ICJL cautions opponents of SB1296 to 'keep the powder dry'

Ann Knef Jun. 4, 2007, 9:00am

While opponents of a controversial, trial lawyer-sponsored bill are hailing its apparent demise, a leading tort reform advocate cautions to "keep the powder dry."

Senate Bill 1296, a proposal that would have shifted the burden of compensation in tort cases to the party with the most money rather than the most responsibility, was not called for a vote in the final days of the Illinois General Assembly's spring session.

"Whatever the reasons, SB 1296 was slowed down/stopped – at least for this session," Ed Murnane, president of the Illinois Civil Justice League (ICJL), wrote in a report today.

"Maybe it was because legislators who actually looked at that bill thought – or asked – are they kidding?

"Maybe it was because legislators heard from a lot of constituents who had serious concerns and legislators themselves developed serious questions.

"Maybe it was because opposition came from unanticipated sources: Chicago, local governments, including municipalities and park districts."

But Murnane warned that the victory may not be permanent. He urged fellow opponents to be prepared to resume the fight possibly in November's veto session or next spring, "because the proponents will figure out a way to make it seem like nothing more than a clarification of intended law that assures fairness for everyone, especially the most seriously injured."

"And a lot of Illinois legislators will swallow that baloney sandwich," Murnane said.

Throughout the spring, the ICJL was joined by business and insurance interests, defense lawyers, as well as local governments, in opposition to the proposal dubbed the "money grab bill." The Illinois Association of Defense Counsel (IADC), Illinois Insurance Association, Illinois Manufacturers Association and the Illinois Chamber of Commerce were among the groups that fought the hardest.

SB 1296 passed along party lines in the Senate on March 20. It passed out of the House Judiciary Committee on May 16 also along party lines by a vote of 8-6.

The Illinois Lawsuit Abuse Watch organization hailed the rejection of SB 1296 as a victory for Illinoisans and fairness, saying it "proves the power of grassroots activism."

"The people of Illinois have spoken and have helped derail the trial lawyers' proposed gravy train," said Lance Trover, executive director of I-LAW, in a statement released today.

"The trial lawyers tried to quietly sneak this bill through the General Assembly at a time when much of the state was focused on the proposed gross receipts tax and an electricity rate freeze, but once voters heard about the trial lawyers' proposed money grab, they were clearly outraged enough to demand that their representatives reject this outrageous attempt to make our state's notoriously unfair civil justice system even more unfair."

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