BATON ROUGE — The Teche Area's legislators took time out of their 2006 regular session Thursday to update the Greater Iberia Chamber of Commerce about bills making their way through the state house and senate.

The chamber visited the legislators during its "Day at the State Capitol." The day is set aside, so its members can learn more about the process that takes a bill and turns it into a law.

They met with the legislators in the morning, later attended committee meetings and then witnessed bills being considered for passage at the meeting of the House and Senate that afternoon. State Sen. Craig Romero, R-New Iberia, said there are a number of bills written during the current session that will affect the area.

He said Senate Bill No. 655, which is being heard in the House, could affect the Port of Iberia and private landowners who have oil wells on their land.

Some sites that have been contaminated during environmental accidents have been sent to the court, and some judges have awarded multi-million dollar judgments to landowners.

Romero said sometimes the money is not even used to clean the damaged site. SB 655 aims to have the Department of Natural Resources determine the extent and cost of fixing the problem.

He also said expropriation bills have been a hot item during the current session. Senate Bill No. 1 is one and would limit what property the government can take from private landowners and for what reasons. He said a provision has been included in the bill to allow ports to be exempted from the law.

Lawmakers filed the bills to protect private property owners from losing their land to governments that want to use land to bring in economic development projects.

State Rep. Troy Romero, D-Jeanerette, reported a bill that aims to ban smoking in restaurants is one he is following that could affect local businesses.

Senate Bill No. 724 would ban smoking in restaurants, schools, school buses, on school campuses, in public buildings and in enclosed areas at businesses. Hebert said the bill has been a controversial piece of legislation and one he asked the chamber to watch out for.

Insurance rates have risen for some and will rise for most in the area, Hebert said. On top of that, some insurance companies are not providing wind and hail insurance coverage in the area anymore.

Louisiana Citizens Property Insurance Corporation or LCPIC was set up to be the last resort for homeowners who could not find coverage anywhere else. When it was set up, the rate was adjusted to be 10 percent higher than the average commercial policies in the state.

Hebert said legislators can change the law later to re-adjust the rate once insurance costs level out, but while homeowners' pocketbooks are hurting, they want to do something to help them rebuild and move on.

Sidney Mae Durand, D-Parks, said she is working on legislation to put more health care specialists in rural areas. She said there has not been enough work to prevent disease in those areas.

Preventing heart disease, cancer and other ailments before they become life-threatening can save the health system costs and reduce the burden on society. She said she would like more health care professionals in local communities to help identify such problems and direct them to care centers to catch the problems early.

Omar Pecantte, executive director for Community Health Systems of Louisiana in Franklin, said he had been to the capitol before, but not while the legislature was in session.

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