Musgrove Sets Session On Tort Reform

Gov. Ronnie Musgrove on Friday announced a Sept. 5 special session to address private prisons and civil justice-related issues.

Musgrove said he will present lawmakers three issues:

  • A $48.6 million appropriation for private prison contracts.
  • Plans to help doctors get medical malpractice insurance.
  • And general changes to Mississippi's civil justice system.

He said lawmakers will get the issues one-by-one. As each is completed he will give them the next issue. Musgrove said he is taking the three-step approach because, "I don't want the issues to become mixed up or muddied.''

Only the governor can set a session, and only he can set the agenda.

The Legislature failed to settle the appropriations for private prisons in a July 30 special session. Once the prison issue is settled, Musgrove said he will ask lawmakers to consider a way to provide medical malpractice insurance for doctors who are having trouble renewing their policies. Then, he will expand the session for consideration of general changes in the civil justice system.

Musgrove said he will release details of his proposals next week.

He did not reveal costs for medical malpractice coverage. Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck said medical malpractice insurance should be the top item on the agenda. Some doctors have said they can't find or afford coverage.

"I'm absolutely amazed that medical malpractice insurance is being held hostage,'' Tuck said Friday. "I'm just shocked and amazed that he would do that.''

Ford said he was "bewildered'' by the governor making the consideration of one issue contingent on the approval of another.

"In my 23 years here, I've never seen that done,'' Ford said.

During the July 30 session, the Senate passed but the House rejected Musgrove's proposal to set aside money for private prisons. The funding is in question because Musgrove in the spring vetoed $54.7 million in the Department of Corrections budget that was earmarked for private prisons.

Legislators did not try to override Musgrove's veto in the regular session because Attorney General Mike Moore said the veto was invalid. Musgrove said the veto was valid and he has renegotiated private prison contracts, arranging to close Delta Correctional Facility in Leflore County in September and bargaining for cheaper rates at the four remaining privately managed lock ups.

House Penitentiary Chairman Bennett Malone, D-Carthage, opposed Musgrove's private prison funding request during the July 30 session. Malone said Friday he now supports the governor's idea.

A committee of 13 House members and 13 senators has spent the past three months gathering information and hearing testimony about medical malpractice insurance and the broader issue of civil lawsuits. Business and medical groups are clamoring for limits on pain and suffering awards.

Trial lawyers say limits would hurt people. Dr. John Cook of Brandon, president of the Mississippi State Medical Association, said he has no problem with the order of the special session agenda, as long as doctors' insurance problems are solved.

"The governor is the governor and he has the privilege of calling the session and having the issues addressed in the way that he chooses them to be addressed,'' Cook said.