Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Oklahoma Republicans Play 'Shell Game' with Tort Measure

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Oklahoma Republicans Play 'Shell Game' with Tort Measure

Article excerpt

Republicans in the state House of Representatives gutted their own tort reform measure and sent the Senate an empty shell of a bill on Tuesday.

"That's quite clever - I give you credit," state Rep. Richard Morrissette, D-Oklahoma City, told members of the House Republican leadership team.

Reducing House Bill 1958 to a shell bill at this stage of the legislative process amounts to a "shell game," said Morrissette.

House Bill 1958 by House Speaker Chris Benge, R-Tulsa, was introduced as a 120-page, comprehensive bill to overhaul the state's laws regarding personal injury, or tort law. The measure included a $300,000 cap on noneconomic damages, limits on attorney fees, a requirement that plaintiffs file a certificate of merit with their case, an opt-in provision for class-action lawsuits and more.

State Rep. Daniel Sullivan, R-Tulsa, assistant majority floor leader, is carrying HB 1958 in the House for Benge. The version of HB 1958 Sullivan presented to the House on Tuesday was barely a page long - shorter than the title of the original version of the bill. The substance of the new version consists of two sentences.

"A new section of law not to be codified in the Oklahoma Statutes reads as follows: This act shall be known and may be cited as the 'Civil Justice Reform Act of 2009,'" reads HB 1958. "This act shall become effective November 1, 2009."

The new version of the bill was not considered in a House committee, as House rules would ordinarily require, but was placed before the full House of Representatives on Tuesday with the approval of Speaker Benge.

Sullivan said HB 1958 was gutted "in case we need to pull parts of (HB) 1603 and run them separately." HB 1603, with 204 pages, is an even more expansive tort reform bill than the original version of HB 1958, including several pages of provisions affecting asbestos- related litigation.

With Senate President Pro Tempore Glenn Coffee, R-Oklahoma City, signed on as the Senate sponsor, HB 1603 is now considered the main tort reform bill of the 2009 session. But negotiations on the version that reaches Gov. Brad Henry's desk may require parts of the bill be removed to garner the support needed to pass the measure. …

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