Among all the various candidates and issues on November’s general election ballot Arkansas voters may have the opportunity to cast votes for or against Issue One commonly referred to as a tort reform amendment.
Issue One is one of the two proposed state constitutional amendments referred to voters by the state legislature. The other referral Issue Two will require a state-issued identification for the right to vote in elections if approved by voters.
A lawsuit has been filed against Issue One and is currently pending in the courts. It remains to be seen whether Issue One will remain viable or be rendered null and void by the courts. For now it should be assumed that Issue One will survive the legal challenge.
If approved by voters Issue One will put maximum caps on attorneys’ fees punitive damages and non-economic damages in civil lawsuits in personal injury and wrongful death cases. Issue One also will grant to the legislature the authority to promulgate certain rules and standards dealing with pleading practice and procedures for the state’s courts.
Generally speaking Issue One puts doctors hospitals and nursing homes on one side against trial attorneys and the judiciary on the other side. These opposing forces are organized well-financed and will flood print and electronic media with a massive amount of advertising between Labor Day and the election on Nov. 6.
Voters will need to exercise discernment to cut through all the “spin.”
The Arkansas Faith and Ethics Council (AFEC) is not taking a position on this issue since it falls outside of our areas of focus. However we are concerned that some in the debate are positioning it as a “pro-life” issue. It is decidedly not a pro-life issue; it is an economic issue and a legal issue.
“Pro-life” has been and should continue to be associated with preserving the lives of unborn babies and protecting them from abortion. Overwhelmingly that is how “pro-life” is defined and understood in the public square. Webster’s New World Dictionary’s definition of “pro-life” is “opposing the legal right to abortion.”
It is ill-advised to characterize this pitched battle between trial attorneys wanting to continue to reap huge contingency fees on one hand and doctors hospitals and nursing homes seeking to protect their bottom lines on the other as a pro-life issue. To give the term pro-life such an expansive meaning is to risk stripping it of its essence which is to advocate for and defend innocent defenseless unborn children.
AFEC does not question the motives – only the wisdom – of those seeking to make this a pro-life issue. We would ask them to consider the unintended consequences and ramifications of using pro-life to advance a political agenda in what is essentially an economic/legal issue including compromising the integrity of the pro-life position. Let’s keep the focus for pro-life where it belongs – on the babies at risk in the womb.
Larry Page is executive director of the Arkansas Faith and Ethics Council (AFEC). Visit arfaith.org for more information.