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State business group watching fall elections


June 25, 2019
By Julia Arenstam
Originally Posted on Houma Today

The Louisiana Association of Business and Industry is ready for this year’s election cycle and legislative overturn.

LABI President Stephen Waguespack spoke to the Houma-Terrebonne Chamber of Commerce today about the group’s plan to continue pursuing lawsuit reform, improving the state tax climate and growing the workforce through the 2019 elections and into the 2020 legislative session.

LABI represents more than 2,000 businesses and industry across the state, advocating economic growth through open markets.

With the close of the 2019 legislative session, Waguespack said there were some successes, but other items were left on the table, namely the state’s Industrial Tax Exemption Program. Gov. John Bel Edwards moved approval power for the tax exemption program into local hands. Waguespack has frequently criticized the move and said it will be a major issue this fall.

He also boasted the newly passed bills like Rep. Tanner Magee’s bill that will provide $150 million to elevate La. 1 and other major infrastructure projects across the state, the passage of uniform regulations for ride-sharing services and changes to the state tax policy that will allow residents to be reimbursed if the courts ever rule a state tax is unconstitutional.

Waguespack called the bills “game changers” for the future of the state.

Yet, tort reform continues to be one of the group’s key concerns. That includes reforms that will affect the state’s insurance rates that are 56 percent higher than the national average by reducing the jury trial threshold, giving juries more information like doing away with the seat belt gag order and stop “judge shopping” by attorneys.

Those efforts have been repeatedly blocked in the Senate Judiciary A Committee, of which five of the seven members are trial attorneys, Waguespack said.

This fall, dozens of state legislative seats will be open as current representatives reach their term limits. Those include local representatives Rep. Truck Gisclar, District 54; Rep. Jerome Richard, District 55; and Sen. Norby Chabert, District 20.

Those new representatives will be responsible for redrawing district lines after the 2020 census.

Other reforms LABI is calling for include those to Medicaid spending and looking at how to reduce the state budget, possibly by shifting more spending to local hands.

Waguespack said the capital is changing, in part due to the term limits that kicked in in 2007 have put in new leaders.

“For the first time in a long time decisions were made in the capital not just by a couple of suits,” he said.

LABI plans to ramp up recruitment efforts for new legislators, identifying those “that can bring new fresh ideas.”