After Gov. Edwards vetoes car insurance bill, republican support splits among new ideas to lower rates

(Travis Spradling/The Advocate via AP, Pool)
(Travis Spradling/The Advocate via AP, Pool)(Travis Spradling/The Advocate via AP)
Published: Jun. 15, 2020 at 5:27 PM CDT|Updated: Jun. 15, 2020 at 5:30 PM CDT
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BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Gov. John Bel Edwards’ veto of a regular session bill that aimed to lower car insurance rates came as little surprise to lawmakers.

Republican leadership included the topic on the list of items allowed for debate during the special session, likely in anticipation of the move. But since Edwards’ decision, republican support is split among a number of alternatives to the original, widely-supported idea.

“There are other bills before this legislature this special session that are being discussed as compromise legislation," Rep. Jack McFarland, R-Jonesboro, said, presenting his own premium reduction bill to a House committee Monday. "I’ve read those bills and in their current forms, they either accomplish very little or move us in the wrong direction.”

Each plan would make it harder to sue after a car wreck, ultimately saving insurance companies money by keeping them out of court. Lawmakers hope that those insurers would pass their savings on to drivers through rate reductions.

But some republicans would make it harder to sue than others, and now the legislature’s majority party must decide how far it’s willing to bend to earn Edwards’ signature. The governor called for a bi-partisan compromise in his veto notification, while also noting that insurance companies never testified they would cut premiums if the original measure passed.

It does not appear the republican legislature has enough votes to override Edwards’ veto, as was once expected.

Republican Alan Seabaugh, perhaps the lawmaker most frequently at-odds with Edwards, asked McFarland whether a certain provision in his plan aimed to lower rates or appease the governor.

“Are you simply trying to put that in as a compromise to throw a bone to the trial lawyers and the governor in hopes you get a signature?” Seabaugh asked McFarland, who pitched his idea as a compromise.

Democrats have long argued the republicans’ plans won’t work. Each bill would change a number of ways civil courts operate, and Rep. Robby Carter, D-Amite, said a compromise between republicans and democrats might be easier to achieve by taking the changes one-at-a-time, rather than in a single omnibus bill.

“I don’t like the partisan approach being ‘You gotta take everything we want or we’re going to cram it down your throats,’" he said. "That forces the governor to do the veto. I think we should take it a bit at a time and discuss it.”

But lawmakers acknowledged that republicans and democrats have yet to agree on why Louisiana drivers pay the nation’s second-highest premiums. Republicans argue the rates are a result of frivolous lawsuits, while democrats argue that insurance companies are allowed to set discriminatory policies based on factors unrelated to driving, like marital status.

“To find a bipartisan solution if you disagree philosophically on what the problem is - I don’t know if you’ll ever get to a bipartisan solution," Rep. Larry Frieman, R-Abita Springs, said.

The special session ends June 30.

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