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Louisiana, Acadiana business leaders discuss legislative goals during forum

February 21, 2020
Originally posted on The Daily Advertiser

The Louisiana Association of Business and Industry will be targeting lawsuit reform in an effort to reduce car insurance rates across the state, LABI's head emphasized.

Stephen Waguespack, LABI's president and CEO, addressed One Acadiana members at The Picard Center, where he explained his organization's gameplan for the next legislative session. It was Waguespack's second such speech in Acadiana this week, having spoke to real estate groups earlier.

Waguespack said lawsuit reform — such as eliminating or altering the state's jury threshold and gag orders — will be the priority for the session, as the number of new legislators who “haven't been brainwashed yet by the capital” gives them the “best chance” of passing it.

“If we pass this bill, all we're going to do is look like the rest of the country,” Waguespack said. “This isn't radical stuff.”

Waguespack said “time will tell” if Gov. John Bel Edwards would sign or veto a lawsuit reform bill. Edwards has indicated he's willing to work on lawsuit reform, but has not announced any specific measures he would support.

Republicans in the Louisiana Senate could override the veto, but the Republican majority in the House falls just shy of the two-thirds necessary for an override.

“I'm hoping that he will let this process play out and make his decision at the end,” Waguespack said. “I think if he's forced to sign it right now, he's not going to want to do it.”

A bill passed the House last session, but it died in a Senate committee. Waguespack said the Senate committee was “designed to kill bills just like this.” But he said newly elected Senate President Page Cortez, an Acadiana Republican, created fairer committees.

Following Waguespack's presentation, One Acadiana President and CEO Troy Wayman joined him for a question-and-answer session with members. During the session, the two spoke in favor of charter schools and criticized the state's attitude toward the oil and gas industry.

Waguespack criticized some of the state's actions toward the oil and gas industry, such as the coastal lawsuits, arguing that other industries may be deterred. He said the oil and gas companies were among some of the biggest investors of coastal protection and restoration efforts, but the state has been hostile toward them.

Wayman echoed these concerns.

“Other companies that are… considering our state for a location, they look at those things and say, 'You know, oil and gas is kind of the goose that laid the golden egg for the state of Louisiana, and they're kicking them in the shins. What are they going to do to me if I move there?'” Wayman said.

Both Waguespack and Wayman said they supported the state's charter school program, praising the ability to hold leaders accountable and to pull their charter for not meeting goals.

“We think that competition is going to help improve the product,” Waguespack said.

“I couldn't agree more,” Wayman said. “Basically we're bringing capitalism into the school system.

“If you're not producing a product that we all use and need, then you're going to go out of business.”