BATON ROUGE - A Louisiana business group says it refused to support the Senate version of a bill that would have allowed the Louisiana attorney general to hire private attorneys to sue BP on a contingency fee.
The Louisiana House of Representatives and Senate disagreed over the terms of the bill, introduced by Sen. Joel Chaisson (D-Destrehan). Monday, the bill died with the House never voting on the Senate bill before time ran out on the legislative session.
The Louisiana Association of Business and Industry was one of several business groups that opposed the bill from the start, taking part in a letter to senators. LABI had an agreement with Gov. Bobby Jindal not to oppose an amended version that capped attorneys fees at $50 million, among other things.
"LABI did not oppose the bill on the House floor, because it contained the provisions which had been agreed to with the administration, so long as the significant restrictions placed on the bill remained intact," a release from the group says.
The House of Representatives had changed Chaisson's original bill to limit contingency fees to lawsuits involving the BP oil spill. Chaisson's bill gave the attorney general the power to use contingency fees for all civil suits.
Also, the House capped attorneys fees at $50 million and prevented any contingency fee recovery for natural resource damages claims.
Monday, the bill was reworked to double the attorneys fees cap to $100 million and passed the Senate, but the House never voted on it. Chaisson said it was "despicable" what happened to the bill, according to a report by The Associated Press.
"Allowing attorney fees to be paid on (natural resource) damages would have improperly and unconstitutionally diverted millions of dollars from restoration of the public's natural resources to paying attorneys' fees instead," LABI said.
"By law, potentially responsible parties are already liable to the government for all response costs in order to make the state whole for damages to the state's interest. Importantly, these damages will be recovered through an administrative process through the state and do not need attorney involvement for recovery."
The legislation would have helped Caldwell find firms interested in suing BP on behalf of the state. The BP-leased Deepwater Horizon rig exploded off the Louisiana coast April 20, killing 11 workers, and the cause of an underwater leak has yet to be plugged.
Louisiana is one of only two states -- the other is Wisconsin -- that does not allow its attorney general to hire on contingency fees.
Business groups strongly opposed the Senate bill.