Governor Mary Fallin today issued an executive order calling for a special session of the Oklahoma Legislature, to begin Tuesday, September 3. The executive order calls on lawmakers to re-institute components of House Bill 1603, a comprehensive lawsuit reform package signed into law in 2009.
HB 1603 was designed to reduce the number of frivolous lawsuits and medical malpractice claims filed in Oklahoma, making the state more business friendly and protecting Oklahoma physicians from frivolous lawsuits. It was passed with bipartisan support and signed into law by Democratic Governor Brad Henry.
Earlier this year, the law was struck down by the Oklahoma Supreme Court for violating the Constitution's "single-subject" rule, a prohibition on legislative logrolling. Fallin is calling on legislators to separate the law into appropriate bills, thus reinstating the policy without violating the single subject rule.
"Oklahoma's lawsuit reform measures are part of what makes this state attractive to businesses and attractive to retaining and recruiting doctors," Fallin said. "Those laws are now under attack. In the weeks since the court ruled our laws unconstitutional, at least a dozen lawsuits have been reopened against hospitals, doctors and other employers. As lawmakers, we need to act now to protect our businesses and our medical community from frivolous lawsuits and skyrocketing legal costs."
Fallin said the alternative to a special session could mean delaying a potential fix for a full year.
"If we do not act now, we may not see a legislative fix implemented until August or even November of next year," Fallin said. "It is important to address this issue immediately and with a singular focus. The alternative is to allow Oklahoma's business climate and job market to erode."
Fallin pointed out that those interested in affordable health care should be particularly interested in passing lawsuit reform legislation immediately.
"Legal costs and predatory lawsuits are a driver of rising health care costs," Fallin said. "If we allow the floodgates to be opened for a host of new medical malpractice suits, health care premiums will rise and health care will become less affordable. It's important -- for both the health of Oklahoma families and their economic bottom line -- to act now and prevent lawsuits from pushing the costs of medical care even higher."