News + Notes

Roundup: Bill to increase penalty on insurers for slow disaster claims fails in House

Photo by Robert Buckman

After more than an hour of sometimes emotional debate, a bill that would have quadrupled the penalty on homeowners insurance companies that fail to pay valid claims was defeated in the House of Representatives on a 36-50 vote Monday evening.

Nine Republicans and an independent joined in support of HB467 by Rep. Ed Larvadain, D-Alexandria. It is a raw, bipartisan subject because of  the failure of some insurance companies to pay legitimate claims in the wake of Hurricanes Laura, Delta and Zeta.

Larvadain recited horror stories that unfolded when the bill was heard in committee, such as a woman who wept when she related how she was forced to deal with nine different adjustors. 

“There’s no reason to have nine different adjustors,” Larvadain told the House. “If you don’t have penalties, you’re going to have bad actors. Not all insurance companies are bad actors, but how can they spend millions of dollars on TV ads and not pay claims?”

Nineteen representatives—almost a fifth of the 105-member body—failed to respond to a quorum call before the vote and thus are not on the record, even though 99 members had just voted on another bill. Republican Rep. Beau Beaullieu, who represents parts of Lafayette and Iberia parishes, was absent Monday.

Of the other Lafayette Parish representatives, Democrats Vincent Pierre and Marcus Bryant voted for it and Republicans Stuart Bishop, Jean-Paul Coussan, Julie Emerson and Jonathan Goudeau voted nay.

Under current law, insurance companies found at fault for not paying out legitimate homeowners’ claims can be compelled to pay the insured an additional 50% on settled claims. HB467 would have raised that to twice the amount of the claim if a company’s denial of a claim was “arbitrary, capricious or without probable cause.” 

Some Republicans, like Rep. Alan Seabaugh of Shreveport, were vehement in their opposition. “This is an extremely dangerous bill, it’s a bad bill,” he said, warning that it would drive insurance companies from Louisiana.

That brought a rebuke from Republican Phillip Tarver of Shreveport. “We’ve been paying premiums and we’re not getting them back,” he complained.

Another Republican, Rep. Michael Firment of Pollock, said he has been an adjustor for 23 years and agreed that there is a “problem” with some companies paying their due, but he warned that HB467 would “draw things out and invite litigation. I do not think this bill is the answer to our problems.”

Democratic Rep. Robbie Carter of Shreveport responded, “If you agree there’s a problem, then if this bill doesn’t help fix it, then what will?”

Besides Tarver, eight other Republicans and independent Roy Adams of Jackson joined 26 Democrats in voting for the bill. Virtually all those Republicans are from districts hard-hit by Laura and Delta, such as Ryan Bourriaque of Abbeville, Dewith Carrier of Oakdale, Les Farnum of Sulphur and Troy Romero of Jennings. 

House rejects Senate changes to sales tax consolidation bill

The bill to consolidate sales tax collections hit a speed bump Monday on its way to the governor’s office when the House rejected the Senate’s amended version.

“I want to send it to conference (with the Senate) to make sure we get it right before we move forward,” Speaker Clay Schexnayder told the House. The vote to reject Schexnayder’s own HB199 passed 97-0.

A conference committee is composed of an equal number of members from each house who attempt to iron out the differences between two versions of a bill. Some of the Senate’s seven floor amendments involved arcane language, but a substantive change was an amendment making the eight members of the newly created State and Local Streamlined Sales and Use Tax Commission subject to Senate confirmation.

Schexnayder’s bill passed the Senate last Wednesday 20-0, the bare minimum needed for passage, but with 18 members not voting, an unusual demonstration of displeasure. Sens. Page Cortez, R-Lafayette, the Senate president, and Gerald Boudreaux, D-Lafayette, voted for it, while Sen. Bob Hensgens, R-Lafayette, was among those boycotting the vote. The original bill first passed the House 97-4 on April 21.

House Oks extending period of ID cards to six years

The House on Monday approved HB621 by Rep. Vincent Pierre, D-Lafayette, to extend the period of state-issued ID cards from four to six years and increase the fee from $8 to $12. The tenure of drivers licenses was extended to six years in 2016, Pierre noted.

The vote was 85-2. Eighteen members skipped the vote, including Lafayette Parish Republican Reps. Gerald Beaullieu, Stuart Bishop, Jean-Paul Coussan and Julie Emerson. Democrat Marcus Bryant and Republican Jonathan Goudeau voted for it.

 It was reported favorably by the Transportation, Highways and Public Works Committee, which Pierre chairs, on a 13-0 vote last month. According to the fiscal note attached to the bill, it would generate $1 million in additional revenue the first year and $4 million over five years. It now goes to the Senate.

Another of Pierre’s bills, tightening the requirements for commercial licenses but not raising fees, was up for final Senate passage Monday but the Senate adjourned before taking action. 

HB221, which passed the House 98-0 on April 26, would require the Department of Motor Vehicles to include a check of applicants with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s drug and alcohol clearinghouse. The screening would begin Jan. 6, 2023.

The bill also would require, beginning Feb. 7, 2022, the DMV to check with the Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s training provider registry to determine whether an applicant has passed a skills test in order to obtain a new or upgraded commercial license.

Bill legalizing drone flights gets House approval

Rules and procedures to govern wider commercial use of drones won unanimous approval in the House. 

HB587 by Rep. Robert Owen, R- Slidell,  states that “flight by an unmanned aerial system over the lands and waters of Louisiana is lawful unless expressly prohibited by law.” It also creates a 21-member Louisiana Drone Advisory Committee within the Department of Transportation and Development to advise the DOTD secretary on technical drone issues.

The vote was 95-0. It goes to the Senate.