We won’t know for sure which constitutional amendments will make the cut for the 2022 ballot until late in the session, but as I indicated when reporting on the 43 proposals filed by the deadline, you need only follow the money for likely candidates.
By money, I mean the business lobby, led by the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce and its perennial whale hunt to cripple the ability of injured people to sue negligent actors, as the Constitution now mandates, without interference by such pests as judges.
A friend got a telephone text poll this week which I suspect arises from the business lobby, if not the chamber specifically, and I think it reveals two top contenders for legislative favor when three amendments are chosen.
The questions were about proposals on:
DAMAGES: A proposal to limit punitive and “non-economic” damages (pain and suffering). Questions asked included one about a preferred limit on death benefits ranging from $250,000 to $1 million. This is embodied in SJR 8, led by Sen. Missy Irvin and Rep. Lee Johnson and joined by 14 senators and 24 representatives. Johnson has a similar House resolution on file. Rep. Jimmy Gazaway, for the record, has a proposal preventing a limitation on damages. I’m certain the phone survey was NOT about this idea.
COURT RULES: A proposal to remove power for court rules from the Arkansas Supreme Court and give it to the legislature (by a 60 percent vote). This is embodied in SJR 7, led by Sen. Bob Ballinger and Rep. Jim Dotson and joined by 15 senators and 19 representatives. Dotson has parallel House proposals.
Heart-string plucking scenarios and other talking points are suggested in the questions to push respondents to desired support of the two proposals. Examples:
The pandemic is already putting pressure on doctors and hospitals. Do they really need to worry about greedy lawyers with their malpractice lawsuits?
Aren’t trial lawyers getting rich while the truly damaged suffer (and would suffer more in these proposals)?
Other states do it, why not Arkansas?
Why shouldn’t the legislature be able to override court rules or add new ones, a “true check and balance.”
The top heart-plucker apparently will be a circuit court ruling that invalidated legislation allowing child victims of sex crimes to testify with a “comfort dog.” You can imagine the beautiful dog and child that will be used to make this TV ad. And, if I know Republicans, they’ll find a way to work in a photo of Judge Wendell Griffen, who happens to be a Black man. He issued the ruling that the legislature had overstepped boundaries of Amendment 80 in dictating court procedures. (He had no objection to the idea itself.) It occasioned another blast at Griffen by Sen. Trent “Dumbass” Garner, who’s been trying for years to get Griffen impeached.
The framers of the poll questions suggest that Arkansas’s terrible standing in maternal death, infant mortality and emergency care somehow would be improved by “tort reform.” Blaming our historic health shortcomings on trial lawyers is the stretchiest of stretches.
Then there’s a question with the bald assertion of something lacking evidence: Frivolous lawsuits are closing down businesses. A business that loses a lawsuit, by definition, did something a jury and courts found not frivolous.
One question claims as truth that plaintiffs have procedural advantages in lawsuits. Look no farther than nursing home millionaires for rebuttal.
The survey also threw in a question on the favorable/unfavorable views of Lt. Gov Tim Griffin, who recently switched from a Republican race for governor to attorney general, and former U.S. Attorney Cody Hiland, a Republican who’s thinking about a race for the office. They did not ask about the first Republican to announce, Leon Jones Jr. Interesting to know if this is a signal for one or the other candidate. Maybe a signal for Griffin because the survey also asked for opinions of people in the news recently — the Arkansas legislature and, again, Tim Griffin.
I’d love to see results of the question measuring the credibility of various groups: think tanks and policy organizations; chambers of commerce; medical associations; trial lawyers; media, and judicial reform advocacy groups. (On second thought, maybe I would NOT like to see these results.)