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Ratliff finally asks for conferees on HB 4

By J. Lyn Carl,

Austin,TX – The long-awaited naming of Senate conferees to a conference committee on HB 4 occurred on the Senate floor today, a short time after a press conference by Sen. Bill Ratliff (R-Flower Mound) and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst.

HB 4, sweeping tort reform legislation, got a rewrite from Ratliff once it came over from the House with a myriad of amendments. Ratliff, who chairs the Senate State Affairs Committee, set new caps on non-economic damages relative to medical malpractice issues in the bill.

Ratliff refused to back down from the caps he set in the Senate version. And to define his willingness to fight to the end, Ratliff refused to accept the House's request for appointment of a conference committee to try to iron out details.

A look into the legislative crystal ball showed a special session on the horizon.

Then came rumors that there was a compromise - that the governor, speaker and other interested parties had signed onto an agreement.

Ratliff and Dewhurst brought the rumor mill back to reality Thursday.

Dewhurst said at the press conference today that he has spent the last couple of days getting all parties together to try to iron out differences. He said he concentrated his efforts on involving doctors, officials of the Texas Medical Association (TMA), and representatives of hospital associations and nursing homes, "so we could see if there was any common ground - any flexibility."

"It's a process in which we will continue to see if there's a consensus," he said. But he did announce that he felt progress is being made.

The lieutenant governor said Wednesday after hours of meeting with industry representatives, it appeared "there was middle ground from the Senate perspective."

But that perspective, he said, has always been just that of the Senate. He said he in "no way" is implying that either the governor or House speaker had signed on to the proposal.

And as of last night, said Dewhurst, there was a "narrowing of differences."

Ratliff said after meetings Wednesday, two or three suggestions went back and forth among the parties and an "alternative arrangement" was laid out by TMA regarding sub-caps.

The former lieutenant governor then said he visited with other members of the Senate who were involved with the bill and later told TMA he was willing to accept their version. He said the stakeholders reported they would have to go back to their memberships to share the proposal.

"This morning, we got word from them that everybody was OK," said Ratliff. "This afternoon, we're not sure."

Ratliff said he asked the stakeholders just hours before the Thursday press conference if they could "enthusiastically support" both the House version and the version that he accepted from them Wednesday and the stakeholders said yes - either version.

The Mount Pleasant Republican said the proposal being studied includes a $250,000 cap on any and all doctors or individual practitioners in any cause of action. It also includes a $500,000 cap on liability for health care institutions such as hospitals and nursing homes. Thus the overall cap would be $750,000, which is what was in the Senate version of the bill.

Dewhurst indicated he and Ratliff were to visit with Gov. Rick Perry about the proposal on the conclusion of the press conference. A little over an hour later, Dewhurst was back at the podium in the Senate as Ratliff made a motion for the appointment of conferees on HB 4. Joining Ratliff on the conference committee in the Senate are Sens. Ken Armbrister, Chris Harris, Robert Duncan and Jane Nelson.

Ratliff said he is hopeful the caps issue can be put to rest so the conferees "can go back and talk about the less controversial aspects of the bill."

"Caps are the big stumbling block," he said.