Claremore Daily Progress

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July 13, 2013

Gov. Fallin sees special session as possibility

TULSA —

Gov. Mary Fallin told a chamber of commerce gathering in northeastern Oklahoma that a special legislative session is possible to address lawsuit reform and other issues.

The Tulsa World reports that Fallin said during the speech Friday to the Tulsa Regional Chamber that she has spoken with House Speaker T.W. Shannon and Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman about a possible special session on lawsuit reform.

In June, The Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled that a 2009 law on civil lawsuits violated the state Constitution's prohibition against bills containing more than one subject.

"A special session is an option I am looking at," Fallin said in response to an audience question at the luncheon. "I've talked to the speaker and the pro tem about the possibility of a special session to fix what I consider one of our most important pieces of legislation."

The 2009 law redefined what constitutes a frivolous lawsuit and strengthening summary judgment rules, making it easier for a judge to dismiss a lawsuit that has no merit.

The bill also changed joint and individual liability guidelines to alter so-called "deep pocket" rules that had allowed an injured person to recover all damages from any defendant regardless of their individual share of liability. The measure also capped pain and suffering damages at $400,000, but allowed a judge or jury to waive the cap in cases of gross negligence or catastrophic injury.

Business groups have said the state court's ruling is a blow to business interests.

"There may be some other issues that we might look at in special session as the year goes along if there are other challenges, possibly in workers compensation reform, the tax cuts and fixing the Capitol."

This year's regular session produced a worker compensation bill that is being challenged and a bill combining a reduction in the state income tax rate with money to pay for repairs to the Capitol building that some believe violates the same single-subject rule cited by the Supreme Court in last month's ruling on lawsuit reform.

Fallin told reporters afterward that she has not ruled out the possibility of reducing a set of tax breaks for horizontal gas drilling. The incentives have been widely criticized by some as unfair and unnecessary, and earlier this week Finance Secretary Preston Doerflinger said they should be re-examined.

"It's important we sit down with the industry and discuss this," Fallin said. "The question is, what's fair to everybody?"

Fallin's appearance, an annual event for the governor, drew an estimated 1,000 guests, including U.S. Rep. Jim Bridenstine, R-Tulsa, state Superintendent Janet Barresi, state Auditor and Inspector Gary Jones and more than a dozen state legislators.

 

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