• 37°

Stalemate at the Capitol

By By Terry Cassreino / assistant managing editor
Sept. 29, 2002
If not for a visit from Tropical Storm Isidore last week, state legislators still would be lounging in Jackson while negotiators continue their stalemate over a medical malpractice proposal.
Instead, legislative leaders sent rank-and-file lawmakers everyone but the three House and three Senate members trying to negotiate a compromise home until Oct. 7.
Then, House and Senate members presumably will reconvene with hopes that they can finally agree on a proposal and end the grueling, unnecessarily lengthy and complicated session.
Yeah, right. From all indications, and unless House and Senate negotiators and leaders have a sudden change of heart, that scenario isn't likely to happen today, this week or Oct. 7.
And the special session that began Sept. 5, the longest one in Mississippi in more than two decades, will likely go down in history as one of the biggest legislative flops in years.
Gov. Ronnie Musgrove originally envisioned the session as a one- or two-day affair in which lawmakers would help Mississippi physicians find affordable medical malpractice insurance.
Some doctors have left the profession or fled the state after insurance companies have refused to write malpractice insurance policies fearing the possibility of multimillion dollar jury awards.
Once completed, Musgrove said, he would expand the session agenda to include general civil justice reform an issue that possibly could lead to limits on jury awards in civil lawsuits.
The session, though, has plodded along for 19 workdays at a cost of $624,239. Some of the costs were offset last week when lawmakers lost their $1,500 out-of-session pay for the month.
The result so far is simple: Lawmakers have done little other than pass separate House and Senate medical malpractice proposals that have left negotiators at odds and unable to compromise.
More surprising: The session came on the heels of meetings by legislators on civil justice reform and growing momentum in the medical community in favor of affordable malpractice insurance.
You would think lawmakers would have done enough homework before the special session to craft a bill ahead of time that would have been acceptable to both the House and Senate.
Well, we are talking about the Mississippi Legislature a body that often takes years and years just to approve a proposal that otherwise makes perfect, legitimate sense.
Remember back in the 1990s when it took lawmakers several years of repeated, heated debate before the House and Senate approved a law to let people register to vote by mail?
Or how about the years it took for lawmakers to limit the money that circuit and chancery clerks earn from the fees their offices collect, finally limiting them to no more than the governor's salary?
Or how about the years it took lawmakers to stiffen lobbyist reporting laws so that voters have a clear picture how special interest groups try to influence the law-making process?
Nevertheless, lawmakers took a break from the special session after all, most were sitting at their desks with little to do while negotiators stonewalled each other.
But they'll more than likely return to another round of gridlock in the never-ending battle of who can hold out the longest for their position the House or the Senate.
State Rep. Steve Holland, D-Plantersville, put it best: "It's kind of like being in prison without any parole or any special privileges. We just had to sit around and watch and wait and hope and pray."