Gov. Brad Henry vetoed Senate Bill 507 today but claimed to continue working on a compromise lawsuit "reform" package to fix some flaws in certain provisions in the proposed legislation.
Today was the last day Henry could act on the so-called tort reform measure, SB 507, approved earlier this month by the Oklahoma Legislature.
Henry said a deciding factor was Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson's criticism that SB 507 would hinder the state's efforts to protect water quality and curtail pollution.
"While Senate Bill 507 contained some positive provisions, it ultimately failed to strike such a balance and instead tipped the scales of justice to favor one party over the other," Henry said. "Furthermore, the measure tied the state's hands in legal actions designed to protect the citizenry, and the legislation did little to curb frivolous lawsuits, the chief complaint of many business owners."
In a released statement, Henry specified areas of concern:
constitutional questions about "hard" damage caps. inequities in the collateral source provision. unintended consequences of the class action and joint and several liability provisions."Policy should drive any legislative debate, but unfortunately, politics often intrudes, and that was the case with SB 507," Henry said. "Had the authors of this legislation reached out to build a consensus they might have produced a reform bill that I could have signed into law.
"As even some of its backers have acknowledged, the end result is a very flawed piece of legislation that would likely be struck down as unconstitutional."
State Sen. Mike Morgan, D-Stillwater, said Henry showed great courage with his veto.
"SB 507 would have severely limited access to the courts for most Oklahomans, leaving civil justice as a commodity only the wealthy could afford," said Morgan, the Senate's co-president Pro Tempore. "It would have tipped the scales heavily in favor of large corporations and against working families and royalty owners."
Republican Sen. Glenn Coffee, co-president Pro Tempore of the Senate, called Henry's veto "one of the biggest flip-flops" in Oklahoma's political history.
"To paraphrase Groucho Marx: If you don't like Brad Henry's stated principles on an issue, don't worry, he has others," said Coffee, R-Oklahoma City. "The governor missed a grand opportunity to send a message to the nation that Oklahoma is pro-jobs, pro-doctor, and pro-business. Instead, he sent a message that millionaire trial lawyers are still running the show."
Henry left the door open for signing a reform bill that would be balanced and pass constitutional muster.