By Greg LaRose, Louisiana Illuminator
Following three major hurricanes in two years, the Louisiana Legislature made changes to state law to assist property owners with damage claims in the aftermath of a storm. Some updates also give insurers an opportunity to cover their risk.
These and other new state laws took effect Jan. 1.
One calls for more transparency for homeowners on the front end of obtaining homeowners’ policies – and an end to surprisingly high deductibles when filing a claim. Rep. Matt Willard, D-New Orleans, authored a law that creates a form on which insurers will provide information on hurricane, wind and hail deductibles when they propose a policy. It lists the specific amount for each deductible either as a percentage of the property’s insured value or a specific dollar amount.
All insurers now have to provide a catastrophe response plan to do business in Louisiana. Rep. Mike Huval, R-Breaux Bridge, obtained approval for a law that requires an insurance company to detail things like how they plan to send adjusters into the field after a disaster and where they will set up shop if their offices are impacted. Emergency contact information for key personnel is also required. The law applies to all types of insurance as well as health maintenance organizations (HMOs).
For a homeowner who suffers a total loss from a storm or insured peril, insurers can now offer additional living expense coverage under a law Rep. Gabe Firment, R-Pollack, sponsored. The policyholder, who has to request and pay for the coverage, would receive a payment for three months of increased living expenses. Any expenses beyond that period can still be submitted to the insurer for reimbursement if approved.
A state Hurricane Mediation Program was revived Jan. 1 under a law from lead author Sen. Jeremy Stine, R-Lake Charles. The program was first created after hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005 and led to approximately 12,000 claims being settled with a “very high success rate,” according to the legislation. The alternative dispute resolution method is open to claims up to $150,000.
Home repair and safety
A skilled labor shortage led Rep. Phillip DeVillier, R-Eunice, to draft a law to provide statewide licensure to plumbers. These professionals were licensed locally before the state updated its laws in 1990, and they were limited to practicing within a local jurisdiction. Now plumbers who have worked under a restricted license can obtain either the state journeyman or master plumber license upon written request to the state plumbing board.
Any one- or two-family residence must now have carbon monoxide detectors installed, whether it is purchased or leased, starting this year. The new law from Rep. Stephanie Hilferty, R-New Orleans, also requires homes to have the detectors added when a generator is installed.
Several senators, led by Sen. Kirk Talbot, R-River Ridge, crafted a new law that requires health insurers to cover genetic testing for patients to diagnose or treat cancer. A similar law went into effect last year covering children with critical undiagnosed illnesses.
Another law with wide support in the legislature limits the cost for patients who need insulin. It applies to health coverage plans and sets a cost-sharing limit of $75 for consumers per 30-day supply. A separate federal proposal set a $35 monthly insulin cost cap for Medicare recipients.
Rep. Larry Freiman, R-Abita Springs, successfully expanded health insurance to require coverage of physical therapy sessions via telemedicine. The law he authored applies to all health plans issued as of Jan. 1 and existing plans on or before their renewal date. Freiman’s professional background includes time as a physical therapist, but his license expired in 1993 according to records from the Louisiana Physical Therapy Board.
Elections and business
Louisiana hasn’t replaced its outdated voting machines yet. But when it does, a new law from Rep. Rick Edmonds, R-Baton Rouge, will apply. It requires a post-election audit of paper ballots once the machines are acquired.
Members of the state Voting Systems Commission are leaning toward technology that produces a paper ballot that will be scanned to count votes. Local elections officials have warned that such a system will include a big increase in paper and storage costs, as well as renovations for many voting locations.
Rep. Mike Johnson, R-Pineville, wanted more insight on the motivations behind political action committees when he proposed a new law now in effect. It requires organizations to state whether they are organized to support a single candidate, or whether it’s a PAC linked directly to a candidate.
Among the new laws affecting business, lawmakers updated Louisiana’s mineral lease regulations to make room for a fossil fuel alternative. The legislation Reps. Jerome Zeringue, R-Houma, and Joe Orgeron, R-Larose, authored sets a 25,000-acre limit for wind energy production, compared with a 5,000-acre limit for oil and gas.
Child daycare facilities in Louisiana now have to install video surveillance cameras that also record audio. Rep. Bill Wheat, R-Pontchatoula, backed a law with these requirements that followed on the heels of a 2021 measure to have public school systems establish policy for classroom monitoring.
Sex trafficking, porn access
Rep. Laurie Schlegel, R-Metairie, a counselor specializing in sex addiction, was behind a law to require operators of adult content websites to verify the age of those who visit their platforms. The legislation also makes operators liable for court damages if minors access pornography on their websites.
While Louisiana lawmakers approved some of nation’s toughest criminal penalties for abortion providers, they also provided a small window for sexual assault victims. They can legally obtain emergency contraception medication from a hospital as long as they do not test pregnant, based on a law Rep. Jason Hughes, D-New Orleans, authored.
Legislators also created broader reporting requirements for instances where minors are victims of sex trafficking. Sen. Beth Mizell, R-Franklinton, pushed through a popular law that calls for all suspected instances of child sex trafficking to be reported to the state Department of Children and Family Services and ultimately to Louisiana State Police.
Previously, the reporting requirement was in place only if the child’s parent or caretaker was thought to be involved in breaking the law.