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Lawmakers head back to Capitol

By Staff
from staff and wire reports
May 19, 2004
JACKSON Mississippi lawmakers trudged back to the Capitol today to rekindle debate on two contentious topics they could not resolve in the regular session that ended 10 days ago.
With voter identification and civil justice reforms on the agenda, Republican Gov. Haley Barbour called legislators back for a special session dealing with two of the top issues on which he campaigned last year. But once legislators are back in town, they control the timetable and there's little the governor can do to send them home.
The session starts at 1 p.m. today.
The politically-charged issue of voter ID has already drawn criticism from state Democrats, who decry Barbour's approach as unnecessary and discriminatory. Barbour and other supporters say requiring people to show a driver's license or other ID will bring integrity to elections. Opponents say ID could be used to intimidate older black voters who once had to pay poll taxes.
Last week, the Mississippi Association of County Democratic Chairpersons went on record as opposing Barbour's idea, according to Melba B. Clark, chairman of the Lauderdale County Democratic Party and a member of the state Democratic executive committee.
Clark referred to a letter written by state Democratic chairman Ricky L. Cole that lambasted Barbour and the Republicans.
Civil justice
Bills to change where civil lawsuits can be filed and how much can be awarded will go through the Judiciary A committees in the House and Senate.
Senate Judiciary A Chairman Charlie Ross, R-Brandon, says it's important to pass a bill that sets a $250,000 cap on non-economic damages for things such as pain and suffering.
House Judiciary A Chairman Ed Blackmon, D-Canton, says he adamantly opposes caps and he won't change his mind.
On the issue of caps just think of a snowball in hell,'' Blackmon told The Associated Press on Tuesday.
During the regular session, the Senate voted for a bill that includes the $250,000 pain-and-suffering cap.
A similar bill never came up for a vote of the full House after Blackmon opted not to bring it up. Every chairman has the power to decide whether to bring bills up for debate of the full chamber, and Blackmon said he was willing to bring up a bill that included several other changes, but not caps.
Ross said Tuesday: The Senate voted overwhelmingly for caps. The House of Representatives needs to vote on the issue.''
Barbour has said he wants caps as part of a larger package of changes to the civil justice system. He said limiting what he calls lawsuit abuse'' will improve Mississippi's economic environment.
Many of Barbour's top campaign donors last year, including business groups and doctors, have called for changes in the civil justice system.
I am confident that comprehensive tort reform is favored by a majority of the House and a majority of the Senate,'' Barbour said last week. And I believe that the will of the majority will prevail, and we'll have comprehensive tort reform and I hope we'll have it in a few days. Whether it will contain every provision that I favor remains to be seen.''
Trial lawyers and other opponents to major civil-justice changes say pain-and-suffering caps and other changes could limit people's ability to be compensated if they're hurt by faulty products.