Tort reform bill fails in Senate panel
BATON ROUGE — A Senate committee rejected a bill on Tuesday that would reduce auto insurance premiums by curbing civil lawsuits. The panel also advanced a proposal to raise Louisiana’s minimum age for marriage to 18.
The insurance bill was sponsored by Rep. Kirk Talbot, R-River Ridge, and was intended to shield insurance companies from lawsuits and reduce the number of lawsuits against drivers over time.
Talbot’s bill, called the “Omnibus Premium Reduction Act of 2019,” had passed the House 69-30 last week but failed 4-1 Tuesday in the Senate committee, Judiciary A.
The bill actually could have led to more jury trials, according to a legislative fiscal note by the Louisiana Department of Insurance.
“I don’t know if there’s one home run here,” Talbot acknowledged. He argued the new law would create competition and lower rates.
Opponents contended, however, that the bill would restrict crash victims’ access to courts and ultimately benefit insurance companies.
Louisiana has among the highest auto insurance rates in the country, according to a 2018 study by the Insurance Research Council. The average cost of car insurance in the state is $2,298 annually, or $192 a month, according to Insure.com.
The only lawmaker who voted in favor of the bill did not seem convinced either that the complex bill could advance through the legislative process.
“I can’t tell you if it’s going to work. No one can,” Sen. Jack Donahue, R-Mandeville, said.
Last year, lawmakers created a task force to study the ways to lower auto insurance rates, but the group did not meet regularly and only delivered a brief report.
Sen. Ryan Gatti, R-Bossier City, in particular, expressed frustration with the task force’s results.
“So you have a bill before us and you don’t know whether or not it’s going to lower rates, and you don’t know how much it’s going to cost, and you want us to vote on it?” Gatti asked Talbot during the hearing.
Stephen Waguespack, CEO of the influential Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, dubbed it the “most important bill of the legislative session” in a column.
The Senate Judiciary A Committee also moved to advance a bill that would set 18 as the state’s minimum age for marriage.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Yvonne Colomb, D-Baton Rouge, will move to the Senate floor, where it is expected to be amended.
There is currently no legal minimum for marriage in Louisiana. Minors aged 16 and 17 require parental consent to get married, and minors under 16 years must also obtain a juvenile court judge’s permission.
In neighboring states like Texas, the minimum age is 16 and requires a judge’s consent, and in Mississippi parental consent is required for men aged 17 and women aged 15 and above. In Arkansas, the minimum age for minors to marry is 17 with parental consent.
“A lot of times we make an attempt to take corrective action to something, but as we all know, just because we put something in law that doesn’t necessarily mean that the bad actors follow that law,” said committee chairman Sen. Rick Ward III, R-Port Allen.
Lawmakers signaled bipartisan support for the bill, agreeing that Louisiana needs a minimum age. But they debated what age would be appropriate.
Sen. W. Jay Luneau, D-Alexandria, suggested that the bill needs more consideration to avoid casting “such a wide net,” he said. “I think we need to pick an arbitrary number. I just don’t think 18 is the number,” Luneau said.
Photo: A Senate Judiciary committee on Tuesday rejected a tort reform bill aimed at lowering auto insurance rates. (Photo by Lauren Heffker / LSU Manship School News Service)