Thursday, May 20, 2010

SB 549 the Law Clinic Attack Bill deferred (killed) in Senate Commerce Committee

SB 549 the law clinic attack bill was deferred (killed) in Senate Commerce Committee on Wednesday May 19. It was great to see. The hearing room and two other hearing rooms watching on closed circuit TV were full of people who showed up to oppose the bill. The Louisiana Chemical Industry and Oil Industry groups started off supporting the bill by complaining about barratry on the part of Tulane Environmental Law Clinic (the instigating of groundless lawsuits). Then the Louisiana Bar Association testified in opposition to the bill explaining that the Louisiana Supreme Court has jurisdiction over law clinics and that there is a strictly observed code of conduct that applies to law students efforts. The presidents of both Loyola and Tulane Universities finished off the opposing testimony eloquently describing the purpose of the law clinics, how much they do for the state, and the negative image for Louisiana if this bill would be passed.

The fact of the huge oil disaster in the gulf hung over the hearing and made it difficult for industry complaints about lawsuits to carry much weight. It also helped that there was a prominent editorial the same morning in the Baton Rouge Advocate saying the SB 549 is a bad idea. That newspaper is on every desk in the state capital. After 2 hours of the hearing and some tough questions from the committee, Senator Ann Duplessis, Committee Chair moved to defer the bill and there was no objection. In effect it was a unanimous vote to stop the bill.

Sierra Club Delta Chapter has been actively following this bill and working through Darrell Hunt, our Delta Chapter legislative lobbyist, our Club members and allied groups, particularly LEAN, to stop this bill in its first hearing. LEAN worked very hard on the politics of opposing the bill and did a great job of getting people from communities who have been helped by TELC legal actions to attend the hearing. All of our efforts have proved successful. So overwhelming was the sentiment against this bill that I think it will be a long time before they try this again. But the industry groups have other possible tactics. They could try to slip an amendment into an unrelated bill or a funding bill any time during the session. So with help of our legislative lobbyist we will be watching carefully for that. Also we know that the Louisiana Chemical Association and Louisiana Oil and Gas Association (the principal proponents of the bill) are requesting that big donors stop supporting Tulane University. I hope that has the opposite effect of encouraging big donors to support Tulane and the Law Clinic specifically in order to help hold big Louisiana polluters and negligent administrative agencies accountable to the law.

So they are not done yet and neither are we. But we can congratulate ourselves and our allied groups for what I think is the most significant and complete legislative victory for the environment in years. Thanks for whatever letters, emails you sent or phone calls you made. You can now help again by sending email, phone call or letter to members of the Senate Commerce Committee thanking them for supporting the motion to defer Senate Bill 549. You can find them at the state legislature web site.

Thanks again for everyone’s attention and cooperation in stopping this really bad bill.

Woody Martin, Chair
Sierra Club Delta Chapter.

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