The Oklahoma Legislature has adjourned for the year, having failed to enact Governor Brad Henry’s signature tort-reform initiative. Despite broad, bipartisan support, the reforms — which Henry proposed in 2004 — could not overcome the opposition of ….Governor Brad Henry.
On April 28, the governor vetoed SB 507, a comprehensive package of proposals to bring a measure of balance to Oklahoma’s civil justice system. (A state Chamber of Commerce fact sheet on SB 507 is here in .pdf format.) Henry cited the objections of the state’s attorney general and former trial lawyer, Drew Edmonson, in blocking the measure.
That reform is needed is hardly in question. The Pacific Research Institute’s 2006 Tort Liability Index ranked Oklahoma 38th in the nation, the same ranking it received in the Institute for Legal Reform’s lawsuit-climate survey.
In vetoing the bill (at the very last moment available to him), Henry said he hoped to still be able to work out a compromise measure during the 2007 legislative session. Accordingly, tort-reform supporters offered a compromise measure last week. The Oklahoman reported:
House Speaker Lance Cargill, R-Harrah, and Senate President Co-Pro Tem Glenn Coffee, R-Oklahoma City, had urged Henry to back the plan, which was put together by business and medical groups.
“This bill represents a true compromise, but also achieves reform,” Cargill said. “Oklahoma desperately needs lawsuit reform if our state is going to move forward.”
Oklahoma’s voters will ultimately decide whether Henry’s support for tort-reform was feigned, a political ploy that he never expected to be held accountable on. Kind of looks that way.
But in the meantime, businesses making siting decisions between Oklahoma and Texas will see at least one great disincentive for choosing Oklahoma. Last year, the Pacific Research Institute gave Texas its No. 1 ranking in the Tort Liability Index, in great part because Texas’ lawmakers and governor had successfully reformed the state’s civil justice system.
Compared to Oklahoma …
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