The House agreed to a Senate change in Gov. Bill Haslam’s tort reform bill today – somewhat reluctantly – and gave the measure final legislative approval.
The Senate version of the bill cut out a House provision that would exclude convicted felons from protection against unlimited non-economic damages in lawsuits for their wrongdoing.
The overall bill limits non-economic damages to $750,000 in most cases, providing the first such restrictions to be imposed in Tennessee.
House sponsor Rep. Vance Dennis, R-Savannah, said he disliked the Senate’s move, but wanted to go ahead and concur with the change for expediency in the waning hours of the legislative session. He said Haslam’s administration, Senate sponsors and others have promised to work with him to add the House ban on felons benefiting from the damage caps in a separate bill, though that will likely have to wait until next year.
“Just so everyone well know, we’re giving felons the same protection as anyone else (by agreeing to the Senate amendment),” said Rep. Eddie Bass, D-Prospect.
Vance said he “agrees with that assessment,” but repeated that he is committed to following up later with a bill to block felons from benefiting.
The House ultimately concurred with the Senate amendment on a 68-27 vote, sending the bill (HB2008) to Haslam for his signature.
Note: Haslam issued a news releae applauding the approval of his bill. It’s below.
NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today applauded the state House of Representative’s final approval of his Tennessee Civil Justice Act of 2011, sending it to his desk for signature.
The legislation revises the state’s civil justice system to make Tennessee more competitive for new jobs with surrounding states by bringing predictability and certainty to businesses calculating potential litigation risk and cost.
House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, and Rep. Vance Dennis, R-Savannah, led the House version of the legislation, and Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Memphis, Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Collierville, and Sen. Doug Overbey, R-Maryville, guided it in the state Senate. The bill passed out of both houses of the General Assembly with bipartisan support.
“In my first legislative session as governor, I committed to focusing on the several areas – tenure reform, charter schools, lottery scholarship use for summer classes and tort reform – that would have the most significant and immediate impact, and I appreciate the efforts of the sponsors and supporters who helped guide the Civil Justice Act through the legislature,” Haslam said.
“Tennessee has many great attributes going for it as we recruit companies interested in relocating to our state or expanding here, but the global competition for jobs continues to grow,” Haslam added. “This legislation removes one of the few advantages surrounding states had and makes our state even more desirable to businesses as we go out and sell Tennessee as the best place in the Southeast to do business.”
The Tennessee Civil Justice Act is part of Haslam’s strategic legislative package focused on education reform and improvements to Tennessee’s already attractive business climate to help make the state the No. 1 location in the Southeast for high quality jobs.
And here’s a handout from Tennesseans for Economic Growth, also celebrating:
(Nashville, Tenn.) May 20, 2011….Overwhelming bi-partisan approval has been given by Tennessee lawmakers to Governor Bill Haslam’s comprehensive civil justice reform legislation. It gives Tennessee one of the most comprehensive tort reform laws in the country that will bring, create and keep jobs in the state.
“This legislation will catapult Tennessee ahead of many states in terms of attractiveness to businesses looking to relocate or add operations,” said Doug Buttrey, Executive Director of Tennesseans for Economic Growth (TEG), a statewide coalition of small, medium and large businesses that helped galvanize support for the bill.
“We’ve been at a disadvantage because business owners and job creators in Tennessee have been exposed to unlimited litigation. Now with caps on non-economic and punitive damages, including medical cases, we are creating a stable and more positive business climate that will bring, create and keep more jobs in Tennessee. Indeed, this could be a shot heard around the world putting Tennessee on the map in terms of attracting jobs. ”
“Governor Haslam has provided great leadership in putting this bill together and making it one of his top priorities for approval in this session of the General Assembly,” continued Buttrey. “He and the chief sponsors of the bill, Senator Mark Norris and Representative Gerald McCormick, have done a great service to the people of Tennessee and for our state’s future in guiding this bill through the legislative process.”
According to a study commissioned by TEG done by the highly respected Perryman Group, if the reforms approved in Tennessee work as effectively as they have in other states such as Texas, Tennessee could see an additional $16.2 billion in economic activity and more than 122,000 permanent jobs over the next decade.
“We believe given the more comprehensive nature of the civil justice changes here in Tennessee, our additional economic activity and job growth could be even higher,” added Buttrey.
“These civil justice changes protect the right of citizens to a trial by jury,” said TEG Board Chair, Bill Lee of Nashville-based Lee & Company. “It also allows for unlimited recovery of economic damages for true medical expenses for injuries.”
The Tennessee House of Representatives passed the civil justice reform legislation on May 9 by a vote of 72-24 which is six votes more than a two-third majority. The Tennessee Senate did the same on May 12 by a margin of 21-12 which is an overwhelming vote just one vote short of a two-thirds majority.
Final approval of the new law came on May 20th after a difference in a minor amendment was worked out between the two houses.
Buttrey says the votes by lawmakers reflect opinion polls done across Tennessee which clearly indicate the public is strongly behind these changes.
Tennesseans for Economic Growth is a non-profit 501 (c) (4) membership advocacy organization made up of small, medium and large businesses operating in Tennessee, as well as individuals.
For more information, including the complete Perryman study and other background information on civil justice reform, go to www.tennesseansforeconomicgrowth.com