The next three weeks will be a whirlwind at the State Capitol. With the Louisiana Constitution requiring that the regular session wrap up by June 1, much of the Legislature’s time and energy will rightly be focused on passing a balanced state budget amid a dramatic decrease in projected tax collections and an oil and gas industry that is facing crushing revenue and job losses. But the state’s fiscal outlook cannot be considered in a vacuum. The Legislature must also focus its attention on adopting laws and policies that will give businesses both the financial capacity and the certainty they need to rehire and reopen.
Over the past two months, countless businesses across Louisiana have stepped up to support Louisiana and its residents and keep them safe. Restaurants and grocery stores have stayed open and worked overtime to make sure people remain fed, hardware stores have continued to supply essential items, and transportation services have made sure people without a car can get to work and access health care. In many cases, these businesses have risked their savings and livelihoods to ensure their workers have a job to come back to. Others have transformed their operations to deliver goods and services outside the scope of their normal business.
These businesses should not be penalized for their goodwill and hard work by being subjected to frivolous lawsuits filed by trial lawyers looking for the next big pay day. Without a doubt, bad actors and businesses who act with intentional disregard for public safety should be held accountable. Businesses who act in good faith to get employees safely back to work and jump-start our economy should not.
I hear from business leaders across the state. Uncertainty about potential liability is the number one issue holding them back from making definitive plans for reopening and future growth. For years, Louisiana has been criticized for our “lawsuit happy” culture and sky-high car insurance rates. That culture is precisely why the Legislature must act now to prevent frivolous, costly and job-killing litigation schemes that seek to take advantage of the present public health emergency.
Several bills already before the Legislature, including HB 826 by Rep. Thomas Pressly (Shreveport) and SB 491 by Rep. Sharon Hewitt (Slidell), would not only achieve this goal but also help right-set Louisiana on a new path toward a fairer, more predictable legal climate overall. Making Louisiana’s economy more competitive against our neighboring states will be more important than ever when this pandemic recedes. Passing these bills will be a critical step on that journey.
BEVERLY MOORE HAYDEL
member, Louisiana Economic Recovery Task Force