WILLIAMS: Republicans unreliable on tort reform

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ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Conservatives cannot allow Republican lawmakers to soften or defect on the party’s fundamental principles or, worse, align with those who are diametrically opposed to everything the GOP stands for: Free enterprise, reasonable taxes, limited government and tort reform. Yes, tort reform — and here’s why.

Ignoring tort reform has been devastating to taxpayers, the economy and American business. The U.S. is the most litigious nation in the world; it weakens us competitively and lessens respect for America’s legal system in the eyes of the world. The question isn’t how this critical issue fell from our sight lines to the sidelines. The question is: Why have we permitted trial lawyers to worm their way into our ranks to undermine GOP priorities and the party itself?

In state capitols across the country are legislators who proclaim to be conservatives yet block lawsuit reform. A look at just a few states readily finds examples of Republicans who align with personal injury lawyers.

In North Carolina, the legislature recently passed a medical malpractice bill that would allow patients to recover full medical expenses and lost wages, and up to $500,000 for noneconomic damages. The bill passed with bipartisan support, yet Republican Reps. N. Leo Daughtry and Grey Mills couldn’t deliver “yea” votes.

Could it be because they both received campaign donations from the North Carolina Academy of Trial Lawyers? Or is it because they are both trial lawyers who have settled millions of dollars in personal injury awards?

Pennsylvania has the dishonor of state Sen. Stewart Greenleaf, a Republican who has been a more reliable vote for the trial bar than for tort reform. He has used his powerful chairmanship of the Senate Judiciary Committee to bottle up, gut and otherwise sabotage efforts to pass meaningful reform. This year, he nearly succeeded again when he maneuvered to upend the Fair Share Act, a bill to stop the abhorrent practice of targeting defendants based on the depth of their pockets rather than the extent of their liability, with a bill that was so watered down as to render it useless. This gift to the trial bar fortunately was exposed, and principled Republicans passed real reform.

In New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie, the consummate executive and a rising star of the GOP, rode the call for reform to victory. So far, he has lived up to every word, working hard to bring the state budget back from the verge of collapse. Yet, in his own backyard, Republican Assemblyman Jon M. Bramnick, the party’s conference leader, boasts about raking in millions of dollars in personal injury damages.

Not surprisingly Mr. Bramnick has been no friend of reform in the Democrat-controlled Legislature where reform needs every friend it can get. Instead of rallying around the cause, Mr. Bramnick in the past has sponsored wrongful death legislation, a top trial lawyer priority that would have vastly expanded lawsuits and damage awards. Mr. Christie should ask Mr. Bramnick whether he can count on his vote when the governor turns his attention to cleaning up New Jersey’s tort laws and, if not, Mr. Christie should campaign against him.

The damage doesn’t stop at undercutting the Republican Party’s policy agenda. One has to consider whether the same allegiances that led these Republicans to work against tort reform have a more insidious effect of aiding and abetting the top funding source of the Democratic Party — trial lawyers. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the American Association for Justice contributed more than $2.8 million in 2010, of that amount only $71,000, or 2.5 percent, went to Republicans.

When Republican lawmakers allow more lawsuit bounty for greedy trial lawyers, they put more money in the campaign war chest of the opposition party. They might as well write a check to the Democratic National Committee to defeat good Republicans.

• Armstrong Williams, author of the 2010 book “Reawakening Virtues,” is on Sirius Power 128, 7 to 8 p.m. and 4 to 5 a.m. Mondays through Fridays. Become a fan on Facebook at www.facebook.com/arightside, and follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/arightside. Read his content on RightSideWire.com.

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