It was no coincidence that this year's lobbying day for the Louisiana Bankers Association, which drew the largest number of participants in recent history, featured a keynote speech from Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon.
"It's not sexy or all over the news, but this is a very huge issue for us," says David Boneno, general counsel to the Louisiana Bankers Association. "You can't write loans without the insurance, and some companies have already stopped writing policies altogether. This could drive up the cost of transactions for everyone."
The LBA is usually a quiet force in the Legislature, but its fundraising and lobbying tactics have grown more sophisticated. LBA has become the unofficial backbone of the Coalition to Insure Louisiana, a broad group of professional associations and white-collar businesses ' banking, real estate, insurance, accounting, contracting, auto dealerships and more ' whose main mission is to keep insurance available and affordable. LBA's state PAC has almost $53,000 in its coffers, and its PAC for federal lobbying contains almost $37,000.
The insurance bill deemed most detrimental by the LBA to regional economies in the state was Senate Bill 693 by Benton Democratic Sen. Robert Adley. It would have repealed the "flex band" law that was enacted several years ago. The law allows insurance companies to increase or decrease their rates up to 10 percent a year without seeking the approval of the Insurance Rating Commission ' the only state entity in the nation that still oversees rates in such a way.
The flex band provision also forces insurance companies to justify their changes with the state Department of Insurance. The LBA and its coalition were successful in killing the measure but are standing guard for any unexpected surprises in the final weeks of session.
Repealing the flex band law would have sent a terrible signal to any company doing or considering doing business in Louisiana, says Guy Williams, president of Gulf Coast Bank and Trust, which has ATM and branch locations stretching from Acadiana into East Baton Rouge Parish and through the New Orleans region. Williams, who has spent considerable time at the Capitol this session lobbying the issue, also believes any move to strengthen the rating commission or give insurance companies another excuse to leave the state should be considered dead on arrival.
"Louisiana has a backwards way of approaching these things," he says. "It's all anti-competitive. We're letting a group of people who have no interest in the industry make these decisions. I fear the Legislature is moving in the wrong direction."
During the same committee meeting where the LBA killed the flex band bill, the group gutted legislation that would have offered consumers different options in suing insurance companies.
The association is also bitterly fighting to alter House Bill 448 by New Orleans Rep. Charmaine Marchand. HB 448 requires the Office of Financial Institutions to educate the public following another natural disaster on their loan payment options if regulators again encourage forbearance, or later payments. New additions to the bill provide that lenders obtain written approval of the borrower if the entire principal and interest is due after the forbearance period, which was 90 days following the fall hurricane season in most cases.
Loan defaults were a major concern last year, but fears subsided a bit in January when payments came due and deposits into banks started increasing again. "We learned just how resilient the banking industry was and how willing consumers can be," Williams says.
As the current legislative session hits its final stride this month, the LBA is also opposing a set of bills that attempt to keep insurance proceeds resulting from damaged homes from being seized for other debts ' and out of the hands of lenders. On the other end of the spectrum, the group has thrown its support behind legislation that requires insurance agents and brokers to have three hours of continuing education dedicated just to flood insurance.
One of the most significant policy issues still looming is the state's housing plan, which recently received approval from the federal Housing and Urban Development agency. The nod comes with $4.6 billion from HUD's Community Development Block Grant program, but another $4.2 billion is needed from Congress to fully finance the housing plan. In theory, homeowners would use the money to make repairs, rebuild or participate in buyouts.
Previous versions of other housing plans promised bankers and lenders 60 percent of what they were owed, or completely left them out of the process. Under the state's plan, the devil is in the proverbial details, and many in the industry still don't know what they are.
"The banks aren't crying and telling us they are having problems," says Boneno, "but many are waiting to find out about the fine print on many issues, like the recovery plan. These things will need to be clarified before any major decisions about the future can be made."
The Lafayette superintendent insists the budget is illegal and vows to fight on.
"I am not a scientist," Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell has said numerous times, a response that other members of his party have parroted.
Republicans are running strong races against endangered Democratic incumbents in states such as North Carolina, Colorado, Arkansas, Louisiana and Alaska. Republicans are also looking to replace retiring Democrats in Iowa and West Virginia with a GOP lawmaker.
Republican congressman Vance McAllister is trying to make up to Louisiana voters for getting too close to a married former employee.
You may not like all of “it,” but U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, unlike many of her colleagues, isn't sitting around twiddling her thumbs in Congress.
Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro says he "can't wait" to play against Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
The heat keeps rising for Iberia Parish Sheriff Louis Ackal as a new slate of corruption allegations surfaced this week.
If opposing defenses sell out to stop the Packers' passing game, they risk being gashed by powerful running back Eddie Lacy, a New Orleans-area native.
At the horn the officiating crew trotted to the tunnel and left security personnel to clean up after them.
Friday's Blogs from the Bog!
Sign "ninjas" cleaning up clutter; NYC doctor positive for Ebola; Ferguson grand jury decision nears; and more national and international news for Friday, October 24, 2014.
We can safely assume incumbent Chief K.P. Gibson isn’t too worried about this challenger.
Nationally, Republicans must gain six seats to win Senate control. The most competitive races, many in states where Obama lost in 2012, remain too close to call.
The Baton Rouge Republican has repeatedly battled a perception within his own party that he perhaps wasn't the best choice to carry the GOP banner.
Even if Jimmy Graham's production dips while the star tight end recovers from a shoulder injury, it looks like Drew Brees won't have much trouble finding other targets.
A former campaign manager for Senate candidate Rob Maness is striking at the Republican contender's tea party support, saying Maness only sought to appeal to conservative organizations because he needed money for his campaign.
Ninety-two percent of public school teachers were rated either effective or highly effective in a report the state issued marking the second year of a new statewide evaluation process.
School board members Mark Babineaux, Hunter Beasley and Tehmi Chassion can vote to fire Cooper — because we all know that’s exactly what they’ll do.
District 2 school board candidate Simon Mahan is hoping to unseat first-term incumbent and former Carencro Mayor Tommy Angelle in the Nov. 4 election.
District Attorney Mike Harson is showing his desperation by falsely attributing quotes to his opponent and blocking journalists from his social media.
The governor is traveling the country laying the groundwork for a possible 2016 presidential campaign, but his approval ratings at home hover well below 50 percent.
State District Judge Bob Downing extended the order and delayed a planned Wednesday hearing about a permanent injunction while negotiations continue between Attorney General Buddy Caldwell and the waste disposal site operator.
New Louisiana higher education commissioner Joseph Rallo will be paid more than his predecessor.
Elijah McGuire and Alonzo Harris each had four rushing touchdowns, and Louisiana-Lafayette rolled to 419 yards on the ground in a 55-40 victory over Arkansas State on Tuesday night.
Bill and Hillary Clinton are the validators-in-chief for Democrats struggling through a bleak campaign season in states where President Barack Obama is deeply unpopular.