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Tort reform, pay raise face crucial deadline

By Staff
From staff and wire reports
Feb. 14, 2002
JACKSON Proposals to reform civil justice rules and raise pay for most elected and appointed officials face a critical deadline today in the Mississippi Legislature.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Bennie Turner, D-West Point, said Wednesday he was uncertain when or if he will ask the Senate to consider a tort reform proposal.
And backers of a proposal to raise public officials' pay said they would consider removing appointed officials from the measure and begin the raises at the start of the next term in January 2004.
Both proposals face a deadline today for a vote in the state Senate. If approved, the proposals would head to the House for consideration; if rejected, they would die.
The pay raise proposal has drawn the ire of many House and Senate members.
Some say the Legislature shouldn't consider raising pay at a time when the governor has slashed millions in state spending. Others say officials deserve a raise.
The last big salary increase for some 70 public officials plus county officeholders came in 1997.
Senate Fees and Salaries Committee Chairman Billy Thames, D-Mize, said he would propose leaving appointed officials' salaries in the hands of the State Personnel Board.
The Personnel Board has a means of tracking competitive salaries in other states.
They would have the ability to determine what is required to attract top-notch persons into state government, and therefore take it out of our politics,'' he said.
The Senate tort reform bill would let either party in a malpractice case involving $5 million or more in damages to request that the jury pool include people from surrounding counties.
The bill is an attempt to address concerns that plaintiffs' lawyers are searching for cases in counties with reputations for returning large jury awards.
Backers of a stronger tort reform bill have said they will try to use the legislation to put limits on punitive damages.