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 It would have repealed the "flex band" law that was enacted several years ago.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."
Thursday's Blogs from the Bog!
Women sue over sperm mix-up; Romney on campaign trail; Ebola patient was released from hospital and more national and international news for Thursday, October 02, 2014.
State Rep. Joel Robideaux, R-Lafayette, surprised few in the Hub City Wednesday afternoon when he made (semi) official what most of us have known for months: He is running to replace Joey Durel as city-parish president.
Louisiana's first black Republican state senator since Reconstruction — who was a Republican before he was a Democrat before he was a Republican again — is accusing Democratic U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu of using the black community for votes and providing nothing in return.
LSU's governing board has backed new hospital privatization contracts that give hospital managers greater ease to leave the deal and fewer restrictions about must-have services.
U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu is courting young voters in several appearances across Louisiana this week, talking about her support for legislation that could lower students' college costs.
Stage 4 vet takes on cancer and reminds us all what it really means to get involved.
Is Mary fading as Vitter solidifies his lock on the fourth floor?
Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration has renegotiated contracts for six LSU hospital privatization deals, hoping to reach a compromise with federal health officials that will keep Medicaid dollars flowing to the privatized patient services.
Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu is defending her record on gun rights, seeking to rebut sharp criticism from the NRA in a state where the right to bear arms is given special constitutional protection.
Citizens, you have less than a week to register to vote in the Nov. 4 election. Remember, if you don’t vote you can’t complain about the outcome. Well, you can but it’s kind of hypocritical.
After being forced out by its former landlords last year, the community garden has a new location and a 10-year lease.
The party says it has hit a milestone, reaching 10,000 registered voters in the state.
Defensive captain Junior Galette is disgusted by the Saints' sluggish start.
The use of $60 million in Louisiana's public school financing formula to pay for nearly three dozen charter schools violates the state constitution, a statewide teachers' union claimed Monday in a lawsuit.
February trial date indicates parties were unable to negotiate a settlement.
There was a time when United Ballot had a political stranglehold so tight on Lafayette’s black community it was nearly unbreakable, but that grip might be loosening.
The race for Lafayette city marshal may not be the most exciting of this year’s local political contests, but it could prove the most historic.
With the DA’s race too close to call and negative media coverage of Mike Harson on the ebb, will challenger Keith Stutes take the gloves off?
Gov. Bobby Jindal has been viewed as a health care policy wonk, and he's tried to build on that image ahead of a likely 2016 presidential campaign, positioning himself as the candidate with substantive ideas.
Jerry Jones watched what he called the best effort he's seen in 25 years as owner of the Dallas Cowboys in the first half, and that was before Tony Romo had the longest scramble of his career and DeMarco Murray finished off yet another 100-yard game.
Two of the most recognizable women in Republican politics, Sarah Palin and Mary Matalin, have been heavily involved in Louisiana’s current election cycle.
Even though the Louisiana Democratic Party has thrown its support behind former Gov. Edwin Edwards’ congressional bid, national Democrats are not expected to follow suit.
“[Mike] is no longer the energetic ADA that his recent ad is trying to portray. I just think Mike needs to get the hell out.” — Kermit Harson, DA Mike Harson’s brother
The New Orleans Saints have listed Jonathan Goodwin as questionable for Sunday night's game in Dallas, raising the prospect that second-year pro Tim Lelito will start at center for the first time.