Issue 1 supporters look to the Arkansas Supreme Court for decision by ‘mid-October’

by Aric Mitchell (amitchell@talkbusiness.net) 296 views 

Issue 1, the contentious tort reform constitutional amendment on the November ballot, may be down after a Thursday ruling by Pulaski County Circuit Judge Mackie Pierce, but it’s definitely not out.

Carl Vogelpohl, campaign manager for Arkansans for Jobs and Justice, and Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Randy Zook addressed the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce First Friday (Sept. 7) Breakfast. Both are advocates for Issue 1. In comments afterward, they indicated the Arkansas Supreme Court would be the ultimate decider, and they expect that decision sometime next month.

“It will be an expedited hearing. The court will probably not take oral arguments but just submitted briefs. We look for a final decision from the court by the middle of October at the very latest,” Zook said.

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.

On Thursday (Sept. 6), Judge Pierce said the four sections of the proposal are not sufficiently related, writing the plaintiff, former Pulaski County Circuit Judge Marion Humphrey, “has clearly demonstrated Issue No. 1 fails to meet the single-subject test of Forrester, id. Plaintiff has clearly demonstrated the four parts of lssue No. 1 are not reasonably germane to each other nor are those four parts reasonably germane to the subject (whatever that subject may be) of the amendment. lf the subject of the amendment is judicial power, the four parts do not relate to judicial power nor are they reasonably germane to each other. lf the subject of the amendment is the courts and the judiciary, the four parts of the amendment do not relate to the courts and the judiciary nor are they reasonably germane to each other. The Arkansas General Assembly in proposing and passing lssue No. 1 has engaged in impermissible logrolling.”

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.”

Vogelpohl told Talk Business & Politics there always is an attempt to remove a ballot question from the ballot and that the decision “is not unexpected. I’ve been talking about it for about five weeks. But the reality is, from a campaign perspective, this decision will be made by the Arkansas Supreme Court just as with all the other petitions being challenged at the court right now. The reality of the decision yesterday from a practical standpoint and a political standpoint is that it’s more of a political talking point than it is a decision that will stick.”

Vogelpohl called the potential vote a question of “two visions for the future of our state” during his address to the chamber crowd but felt it was economically imperative that Arkansas address tort reform in order to be competitive with surrounding states.

He said that tort reform such as what is recommended by Issue 1 would help recruit doctors to the state, using Texas’ doctor gains in 117 counties as an example along with its “billions of dollars of economic growth” and over 499,000 jobs. Vogelpohl said reforming the civil justice system in Arkansas “can stimulate the economy by removing up to $316 million in economic burden and generate up to 23,000 new jobs as a result.”

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