Oklahoma Supreme Court gets it wrong again

Column by Rep. Mike Sanders

The Oklahoma Supreme Court routinely rules in ways that makes state legislators scratch our heads. Their latest strange ruling throws out our hard-fought-for 2009 lawsuit reform legislation. I am totally in disagreement with this ruling and feel that it was based solely on politics.

Lawsuit reform has been shown to successfully contain medical costs in Texas, where it is law. The court threw out the bill on the grounds that it contained multiple subjects, but every part of House Bill 1603 dealt with lawsuit reform, so the ruling seems highly questionable.

An Oklahoman editorial has noted inconsistency in the court’s rulings. “In 2009, the state Supreme Court declared a law authorizing bonds for three separate projects violated the single-subject rule. Earlier this year, the court declined to hear a legal challenge to a bill authorizing a statewide virtual charter school while also authorizing a separate $30 million appropriation to public schools. Now the court has struck down a lawsuit reform measure.”

The editorial points out that the key difference between the bill that passed the court’s single-subject test and those that didn’t was that the green-lighted bill was an appropriation for schools while the other two bills were reforms. Dissenting opinions on the court noted that past rulings have specifically allowed for multiple minor subjects under a comprehensive larger subject.

The lawsuit reform legislation was carefully crafted to ensure legitimate plaintiffs can still access our courts and economic damages such as lost pay and medical expenses were not limited. Lawsuit reform lowers business and health care costs. A 2008 study by the Perryman Group reports that after implementing non-economic damage caps, the state of Texas created 223,700 new jobs, increased annual consumer and business spending by $55.3 billion, and grew state revenues by $1.4 billion.

I don’t care if it takes 90 bills next year, we as a state need to continue to move Oklahoma in the right direction and to expand our business-friendly environment. We need to pass this legislation again, even if we have to put it into multiple bills to meet the court’s narrow criteria.

As voters, we may also need to look more closely at the judges on the court.

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