Leaders Worry That Lawsuit Issue Is Dead

Monday, April 30th 2007, 4:53 pm
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Gov. Brad Henry's veto of a bill putting restrictions on civil lawsuits may have killed the issue for the 2006 Oklahoma Legislature, Republican legislative leaders said Monday.

Asked if efforts to revise the civil justice system are dead for the session, Senate Co-President Pro-Tem Glenn Coffee said: ``The short answer is I think it probably is, but I hope not.''

House Speaker Lance Cargill said Henry's weekend veto of a bill putting restrictions on lawsuits, including a $300,000 ``hard cap'' on pain-and-suffering awards, ``made it very difficult'' to address the issue during the final month of the session.

In striking down the bill, the Democratic governor said provisions of the measure are unconstitutional and hampered the ability of citizens to seek justice through the court system.

After the veto, Coffee said he stood willing to negotiate for civil lawsuit changes this year, but on Monday he said the veto created many obstacles to getting a meaningful bill enacted.

He said a lawsuit bill by Sen. Susan Paddack, D-Ardmore, is still alive and could be sent to conference, but that would require the blessing of Senate President Pro Tem Mike Morgan, D-Stillwater.

Morgan has been resistant to so-called ``tort reform'' and had condemned the bill vetoed by Henry.

Even if Paddack's bill was sent to conference, its fate still would be suspect unless Morgan appointed her to the panel, supporters of lawsuit changes said.

Paddack broke ranks with her fellow Democrats on final passage of the comprehensive measure to restrict lawsuits. The final vote was 25-23 for the bill, with Paddack and 24 Republicans supporting it and 23 Democrats voting ``no.''

Under Senate rules, all conference committees are made up of an equal number of Democrats and Republicans. A tie vote would keep any measure from going to the Senate floor.

Henry's veto ``made it very difficult'' for the issue to be revived, said House Speaker Lance Cargill, D-Harrah.

If the bill dies, Cargill said, it will be because of ``the confrontational partisan approach of the governor.''

He said the governor should have signed the bill, then sought an agreement with legislators to address his concerns in separate legislation.

``It's very difficult to renegotiate a 126-page bill at the eleventh hour,'' Cargill said.

Cargill said neither Henry nor his staff began raising concerns about the bill until last Friday.

Despite his veto, Henry said he planned to work with lawmakers on a compromise measure to address what he perceived as flaws in the bill.

The governor, facing a deadline to sign or veto the bill, said ``time ultimately ran out and I was forced to veto'' the legislation.

Henry said a key factor in his decision was Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson's comments that the bill would cripple his ability to take legal action to protect the state and its citizens.

Related Stories:

4/18/2007 State House Approves Civil Justice Reform Bill

4/19/2007 Senate Approves Bill To Change Civil Justice System

4/28/2007 Governor Vetoes Civil Justice Measure