Republican State Legislators Fight Efforts for Tort Reform

Regarding our country’s current fiscal issues, Republicans are right to draw a line in the sand. We have an obligation to say “no” to tax increases that do nothing to either stem or support the profligate, big-government spending favored by the Democrats. Unchecked government spending is a road that, if traveled, will further plunge our nation into economic anemia due to massive debt and uncontrollable entitlements. This malaise, Democrats will argue, may only be solved by “redistributing wealth” through back-breaking tax increases that will erode the spirit and principles that distinguish our country, leaving only a shadow of its past greatness. That is what is at stake; the stakes have never been higher.

Conservatives cannot allow Republican lawmakers to soften or defect on the party’s fundamental principles, or worse, align with those who are diametrically opposed to everything the GOP stands for: free enterprise, reasonable taxes, limited government and tort reform. Yes, tort reform — and here’s why.

Ignoring tort reform has been devastating to taxpayers, the economy and American business. The U.S. is the most litigious nation in the world; it weakens us competitively and lessens respect for America’s legal system in the eyes of the world. The question isn’t how this critical issue fell from our sightlines to the sidelines. The question is: Why have we permitted trial lawyers to worm their way into our ranks to undermine GOP priorities and the party itself?

In state capitols across the country, there are legislators who proclaim to be conservatives yet block lawsuit reform. A look at just a few states quickly reveals several examples of Republicans who align with personal injury lawyers.

In North Carolina, the legislature recently passed a medical malpractice bill that would allow patients to recover full medical expenses and lost wages and up to $500,000 for noneconomic damages. The bill passed with bipartisan support, yet Republican Representatives N. Leo Daughtry and Grey Mills couldn’t deliver a “yea” vote. Could it be because they both received campaign donations from the North Carolina Academy of Trial Lawyers? Or is it because they are both trial lawyers who have themselves settled millions of dollars in personal injury awards?

Pennsylvania has the dishonor of representation by Republican Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Stewart Greenleaf, who has been a more reliable vote for the trial bar than for tort reform. He has used his powerful committee chairmanship to bottle up, gut and otherwise sabotage efforts to pass meaningful reform. This year he nearly succeeded again when he maneuvered to upend the “Fair Share Act,” a bill to stop the abhorrent practice of targeting defendants based on the depth of their pockets rather than the extent of their liability, with language so watered down as to render the bill useless. Luckily, this gift to the trial bar was exposed and principled Republicans passed real reform.

In New Jersey, Governor Chris Christie, the consummate executive and a rising star of the GOP, rode the call for reform to victory. So far, he’s lived up to every word, working hard to bring the state budget back from the verge of collapse. Yet in his own backyard, Republican Assemblyman Jon Bramnick, the Republican Conference leader, boasts about raking in millions of dollars in personal injury damages.

Not surprisingly, Bramnick has been no friend of reform in the Democrat-controlled legislature where reform needs every friend it can get. Instead of rallying around the cause, Bramnick in the past has sponsored wrongful death legislation, a top trial lawyer priority that would have vastly expanded lawsuits and damage awards. Governor Christie should ask Bramnick if he can count on his vote when the governor turns his attention to cleaning up New Jersey’s tort laws, and if not, Governor Christie should campaign against him.

The damage doesn’t stop at undercutting the Republican Party’s policy agenda. One has to consider whether the same allegiances that led these Republicans to work against tort reform have a more insidious effect of aiding and abetting the top funding source of the Democratic Party – trial lawyers. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the American Association for Justice contributed over $2.8 million in 2010; of that amount only $71,000 (2.5%) went to Republicans.

When Republican lawmakers allow more lawsuit bounty for greedy trial lawyers, they put more money in the campaign war chest of the opposition party. They might as well write a check to the Democratic National Committee to defeat good Republicans.

In infiltrating our ranks, the trial bar is creating political sleeper cells that work to the detriment of Republican party goals. The wake-up call isn’t that the trial bar is doing this, it’s that Republicans are letting it happen. It’s time to take a hard look at those in the Republican ranks who choose trial lawyers over conservative principle.

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