Rules change on amendment: No movement today | Arkansas Blog

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Rules change on amendment: No movement today

Posted By on Thu, Feb 12, 2015 at 1:53 PM

No action today in the Senate on an effort by the nursing home lobby and other supporters of "tort reform" to change the procedural rules to clear the way for a constitutional amendment to make it harder and less rewarding to sue for damages.

As I noted yesterday, there's been a holdup of Senate-approved rules for the joint committee process that was established two years by the House and Senate to come to a consensus on three proposed constitutional amendments for the 2016 election ballot.

The joint rules require a two-thirds vote to pull a measure out of committee for approval if an amendment can't get the majority vote required from both the Senate and House contingents. Problems are expected on tort reform because four of the eight Senate committee members are Democrats and believed disinclined to back the nursing home/chamber of commerce interests in capping lawsuit damages or stripping the Supreme Court of civil lawsuit rulemaking authority.

If there are no joint rules approved, there will be no joint committee on amendments. Then the old process would apply. The House and Senate would individually approve three amendments. Only those approved by both chambers could go to the ballot. But, if the Senate committee wouldn't approve a tort reform measure, the Republican-controlled Senate could, by a simply majority vote, pull the measure from a regular committee, as opposed to a joint committee.

This is considered a violation of custom to avoid the committee system, but it is sometimes done when needs demand. And the chamber of commerce and nursing homes are demanding.

A couple of hanging questions:

* Republican Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson's opposition to tort reform measures in 2013 killed a ballot initiative last go-round. His position this time isn't yet clear.

* The Democrats carry little weight, but they still have enough votes to muster a blockade to appropriation bills. Will they finally decide playing nice doesn't produce much and use that leverage against power plays such as this one?

Lobbying is fierce.

I believe a clearer idea of what law changes are desired will be necessary before the rules dispute is resolved.

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