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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Budget break. What’s a New Jersey Tort Reformer to do?

One of the most appealing aspects about tort reform is that it has the power to spur economic growth while being budget-neutral. 

That said, the legislative “budget break” – which is the period between the end of March and June when the Legislature is in recess while the Assembly and Senate Budget Committees meet to finalize the next fiscal year’s budget – can seemingly push tort reform to the back burner. 

Fortunately, there are some things tort reformers can do:

Take a look at your municipal budget.  How much money is your town or city spending on litigation costs?  It’s probably much higher than you think.  Could some endangered local government service be spared if its litigation tab weren’t so high?   Perhaps it’s worth mentioning at your next town council meeting, especially if a lot of cases are referred to expensive private firms.  You’ll be happy you spoke up when your next property tax bill is due. 

Review tort reform measures that were recently introduced.  Senators Jennifer Beck (R-Monmouth) and Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen) recently introduced S-2800, which adds an additional protection for doctors to two of the proposals in S-760/A-1982.  The new bill addresses protecting a doctor from having his or her name linked to a malpractice suit prematurely.  It also provides protections for volunteer physicians acting and good faith and prevents doctors’ insurance premiums from automatically increasing when a lawsuit is filed.

Assemblyman John Burzichelli (D-Gloucester) also introduced several bills in late 2010 which would protect local governments from liability in certain instances where whether is to blame.  The bills were endorsed by the New Jersey League of Municipalities, which you can read about here

See where redistricting has left you.  Are you in a new legislative district?  Use this as an opportunity to educate your new legislators on the importance of a business-friendly climate in New Jersey.  Unless they live under a rock, they’ve heard this before.  But they might not have thought about tort reform as a means to achieving economic growth.  You can check the new legislative map here to see if your municipality has been moved to a different district.

In sum, the budget break is a great time for tort reformers to connect the dots between economic growth in Trenton and municipal and family budgets at home.  It’s a great way to keep up the momentum and learn more about your community at the same time. 

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