In Louisiana, the disasters have piled up. Huge amounts of personal savings, insurance payments and federal aid money are being spent to hire contractors to put right the homes and businesses devastated by flooding.
Who is watching out for consumers in this extraordinary environment?
The answer is, not enough in the way of officialdom. But even those who want to help can be shackled by laws and institutions reluctant to see state government suing or otherwise disciplining businesses in rancorous disputes, like those involving crooked or just negligent contractors.
Attorney General Jeff Landry is among those criticized, since his office has direct authority over consumer protection. But there is a good case that Landry's office hasn't the tools, or the legal authority, to do that much for consumers.
As is the case so often, the issue is touched by politics that long predate Landry, Gov. John Bel Edwards or members of the state Licensing Board for Contractors.
Landry told the editorial board of The Advocate that his office has worked with federal authorities in charge of dealing with fraudulent flood work, as well as the state commission overseeing contractors, and he noted that his office can by law offer mediation of consumer complaints.
We wonder if this disaster involving thousands of homeowners and business owners should not prompt a reassessment of the law and practice of state consumer protection.
Going back decades, the business-oriented Legislature has been reluctant to allow a potentially lawsuit-happy attorney general the chance to make political hay out of consumer complaints. There are legitimate concerns about how wide the attorney general's field of action should be, but today's experience with the floods certainly ought to prompt a new look at this issue.
The contractor board says it focuses on licensing questions, such as whether a contractor has insurance, has passed a licensing exam, has basic financial backing and uses licensed subcontractors. The board is not designed to be the arbitrator of quality and workmanship problems or of the validity of any contracts, said Brad Hassert, the compliance director.
Nor, for that matter, can the AG's office become a free legal office for every complaint.
We don't want to see the politicization of consumer complaints. That might be a cure worse than the disease. But we also don't want people to feel that they are being left in the lurch by the government when things have gone so badly for thousands of people.
The vast majority of contractors are honest and capable, despite the recent arrest of one in Ascension Parish on 119 counts of fraud and related charges. And every consumer complaint isn't justified. But a new look at how we deal with such complaints is overdue, before the next hurricane, flood or other event hits Louisiana.
More than a year before authorities across the Baton Rouge area accused contractor Matthew M…