Issue 1 proponents and opponents hope the votes are counted

by George Jared (gjared@talkbusiness.net) 281 views 

Arkansas Hospital Association Vice President of Governmental Relations Jodianne Tritt supports Issue 1, the controversial tort reform constitutional amendment, and political consultant Chad Gallagher is opposed to the measure. But they agree on one thing.

Both hope the votes cast this November for and against the amendment are tabulated even if the Arkansas Supreme Court strikes the measure from consideration.

Tritt and Gallagher recently spoke at the NEA Political Animals meeting in Jonesboro.

Issue 1 is one of two measures placed on the ballot by Arkansas legislators. The measure received 21 out of 35 votes in the Senate and 66 of 100 votes in the House. Issue 1 proposes to amend the Constitution as follows:
• Cap contingency fees in civil actions at 33 1/3 of the recovery;
• Cap punitive damages at $500,000 or 3 times the amount of the compensatory damages, whichever is greater;
• Cap non-economic damages at $500,000; and,
• Allow the legislature to adopt rules of pleading, practice, and procedure.

Pulaski County Circuit Judge Mackie Pierce on Thursday (Sept. 6) ordered Issue 1 off the ballot, saying sections of the proposed amendment were not all “reasonably germane” and failed to meet the “single-subject test.” Judge Pierce also ordered Arkansas Secretary of State Mark Martin “to refrain from counting, canvassing, or certifying any votes for or against Issue No. 1.” It will now be up to the Arkansas Supreme Court to decide if voters will have a chance to alter the state constitution.

The latest Talk Business & Politics-Hendrix College poll show that likely voters are opposed to the measure. About 47% of those surveyed were against the Issue, while only 25% support it.

Tort reform will attract doctors to the state, and it will help spur job growth, Tritt said. Texas passed tort reform 15 years ago in the first 10 years it attracted 34,320 doctors began practicing there. Roughly half a million jobs have been created in the state as a result of these reforms.

“We want to setup an environment where we attract the best and the brightest doctors,” she said.

Gallagher countered that the population of Texas has grown by 20% during the same time frame, and per capita Arkansas has about the same number of doctors. Gallagher, a Republican, said he thinks if the issue is passed it will have a negative impact on the state.

“I’m against issue 1. … Ot’s immoral of us as a state to put a $500,000 cap on a life,” he said.

Tritt said she understood the concerns about the caps, but the economic damages caused to the entire state are greater, she said. Cancer patients often have to travel to Houston to get the best care, and she thinks if tort reform is passed, Arkansas would have a good chance to recruit those top doctors. She also noted the amendment doesn’t apply to willful acts, meaning if someone intentionally harms someone else there is no limit to how much that person can sue.

Gallagher said the amendment is a “solution in search of a problem.” The average jury award in Arkansas is $3,700. Another component of the Issue, the legislature adopting the rules of pleading, practice, and procedure, is not good policy, he said. The judiciary should be in charge of those rules, he said, not the legislature. Legislators have too many outside influences and it could harm the state’s judicial system. He talked about the number of state lawmakers that have been indicted in recent weeks and months.

“The scariest words in the legislature right now are ‘Will the defendant please rise,’” he said to a chorus of laughter.

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