Immediately after the passage of a bill that would require voters to show photo IDs in order cast their ballot, Republicans in the South Carolina House of Representatives began fast-tracking legislation for another of their top priorities– tort reform.
H. 3375 now heads to the full House Judiciary Committee after clearing a panel Thursday.
The bill, which is nearly identical to one that passed the House in 2010, would cap the amount of punitive damages that can be collected in a civil lawsuit and would change how some civil cases are handled in South Carolina. The session ended before the 2010 bill could pass the Senate.
In a statement, House Speaker Bobby Harrell explained why the bill is one of his top priorities.
During these difficult times, we need to focus on ways we can improve our state’s economic climate to allow the private sector to create more jobs. Lowering the cost of doing business and making our state more competitive, this lawsuit abuse reform bill will greatly benefit existing businesses and will make our state more attractive to new businesses.
The bill would cap punitive damages at either three times a plaintiff’s compensatory damages or $350,000, whichever is higher. There would be exceptions to the limit, such as if it could be shown a defendant knew their actions would cause injury.
The legislation also allows the option of bifurcated trials– essentially two separate trials to first find if a defendant is liable in the case for any compensation, then a second trial that would determine any punitive damages.
The bill would also limit the amounts businesses have to set aside if their case is appealed. On appeal, a judge will sometimes require a bond to guarantee the damages if the decision is upheld. The proposed bill would cap the bond at either the amount of judgment or $25 million for larger businesses, or $1 million for small businesses.
Also in the House:
—A proposal that would have allowed lawmakers and other government officials to carry weapons anywhere was defeated in subcommittee by a unanimous 5-0 vote. Sponsor Rep. Ted Vick (D-Chesterfield) said he was concerned for legislators’ safety after the shooting of Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords earlier this month. The bill would have exempted officials with concealed weapons permits from current bans on weapons in public buildings.
Gun rights advocates complained the law grants special privileges that are not available to ordinary citizens.
— Another subcommittee submitted a favorable report on legislation that tweaks state regulations regarding modular homes. Modular homes are prefabricated buildings that are assembled in sections and put together on-site. The law clarifies that modular homes originally built as display models can be moved to South Carolina for residential use if they meet certain conditions.
— Gov. Nikki Haley will get her first opportunity to sign legislation into law after a session of both the House and the Senate ratified three bills Thursday. Among them is a joint resolution that would allow businesses and individuals to apply for temporary beer and wine licenses. In November, the state Department of Revenue said a law passed by legislators accidentally banned the groups from receiving the permits.
The joint resolution would allow the permitting through June. Meanwhile, a House subcommittee on Thursday cleared a bill that would make the change permanent. That bill now heads to the full Judiciary Committee.