Senators address ‘legacy lawsuits’

BATON ROUGE (AP) — The Senate unanimously agreed to rework the laws governing disputes over how to handle the clean-up of environmental damage done in drilling years ago.
The bill heading to the House for debate would change the complex legal process for dealing with so-called “legacy lawsuits” that seek millions of dollars in damage claims and that the oil and gas companies claim are inhibiting energy exploration.
But Senate approval in a 37-0 vote Tuesday came only after Sen. Robert Adley, R-Benton, decided against trying to rewrite his bill (Senate Bill 667) so that the new rules would have retroactively covered dozens of long-running existing lawsuits.
Adley said while he believes the measure should be retroactive, he didn’t want to drag the Senate into a long, angry debate over the issue. Sen. Jody Amedee, R-Gonzales, suggested he didn’t think Adley had the votes to pass the bill if it was retroactive.
Compromises over legacy lawsuits were supposedly reached in 2006 and 2012, but follow-up court rulings have revived disagreements. Adley said his bill addresses confusion that has been created by both areas of law involved, the civil code and the state mineral code.
Among the changes, the proposal would spell out the types of damage that can be recovered in the lawsuits and the standards for recovery. It also would define contamination to clarify what type of environmental damage is covered for recovery. It would declare that remediation plans devised by the Department of Natural Resources are considered the most feasible for environmental cleanup.
“This goes a long way in addressing some of the common concerns that have plagued our state for years,” said Sen. Gerald Long, R-Natchitoches.
Budget cut protection
Lawmakers are considering whether to provide some protection to Louisiana’s public colleges from budget cuts when they raise tuition on students.
In recent years, as the schools have increased tuition and fees, Gov. Bobby Jindal and the Legislature have stripped similar amounts of state general fund money — and more — for the colleges.
Rep. Walt Leger, D-New Orleans, is proposing a constitutional amendment to ban the replacing of state funds with college tuition and fee hikes in the state budget.
“It’s very simple. When a student is asked to contribute more toward their education, they ought to get more,” Leger said.
The measure (House Bill 222) got the backing Tuesday of the House Appropriations Committee without objection. It heads next to the House floor for consideration.
If approved by lawmakers and voters in a statewide election, the bill would take effect on July 1, 2016. It contains a provision that would allow for a 5 percent cut in years that tuition and fees are raised if the state is facing a deficit.
In other legislative action:
—The House voted 87-0 Tuesday to create a specialty Louisiana license plate for people who support the National Rifle Association. The bill (House Bill 1112) by Rep. Sherman Mack, R-Livingston, heads next to the Senate for consideration.

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