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Capitol Views: Panel makes legacy lawsuit bill retroactive

Baton Rouge Business Report

May 12, 2014

Major legislation sought by the oil and gas industry, clarifying the process for cleaning up contaminated oilfields and for awarding damages to landowners, is headed to the House floor after a committee today changed it to make it retroactive. By a 9-3 vote, the House Civil Law Committee restored HB 667 to its original version by stripping a Senate amendment that made it apply to future lawsuits only. As amended, the bill would apply to lawsuits for which a trial date has not been set. The House Civil Law Committee heard lengthy testimony and questions from attorneys and legislators over whether the bill by Sen. Robert Adley, R-Benton, made procedural or substantive changes, or whether the Civil Code or Mineral Code applied. But the real question hanging over the committee was whether or not to keep the Senate amendment to have the bill not affect 373 lawsuits that have been filed. Without the change, bill supporters conceded it would have only limited value for industry. This marks the third attempt by the Legislature to resolve the legacy lawsuit issue that has vexed industry for the past decade. Adley’s bill is backed by the oil and gas industry, the Louisiana Landowners Association and LABI. While the senator termed his bill a compromise among those parties, Don Carmouche—the attorney who has filed most legacy lawsuits—said he was not invited to the table. In a rare piece of testimony, the author of the prospective-only amendment, Sen. Blade Morrish, R-Lake Charles, pleaded with the committee to retain it, interspersing his comments with the names of individual plaintiffs. “These folks are the little men,” he said. “They filed legitimate lawsuits under current rules under current law.” Russel Honoré, the retired Army lieutenant general turned activist, also spoke against the bill, saying: “You’re asking us to trust a state agency [Department of Natural Resources] that doesn’t look out for the people.”