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Special session for insurance matters costly but wise

As she did in regards to the flood control reform horse, Louisiana Democrat Gov. Kathleen Blanco has decided to chase down another horse after she left the barn door open, this one concerning assistance to home insurance policyholders having to pay extras in premiums through no fault of their own. Other elected officials had begged for her to set aside some money in the 2006 budget, and, after she did not support that, then to pledge to take some of the anticipated 2007 surplus to provide rate relief against a surcharge being imposed by the state to fund its government-sponsored insurance operation for high-risk dwellings.

As usual, Blanco displayed indecisiveness about the matter, so Republican and black Democrat legislators turned up the heat on her by demonstrating they were close to calling a special session on their own to put the desire (and additionally to address the related matter of housing provision) into law. Suddenly, the request didn’t seem so hasty to her and she has pledged to divert a portion of the surplus.

But, actually, a special session wouldn’t be such a bad idea in any event. While normally we should be loathe to allow the Legislature into session (especially with an increase per diem from $115 to $138), if done properly this issue and another related to it make it worthwhile. That other issue is commercial insurance – the rate at which premiums and deductibles for commercial property have shot up compares to Reggie Bush flying by Saints’ opponents’ defenders. This truly has become a crisis threaten to delay the state’s economic comeback.

True, it will cost nearly $20,000 a day in legislators’ salaries for every day in session, plus some more for staff, supplies, and the like. Yet if made very narrow and timed carefully, it’s worth the risk. Concerning the former, it must only deal with insurance issues. For the latter, the date must be after the Revenue Estimating Conference meets to declare money being available (which could be used to pay off debt, and the money saved on debt payments then shuffled for the insurance solution) and at a time guaranteeing the Legislature will not have opportunity for mischief – making Dec. 18-22 the perfect dates.

Those five days are enough time to hash out some potentially good solutions, yet short enough to save on costs and prevent mischief, and timed so that legislators will have every incentive to end it as quickly as possible. It’s a drastic and costly step, but one where the rewards well can exceed the costs.

Because, of course, Blanco as is her wont is providing no leadership – just as she had to be dragged kicking and screaming into backing levee district governance reform. On that occasion, she wanted to protect the patronage and cronyism inherent in the old system. This time, it was to reserve more money to dole out in 2007 to favored programs and constituencies rather than spread it among insurance payers and business. So, legislative leaders have to force her to act but time is of the essence; the end of April when the regular session commences will be too late with many by then already having paid extra premiums and business still being choked for another half year or more.

The time on this issue to act is soon. It will take a rare show of assertion from the Legislature, but it would be a wise move.

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