Tort reform takes a hit from Oklahoma lawmakers

The tort reform movement took a step backwards April 22 as the state Senate voted down one law suit reform bill while passing another which will be tweaked.

House Bill 1602 failed to get the required 25 votes to pass out the Senate, falling short with 23 votes. The bill would have put to a vote of the people a ballot question on whether to cap attorney fees in civil litigation cases. The bill's defeat hinged on the defection of three Republican senators - Jonathan Nichols of Norman, Harry Coates of Seminole and Steve Russell of Oklahoma City. No Democrats voted for the bill.

Russell said he does not like the idea of the government restricting the income of private employees.

Coates and Nichols did not speak during debate.

Immediately after the vote, House Bill 1603 was brought up which is the major omnibus tort reform bill for this legislative session. This time the vote went in favor of the reformers, 27-19. Coates, Russell and Nichols voted for the bill along with Democrat Susan Paddock. The bill is headed to a conference committee where differences between the House and Senate versions will be hashed out.

During debate on both bills, Sen. President Pro Tem Glenn Coffee, R-Oklahoma City, argued Oklahoma needs lawsuit reform in the same way Texas adopted reform.

"People aren't leaving that state because they passed tort reform," said Coffee, the Senate sponsor of the tort reform bills.

But Sen. Kenneth Corn, D-Poteau, contended the tort bills go against American ideals.

"This is an attack on the free enterprise system," Corn said. "Scott Cooper

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