It is a trend these days for professional sports teams to implore their fans to “trust the process.” This is code for when teams beg for their fans’ continuous support as they trade away popular stars to clear salary cap space and lose enough games to secure high draft picks as they try to set up championship glory down the road. The theory is losing big time today can lead to winning big time tomorrow.
While showing some patience and trusting the process may occasionally work in sports, it doesn’t usually work in government.
An example of government’s “trust the process” sales pitch took place in the Louisiana Senate this week.
Sen. Sharon Hewitt introduced legislation that was amended in the Transportation Committee to simply allow a judge to inform a jury whether a driver was wearing a seat belt when he or she files a personal injury lawsuit as a result of a car crash. Rep. Jack McFarland introduced similar legislation on the House side. Current law bans this evidence from being discussed in civil trials, a provision known as a “seat belt gag order.”
The bill came up for a vote on the Senate floor, as scheduled. However, before the bill could be voted on, a procedural motion was made to send the bill to a second committee instead of debating it on the Senate floor. The stated rationale was simply to "follow the process,” but the unstated goal was clearly to kill the bill. The motion passed, and this common sense legislation will likely die in that committee.
Why should you care about this tidbit of parliamentary procedure? Because “following the process” will once again quietly kill anything remotely close to legal reform in the Legislature. Still don’t care? Well, think about how following the process over the years has affected your car insurance rates.
The automobile insurance markets in Louisiana are on the verge of crisis, affecting both the affordability and availability of insurance. Several insurance companies have stopped writing policies in the state, others have restricted underwriting, and all have increased prices significantly.
Louisiana’s car insurance rates are second highest in the nation at an average annual premium of $2,225, compared to the national average of $1,427. The reasons are many, but a major factor are state laws that encourage litigation and “have a dramatic and negative impact on Louisiana’s auto insurance market, and result in decreased competition due to an insurer’s unwillingness to compete for business in our state,” according to the Louisiana Property and Casualty Insurance Commission.
The number of car accidents in Louisiana is just slightly higher than the national average, and the claims for property damage are in line with the number of car accidents — slightly higher than the national average. However, the rate of claims for bodily injuries in Louisiana is almost twice the national average. This unusually high number is a driving factor behind s high auto insurance rates and limited market capacity.
According to The Center for Disease Control Studies, wearing a seat belt is the most effective way to prevent death and serious injuries in a crash. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the risk of fatal injury is reduced by 45 to 60 percent, and the risk of moderate-to-critical injury is reduced by 50 to 65 percent by simply wearing a seat belt. While only one in seven passengers do not buckle up, 53 percent of motorists killed in crashes in 2009 were not wearing restraints. Most Louisianans clearly recognize the grave risk and harm from not wearing a seat belt, and I assume most juries would as well.
Unbelted occupants have medical costs three times higher than belted motorists. Currently, the insurer is paying for these comparatively high damages. Ultimately, these insurance costs are being borne by individuals and employers paying higher premiums. That’s code for you, me and every other legal driver in the state.
The process may have brought a World Series title to Houston. and it very well may soon bring an NBA championship to Philadelphia. But in Louisiana, the process is broken if it continues to needlessly hold up sensible legal reforms that can help lower insurance rates and improve the lives of everyday Louisianans. Lifting the seat belt gag order should be a no-brainer, no matter what process the Legislature decides to use.
Stephen Waguespack is president of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry.