Thursday, April 7, 2011

Weekly Wrap: April 4-8

Lawsuit Reform Measures Signed by Governor
Although the session is barely past the halfway point, major pieces of legislation are already being sent to the governor’s desk and signed into law, showing that legislators are getting more work done in a shorter amount of time compared to past sessions.
House Bill 2128 caps vague noneconomic damages (commonly known as “pain and suffering”) at $350,000 in all civil actions.
Under the bill, individuals could still receive unlimited awards for actual economic damages, such as lost wages and medical expenses.
The $350,000 limit on noneconomic damages can also be lifted in cases where the defendant is determined to have acted with gross negligence or with reckless disregard.
The governor also signed Senate Bill 862, which eliminates joint and several liability, sometimes known as the “deep pocket” rule, where each and every defendant in a tort lawsuit is liable for the entire amount of a plaintiff’s damage regardless of their degree of fault. SB 862 ensures that plaintiffs seek defendants who are most at fault rather than defendants with the most financial assets.
Another measures signed into law, Senate Bill 865, requires that juries be instructed in civil cases that no part of an award for damages for personal injury or wrongful death is subject to federal or state income tax; and the jury should not consider income taxes when determining a proper compensation award.
Caps on non-economic damages have been proven to help create jobs and lower medical liability insurance premiums in other states. A 2008 study by the Perryman Group reports that after implementing non-economic damage caps, the state of Texas created 223,700 jobs, increased annual consumer and business spending by $55.3 billion, and grew state revenues by $1.4 billion. The study also reported that medical liability insurance premiums decreased by 21.3 percent and the number of lawsuits filed against hospitals decreased by 70 percent. Thirty states have now placed similar hard caps on non-economic damages, not including Oklahoma.
House Committee Advances Anti-Discrimination Measure
Oklahoma voters could soon have the opportunity to outlaw state-sanctioned discrimination under legislation approved by a House committee today.
Senate Joint Resolution 15 would submit a proposed constitutional amendment to a vote of the people. The proposed amendment declares, “The state shall not grant preferential treatment to, or discriminate against, any individual or group on the basis of race, color, sex, ethnicity or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education or public contracting.”
Senate Joint Resolution 15 previously passed the state Senate on a 31-15 vote. The measure passed the House Rules Committee today on a 10-3 vote and now proceeds to the floor of the Oklahoma House of Representatives.
State School Board Reform Approved by House
House lawmakers approved Senate Bill 435, a reform bill that would reconstitute the State Board of Education. The board would be comprised of appointments made by the governor upon election.  The members would represent each congressional district and one at-large appointment as well as the State Superintendent.  Senate Bill 435 passed the Oklahoma House of Representatives 63-35 and now returns to the state Senate.
Bill Could Give State Greater Control of Federal Funds
​Legislation advancing from committee this week would allow Oklahoma to participate in an interstate compact that would give states greater control over federal Medicaid and Medicare funds.
​Senate Bill 722 would allow Oklahoma to enter into a multi-state health care compact that would create a funding formula for the federal programs based on population and inflation. Oklahoma receives about $9.1 billion a year in Medicaid and Medicare money.
​Similar legislation has been filed this year in 11 other states and two of those states have already approved the concept.
Ultimately, the U.S. Congress would have to agree to allow the states to carry out the terms of the compact since federal money is involved.
Senate Bill 722 passed out of the House Judiciary Committee and now advances to the floor of the Oklahoma House of Representatives.
Bill Requiring Candidates to Prove Eligibility for Office Advances
Under Senate Bill 91, candidates filing with the state Election Board would be required to provide proof of identity and eligibility to hold the office
The bill also contains language requiring presidential candidates to present certified copies of a birth certificate, a U.S. certificate of birth abroad or a report of birth abroad of a U.S. citizen to suffice for proof of citizenship
Senate Bill 91 passed out of the House Rules Committee and now awaits a vote from the full Oklahoma House of Representatives.
Legislation Would End Social Promotion in Oklahoma Schools
​House lawmakers have advanced a second piece of legislation that would prevent Oklahoma schools from promoting third-grade students who cannot read at grade level.  
Under Senate Bill 345, students entering first grade in the 2011-2012 school year would be required to pass a reading test when they complete the third grade to be promoted to the fourth grade.
The legislation requires school districts to notify parents when a child has a reading deficiency and notifying them that their child could be held back if they do not improve. Public schools would be required to develop a plan to work with parents to help address a child’s reading needs.
The bill allows for aggressive intervention in the first and second grades to avoid retention in the third grade and to also help schools better address a student’s challenges over several years instead of having a “one and done” approach in the third grade.
The legislation gained approval from the House Common Education Committee and now goes to the full House.

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