by Caleb Talley
Issue 1, Arkansas’ “tort reform” measure, was struck down last week by the Arkansas Supreme Court, preventing the chance of a very bad law being written into the state’s constitution, had it passed.
But had the votes on Issue 1 actually been counted, I don’t know that it would have even passed. According to a poll conducted in early September, only 25 percent of the 1,701 Arkansas voters asked said they supported the measure. Compare that to the 47 percent who said they opposed it.
Sounds like a no-doubter, right? Not if you factor in the 28 percent who said they didn’t know where they stood. From early September to today, those undecideds would have gotten their fair share of propaganda from either side considering how much was spent by both factions to get their message out.
There was so much wrong with Issue 1 that it would take a series of editorials to do it justice. That’s evident by the fact that some of the measure’s biggest cheerleaders, even its primary sponsor, wouldn’t sit down to speak for it on record for the October issue of AMP.
But if they had, they’d likely have said the frivolous lawsuit climate in Arkansas has reduced the quality of health care across the state. ‘You want quality care, right? Well, you can’t have that and a healthy justice system, kid.’ Unfortunately, that would be false.
Hospitals across Arkansas are as healthy as they’ve ever been. That’s due in large part – or exclusively – to expanded Medicaid. While hospitals in Arkansas are expanding, rural hospitals in neighboring ‘tort reform’ states like Texas, Mississippi and Missouri are shutting their doors for good.
Money can’t be too hard to come by in the health care community. The state hospital association and medical society threw hundreds of thousands of dollars towards the committee supporting Issue 1. Countless medical professionals gave large, individual donations, as well.
Obviously, attorneys threw even more money in the opposite direction. But no one was trying to convince the public that attorneys are strapped for cash.
And because there is so much money on either side of the debate, we can expect the fight for tort reform to continue. I’m anxiously awaiting the next legislative session, which begins in January, to see how lawmakers respond to the Supreme Court’s decision. Will they rein in their approach? Or will they continue their assault on the justice system until it conforms to the will of their deep-pocketed campaign contributors? To save myself the lecturing, I’ll let you do the legwork on that one: followthemoney.org.
Time will tell. I can imagine it took a lot of political capital to convince that many lawmakers to sign on to such an objectively bad law, regardless of how much they’re getting paid. Some of those lawmakers might not want the headache that came with it. And let’s not forget that some of the bill’s sponsors are in prison or on their way there.
Or, perhaps, if Arkansas continues to outrank every single neighboring tort reform state (save Tennessee) in legal climate, as determined by the pro-tort reform U.S. Chamber of Commerce, state lawmakers may realize that it’s not a priority. But let’s not get our hopes up. I can’t wait ‘til January.
In Cash & Candor, Arkansas Money & Politics / AY Magazine Editor Caleb Talley aims to shoot it straight when it comes to business and politics in and around the Natural State. Talley comes to AMP by way of the Arkansas Delta, where he called balls and strikes at the Forrest City Times-Herald. He can be contacted by email at [email protected]. Read more Cash & Candor here.