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Oklahoma Governor Vetoes Draconian Tort Reform Bill

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Abraham Lincoln once wrote to a colleague that “I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. . . . Corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed.”

Thanks to Governor Henry’s veto, Oklahoma citizens have avoided a draconian like bill that would have sold the collective rights of individuals to the highest bidder. Obviously, the governor was under immense pressure from the richest people of this state, Corporations and doctors. However, he stood tall and strong and did the right thing.

The right thing, what a novel concept, it seems to have been totally forgotten by the Oklahoma Republican Party and those pundits who so eloquently, but albeit falsely portray a crisis in this state involving the tort system. Shame on you Republicans, I as a conservative can no longer have any trust in any propaganda that is spewed from you mouth.

What is even more humorous is the gross misinformation coming from Republicans in a fashion that would make any good marketing or propaganda minister jealous. For instance, Senate Republican Leader Glen Coffee made this eloquent remark: “The governor missed a grand opportunity to send a message to the nation that Oklahoma is pro-jobs, pro-doctor, and pro-business,” Coffee continued. “Instead, he sent a message that millionaire trial lawyers are still running the show.” Senator I have just one question for you, is it better that the governor send a message to the nation that he is pro-citizens, pro-retired persons, pro-children, pro-stay at home mothers, pro-family, pro-fire fighters, pro-consumers than pro-profit making entities who seek these reforms to only further their profit margin while not passing any savings on to the consumer (look at other state’s who have enacted reform and you’ll see that these things do not happen.) Further, I’m tired of the same old rhetoric about the million dollar trial lawyers. Frankly, I must be missing something as I do not have my millions. What Propaganda minister Coffee is failing to tell you is that Oklahoma trial lawyers have much lower median income than Oklahoma Doctors, CEOs, and certainly lower than the Republican politicians.

Onto more misinformation, this time from Republican Leader (I’m not sure following is being a leader but I digress) Lance Cargill who stated: “It is ridiculous for the governor to claim he is trying to protect businesses. Business owners know the truth, and they wanted this reform.” No Lance, its truly ridiculous that you would imply that this bill was trying to protect business. It was designed not to protect, but to immunize. He sought not to limit frivolous suits but to limit all suits. As governor Henry correctly opined, the bill was about limiting damages rather than eliminating frivolous suits. If frivolous suits are to be eliminated, they should be eliminated on the front end before businesses spend money defending them. Further, the propaganda from Lance continued: “though it’s difficult to assign a specific dollar number, economic experts say the veto is likely to have far-reaching harmful implications for Oklahoma, a statement from Speaker Lance Cargill’s House claims.” Well Lance, the reason its difficult to assign a specific dollar amount about harmful implications for Oklahoma is because there are no harmful implications. This is just rhetoric designed to scare, we all know that you can’t find an expert that isn’t paid in full by the corporations and insurance industry.

Next I’ll give a few quotes from our business community. Oklahoma’s State Chamber reacted to the governor’s veto with dismay: “Even though small business owners and large Oklahoma corporate citizens came together in their effort to communicate the importance of his signing of the lawsuit reform elements he himself called for, the plain fact is that he chose to listen to his trial lawyer friends,” said Mike Seney, senior vice president of operations for The State Chamber. Well Mike, he didn’t listen to trial lawyers, he listened to his heart and chose normal everyday Oklahoman’s over a conglomerate of businesses that have funded this propaganda and lie in hope of padding their bottom line at the expense of Oklahomans rights to civil justice.

I could go on about the businesses and their statements, but I’ll leave it at this, tort reform does nothing more than short everyday Oklahomans of their ability to have access to the courthouse. For instance, “according to the Federation of Medical Boards, Oklahoma moved to 4th per capita for number of doctors in 2005. This is up from 6th per capita in 2005. PLICO, which insures most Oklahoma doctors, states that “We’re doing fine said Carl T. Hook, M.D., President of PLICO. The first six months of this year we have a net income of 21 Million, which will be applied to the company’s reserves. Carl T. Hook, M.D., Journal Record, July 26th, 2005. “Over the last year or so, Hook said he has seen a trend toward more reasonable jury awards, which he attributed to the public education provided by extensive media coverage of lawsuit reform issues. Carl T. Hook, M.D., Journal Record, July 26th, 2005.” “By the end of 2005, PLICO had actually seen a 36% reduction from the previous two years in defense and settlement cost. This allowed PLICO to outperform projected expectations by 39%.” “In December 31, 2005, PLICO had the lowest number of open claims since the early to mid 1980s.” Darrin McKelvey, Director of Marketing at PLICO, PLICO Newsletter, 1st Quarter, 2006. “The average loss payments per case fell 49% from 2003 to 2005. The pending number of claims has also been significantly reduced from 2004 to 2005 by 35%.” Sam Glover, Esquire and Assistant Claims Manager at PLICO. PLICO Newsletter, 4th Quarter, 2005. In its Rate Survey issue, October, 2006, Medical Liability Monitor found that Oklahoma still has lower medical malpractice rates than Missouri, Kansas, New Mexico, Colorado and Texas. Medical Liability Monitor, October 2006, Vol. 31, No. 10. In 2006, PLICO did not raise its rates and the other two carriers dropped their rates on some coverages and on others had a modest increase (one in which still put them as lower than the other two providers.) Medical Liability Monitor, Rate Survey Issue, October 2006, Vol. 31, No 10.”

Nationally caps on non-economic damages will not lower malpractice premiums for doctors who are the highest wage earners in Oklahoma. The two largest insurers of doctors in the country stated before Congress or state legislatures, there is no correlation between caps and rates; rates will not go down. The Congressional Budget Office, General Accounting Office, Columbia University, University of Texas, and the University of Illinois studied caps and their effect on rates and all concluded there is no correlation. Over the past 10 years, malpractice rates rose 12 percent higher in states with caps than without. Insurers have deceived doctors into believing tort reform will provide relief. The truth is: insurance companies are using litigation as an excuse to raise rates. Litigation impacts their rates by less than 2 percent. Where does the money go? AIG, one of the two largest malpractice insurers, raised rates 60 percent in the last three years. In the first two years, its profits went from $326 million to $1.84 billion. The third year, they rose to $10 billion. The Wall Street Journal stated mismanaged pricing and accounting practices are the reason for malpractice premium increases, not claims. Claims actually decreased 1 percent over the last 10 years. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the highest paying occupations in America are doctors. The highest percentage of gross pay for malpractice coverage is 12.4 percent. The lowest is 1.8 percent.”

From the above, I found that tort reform won’t help doctors. The evidence is there from 30 states. Doctors and the public have been misled.

Obviously the Oklahoma Republican Party (don’t confuse them with conservatives as I am a conservative and want no association with this party), Big Business, Big Insurance, and Big Oil’s so-called tort reform bill, was a grotesque attempt to destroy Oklahoma’s Civil Justice System.

Contrary to Coffee and Cargill’s commentary, this bill, which originated in the Senate, was rushed through the Oklahoma House of Representatives wherein only republican-authored amendments were considered. House Democrat amendments were pushed aside for partisan reasons. In effect, this bill was amended to include dozens of broad-sweeping and unimaginable changes to our civil justice system which strongly favor the interests of negligent tortfeasors and their insurance companies. In the Senate, the bill was introduced for an up or down vote, wherein all 24 Republican Senators voted for the bill despite the fact that many of these Republican Senators acknowledged serious problems with the bill as written. The Republican Senators were joined in their vote for the bill by Senator Paddock, the wife of a physician and PLICO board member.

Truth is, their was no negotiations before this bill came before the governor. Republicans don’t want a fair bill that preserves the rights of citizens while helping to curtail the few frivolous lawsuits that make it beyond a judge’s dismissal. They want a bill the governor will veto. Why? Simple, they are going to come to you doctors and Oklahoma businessmen and women asking for more money next year, then the next, then the next. They purposefully put this bill knowing it would be vetoed and knowing it’s a bad bill.

I am not going to go through and discredit the numerous unconstitutional, overbroad, and prejudicial aspects of this bill, as I am sure many others most likely have. Instead, I want to point out the hypocrisy behind the passage of this bill from the Oklahoma Republican party and its elected officials.

I spent much of the past few weeks at the Capitol discussing this bill and its effects with numerous Senators, including many Republican Senators. What I gleaned from these conversations truly troubles me. Many of the Republican Senators I discussed the bill with admitted that the bill was problematic and that they did not agree with many of the provisions of such, but informed me that they would be voting for the bill nonetheless. Therefore, these elected officials admitted that, despite the fact that they knew that many of the provisions contained in the bill are overbroad, unconstitutional, and would negatively affect the rights of Oklahomans and your constituents, they would vote for the bill because they had received their marching orders from party leadership and because the biggest donors to their campaigns and prospective reelections had ordered them to. These Republican Senators admitted that their party and political aspirations are more important to them than the rights of their constituents to have fair and balanced access to justice in the Court of Law and admitted that politics are more important than people.

I appreciated these Republican Senators’ honesty in admitting to the people of Oklahoma that the directives of their party’s leadership, and from the rich and powerful who funded their campaigns, trump their well-known duties to represent the people who elected them.

Due to the undisputed prejudicial and self-serving motive behind the passage of this bill by the Oklahoma Republican party and the obvious cruel and hurtful effect passage of such a bill would have on the citizens of Oklahoma, in order to further horde money in the pocketbooks of big business, big insurance and the medical profession, and, in turn, the Oklahoma Republican party, I am thankful that the Governor vetoed this horrible and disgraceful bill.