Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Senator Gumm's Blog for April 24-30, 2007

"Bumper Sticker Politics" Serves State Poorly

By Senator Jay Paul Gumm

The serious discussion of critical issues sometimes gives way to what I call “bumper sticker politics.”

By that, I mean when an extraordinarily complicated issue gets reduced to a few words that fit on a bumper sticker. The Senate considered one of those issues last week when we considered Senate Bill 507, the so-called “Tort Reform” or “Lawsuit Reform” bill.

This was a long and complex bill. It would fundamentally change the ability of everyday Oklahomans to ask a court to put right what once went wrong.

Despite its complexity, senator’s votes on this bill will be distilled down to being “for” or “against” the whole of tort reform, an issue very important to our medical and business communities. Since becoming your senator, I have voted for just about every tort reform bill to come before the Legislature.

I believe it is important we limit the number of frivolous lawsuits, making sure doctors can practice and businesses can operate without undue fear of lawsuits. However, we must preserve access to the courts for those individuals who have truly been hurt by another.

One of the courts’ most important jobs is to hold businesses and individuals accountable if they harm someone. That requires a balance that is far more difficult to achieve than popping off a two-word, bumper-sticker answer.

This bill, while containing some good provisions I recommended, was loaded down with provisions that would have closed the courts to Oklahomans of modest means. In their zeal to protect defendants in civil suits, the authors of the bill went way too far giving defendants too much protection.

In fact, some of that protection was so strong that if criminal defendants were allowed the same ability to keep facts secret it would amount to legalizing obstruction of justice. Our courts exist to find the truth, this bill would gut the courts’ ability to find that truth.

It was ironic when one of the sponsors of the measure used one of my favorite quotes in his debate. “Sunlight is the best disinfectant,” he said. In an effort to express support for the bill, this senator gave the most eloquent argument against the bill.

Senate Bill 507, in the form it was presented, would ensure that sunlight in many cases would never be able to illuminate the truth. Because of where the bill was in the legislative process, we had no options to clean up the measure before us; it was either a “yes” or “no” on the whole bill before us.

While I will always look for ways to pass effective and balanced tort reform, I could not support a measure that was so fatally flawed and so out-of-balance for the people I represent. We can do better than the bill that passed the Senate and is now on the governor’s desk, and we certainly owe Oklahomans our best efforts.

Thanks again for reading, have a great week, and may God bless you all.

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