The 2020 Regular Session, which adjourned on June 1, was notably punctuated by COVID-19, but was also marked by progress on certain business community priorities, including a major tort reform bill with the aim of lowering auto insurance rates. As the Legislature immediately pivots to a Special Session, here is a recap of some of the priority legislation 1A was engaged on during the Regular Session.
Tort Reform to Lower Auto Insurance Rates
SB 418 by Sen. Kirk Talbot – This bill will make common-sense reforms to Louisiana’s legal system to help lower auto insurance rates, including:
Lowering Louisiana’s jury trial threshold from $50,000 to $10,000 (as amended in Conference Committee)
Ending the collateral source rule
Removing the direct action statute
Extending the prescription period for delictual actions (torts) from 1 year to 2 years for motor vehicle accidents
Eliminating the seat belt gag order
Requiring a mandatory 10% rate reduction for personal auto insurance
The bill passed in the Senate by a vote of 29-8 and in the House by a vote of 72-28. A Conference Committee report to reconcile amendments was adopted in the final minutes of the Session. It now heads to the Governor’s desk for signature, and there appears to be enough support to override a potential veto.
COVID-19 Liability Protections
HB 826 by Rep. Thomas Pressly – This is one of several bills that would help protect employers, healthcare workers, and others who operate in good faith from lawsuits and liability claims by employees, customers, or others who contract the coronavirus. The protections would not apply in the case of “gross negligence,” or when not in substantial compliance with applicable safety procedures. The bill passed the House and Senate and awaits the Governor’s signature. Related measures – SB 491 by Sen. Sharon Hewitt and SB 508 by Sen. Patrick McMath – passed both chambers as well and await the Governor’s signature.
Oil & Gas Industry Support
SB 359 by Sen. Bob Hensgens – This bill would have limited the ability of local authorities to file lawsuits against oil & gas companies on matters related to State-issued Coastal Use Permits. After a procedural ruling made it apparent the bill would not have time to make it through the legislative process by June 1, Sen. Hensgens decided to pull the bill from consideration.
SCR 7 by Sen. Sharon Hewitt – Similar to SB 359, this resolution would urge and request certain officials and local governments to dismiss coastal lawsuits against the oil & gas industry. It passed the Senate by a 20-15 vote and the House by a 61-33 vote and does not require the Governor’s signature, as it is a resolution rather than a bill.
Centralized Sales Tax Collection
HB 791 by Rep. Tanner Magee – This bill, related to improving Louisiana’s sales tax collection system, was amended on the House floor to address feedback from local government. The original bill, and accompanying Constitutional Amendment, would have provided Louisiana-based businesses the ability to remit sales and use taxes to the centralized Remote Sellers Commission. Currently, only businesses without a physical presence in Louisiana – termed “remote sellers” – have this option. This puts an unfair burden on Louisiana businesses, who must remit sales and use taxes parish by parish. The bill as amended would streamline sales and use tax registration, filing, and remittance for Louisiana businesses through a “technological solution” – in effect, setting up a more streamlined version of the current Parish E-File system. The full technology solution would be required to go into effect by Jan. 1, 2022. The bill passed unanimously in the House as amended, but the Session ended before it could receive a hearing in the Senate Finance Committee. Sales taxes collection is one of the items included in the Special Session call, so it is likely this bill will be reintroduced.
Economic Development Incentives
HCR 4 by Rep. Beau Beaullieu – This measure would allow individual parishes to elect to be designated as “ITEP Ready” through a majority vote of each of the local taxing authorities who weigh in on ITEP applications. The designation would communicate that a parish provides automatic local approval of ITEP applications that have been approved by the Louisiana Board of Commerce and Industry. This 1A-supported resolution passed in both chambers and does not require the Governor’s signature.
HB 846 by Rep. Mark Wright – The aim of this bill is to encourage small businesses (50 or fewer employees) in certain industries who were forced to close their doors due to COVID-19 to rehire their workers and create new jobs. The bill applies to restaurants, retailers, and hotels that were impacted by the Stay-at-Home Order. To the extent that they rehire employees, they will be eligible to receive assistance of up to 6 percent for payroll related to new hires. The business must create a minimum of five new jobs and a minimum of $40,000 in new payroll between May 15 - Dec. 31 of this year. The bill passed in the House and Senate and awaits the Governor’s signature.
HB 850 by Rep. Barry Ivey – This bill, pertaining to Economic Development Districts (EDDs), would have eroded one of the key tools in Louisiana’s economic development toolkit by imposing new requirements that would make EDDs much more difficult to establish and invest in. The bill stalled following strong opposition by the economic development community.
Early Care and Education
HB 105 (Zeringue) – 1A joined the Ready Louisiana Coalition in asking legislators to sufficiently fund early care and education, requesting an additional $25.1 million in the State budget bill (HB 105) in order to expand access to the Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) for 4,000 more Louisiana children. This funding is critical for working parents to access quality child care and be able to return to work. HB 105 passed the House with funding for early care and education preserved at the existing amount, but no new funding. The Legislature will finalize the State budget during the Special Session.
HB 676 by Rep. Julie Emerson – This “Free the Transcript” bill was a key priority of 1A’s 55 by 25 educational attainment initiative this year. It aims to mitigate a major barrier for adult learners to return to school by prohibiting postsecondary institutions from withholding their academic transcript due to outstanding debt with the institution. This bill became even more critical, as workers who have lost their jobs during the COVID-19 public health emergency may need to return to school to reskill or upskill to qualify for a different or better job.
The bill passed with an amendment that gives authority to the postsecondary management boards to adopt policies on this issue that would apply to the institutions under their purview. The amendment also allows the management boards to establish a means-tested repayment plan as a condition of releasing a transcript. While the amendment is not optimal, passage of this bill represents an important win for our 55 by 25 initiative, as it will ultimately allow more adult learners to return to school to complete their degree or credential.