Gov. Mary Fallin in Oklahoma issued an executive order Monday calling for a special session of the Oklahoma Legislature, to begin Tuesday, Sept. 3.
The executive order calls on lawmakers to reinstitute components of House Bill 1603, a comprehensive lawsuit reform package signed into law in 2009.
According to Fallin, 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 by Gov. Brad Henry.
Earlier this year, the law was struck down by the Oklahoma Supreme Court for violating the Oklahoma Constitution's "single-subject" rule, a prohibition on legislative "logrolling." Fallin is calling on legislators to separate the law into different 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 allows us to retain and recruit 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 said 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."
Senate Democratic Leader Sean Burrage issued the following comments in response to Fallin's call:
"The Democrats in the State Senate believe that a special session to revisit this issue is a waste of both time and taxpayer dollars," said Burrage. "At a cost of $30,000 per day, we are looking at spending close to $250,000 to fix a problem created by the Republican majority. It is clearly an issue that can wait and be addressed in the next legislative session.
"But, if this is a done deal, let's make this special session worth the time and the cost and handle the critical issue of the December 31 cutoff date on Insure Oklahoma. If the Governor and the legislature stand idle on this issue, 30,000 hard working Oklahomans who have access to health care through Insure Oklahoma will lose that coverage as they ring in the New Year. Because of that deadline, this is something we literally cannot wait until 2014 to address. The Republican leadership here at the Capitol clearly has its priorities wrong if they believe that addressing lawsuit reform in a special session is more important than finding a solution to providing access to healthcare for these hard working Oklahomans."