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Thursday, February 7, 2013

Fight begins on 'tort reform'

Posted By on Thu, Feb 7, 2013 at 3:29 PM

I reported earlier that Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson, with significant input from plaintiffs' lawyers, had gotten the jump on the business lobby by filing a proposed constitutional amendment with several Republican co-sponsors to curb the impact of Arkansas Supreme Court rulings in big damage cases. That upset Sen. Eddie Joe Williams, another Republican, who'd been planning to introduce the business lobby's tort reform amendment, a far harsher measure.

Williams filed his amendment today. In short, it takes the authority for court rulemaking in damage cases out of the hands of the court and puts it in the hands of the legislature. Feel better? If you've been injured, you shouldn't. Business lobbyists believe they can always persuade a legislature beholden to them for election cash to do whatever is necessary to limit as much as possible the damages businesses might have to pay for harming people through negligence.

The Arkansas Trial Lawyers Association will fight. Its release:

Today’s filing of SJR 6 should be of grave concern to all Arkansans who wish to prohibit lobbyists from controlling our justice system, ensure equal access to the courts, and live in a state where the three distinct branches of government and the separation of powers still exist as they did when our Constitution was created.

“SJR 6 has a very simple goal,” said ATLA President Chad Trammell. “It will provide lobbyists with a way of altering our justice system every two years to best suit their clients’ needs. A better name for it would be the Lobbyist Employment Act, because they will be the ones to most benefit from its passage.”

SJR 6 strikes at the very fabric of our state’s foundation. The very same that was created for our country by the founding fathers. That foundation calls for three distinct branches of government that provide a series of checks and balances to ensure no one branch is more powerful than the other. This amendment will destroy that balance.

“We have been very proactive in this session telling lawmakers we are willing to sit down and discuss changes to the justice system,” said Matthew Hass, ATLA Executive Director. “We believe this is a legislature in which mutual cooperation is the name of the game. However, this measure leaves no room for compromise. We continue to be open and ready to discuss any other legal reform measures, but will adamantly oppose this attack on our Constitution and justice system."

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