Business interests are spending more than $1 million to try to elect a Legislature that will limit lawsuits that they say discourage investment in Louisiana and kill jobs.
The state’s trial lawyers are fighting back, with less money, saying the business groups are trying to win passage of laws that would deny injured parties their rightful day in court.
At stake are hundreds of millions of dollars in potential payments to be won in court or through legal settlements for people injured in car wrecks and industrial accidents or who own land polluted years ago by oil drilling.
Also at stake, potentially, are lawsuits filed by coastal parishes that accuse oil and gas companies of destroying marsh and wetlands when digging wells. Last month saw the first tentative settlement of such a suit when the mining company Freeport McMoRan agreed to pay up to $100 million over some 20 years. Legislators don’t have a direct say over the lawsuits, but a Legislature hostile to the lawsuits could chill the parishes’ efforts.
Business groups and their allies are trying to win enough seats to create a super-majority in the Legislature that could pass anti-lawsuit bills and override a veto by Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, if he wins re-election.
Republicans are likely to tighten their grip over the Louisiana Legislature this fall because they are favored to pick up more seats held by …
As an attorney in Tangipahoa Parish, Edwards was a member of the Louisiana Association for Justice, the trial lawyers’ trade group, and is generally sympathetic with their point of view. His two Republican opponents – U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham and businessman Eddie Rispone – have echoed the claims of business groups that Louisiana’s laws are so friendly to plaintiffs’ lawyers that business investment has suffered.
The current breakdown in the House is 61 Republicans, 39 Democrats and five independents. In the Senate, it's 25 Republicans and 14 Democrats. Bumping those numbers up to at least 70 House Republicans and at least 26 Senate Republicans would create the two-thirds super-majority, at least on paper.
A key issue during this year’s campaigns is a bill pushed by business groups involving car insurance that the House passed earlier this year. Members of the Senate Judiciary A Committee, skeptical of claims that House Bill 372 would lower rates, killed it in May. The Louisiana Association for Business and Industry, the state’s largest business lobby, lamented the outcome of what it called the “most important bill of the legislative session.”
A state Senate panel Tuesday rejected what a business group called the most important bill of the session after senators complained that despi…
LABI has four different political action committees that are donating to candidates who want to limit lawsuits and reduce business taxes. LABI is also funding the Louisiana Free Enterprise PAC, which has a distinct role to make independent expenditures both for and against candidates. The Free Enterprise PAC appears likely to spend about $200,000 this election, according to campaign finance reports.
The Louisiana Committee for a Conservative Majority, another business-funded group, appears likely to spend more than $1 million alone on legislative elections on independent expenditures, according to the campaign finance reports.
The business groups are especially focused on a handful of state Senate races, targeting two of the four senators on Senate Judiciary A who rejected the car insurance measure – HB372, sponsored by state Rep. Kirk Talbot, R-River Ridge.
The Louisiana Committee for a Conservative Majority, headed by Attorney General Jeff Landry and U.S. Sen. John Kennedy, has run negative ads and sent out reams of mailers painting state Sen. John Milkovich, D-Keithville, as an obstacle to progress in Louisiana.
An acrimonious debate over car insurance rates and so-called tort reform — involving a controversial bill that a powerful business lobby dubbe…
Milkovich endeared himself to social conservatives this year by sponsoring the strict anti-abortion bill that was approved by the Legislature and signed into law by Edwards, gaining nationwide attention. Yet business groups, caring more about Milkovich’s record on lawsuit issues, have endorsed Barry Milligan, a Republican business consultant and banker.
Two different super PACs funded by trial lawyers are trying to save Milkovich’s seat.
One is Napoleon PAC, which has raised a majority of its money from trial lawyers and is run by veteran Democratic political operative Trey Ourso. The group has raised more than $100,000, Ourso said.
The other is Restore the Coast PAC, which is funded by Talbot Carmouche & Marcello, the Baton Rouge-based law firm that represents six of the coastal parishes in their lawsuits against oil and gas companies. The firm reached the tentative settlement between Freeport McMoRan and the parishes.
“He’s been a fighter for the coast and for property owners,” said John Carmouche.
Louisiana Free Enterprise and the Louisiana Committee are also targeting state Sen. Ryan Gatti, R-Bossier City. He, too, voted against HB372 in the Senate panel and forced an admission from Talbot that his bill had not resulted from a task force that had met to study the issue – contrary to claims that he and other lawmakers had been making.
“This is a glaring example of their overall effort to keep individuals and the citizens of Louisiana out of the legislative process and allow insurance companies to control the legislative process,” Paul Sterbcow, a New Orleans-based trial attorney who is the immediate past president of the Louisiana Association for Justice, said in an interview.
Gatti is facing Robert Mills, a Republican favored by the business groups who owns timber and oil and gas properties.
The two sides are also battling over who will replace state Sen. Eric LaFleur, D-Ville Platte, who is term-limited. The business groups have lined up behind Heather Cloud, a Republican who served as mayor of Turkey Creek in Evangeline Parish, while the trial attorneys favor either of the two Democratic state legislators running for the seat: Bernard LeBas, of Ville Platte, or Robert Johnson, of Marksville.
Similarly, the business groups are behind Talbot’s campaign to take the spot left open by term-limited state Sen. Danny Martiny, R-Kenner, while the trial lawyers are backing his Republican opponent, Arita Bohannan.