How the nursing home lobby plans to sidestep tort reform blockade | Arkansas Blog

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

How the nursing home lobby plans to sidestep tort reform blockade

Posted By on Wed, Feb 11, 2015 at 3:06 PM

Why, you ask, does the nursing home lobby hold an open house for lunch and cocktails in a Capitol Hill apartment most days the legislature is in session? Aren't they already well taken care of with profitable reimbursement rates, thanks to the bed tax, and haven't they stocked the judiciary with judges elected with their campaign contributions?

Yes and yes. But they want still more. They particularly want "tort reform" — or much tougher hurdles for people who sue nursing homes for negligence.

The Democratic Party, though now in a small minority, threw a wrinkle into this effort by nabbing four of the eight seats on the Senate State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee, which — jointly with the House committee — decides three constitutional amendments for the general election ballot. In 2013, an alliance between trial lawyers and Republican Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson killed a tort reform amendment.

The outlook wasn't good after committee positions were drawn. But the nursing home lobby is at work today, I'm told, building support for a rules change that would alter the procedure for the joint committee that decides amendments. Those rules were filed today and currently contain the old language — no amendment can go to the ballot without a majority vote from both the House and Senate contingents on the joint committee. I'm seeking the proposed language that is being proposed to get around this roadblock, but I'm told lobbying is underway in the hallways this afternoon.

Today is the deadline for filing constitutional amendments.

At least 21 proposals have been field so far, including several aimed at seizing legislative control of rules governing civil lawsuits. Voter ID amendments were filed today as was an amendment to end the fiscal legislative session for a return to biannual sessions. Given the time wasted on trivia in this year's regular session, limiting the regular session to 60 days (unless extended by two-thirds vote) seems a little over generous.

UPDATE: Here's the deal. Under current rules, already adopted in the Senate, all constitutional amendments go to the joint committee, where a majority of each chamber is necessary for approval. But, the House and Senate can vote to extract a bill from committee. This isn't done often, but it can be done. For a regular bill, it requires only a majority vote. For amendments referred to the joint committee, a two-thirds vote is required. Sen. Eddie Joe Williams, the chief advocate for the chamber of commerce's tort reform amendment, wants the joint rules recalled from the House committee where they are pending so they may be changed to allow extraction by a simple majority. His wishes have slowed approval of the joint rules as written.

The committee system is inviolate unless it needs to be violated.

I wrote earlier — and at least one reader strongly disagreed — that the nursing home lobby should and would lie  low this session because of the Judge Mike Maggio scandal, in which he admitted taking a bribe to throw a nursing home case. But the intermediary on the money he took from a nursing home owner is walking the halls as a lobbyist and the nursing homes are wining and dining legislators with impunity nearly every day in utter contempt of Amendment 94, not to mention the public.

Sad days. Sad when the leadership allows it.

PS — I originally lumped the chamber of commerce equally with the nursing home lobby in this effort. Two sources put the major blame on the nursing home lobby, though Williams is definitely a mover in the roadblock to approval of the Senate rules as written and he's been carrying Chamber of Commerce water on this issue for years. Nursing homes are more interested in caps on damages; the chamber is more interested in structural changes, particularly taking rule-making authority away from the court.

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