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Gov. John Bel Edwards speaks with media members after his an address to local officials at the Louisiana Municipal Association meeting, Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2020 at the Crowne Plaza hotel.

States compete. We’re getting our butts kicked. Louisiana’s southern neighbors are playing smarter, growing faster and providing more opportunity for their people. But it’s more than just a game. It’s real life. Ask a recent Louisiana college grad looking for not just a job, but a career. The careers are elsewhere, they’re everywhere, in plenty, but not here. Why?

Let’s begin with the state’s “Judicial Hellhole” squeezing and stunting the growth of our private sector. The Texas-based economic and financial analysis firm, The Perryman Group, released a recent report showing excessive litigation by plaintiff attorneys shrinking Louisiana’s economic output by $1.9 billion. The report found our state’s judicial set up favoring plaintiff attorneys cost us close to 20,000 jobs and $1.2 billion annually in personal income. That’s a big hole to dig out from when competing with our neighboring states. It’s a big, deep judicial hellhole.

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“These job-killing lawsuits hurt Louisiana families, and in addition, economic opportunities are driven away while resulting costs are passed down in the form of higher prices for goods and services,” said Lana Venable, executive director of Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch, which hosted a luncheon on the subject in Baton Rouge this month.

Frivolous lawsuits are killing us. Louisiana’s judicial hellhole encourages and enables them. Plaintiff attorneys are making a killing. They’re gaming the system making tort reform close to impossible by flooding politician’s campaign coffers and like-minded political action committees with boatloads of cash. The billboard lawyers and plaintiff attorneys targeting manufacturers and businesses like the oil industry know how to play the game. They’re winning and Louisiana is losing.

Those living large benefiting from Louisiana’s judicial hellhole control the governor’s mansion and more politicians than we realize. We’ll soon see how many. The GOP has firm control of the legislature. No more excuses. If meaningful tort reform legislation doesn’t land on the governor’s desk this session, we’ll know Republicans are all talk on the issue.

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The state’s judicial hellhole has been stunting Louisiana’s growth long before plaintiff attorney’s mostly funded John Bel Edwards’ campaign to win the governor’s mansion. We’ve had eight years of Republican Bobby Jindal as governor with a GOP dominated legislature and yet our highways are still littered with billboards featuring pictures of personal injury lawyers promising big checks if you simply give them a call. One call, that’s all.

The judicial hellhole has grown deeper under Edwards, much deeper. The Wall Street Journal described Edwards targeting oil companies as a shakedown of the industry. Tony Soprano could learn a few things from our governor when it comes to squeezing businesses for cash. “It’s a nice place you got here; I’d hate to see something happen to it like a coastal lawsuit.” The only difference between Edwards and Soprano is what our governor does is legal. That doesn’t make it right.

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Only Illinois has a more destructive and costly legal system than Louisiana, according to The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Institute for Legal Reform 2019 Lawsuit Abuse Climate Survey. The American Tort Reform Foundation estimates families and businesses in our state pay nearly $7 billion in expenses relating to tort litigation.

About 14,000 construction jobs have disappeared in Louisiana in the past year and a half, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Only one other state lost more. Thirty-four states saw an increase in that sector. We currently have the fourth highest unemployment rate in the nation with 36,000 fewer people working than when Edwards took office. All this while our nation’s experiencing one of the most vibrant, explosive economic booms in U.S. history.

A total of 26,045 people left us in the past year. More than 80,000 have left Louisiana since Edwards took office. This is the price we pay for losing to other states.

Yes, we’re getting our butts kicked, and we won’t be competitive again until we loosen the grip and stranglehold our state’s billboard lawyers and plaintiff attorneys have on our politicians. Many of our young will continue to have to choose between taking a low paying job in Louisiana or leaving to land a successful career elsewhere.

Email Dan Fagan at FaganShow@gmail.com or follow on Twitter, @DanFaganShow.