A friendly suggestion
By By Sen. Trent Lott/ senate minority leader
Aug. 27, 2002
Years ago, an old friend and member of the Mississippi Legislature told me: "I don't tell you how to do things in Washington, and you shouldn't tell me how to do things here in the Mississippi state Legislature!"
It was some friendly advice that I took to heart, and I've never really deviated from it. After all, local and state officials are elected to run local and state government, and a U.S. senator or representative is generally sent to Washington to represent his or her state's interest in federal issues.
However, there is one state issue being hotly debated right now that could either seriously hurt or greatly help Mississippi nationally, depending on how Mississippians respond, especially our state legislators.
The cry for common sense tort reform in Mississippi cannot be ignored. Mississippians from the coffee shops to the editorial boards at most of our newspapers are clearly asking our Legislature to curtail what we now commonly refer to as the "lawsuit industry." The term refers to an increasing number of high-profile cases with trials mostly in our poorest counties.
Behind these cases are some of our wealthiest attorneys who are getting dramatically wealthier with each huge verdict. These suits are tying up our courts and leading to outlandish monetary awards against businesses and professionals, primarily against doctors and drug producers.
Even President George W. Bush, during his visit to Mississippi a few days ago, strongly urged Mississippians to address this statewide problem. Much of his speech was dedicated to this topic, and the president eloquently articulated just how high the stakes in this debate are to Mississippi's future, and America's too.
We've all read the stories about doctors leaving Mississippi because they can no longer afford malpractice insurance. In Natchez for instance, it is reported that a portion of the local medical community has threatened to move across the river to Louisiana, just to get away from what they see as Mississippi's lawsuit-hungry trial lawyers.
In some Delta towns, we can see stories in local newspapers documenting an alarming loss of dedicated medical professionals in needy communities. These skilled men and women say they just can't risk being sued anymore.
This condition is prompting many local residents to wonder what they will do for local medical care if the medical professionals continue their exodus from our state.
Beyond the issues of doctors and lawyers though, I am particularly concerned about how Mississippi's litigious environment will impact our state's ability to attract new jobs. So far, we have been lucky.
Mississippi's tort system has not seriously impaired economic development yet. I have been part of a number of economic development projects which have created thousands of jobs, including the Nissan project and, most recently, a commitment by Lockheed Martin to place more than 270 high-tech aerospace jobs in the Hancock County and Pearl River County area.
However, I believe that without tort reform the problem with fleeing doctors may turn into a problem of fleeing employers. If this happens, thousands of Mississippians would be out of work, or forced to move to other states.
Perhaps worse, untold new job opportunities could be lost, hampering our ability to replace lost jobs and forcing a new generation of Mississippians elsewhere. We simply cannot allow this to happen.
As I work around our state during the August congressional recess, I am delivering a positive message. I believe Mississippians can compete for the best jobs. Our school test scores have improved significantly. A number of our state's communities have outstanding economic development initiatives going on, and our state's universities are being awarded more federal research dollars than ever before.
Mississippi is building new roads, bridges and public infrastructure all things that will bring new jobs to the state. However, all of this work could be negated if people, professionals and companies are afraid to call Mississippi home for fear of frivolous lawsuits.
I believe it is clear that a majority of Mississippians support common sense tort reforms. I am one of these Mississippians. I think our state's lawmakers should heed the clear call for tort reform by our state's people.
That's not telling anyone in Jackson what to do, it is just a friendly suggestion from a concerned citizen, who happens to be working on Mississippi's future too.