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Barbour calls special session

By Staff
from staff and wire reports
May 14, 2004
JACKSON Fulfilling his promise, Gov. Haley Barbour is calling state lawmakers into a special session that starts Wednesday to consider changes to Mississippi's civil justice laws.
Barbour, who announced the session Thursday during a news conference at his Capitol office, said he also wants lawmakers to consider legislation requiring people to show identification before voting in elections.
The governor had warned state House and Senate members that if they didn't pass civil justice legislation during the 2004 regular session which ended Sunday he would bring them back into special session.
At least two East Mississippi legislators state Reps. Steve Horne, R-Meridian, and Greg Snowden, R-Meridian said they hope the special session can be settled quickly.
Snowden said the special session call was no surprise.
Regular session
On civil justice reform, House and Senate members couldn't reach a compromise during the 2004 regular legislative session. The main sticking point was a $250,000 cap on damage awards.
The Senate wanted to impose the cap on all non-economic damages. The House was opposed.
On voter ID, House and Senate members tried unsuccessfully to revive the issue and approve a bill during the waning days of the 2004 session.
Barbour said he opposes a provision in a House-passed voter ID bill that would exempt the elderly from showing identification.
Barbour said he didn't know how long the session would last, but was hopeful it would conclude by the end of the month. The first day of the special session, including travel expenses, would cost taxpayers $49,336.
Each subsequent session day is $33,915.
House Speaker Billy McCoy, D-Rienzi, said he thought lawmakers were close to reaching an agreement on civil justice reform during the regular session. McCoy said Barbour had talked to him and House Judiciary A Chairman Ed Blackmon, D-Canton, about the proposal.
Senate bill
In addition to the caps, the Senate bill also limited punitive damage awards against companies and required that all medical malpractice claims be evaluated by a medical review panel.
Days before the session's end, the House suspended its deadline rules so it could introduce a similar bill. The move failed to get the Senate support it needed.
Lawmakers approved some civil justice changes during a 2002 special session that lasted 83 days.
Mississippi now limits damages for pain and suffering to $500,000 in medical malpractice cases, and caps punitive damages against businesses at $20 million or no more than 4 percent of net worth.
Barbour called the new laws "inadequate," but opponents of further changes to the law say the 2002 legislation hasn't been given enough time to work.
Blackmon said Thursday that he'll explore topics beyond caps, including the disclosure of confidential settlements and product recall.
Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck, who is at home recovering from a form of pneumonia, issued a statement saying she supports Barbour's call.