House veto override fails on tort reform

Friday, May 14, 2004

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- An effort by state lawmakers to override Gov. Bob Holden's veto of medical malpractice legislation failed Thursday despite an almost unanimous vote by majority Republicans in the House.

The House voted 97-62 in favor of overriding the governor's April 27 veto, falling well short of the 109 votes needed for the two-thirds majority required. The chamber voted 93-61 last month to pass the bill.

For Republicans, who control the Missouri Legislature, overhauling Missouri's civil justice system is a top priority. Doctors' groups have lobbied hard for changes, saying out-of-control litigation has driven up medical malpractice insurance premiums to the point where many can no longer afford to practice.

Two House Republicans, Sherman Parker of St. Charles and Vicki Schneider of O'Fallon, were the only members of their party to oppose the override attempt.

In a speech that silenced the always noisy House of Representatives, Schneider urged her colleagues to sustain the veto.

Although Schneider voted with her party on last year's version of the bill, she said she could no longer in good conscience support legislation that would make it harder to punish bad doctors.

Schneider's mother died last spring of cancer that due to medical malpractice was discovered a year later than it should have been, she said. Schneider said a doctor missed a tumor in her mother's lung that was apparent in a February 2002 X-ray. By the time her mother learned of it in February 2003, the cancer had spread to her brain.

"I don't care how much money I can get from suing the doctor," Schneider said, holding back her emotions. "I would give it all back if I knew that doctor, that radiologist, would not be allowed to practice in the state of Missouri."

Southeast Missouri's House contingent of 10 Republicans and four Democrats voted with their parties on the override.

Following the vote, Holden again ripped the bill as a special interest giveaway that would have shielded corporate wrongdoers from litigation while doing nothing to help doctors.

"Unfortunately, this bill used the special needs of doctors as camouflage to give unwarranted protections to corporate interests at the expense of injured parties," Holden said.

Key points of contention were provisions that would have applied to all lawsuits, not just those involving medical malpractice. Among those were restrictions on where cases could be filed and limits on the financial liability of individual defendants in tort cases involving multiple parties. A tort is a wrongful act that causes injury.

State Rep. Richard Byrd, the bill's sponsor, lauded the measure as a good compromise that excluded many of last year's most controversial proposals.

"This is the best version you are going to get," Byrd, R-Kirkwood, told his colleagues before the vote.

Byrd predicted that without immediate passage of the bill many doctors will leave Missouri and even more will restrict their practices to eliminate high-risk specialties such as delivering babies and neurosurgery.

House Minority Floor Leader Rick Johnson, D-High Ridge, said insurance companies, whose profits have gone up as lawsuits and average financial judgments have gone down, are the true culprit.

"What we've learned is if there is a crisis in medical malpractice insurance increases, the crisis is induced by the insurance industry," Johnson said.

The bill is HB 1304.

mpowers@semissourian.com

(573) 635-4608


THURSDAY AT THE LEGISLATURE:

The legislature passed and sent Gov. Bob Holden a bill authorizing state grants and loans to local governments that need help with infrastructure projects.

Lawmakers approved and sent to Holden legislation that would require health insurers to cover mental illness at the same level as physical illness.

The legislature sent to the governor a bill that would expand tax breaks for college savings to include money in bank certificates of deposit.

Lawmakers approved and sent to Holden a bill that would create tougher penalties for possession of child pornography and other sex offenses involving minors.

A bill creating the crime of kidnapping a child younger than 14 won final passage and went to Holden.

A county government bill sent to the governor would make it more expensive to obtain copies of vital records.

The Senate passed and sent the House legislation that would substantially increase penalties for violating the state's open meetings and records law.

The Senate passed legislation that would allow law enforcement officers to stop motorists simply for failing to wear a seat belt, sending it to the House.

Lawmakers abandoned attempts to enact stricter rules for receiving workers' compensation, expecting to make it a partisan issue in this fall's elections.

-- From the Associated Press

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