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Louisiana’s most powerful industry lobby announces leadership, presses for lawsuit changes

February 17, 2020
Originally posted on The News Star

Louisiana's most powerful business lobby announced its 2020 volunteer leadership team as it makes a push to change tort laws the organization believes will boost the state's economy and lower auto insurance rates.

Tom O'Neal, president of O'Nealgas Inc., which is headquartered in Choudrant, has been named board chairman of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry.

Terry Baugh, chief financial officer of D&J Construction Co. in West Monroe, will serve as LABI's vice chair.

LABI's professional team, led by President Stephen Waguespack, and the volunteer leaders have said tort law change is the biggest issue of the upcoming Legislative Session that begins March 9.

The group will use its considerable political muscle to advocate for a package of changes to the state's tort law that would in some cases make it harder for people to sue for civil damages.

“I look forward to working with all of LABI’s members to help address the state’s most pressing issues,” O'Neal said. “Chief among them in my mind is the need to pass meaningful legal reform legislation, a desire shared by many across this state. Working together, I am confident we can get something done.”

It was a featured topic during LABI's annual meeting in Baton Rouge last week.

“I look forward to working with this talented group of leaders willing to lend their time and voices as we look to bring solutions and ideas grounded in the principles of free enterprise to the state Capitol,” Waguespack said.

Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards, who spoke during LABI's annual meeting, said he will seek common ground on tort legislation, but it's unclear what he will specifically support or oppose.

Some Democratic lawmakers and the new political action committee Real Reform Louisiana argue the legislation LABI supports won't lower car insurance and would instead be a boon for industry and insurance companies they contend “rig the court system.”

LABI has a 100-member volunteer board with those directors located throughout the state.

It also has regional political action committees that recruit and support candidates who  LABI believes will forward its causes.

In addition to O'Neal and Baugh, other officers of the 2020 volunteer leadership team include: Christel C. Slaughter, CEO, SSA Consultants, Baton Rouge, secretary; Jude Melville, president, b1 Bank, Baton Rouge, treasurer; and Meagan Shields, investment portfolio manager, Louisiana Workers' Compensation Corporation, Baton Rouge.