a person, it’s hard to bring them back.”

Waguespack said LABI has specific plans as Louisiana opens the legislative quadrennium. This year, he said, the organization will focus on improving the state’s legal climate. He said tort reform is needed to improve not only the energy industry’s outlook but the future of other employers, as well.

Farmers, truckers and grocers are facing new challenges because of the legal climate, he said. Tort reform, he said, would help large industries and mom-and-pop businesses alike.

Waguespack said Louisiana ranks among the worst states for the number of lawsuits and among the top five states for tort costs as a share of the state’s economy. He said Louisiana’s “poor civil justice system” has an impact of about $4,000 per household, according to a study LABI funded.

Car insurance, he said, is 58 percent above the national average.

“We have three times more lawsuits than Alabama,” he said, a state that in the 1990s was known for lawsuit abuse.

Waguespack said few companies will write commercial vehicle insurance policies in Louisiana, especially difficult for trucking companies, ambulance companies and others that are vehicle intensive.

He said among the problems LABI perceives is that bodily injury claims are filed more frequently here. It’s tougher for defendants to get jury trials — the threshold is $50,000 — plaintiffs can “judge shop” and judges are not made to be transparent.

“You deserve to know who judges are in business with,” he said. All of those are issues he said LABI will pursue in legislative efforts this year.

Waguespack also said litigation over coastal erosion has caused some oil and gas producers to shy away from Louisiana.

He said State Sen. Page Cortez, R-Lafayette, will make sure conservatives will hold key leadership positions to protect business and industry. To Acadiana's advantage, he said, is that State Rep. Stuart Bishop, R-Lafayette, holds the chairmanship of the House Ways & Means committee.

Joe Zanco, executive vice president and CFO for HomeBank, said he hopes lawmakers and the governor can agree on policies that will encourage more jobs, especially those that encourage Louisianians who’ve left the state to return.

Carol Trosclair of Carol Trosclair Inc., a landman and business consultant, said bringing jobs back to Louisiana is especially important.

Waguespack's visit to One Acadiana is one of several he'll make statewide before the legislative session opens.