In “Starve The Beast”, Junior Division, Steve Koppelman brings me the news of three really lousy ballot initiative ideas being promoted in Florida:
One would somehow “protect patient rights” by limiting malpractice suits. I guess doctors and their insurance companies are patients too sometimes.
Another would require the state to further tax gambling operations and earmark the money for schools. If decades of experience with lotteries and gambling taxation nationwide have taught us anything, it's that “earmarking” the proceeds for education means those proceeds quickly become the only source of education funds and that educational spending doesn't budge upward one bit, as the liberated money once put towards education gets redirected to all manner of other things.
So the medical and insurance lobbies are trying an end run around the trial-lawyer and civil-liberties lobbies. All right. That's to be expected. And yet another generation in yet another state thinks that it's found a magical way to double school funding when all it's really found is a way to give the legislature an incentive to deploy slot machines at every gas station, motel and convenience store in the state. Think Nevada. All right again. That's to be expected.
But then there's that other ballot initiative in the trifecta, the one that would increase the homestead property tax exemption from $25,000 to $50,000. At a time when the crush of newcomers to Florida has schools filling their parking lots with mobile classrooms attached to the mobile classrooms, looming water supply problems to address, and ever-growing demand for more police, more firefighters, more roads, more teachers, more, more, more, there's this.
Despite this, I do not support the Governor and gerrymandered Republican legislature's plan to make it harder to pass ballot initiatives. The Republicans are still smarting from the requirement that they shrink class sizes in schools, which may well require a tax increase — something Jeb wants to avoid at all costs in order to further his Presidential ambitions.
This state is not a progressive bastion, but it is more progressive than the regressive legislature. As they say, this is no accident, but a result of the way the Republicans have drawn the legislative districts plus the fact that the liberal elements are often in urban concentrations. So the ballot initiatives, for all that they are sometimes wacky are a Very Good Thing both in principle and often in practice. And if I don't always agree with the outcomes, much less the proposals, well, that's democracy.
The only reason Ammendment 3 would limit malpractice suits, is if lawyers working on contingency decide that 30% of the first $250,000 and 10% of any additional award, plus customary costs and expenses is not worth their time. The ammendment does not cap the amount of money a patient can be awarded, only how much of it the lawyers take. Floridians for Patient Protection is a front group for the Florida Trial Lawyers Association. Their advertisements never quote the language of the ammendment, and would leave those who are too lazy to look it up to believe that the ammendment caps awards. Should the ammendment pass, we should expect to see fewer ambulance chasers out there.
The important word is “plus”. “Plus” costs & expenses. The lawyers will simply divide all of their monthly expenses by the number of cases they have and add that to their contingency. It will prevent them from making billions of dollars like they did from the “Tobacco Settlement”.
I would like to add that the ads in favor of Amendment 3 do not quote the language of the amendment either and neither side presents a clear summary of what the amendment will actually do (in the ads I have seen). Also, please note that malpractice actions can take years if the organization being sued wants to fight, which does already curtail some actions. That’s fine and normal–it will prevent some frivolous claims. However, there is legitimate concern that this amendment will make attorneys overly cautious–that attorneys will not want to get involved in a long-term case that may have little payoff. 30% of 250,000 sounds like a lot of money, but is 75,000 enough for an attorney to commit years of work and attention? I don’t know, but it’s worth considering whether this “cure” for greedy attorneys isn’t worse than the disease.
The only thing I can see as a bad thing for allowing this amendment to pass is the subtle approach it takes avoiding the possibility, this could cause an almost doubling affect in lawsuits. How else would attorneys keep up with their overly exuberant lifestyle?