Wyoming Special Session Ends, Governor Sends Amendment to Voters

By Robert W. Black | July 19, 2004

Gov. Dave Freudenthal on July 17 signed the cornerstone of this week’s special session, a joint resolution that offers voters a say whether to allow limits on certain damage awards in doctors’ malpractice cases.

“I’m delighted that this bill is here on this desk and that it is in a form that will make clear to the voter what their choice is,” Freudenthal said while flanked by 12 legislators in his formal office during a morning ceremony.

The resolution, if approved by a majority of voters Nov. 2, would allow the Legislature to place a cap on non-economic losses such as for pain and suffering as a way to reduce the cost of doctors’ insurance.

“I believe that the people of this state will make a decision in November that will help to chart the health care agenda for the state of Wyoming,” said Senate President April Brimmer Kunz, R-Cheyenne, standing next to the governor.

The question, she said, is “Are you willing to go along with the constitutional amendment and not cap your economic loss but rather cap your non-economic loss?”

Trial lawyers are mounting what is expected to be an expensive media campaign against the resolution while doctors’ groups are gearing up for their own pricey endeavor in support of the amendment.

Sen. Grant Larson, R-Jackson, the Senate majority leader, said Wyoming is about to endure a “barrage” of advertising.

“It’s a little scary, and I would like to implore both sides … Let’s keep the rhetoric fair and honest. Let’s keep the distortions out of it, and I would implore the people to be informed — read the resolution.”

House Speaker Fred Parady, R-Rock Springs, offered a reminder that the wording that will appear on the ballot will not contain the actual language that would go into the constitution.

“I just urge every voter to dig into the constitution and understand the choice before them and be prepared as they enter that booth,” he said.

Earlier, during remarks at the close of the session, Freudenthal acknowledged both the quality and effort lawmakers put forth during the week.

“I want to commend you for the substance of the work that’s been done,” he said. “I know that it has been a difficult and painful process from time to time, and much will be said about the content of the substance over the next months, but I think the remarkable thing is, it is done.”

Studies authorized by legislators will lay the foundation for future work, he said.

“Health care is going to be with us a long time,” he said. “I think the information will turn out to be important.”

Alluding to bills that will increase state Medicaid reimbursements to doctors who deliver babies to low-income mothers, and make available state loans to doctors for purchasing malpractice insurance, Freudenthal said, “I also believe that the steps taken to direct financial resources to try to make sure that health care remains available are significant steps.”

The work on the sixth and final day of the special session took only 50 minutes, and included signing of the resolution containing the constitutional amendment — wording which came together late Friday after two days of House-Senate negotiations.

About an hour after Kunz and Parady signed Joint Resolution 1003 Saturday morning, Freudenthal put his pen to it, at 9:24 a.m.

“We’ll argue over time about whether the progress was a big leap or a little leap, and we may even argue about whether it was even in the right direction,” Freudenthal told both chambers.

“But the statement can be made that we have begun to move, and we have begun to move on an issue that’s of vital importance to this country and to this state, and I thank you for that.”

Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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