Thursday, May 6, 2004

Senate passes lawsuit limits, but House will not be rushed

By Leo Shane III
Columbus Bureau

COLUMBUS - Senate President Doug White described his attempt to force the House to act on slow-moving lawsuit reform legislation as nothing more than a high-profile political game of checkers.

On Wednesday, Senate members for the second time in a year passed comprehensive lawsuit reform legislation.

But House Speaker Larry Householder said White's political maneuvering would not coerce his members into moving more quickly on the legislation, which would put restrictions on who can file civil actions and how much they can collect in damages.

"Our members need to have an understanding of what they're voting on with this," said Householder, R-Glenford.

Under the measure noneconomic damages - such as pain and suffering awards - would be capped at $1 million. Plaintiffs' attorney fees would be limited based on jury awards, and most civil claims against businesses and individuals would have a 10-year statute of limitations.

Supporters extolled the measure as a pro-business initiative, saying frivolous lawsuits and excessive jury awards are hurting the state's business climate. White, R-Manchester, said that as a former small-business owner, he is very sensitive to the legal threats many companies face.

"This bill is very important to me," he said.

Senate Republicans were not happy that the civil reform bill they passed in June was still sitting in a House committee.

The bill the Senate passed Wednesday incorporated those proposals into an already-passed House bill that would limit Ohioans' ability to sue food manufacturers for obesity-related illnesses.

This could allow the measure to go before the full House without first going through a House committee.

Householder called the bill's pace "deliberate" and said he has no intention of rushing the issue through his chamber.

White said Wednesday's vote prompted Householder to discuss the issue with Senate leaders, and he has confidence the reforms will pass this year.

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