The House approved an amended tort reform amendment late Monday afternoon, and it cleared the relevant Senate committee Tuesday morning.
The measure would place limits on attorney contingency fees, punitive damages, and non-economic damages. It would also allow the legislature to have rulemaking authority over the state court system.
The amendment passed the House by a margin of 66 to 30. The amendment to SJR 8 by Rep. Bob Ballinger doubled the cap on non-economic damages from the original amount of $250,000 to $500,000.
This morning, the Senate State Agencies committee approved the measure, with no apparent dissenting voices.
Ballinger said yesterday that SJR 8 would lead to a “better balance” between the legislature and judiciary if passed.
The exciting thing about this resolution is that it creates a better balance when it comes to policy. Currently, I think there are probably too many policy decisions that have been made over the last 15 years in the court. Since 2003 when they first passed the Judicial Reform Act of 2003 there have been several policy decisions that have come out of this body that have been struck down as unconstitutional. It’ll re-balance and put those policy decisions back in the hands of the legislative body…which is what we’re down here for. This is what we’re here for is to debate policy and then leave the courts for what their job is which is to deal with independently, with balance, the issues that come before it and be a referee…not a policymaker.
Rep. Clarke Tucker, who voted against SJR 8, said the measure would make the judiciary “subservient” to the legislature.
The primary point here is that when we created our government. We created three co-equal branches. That’s a checks and balance system. I know that legislators, myself included, get irritated when the Supreme Court throws out either specific provisions of big laws or throws out laws entirely, but that’s the purpose of the checks and balances system. If one branch has total control over the law, there is no check and there is no balance.
If we are able to control the rulemaking procedure of another branch, you no longer have co-equal branches of government.
Actually, 17 states and Congress already give rulemaking authority of their respective court systems to the legislature. No one could conceivably argue that these states and the federal government still aren’t subject to checks on their power by the Court.
As recently as 2000, the Arkansas legislature still had rulemaking authority over the court system; this amendment would merely return Arkansas to an era similar to the one that prevailed before Amendment 80.
Due to SJR 8 being amended in the House, it will return to the Senate again to be heard later this week.