Legacy lawsuit reform passes House

Kyle Barnett Apr. 25, 2012, 1:13pm

BATON ROUGE – A bill supported by the energy industry to reform "legacy lawsuits" has passed the Louisiana House in a 81-19 vote.

Amendments proposed by Rep. Eddie Lambert of the 59th District and John C. Morris of the 14th District failed to gain enough votes.

HB618 will set up a system for environmental suits by landowners whose land was polluted during oil drilling and other energy extraction.

The bill creates a system by which the Department of Natural Resources will develop cost estimates for cleaning up the pollutants for juries who decide damages in the cases.

Proponents of the legislation say the changes will result in the quickest possible cleanup for the polluted lands. Opponents say the legislation will allow the energy industry to shirk its responsibility for remediating polluted areas.

Governor Bobby Jindal has been under increased scrutiny due to his support for landowners in the suits.

Critics claim Jindal's relationship with trial attorney Jimmy Faircloth, his former executive counsel, who represents some of the state's largest landowners is taking precedence over passing reform legislation.

U.S. Senator David Vitter has been Jindal's biggest critic on the issue saying Jindal is allowing a "trial lawyer bonanza" to exist by not participating in the legacy reforms.

The issue was rumored to have been the subject of compromise talks, but the success in passing the bill comes only weeks after energy industry advocates released a statement saying they would no longer seek compromise with landowners and instead attempt to pass their version of reform.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Neil Abramson (D-New Orleans), claims to have been intimidated by Faircloth prior to introducing the bill and committee.

Shortly after Abramson passed the bill through the House Civil Law Committee an ethics charge was lodged against him under the Louisiana Ethics Administration Program claiming Abramson stood to gain financially from the legislation as an attorney for a law firm that provides defense to the energy industry.

Even opponents of the reform legislation such as Rep. John Bel Edwards of District 72 have expressed doubt over the charges.

The issue will now go on to the Senate.

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