Oklahoma Legislature poised for 5-day finish

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The Oklahoma House and Senate went through a quick formal procedure Friday on two dozen bills changing the state’s tort laws and are expected to wrap up a five-day special session on Monday by giving final passage to the measures.

The bills that address legal procedures in areas such as medical malpractice, class-action lawsuits and product liability will be questioned and debated in both chambers Monday before being sent to Gov. Mary Fallin for her signature.

Fallin requested Oklahoma’s first special session since 2006 after the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled in June that a sweeping 2009 bill that overhauled the state’s tort laws was unconstitutional because it included multiple subjects in a single bill. As a result, legislators were called back to divide the various sections into individual bills and pass them again.

Fallin, who has made the state’s economy and business climate a focus of her administration, said the uncertainty in the legal environment and the costs of frivolous lawsuits were an impediment to business recruitment and to the medical community. But Democrats, and even some Republicans, complained about the $30,000-per-day cost of the special session, and Fallin said she was optimistic it would be limited to five days.

“I appreciate their expediency,” Fallin said Friday. “I’m hopeful and excited that we’ll have a bill on my desk by the first of next week that I’ll be able to sign that will help make Oklahoma more business friendly, to ensure that we can help lower our medical health care costs by the medical malpractice reform that’s in that piece of legislation.”

Democrats also criticized Republican leaders in the House for not allowing the Legislature to address other issues during the special session and for rules that limited question-and-answer periods, prohibited amendments and kept bills from going through the regular committee process.

“The need for this special session was created by the Republican leadership’s blatant disregard for the constitutionality of the bills they pass,” said Rep. Mike Brown, D-Tahlequah. “If tort reform is important enough for the Governor to convene a special session of the Oklahoma Legislature, at a cost of over $30,000 per day, surely it should be important enough to allow all members an opportunity to have their questions and concerns addressed before voting on this issue.”

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Sean Murphy can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/apseanmurphy

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