Legislature must solve civil justice problem

Published 5:00 am Monday, May 17, 2004

They’re back … or at least they will beWednesday.

Gov. Haley Barbour has summoned legislators back to Jackson fora special session to deal with some unfinished business from thejust concluded regular session.

While civil justice reform is expected to be the top issue, thesession will also include work on voter identification legislation.It is also possible that Barbour will extend the agenda to include$300 million in bonds for universities, colleges and economicdevelopment projects that fell by the legislative wayside. That’s alot of unfinished business. Too much, we think.

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The governor said last week that civil justice — or tort reform– is “a very important issue for Mississippi because of theeconomic damage, because of the damage that has occurred in healthcare in our state.” We agree.

A $250,000 cap on damages appears to be the main roadblock totort reform. The Senate favored imposing the cap on allnon-economic damages, but House members did not agree.

When the lawmakers convene Wednesday, the tab for the taxpayersbegins running. The first day of the session, including round-tripmileage for the legislators, will cost $49,336. Each additional dayof the session runs the total up by $33,915.

If you remember, former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove called lawmakersback to the Capitol in 2002 for a special session on civil justicereform. That session ended up costing the state taxpayers $1.3million, be we did get some tort reform relief.

When he called the session last week, Gov. Barbour said, ”I donot believe the House and Senate are very far apart. We need to putthis behind us …”

The governor is correct. The issue of tort reform should beresolved once and for all.

We are hoping the governor will step up during this specialsession to a real leadership role. That’s something we think wasmissing during the regular session, which saw Barbour quick topoint out problems but slow to offer solutions, if he offered anyat all.

This special session could be the new governor’s chance toshine. He must somehow find a way to bridge the gap between theHouse and Senate on tort reform, and, he must do it quickly.

We don’t like the cost of a special session, but the cost oflawsuit abuse to the state is even higher. Let’s hope this secondtort reform effort is quick and effective.