Something Special: OK lawsuit reform restoration to require 31 bills
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Published: 03-Sep-2013

OKLAHOMA CITY – Hoping to reenact provisions from a stricken omnibus lawsuit reform law, the state Legislature convenes for a special session Tuesday (September 3).

Both the House of Representatives and the Senate will open for business at 1 p.m.  While some debate may result from a leadership decision to avoid committee hearings, key Republicans believe the process will move quickly. 

Sole issue for the session is legislation that enacted in 2009 with the signature of Democratic Gov. Brad Henry. However, in June the state Supreme Court ruled the comprehensive measure was an example of “log-rolling” – with multiple subjects enacted through one law, in violation of the state Constitution’s single-subject strictures. 

That 2009 legislation dealt with a broad range of lawsuit reform (torts), including capping non-economic damages at $400,000 (reduced to $350,000 two years ago), protections for gun manufacturers and sellers, limitations on asbestos liability, product liability protections for manufacturers and sellers, and limitations on forum-shopping (more popular dubbed “court shopping”) in tort litigation.

Republican Gov. Mary Fallin issued the constitutional call for the special session last month. After consultation with leaders of both Houses, Fallin said the session should be focused solely on lawsuit reforms

Work schedules for Tuesday and Wednesday are expected to be light, with the pace picking up Thursday and Friday. Leaders have set an ambitious schedule, aiming to wrap up next Monday. However, several interim studies – many leadership approved, some not so – will also be conducted over the coming days. Several deal with substantive matters, and hearings on those issues could slow down the floor process. 

In all, a total of 30 bills – 15 each in the House and Senate -- will on the first legislative day begin a journey to likely enactment. 

Barbara Hoberock of The Tulsa World has reported one provision in the 2009 law struck down in a separate legal ruling – a requirement for certifications of merit in tort cases – might not be reenacted during the special session.

Jennifer Monies, now communications director for the Senate, told Oklahoma Watchdog that state Sens. Anthony Sykes, R-Moore, and Rob Johnson, R-Kingfisher, will run the package of 15 bills on the Senate floor for Senate President Pro Temp Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa, who is co-sponsor of all 30 measures. 

Speaker T.W. Shannon, co-sponsor of all the bills, will rely on a cadre of trusted lieutenants to shepherd the measures, including Reps. Leslie Osborn, R-Mustang, Marty Quinn, R-Claremore, Aaron Stiles, R-Norman and Jon Echols, R-Oklahoma City. 

Members of the House were told last week that leadership will bypass the committee process in the lower chamber. Republican leaders have argued the legislation is “already vetted,” with many present members in both chambers in the respective bodies when the stricken provisions passed originally. 

The Calendar Committee, a powerful body created in the 2013 regular session, will meet at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday to adopt and recommend to members the “order of business” for the special session.  The calendar panel will meet again on Wednesday at 2 p.m. to schedule business for Thursday. If the House sticks to the envisioned leadership schedule, the calendar committee will meet Friday at 9:30 p.m. to schedule bills for Monday’s session. 

Bills will be read (15 each) the first day in the separate originating chambers, with second reading Wednesday. Third reading (formal passage) of the measures is anticipated on Thursday. That same day the measures will be processed through first reading in the opposite chamber. 

Each of the two chambers could consider measures originating from the other for the second reading on Friday. Final passage, if leadership hopes prevail, will be next Monday. 

Also submitted is the legislative queue is H.B. 1001, by state Rep. Gus Blackwell, R-Laverne. The measure relates to “Officers; The Governmental Tort Claims Act; modifying exemptions from liability.”

You may contact Patrick B. McGuigan at Patrick@capitolbeatok.com and follow us on Twitter: @capitolbeatok.

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