Another to veto: An anti-consumer bill heading to governor's desk | Arkansas Blog

Friday, March 31, 2017

Another to veto: An anti-consumer bill heading to governor's desk

Posted By on Fri, Mar 31, 2017 at 10:14 AM

click to enlarge MICHAEL MORTON: Working to eliminate lawsuits against his nursing homes.
  • MICHAEL MORTON: Working to eliminate lawsuits against his nursing homes.
The worst bill of the session? So many nominees. One of them has to be HB 1742, passed 19-12 by the Senate yesterday and now headed to the governor.

We've written about this assault on consumer protection before. It would outlaw class action private lawsuits under the deceptive trade practices act. Corrupt businesses can chisel big money a few dollars at a time out of customers with dishonest practices. If only individual lawsuits are possible for, say, a bogus $3 oil change offer, there will be no lawsuits and the business can pile up profits.

Potential losses in class actions can discourage bad actors. No more.

As originally written, the bill would have eliminated the tool by which bloodsucking payday lenders were run out of the state. That industry was exempted after an outcry. But the bill lived on.

Why? Trial lawyers believe the answer is simple: Michael Morton. He's the owner of dozens of extremely profitable nursing homes. His influence has already gotten the legislature to put on the ballot a constitutional amendment to make lawsuits for nursing home negligence and abuse very difficult to pursue.

But that's abuse and neglect. This is about deceptive trade practices. Would it surprise you to know there's a class action lawsuit pending against Morton for understaffing a nursing home, to the detriment of patients? Would it surprise you to know that Morton was the single biggest contributor to the campaign war chest of Supreme Court Justice Rhonda Wood (and a hefty contributor to other judges). Would it surprise you to know Wood has refused to recuse from the class action case of her patron?

If you can't be sure of winning by putting your thumb on the scales of justice, you can be sure to win if you nail the courthouse door shut to parties injured by deceptive trade practices. (That one existing suit will stand against one nursing home. It could not be replicated against others under this law, however.)

Oh, but wait, you say. Class action lawsuits still might be brought by the state attorney general.

Good luck with that. Attorney General Leslie Rutledge has gone Three Monkey on payday lenders, refusing to see, hear or speak ill of the payday lender that's charging triple-digit interest in contravention of the Constitution just across the river from her office. She's too busy suing all over the country in behalf of polluters, against women's medical rights, against equal rights for gay people and for more guns everywhere. Consumer complaints? Understaffed nursing homes? Not her business.

Veto this bill, Gov. Hutchinson.


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