by Gus Blackwell, Rep.-61
The second session of the 49th Legislature concluded its business at 4 p.m. on Friday, May 28 on the motion of Representative Larry Ferguson to adjourn sine die. Amid cheers and tears the session ended, as did the careers of 27 House members who will be term limited this year. The last week of the session was, as usual, extremely hectic with over 200 bills being passed in the final days.
One of the big issues for the session has been lawsuit reform. I have received more letters and calls about this than any other issue this year. Many of the letters were from royalty owners that were worried that some of the reforms on class action lawsuits would limit their ability to recover damages.
The bill began as an attempt to accomplish a major overhaul for medical lawsuit reform to help that community with their rapidly increasing malpractice insurance rates. However, the final bill which as delivered to our desks at about midnight was pathetically weak in almost every area. We heard the bill at about 1:45 p.m. that day and had questions and debate for about three-and-one-half hours.
The main positive of the bill for the medical community was that it helped stabilize the solvency of PLICO, the doctor's insurance fund. That fund had recently been put in jeopardy when the insurance commissioner, Carroll Fisher, ruled that the fund needed a higher amount of capitol to remain solvent.
The bill did not come even close to providing the hard caps for pain and suffering that the medical community had wanted. It also established a six-year moratorium on any more medical lawsuit reform through an informal agreement by a few individuals. The bill did little to help the medical community and fell far short of its goal of “Texas” style reform.
More that any other single piece of legislation, this bill represents many of the problem with the Oklahoma legislature. Legislators had less than six hours to read the 99 page bill. That is, if they could read and understand the bill while they were voting on other bills at the time. The bill was written by a “working group” of unnamed lawyers and medical people and each item was submitted to the legislative committee only as it had been already approved. The bill had no direct mention of a moratorium on reform. But it was there through a back room “deal” made by a few individuals that are in leadership in each chamber that approved the moratorium.
I voted for the bill, however, because it did contain language that dealt with landowner liability. It gave farmers and ranchers much needed relief from frivolous lawsuits stemming from injuries that occur on their land from both invited and uninvited guests. This relief will help both the agri-business and eco-tourism industry grow in our area. The bill also did nothing to hurt royalty owners and their ability to recover lost earnings through class action lawsuits.
One other bill that I managed to get though the House on the last day of session dealt with education. It will allow schools to buy a coach style bus for an activity bus. It also waives the penalty for a school that exceeds the carryover penalty due to an increase in Gross Production taxes.
It was an exciting finish to a very busy session that dealt with many tough issues. Many of those issues will be brought to the voters in the fall on the November ballot. You will want to stay informed on those issues because you will be the one that will decide their ultimate fate.
Boise City News