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Passed Tort Reform Bill Sparks Debate at Capitol

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Representative Richard Morrissette (D-District 92) argues against the bill. Representative Richard Morrissette (D-District 92) argues against the bill.
Representative Scott Inman (D-District 94) defends the bill. Representative Scott Inman (D-District 94) defends the bill.

By Alex Cameron, NEWS 9

OKLAHOMA CITY -- After lengthy debate, Republican lawmakers were able to successfully pass a bill that would change state rules regarding civil lawsuits, or tort reform.

Supporters said tort reform will make the state more business-friendly, and keep doctors from leaving the state, but opponents argue tort reform puts the interests of big business over the interests of citizens.

"You are going to deny your citizens, your constituents, the rights to have access to courts," Representative Richard Morrissette (D-District 92). "You all have been told that somehow this is going to improve the business climate in the state of Oklahoma...malarkey."

Representative Scott Inman (D-District 94) demanded answers.

"People, this comes down to one dichotomy," Representative Inman said. "Are you going to choose today, people or profits?"

The argument continued as Representative Daniel Sullivan debated for the business sector.

"When did we get to the place where a corporation making a profit is a bad thing?" Representative Sullivan said. "When did we get to a place where a corporation that hires people, that provides benefits, is a bad thing?"

The bill calls for many things, including a cap on non-economic damages, or pain and suffering, at $300,000. It also eliminates joint and several liabilities, so defendants have to pay only what they're responsible for. Lawsuits would have to be certified as having merit before they could proceed, reducing the number of frivolous lawsuits and establishing new guidelines for joining class-action lawsuits.

Among those who believe the bill would tilt the scales of justice too far toward big business and big insurance is malpractice victim from Wanette, Oklahoma.

"You pass this bill and you're taking away every bit of anybody holding them accountable," malpractice victim Karla Beatty said. "They have to be held accountable."

The bill's sponsor said wrong-doers will still be held accountable, and citizens will still have access to the courts. He said the time has come to end the status quo.

"We're going to make a change," Representative Inman said. "The state is going to grow, we're going to get better. The sun is going to shine, and we're looking forward to tomorrow, not looking back. Please vote ‘Yes.'"

In total, 61 representatives did vote in favor of the bill, including two democrats, which was more than enough for passage.

Those 61 votes however would be well short of the two-thirds majority needed to override a veto, should it come to that.

Governor Henry has vetoed similar tort reform legislation in the past. A spokesperson at his office said he has not made any judgment on this bill, but if it passes the Senate and comes to his desk, he'll give it careful consideration.

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