Louisiana governor outlines legislative session agenda

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Gov. John Bel Edwards said Monday that he would renew his fight to raise Louisiana’s minimum wage in the upcoming legislative session, but he offered little insight into whether he would agree to Republican demands to rewrite the state’s civil litigation laws.

In a speech outlining his top priorities for the three-month regular session, Edwards highlighted his push to boost spending on education, from early learning programs and K-12 classrooms to college campuses.

Outside of the budget, the Democratic governor detailed a limited package of proposals he plans to champion when lawmakers convene next week, including minimum wage and equal pay measures that have failed repeatedly in his first four-year term.

Edwards is supporting Democratic New Orleans Sen. Troy Carter’s proposal to set Louisiana’s minimum wage at $9 per hour on Jan. 1, 2021, and raise it to $10 per hour six months later, up from the current federal rate of $7.25.

“We’ve fallen too far behind in Louisiana,” Edwards told the Press Club of Baton Rouge. “We know that an overwhelming majority of people in Louisiana agree with us.”

The proposal, however, remains a long shot, facing strong opposition from business organizations.

The governor said little about what he might support of the GOP’s major push for the session: measures to rework the state’s civil litigation system to limit damages, particularly those awarded in car wreck lawsuits.

Business groups are pushing the “tort reform” proposals, saying Louisiana’s legal climate encourages people in car crashes to sue insurance companies, driving up automobile insurance rates. They want to change the rules for accessing civil courts and suing over injuries, arguing that could help lower the cost of car insurance.

Republicans have made those proposals their top priority for session.

Rather than commit to any measures floated by the GOP, Edwards — who received strong backing in his reelection bid from personal injury lawyers — said he’ll support a package of bills filed by Democratic Sen. Jay Luneau of Alexandria involving car insurance rates. Those measures would prohibit insurance companies from using gender, credit scores, military deployments and certain other “risk classifications” to set premiums.

“We need to do some things about the high cost of auto insurance, and I think we ought to focus on making changes that are proven to have a direct impact on the cost of premiums,” Edwards said. “Premiums ought to be set on driving records, not on whether someone’s poor or female and that sort of thing.”

Edwards didn’t directly pan the Republican ideas. Asked specifically about one such proposal — requiring the use of jury trials more frequently so that lawyers are forced to sell their cases for damages to more than a single judge — Edwards said he doesn’t have a problem with the current system.

But he added: “It is something that I know obviously some people feel differently about, and I’m happy to engage with them in those conversations.”

Critics of the GOP civil litigation measures argue there’s no proof such legal system changes would lower rates. They say the changes could keep people who are injured in car crashes from adequate compensation while ignoring other reasons insurance premiums are so high.

On other legislation, Edwards said he wasn’t prepared to take a position on two Republican proposals that would keep transgender students from playing sports aligned with their gender identities.

“There are so many bills that were filed, and we are just now starting the process of going through those,” the governor said.

But the governor did say he opposes doing away with Louisiana’s current system of electing judges and replacing it with a judicial nominating commission.

More than 1,100 bills have been filed for the upcoming session.


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