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 It would have repealed the "flex band" law that was enacted several years ago.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."
OK, so they’re bentgrass, the type used on golf course greens. But grass is grass.
The Senate Finance Committee approved the bill Wednesday, despite opponents who argued it would shut down the storefront lenders.
A measure to allow the state to implement its own, less stringent plan for limiting carbon dioxide emissions unanimously passed the Senate.
FDA to regulate e-cigarettes, Jodie Foster gets married, Vermont to require labels on genetically-modified food, and more news for today, April 24, 2014.
Thursday's Blogs from the Bog!
A push to expand Louisiana's Medicaid program as allowed under the federal health care has been overwhelmingly rejected by the Senate health committee.
Louisiana welfare recipients would be prohibited in state law from spending the federal assistance at lingerie shops, tattoo parlors, nail salons and jewelry stores, under a bill that received the support Wednesday of a House committee.
Senators will consider whether to prohibit private businesses in Louisiana from paying unequal wages to employees of different genders for the same job.
Rep. Joel Robideaux has delayed bill hearings and said unless a compromise can be reached, he won't bring up the legislation this session.
Once again, Lafayette Parish School Board President Hunter Beasley is focused on an issue that has nothing to do with the educational well-being of our public school children.
After exhausting his appeals all the way to the state Supreme Court, the owner of the Tiger Truck Stop in Grosse Tete has no legal remedy left save one: do an end run around the high court via a bill that would grandfather his “right” to keep a 550-pound tiger enclosed in a pin at his roadside business.
Louisiana poet Darrell Bourque has won the 2014 Louisiana Writer Award, given annually to recognize outstanding contributions to Louisiana's literary and intellectual life.
Drivers would have to secure dogs riding in truck beds while on interstate highways, if the Senate agrees to a bill backed by the House.
An effort to prohibit employers from discriminating based on sexual orientation or gender identity was shelved Tuesday for the legislative session.
Louisiana won't lessen its penalties for marijuana possession, keeping laws on the books that allow people to be jailed up to 20 years for repeat offenses of having the drug in hand.
“This is one of the oldest divides that exists, and that divide is about the haves and the have-nots.”
It took a few weeks for the pitfalls to emerge in the governor’s $25 billion budget, but the time of judgment has finally arrived.
With pressure continuing to build for him to resign, Congressman Vance McAllister announced plans recently to remain secluded during the Easter break, but the Swartz Republican has said he’ll be back on the Hill casting votes and attending committee meetings when the congressional recess ends April 28.
A bid to limit the use of unmanned aircraft on private property in Louisiana stalled Monday in the Louisiana Senate.
A Shreveport lawmaker said Monday he's scrapping his proposal to name the Bible as Louisiana's official state book.
Attorney hopes fellow lawyers will join him in urging the D.A. to step aside and allow a competent, ethical challenger to take over the scandal-ridden office.
An official with the Louisiana Department of Education was arrested on a range of charges Friday after allegedly breaking into a home and brandishing a knife.
State Rep. Stuart Bishop says he’s concerned with the quality of Capitol Lake, but when it comes to Louisiana’s coastline, this Lafayette Republican doesn't seem to give a damn.
Democrats sweating this year's elections may be hoping that the Obama administration's latest delay to the proposed Keystone XL pipeline takes a politically fraught issue off the table for the midterms.
Louisiana lawmakers are entering the second half of their three-month regular legislative session, which must end by June 2. Where some of the major issues stand: