A House committee began a review of proposed constitutional amendments and it should be no surprise that most of the talk was about the business lobby’s dream to put a cap on damage lawsuits.
The discussion today was HJR 1014, which would send to voters an amendment to empower the legislature to limit punitive and pain-and-suffering damages in lawsuits. It would close the door to the courthouse to many people, particularly injured old people and children who have little “value” in terms of actual damages in a lawsuit. No member of the committee voiced opposition, but they had plenty of contentious questions for speakers in opposition to the measure. Wouldn’t it just be fair, one asked, to set the same amount of damages for everyone? Isn’t the 135-member legislature more trustworthy than a 12-member jury, asked another?
It’s familiar stuff and another disheartening example of who this legislature represents, and it’s not Joe and Jane Six-pack.
No votes were taken today, but you can count on a corporate bailout amendment to make the ballot this year and for millions to be spent for and against its passage. Heed the story of what a $250,000 damage limit has wrought in Texas. It hasn’t reduced the cost of health care or improved health care. It does give renegade corporations the baseline for bargaining, as one trial lawyer said. You can take $125,000 now or eat up most of what you can win in attorney fees.
More bad ideas: One to elect judges in partisan contests, a bad practice ended at the pressure of then-minority Republicans who hated that most judicial filing fees went to the Democratic Party. Republicans, now in control, want to go back to the old practice now because the label is now so valuable in a blood-red state. This is a bad idea from Rep. Robin Lundstrum, who is broken out with them. She has a better idea to divert some lottery scholarship money to people in trade schools — money that is now distributed on a basis that discriminates against minority and poor kids. She said she thought that one was more important than building political favoritism into the judicial system.
Rep. Jimmy Gazaway has a slew of proposals, including one to constrain the legislature from getting into adopting court rules. Gazaway, a lawyer, urged an amendment that would merit federal practice on court procedures. He noted that courts don’t make rules for the legislature. The reverse should apply. But his amendment would give the legislature review power on court rules by accepting or rejecting proposed court rules. The measure is a counterpoint to another pending proposal that would increase legislative power over court rules.
Gazaway’s other proposals also appear to be potential spoilers to any bad ideas that might exist on guns (he’d project an absolute right for individual and collective defenses and hunting); religion (it may not be burdened by state or local law except in the least restrictive way to advance a “compelling” government interest) and damage lawsuit limitations, the last one an idea to allow limits on damages to life and property, but only by a vote of three-fourths of the legislature.