Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Hiett's Lawsuit Reform Bill Escapes from Okla. House Panel

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Hiett's Lawsuit Reform Bill Escapes from Okla. House Panel

Article excerpt

One vote - provided by the speaker pro tempore - passed Speaker Todd Hiett's lawsuit reform bill out of the state House committee Thursday.

Speaker Pro Tempore Susan Winchester, R-Chickasha, used her ex- officio voting power to cast the tiebreaking vote, causing House Bill 2047 to pass by a 7-6 vote, along party lines. Winchester stepped in after state Rep. Kevin Calvey, R-Del City, had to leave the House Judiciary meeting early on for an appointment with his daughter's teacher, said Judiciary Committee chair Rep. Fred Morgan, R-Oklahoma City.

We have passed the first hurdle today with House Bill 2046, said Hiett, R-Kellyville. I think the big surprise today was that it was a partisan vote-. Really what we're trying to do here today is put common sense back into the courtrooms, and that's not a partisan issue. Junk lawsuits affect all Oklahomans.

Morgan said he too was disappointed by the partisan nature of the vote.

Many of the items that are in this bill we have actually looked at and passed before as a legislature, and we were simply responding to the governor's call that there be more lawsuit reform, said Morgan.

Though Democrats on the committee questioned the bill's provisions at length, they did not offer any amendments to the legislation. House Democrat Leader Rep. Jari Askins, D-Duncan, said the members wanted to hear the author's explanations for some of the bill's provisions before attempting to offer amendments.

Democrats questioned if the bill's provision to eliminate prejudgment interest would give businesses being sued an excuse to procrastinate or drag out legal proceedings.

The bill would also limit attorney fees except for those attorneys working on contract cases. Therefore, personal injury lawyers would have their fees capped, but lawyers working on a vast array of business-related cases would be able to charge as usual.

State Rep. Terry Harrison, D-McAlester, railed at the idea that the $300,000 cap on non-economic damages contained in the bill would dictate that a homemaker, mother and Sunday School teacher would receive less for her injury than would a divorced drunk that makes $100,000 a year, since the drunk would be eligible to receive compensation for lost wages. …

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