Senate President Pro Temp Bingman backs special session focused on lawsuit reform
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Published: 17-Jul-2013

OKLAHOMA CITY – Senate President Pro Temp Brian Bingman, R- Sapulpa, supports holding a special session to reverse the impact of a court edict striking down landmark lawsuit reform legislation. Bingman told reporters he prefers to tackle the issue sooner, rather than later.

Governor Mary Falllin’s spokesman, Alex Weintz, told CapitolBeatOK, “The governor is considering calling a special session, and is communicating with the speaker and the pro tem about that possibility. If a special session is called it would likely center around repairing the lawsuit reforms struck down by the Oklahoma Supreme Court.”

Fallin raised the possibility of a special session in a recent speech to a Tulsa business group, and said it remained a possibility in her address to the national meeting of the Lieutenant Governors Association, being held in Oklahoma City. Under state law, the chief executive has the power to call a special session, but that power is typically exercised only in consultation with legislative leaders.

In early June the state Supreme Court ruled 7-2 that the Legislature had, in passing the Comprehensive Lawsuit Reform Act of 2009, dealt with multiple subjects, in violation of the state’s constitutional “single subject” rule. The practice of folding multiple subjects into legislation, known as “log-rolling,” has been the focus of a handful of state High Court rulings in recent years.

Gov. Mary Fallin, legislative Republicans and many business groups, including the State Chamber of Commerce, were highly critical of the ruling, and there now appears to be momentum building to address the legal impact of the ruling in a timely way, rather than wait until the regular session in February.In a Wednesday (July 17) telephone interview with members of the Capitol press corps, Sen. Bingman, R-Sapulpa, said, “there is much uncertainty right now in the business community” concerning the legislation. He also said, “Right now, in this window, lawsuits are being filed and there is exposure for business that I think must be addressed.”

Bingman said, “I’d say we should just deal with that issue. Come in, get it done and get back out. The effect of the court decision is taking away majority power and we need to get it back in place.”

Concerning the subject matter of a possible special session, Gov. Fallin’s spokesman, Alex Weintz, told CapitolBeatOK, “Although it is not impossible that other issues would be considered, the governor’s focus is on lawsuit reform at this time.”

As for the merits of the state court’s ruling, Bingman said, in response to question from CapitolBeatOK, “two justices were uncertain” about the multiple subject controversy, “and they agreed with us.” Later in Wednesday’s teleconference, he commented, “I’m always open to discussion on better ways of doing things. For now I think we can resolve this and move on down the road.”

A group of influential Democrats have said a special session is unnecessary and wasteful. Bingman said, “I’d be willing to accept the criticism about having a special session because it’s worth resolving the lawsuit reform issue in a timely way. ... What we did was constitutional.”

Even if the special session “call” is limited to tort reform, several bills might be required to avoid a repeat of the single-subject stricture.

These might include laws reiterating the original legislation’s provisions touching federal guidelines impacting “junk science” and/or expert witness testimony, liability protections for gun manufacturers, volunteer liability protections, limits on lawsuits aiming at restaurants or food manufacturers, and profession negligence certifications.

A few days ago, state Rep. Jerry McPeak, D-Warner assailed the idea of a possible session, telling reporters, “If there’s a special session, it should come at no charge to the taxpayers. We should not reward anyone for doing a poor job.”

Rep. Kay Floyd, an Oklahoma City Democrat, has renewed her call for “an interim study on unconstitutional legislation and what it costs our state.” Rep. Mike Shelton, D-Oklahoma City, commented, “If we aren’t coming back to figure out how to implement the Affordable Care Act in the state of Oklahoma and ensure that our constituents have access to better health care, there is nothing else that can’t wait until February.”

This week, Sen. Brian Crain, R-Tulsa, and Rep. Doug Cox, R-Grove, raised the possibility that a special session might grapple with the fate of Insure Oklahoma, the Sooner State’s program providing premium assistance for the working poor.

For now, the most likely scenario is a special session within a few weeks, focused on the tort/lawsuit reform controversy.

You may contact Patrick B. McGuigan at Patrick@capitolbeatok.com and follow us on Twitter: @capitolbeatok.

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