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Proposed constitutional amendment stirs debate in Arkansas

July 21, 2018

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — A proposed constitutional amendment in Arkansas could help the state recruit more doctors and attract other jobs to the state by limiting certain damages in lawsuits and allowing lawmakers to rewrite the state Supreme Court’s procedural rules, according to supporters of the measure.

But opponents of Issue 1 say the measure could have costly consequences and proposes illegal changes to the Arkansas Constitution.

The issue generated debate among the roughly 150 people attending the Political Animals Club’s luncheon on Thursday in Little Rock, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported . The debate comes a week after a former Pulaski County judge filed a lawsuit seeking to knock the issue off the Nov. 6 general election ballot, arguing it was an illegal amalgamation of changes to the Arkansas Constitution.

The amendment would limit attorneys’ contingency fees, limit non-economic damages to $500,000, cap punitive damages to the greater of either $500,000 or three times the amount of compensatory damages awarded. It also would allow lawmakers to amend and repeal the Arkansas Supreme Court’s rules of pleading, practice or procedure with a three-fifths vote.

Reports like the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform’s 2011 study have shown that Arkansas could create tens of thousands of jobs if the overhead created by an outdated liability system is removed, said Carl Vogelphol, campaign manager for the Arkansans for Jobs and Justice committee, which supports the ballot proposal. Vogelphol said the reports suggest the changes could save businesses $316 million a year.

But opponents, including the Arkansas Trial Lawyers Association, said the measure was an overreach by the Republican-controlled Legislature.

Chad Gallagher, a consultant with the association, said there hasn’t been a significant difference between “tort states and non-tort states” in terms of recruiting doctors to rural towns. He said such towns are also losing not only doctors, but other professionals, like engineers, architects and attorneys.

“My concern about Issue 1 is that it was a total overreach by the General Assembly,” Gallagher said. “It was unnecessary. This version went too far. I believe it’s morally wrong.”

Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson hasn’t publicly said whether he supports the measure, which is opposed by both of his re-election challengers: Democrat Jared Henderson and Libertarian Mark West.

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Information from: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, http://www.arkansasonline.com

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