Capitol Views: ‘Legacy lawsuits’ bills delayed; panel OKs merging pardon, parole boards

An expected clash over “legacy lawsuits” dealing with oilfield contamination was today put off until next week by Judiciary A Committee Chairman Ben Nevers, D-Bogalusa, who is viewed as the key vote on the industry-friendly Senate Bill 443.

Industry representatives had hoped to move the bill through the Judiciary Committee because they see it as a more receptive forum than the Natural Resources Committee, where similar bills have been heard in the past.

Next week will start with an informational meeting of the Joint Natural Resources Committee, which may be an effort to maintain those panels for the oilfield contamination suit legislation.

Expected to appear before the joint committee is attorney Jimmy Faircloth, who has drafted SB 528 for the chairman, Sen. Gerald Long, R-Natchitoches, on behalf of Faircloth’s client, major landowner Roy O. Martin III, a constituent of Long’s and supporter of Gov. Bobby Jindal. Faircloth and industry representatives have negotiated a compromise but have not been able to agree on how to allow companies to accept responsibility for cleanup without admitting liability for damages.

—A bill to merge the state’s Pardon Board and the Parole Board cleared committee today, the first step toward making it onto the constitutional ballot this fall. The merger plan grew out of a recommendation of the state Sentencing Commission, on which the author, Criminal Justice Committee Chairman Rep. Joe Lopinto, R-Metairie, served.

If approved, the duties and powers of the seven-member Parole Board would be assumed by the five-member Pardon Board. A Parole Committee will consist of the Pardon Board and two gubernatorial appointees, who will not sit on Pardons. The bill mandates that each board member “shall possess at least five years’ experience in the field of penology, corrections, law enforcement, sociology, law, education, social work, medicine, or a combination thereof.”

The lone objection came from Rep. Chris Hazel, R-Pineville. He said that in a state with the highest incarceration rate in the world, “There is room for both a pardon [board] and a parole board.” The bill will be heard on the House floor next week.

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