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SINE DIE: Louisiana lawmakers end special session with budget, tort reform bills passed

Louisiana

BATON ROUGE, La. (WVLA/WGMB) — Louisiana lawmakers ended their special legislative session Tuesday night after sending Gov. John Bel Edwards a $34 billion-plus state budget and a proposal to lower car insurance rates.

Legislators held the 30-day session to complete work undone during their spring regular session, abbreviated amid the COVID-19 outbreak. Members of the Legislature’s Republican majority argue the budget and business tax breaks passed will help the state weather the ongoing pandemic.

“I think we’ve done as best we can, working to support the people in need but also helping the businesses to employ those people to get the economy back on track,” said House Appropriations Chairman Jerome Zeringue (R-Houma).

The spending plan includes about $900 million dollars from the federal CARES Act and the state’s so-called “rainy day fund.” The one-time money saved the state from a coronavirus-driven revenue shortfall, which would have caused widespread budget cuts.

The Legislature’s Republican majority hopes other items passed this session will help businesses weather the pandemic. State GOP leaders have spearheaded tax breaks and bills aimed at lowering car insurance rates.

Lawmakers argue their proposal would reduce premiums by making it harder to sue for car wrecks, saving insurance companies money. Supporters of tort reform have long argued that Louisiana’s litigious climate has fueled the state’s second-highest-in-the-nation auto insurance premiums.

“The hope is that money will trickle down to citizens and that will result in lower rates,” said Rep. John Stefanski (R-Crowley), following discussions with the Democratic governor’s administration. “I think we found a sweet spot that is going to have an effect and is going to send a message to the rest of the state.”

Lawmakers expect they will return for another special session this fall. What they propose will depend on how the coronavirus impacts Louisiana in the coming months.

As their session neared a close Tuesday, House members noted the impact COVID-19 has had on the Legislature. State Reps. Rodney Lyons (D-Harvey) and Ted James (D-Baton Rouge), as well as Senate President Page Cortez (R-Lafayette), survived the virus. Rep. Reggie Bagala (R-Cut Off) died of it in April.

“I want you to go home and hug your grandkids,” Lyons (D-Harvey) told lawmakers. “If it’s as simple as a mask or social distancing, that’s what it takes.”

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