PA Chamber: Poor Legal Climate Affects Job Growth

More than a year after enactment of the Fair Share Act, a new study has renewed the battle over lawsuit reforms in Pennsylvania.  The US Chamber Institute for Legal Reform ranks Pennsylvania’s legal climate 40th among the 50-states; down six spots from the last Lawsuit Climate study.

“We’re looking to grow and make Pennsylvania attractive, and when Pennsylvania has such a bad litigation environment, businesses won’t come here and the jobs will go to other states,” says PA Chamber of Business & Industry VP for Government Affairs Sam Denisco.  “That’s problematic.”

With the Fair Share Act, Denisco says Pennsylvania is just starting to catch up with the rest of the nation.  He says the state needs further reforms in order to lead the pack.

The Fair Share Act was written to ensure that the percentage of damages leveled against a defendant, in civil lawsuits, does not exceed their level of determined responsibility.  It was touted as an economic development tool, but critics say it has not correlated to a single new job.

“They want to cap damages.  They want to have their cake and eat it, but they’re not going to pass it onto the Joe Consumer.  It’s just really to increase profits at the expense of the everyday person,” says Scott Cooper, President of the Pennsylvania Association for Justice.

Cooper tells Radio PA the Lawsuit Climate 2012 study is not worth the paper it’s printed on, saying it’s no surprise that business groups oppose the ability of individuals to sue their members.

However, the PA Chamber will be using the new report to strengthen its call for additional lawsuit reforms.  Denisco wants the General Assembly to pass venue reform, which would place limits on where civil suits can be tried.

Venue reform is another issue the Pennsylvania Association for Justice plans to fight when it re-emerges in the new session.  Cooper points out the existing legislation would only apply to personal injury cases, not business-to-business lawsuits.

Voter ID Arguments to be Heard in Commonwealth Court

Opponents of Pennsylvania’s new Voter ID law are asking the Commonwealth Court to block enforcement before the November election.  “Article 1, section 5 of Pennsylvania’s constitution guarantees that elections shall be free and equal,” says Marian Schneider of the Advancement Project.

The petitioners contend that one million Pennsylvanians are eligible to vote but lack the photo ID required under Pennsylvania’s new law.  “If you’ve listed to the proponents of the law… you would have the impression that everyone either has photo ID or they can easily get it.  Their message is that photo ID is used for everything, what’s the big deal,” says attorney David Gersch.  “It is a big deal.”

The hearing before Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson starts Wednesday morning, and is expected to continue through most of next week.

Despite critics’ complaints, state officials are standing by the new law.  “Really for this size issue in Pennsylvania, I think the challenges we’re facing are relatively small,” Secretary of the Commonwealth Carol Aichele told reporters in Gettysburg last week.  She was responding to questions about the more than 750,000 registered voters that aren’t already in the PennDOT database.

Letters are going out to every one of them, reminding them of the new law and the complete list of acceptable IDs.  The Department of State has also announced the creation of a new card that can be issued to voters who need identification under the law, and who are unable to provide all the documents they would normally need to obtain a PennDOT ID.

But it’s not enough to assuage the hundreds of protesters who gathered on the state capitol steps Tuesday. Their rally cry: “Voter ID, Not for Me.”  Among the speakers was Sen. Daylin Leach, who says that even the Commonwealth’s lawyers agree there’s no evidence of in-person voter fraud.

“This bill was passed under false pretenses.  That’s why I’ve introduced a bill to repeal the Voter ID bill,” Leach announced to a round of applause at Tuesday’s rally.  Additional rallies are planned in Pittsburgh, Allentown and Philly on Wednesday.

Sate Capitol View from Commonwealth Ave.

“Fair Share Act” Goes to Governor Tom Corbett’s Desk

    The state House of Representatives has given final approval to a Senate bill known as the “Fair Share Act.” The legislation was one of the top priorities of Governor Tom Corbett and it is now on its way to his desk for signature.

    The bill addresses percentages in civil lawsuit awards to ensure that the percentage of damages leveled against a defendant does not exceed the level of their determined responsibility. It would apply to defendants found 60% liable or less in civil cases. Democrats tried unsuccessfully to amend the bill to exempt minors and senior citizens before the legislation passed 116-83 on Monday afternoon.

    Supporters of the bill argued that exempting anyone from the proposed tort reform would defeat its purpose, and that the bill had nothing to do with plaintiffs. They say the current lawsuit climate in Pennsylvania has hindered the state’s ability to attract new business and create jobs.

    The bill will become law 60 days after the governor signs it.