After a marathon meeting of the Senate that included some of the most substantial bills of the session, a few Senators had one thing in mind: steak.
As if session on Wednesday wasn’t meaty enough. It’s deadline week, and that’s usually when things get squirrely…and progress is made.
On Wednesday, senators defeated a bill that would have allowed voters to decide if attorney contingency fees should be capped. They approved an omnibus tort reform bill that now goes to conference committee.
This was all after hearing a bill that would allow voters to decide if English should be the state’s official language.
A few highlights:
House Bill 1602 failed with a tie at 23. Republican Sen. Steve Russell of Oklahoma City debated against the bill, saying he could not support, plain and simple.
Democrats meanwhile, talked about the benefits of contracts free from government control, the problem of fees from ambulance chasers and the beauty of the American system and a citizen’s access to justice.
Sen. Kenneth Corn, D-Poteau, quoted the Bible in his debate. Senate minority leader Sen. Charlie Laster, D-Shawnee, conjured up images of classic scenes from the “The Rainmaker” and Danny DeVito’s ambulance chasing character. While Senate President Pro Tempore Sen. Glenn Coffee, R-Oklahoma City, vowed to continue his fight for meaningful lawsuit reform.
One tort measure failed, one moves on to the next round of discussion. This is not the last of this issue, which has been called necessary reform from members of the business and medical communities alike.
For now, advocacy groups are breathing a little easier and say the vote to turn down a ballot measure on attorney’s fees is a victory.
“Without attorneys there is no access to the courts. And without contingency fees there is no access to attorneys, except for the wealthy. Insurance companies and huge corporations can continue to spend untold millions and hire teams of lawyers to fight legitimate claims. It costs tremendous money to take on those with no restrictions on what they can spend and a refusal to admit wrongdoing.” – Jeff Raymond, executive director of OKWatchdog.
A few weeks ago, making English the state’s official language would have been big news, with Rep. Randy Terrill, R-Moore, pushing the issue and discussing it to national audiences. On Wednesday, it was lost in the flurry of tort reform. The bill has been amended by its Senate author, Sen. Anthony Sykes, R-Moore. The amendment combines Terrill’s bill with a compromise bill filed by Sen. Patrick Anderson, R-Enid. Anderson’s bill created English as “common language” and acknowledged some federal rules that require some forms to be printed in other languages. The compromise comes days after discussions. Sykes also credits Sen. Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa, to help hammer out a deal.
To say it’s been interesting week would be an understatement, and there’s still another day of session left before bills most be reported out of the opposite chamber. Stay tuned.
– Julie Bisbee, Capitol Bureau