Opinion: Don't Our Lawmakers Have Anything Better to Do?
When it comes to tort reform, some Oklahoma lawmakers are firm believers: if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.
Gov. Mary Fallin and Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman say they are considering a special legislative session to resurrect tort reforms that were struck down by the state Supreme Court last month. Evidently, they don’t trust everyday Oklahomans who are called for jury duty.
The high court ruled (see our earlier report: “High Court Strikes Down Oklahoma Tort Reform Law“) that the state’s 2009 Comprehensive Lawsuit Reform Act was unconstitutional because it violated the “single subject rule.” It sure did! Lawmakers crammed 90 different provisions on “a variety of subjects” (the court’s words) into the law.
That’s called “logrolling,” and the state constitution forbids it. Logrolling is how legislators get unpopular measures into the law books by rolling them together with a few popular measures and bringing the whole hodge-podge up for a vote.
Some of the measures were designed to simply make it more difficult for an average citizen who has experienced an injury or damage to bring a lawsuit. For example:
• A requirement that a plaintiff obtain a “certificate of merit” from an expert when filing a professional negligence lawsuit.
• A requirement that a plaintiff provide a computation of damages and supporting evidence for the damages within 60 days of filing a suit (gathering evidence of damages often takes longer than that).
• Protection for firearm manufacturers.
• Protection for agritourism operators.
• Protection for restaurants and food distributors against obesity claims.
• Protection for manufacturers of products that are inherently unsafe and known to be unsafe.
Oklahomans should consider the following points as we watch our lawmakers go into an emergency session to try one more time to make these “tort reforms” the law:
1. The most prominent provision of the stricken law was a $400,000 cap on awards for non-economic damages, in other words, awards for “pain and suffering” and “emotional distress.” Maybe you are in favor of such a cap. But keep in mind, a 2011 law which installed a $350,000 cap on non-economic damages remains in effect. So, if a special session is called, it will not be about a cap on damages, which is what “tort reform” means to most Oklahomans.
2. Why did the lawmakers try to roll 90 different and unrelated measures into a single law? Because they knew that many of these provisions would never pass if they were addressed one by one. Is it really the best use of lawmakers’ time and our money to have an emergency session on dozens of questionable provisions that the lawmakers knew would be hard to pass?
3. A special session costs the taxpayers about $30,000 a day. A session to address dozens of tort reform provisions would take at a least a week. Is that the best way for us to spend $150,000 or more of taxpayer money?
4. Why aren’t these special interest groups (read: big insurance companies) offering real examples of actual cases in Oklahoma as proof that we need to limit the rights of Oklahomans?
5. Once a special session is called, other issues could also be brought up. Do we really want to find out what else our lawmakers may try to do if they get the chance during a special session?
A special session is for emergencies. There is nothing about this that requires emergency action. Our state has been debating tort reform for years – add repeatedly limits the rights of Oklahomans in favor of Big Business. The next regular session in February is soon enough to continue that debate.