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My Turn: On ‘early offer bill,’ Bradley pandered to lobbyists

ANew Hampshire state senator has supported the interest of powerful special interests over the rights of patients injured by medical malpractice. After reaching a compromise, negotiated in the spirit of cooperation, state Sen. Jeb Bradley pulled a sinister bait-and-switch move at the behest of lobbyists from Elliot Hospital to amend New Hampshire’s “early offer bill.”

Why is Bradley playing with people’s lives?

The early offer bill’s purported intent was to speed medical malpractice litigation, and reduce stress and expense on the injured party, hospitals and providers. It has been and always will be a law that puts profits over people and is a shameful affront to the rights guaranteed all people under the New Hampshire Constitution.

The two largest medical malpractice insurance companies have already said they want nothing to do with the early offer program. RSA 519-C was passed in June 2012, over the veto and strongly worded accompanying message of Gov. John Lynch. The law was written by the late and long misguided professor Jeffery O’Connell of the University of Virginia who had, for years, proposed its content before multiple states and the United States Congress, all of whom rejected it as patently unfair to injured patients.

However, during the dark legislative period in which the House was presided over by Rep. Bill O’Brien, New Hampshire became low-hanging fruit for this one-sided and unconstitutional tort reform initiative.

Since the law’s passage, New Hampshire has seen significant changes in the composition of its Legislature. In the fall of 2012, a bill was introduced to repeal the early offer law but was retained until the current session.

The repeal bill, HB 582, was amended via a bipartisan initiative emerging from within the House Judiciary Committee. Rather than repeal the early offer law, the amendment sought to remove its most egregious aspects, including those provisions which would penalize injured patients for seeking judicial assistance should the offer program fail, and extending deadlines by which an injured patient was forced to make decisions once trapped within the early offer system.

Though it fell short of addressing the many concerns patient advocates have expressed with the early offer law, the amendment passed by the House Judiciary Committee made significant strides in bringing fairness to an otherwise unfair system. The amended version of HB 582 was passed by the full House of Representatives on Jan. 22, 2014, by a vote of 206 to 134.

Members of the New Hampshire Association for Justice met with Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley in March to discuss the amended version of HB 582, which now awaited approval by the Senate Judiciary Committee. The meeting seemed productive, and it was our hope that Bradley would see his way clear, in the interest of fundamental fairness, to allow modifications to the law he originally sponsored.

On May 7, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted on a second amendment to HB 582 bearing the names of both Bradley and Senate Judiciary Chairman Sharon Carson. The amendment, with minor modifications, closely resembled the amendment passed by the House and, upon presentation by Carson to representatives of NHAJ, represented an acceptable compromise.

The new amendment passed the bipartisan Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously and was slated for a vote by the full Senate. However, later that day, Bradley, under pressure from lobbyists for Elliot Hospital, the primary proponent behind the early offer law, reneged and claimed the amendment passed by Senate Judiciary did not reflect his intent and would not be honored.

On May 15, Bradley stood before the full Senate and asked that the amendment be struck down despite the fact that it had been approved by House Judiciary, the full House of Representatives and Senate Judiciary, all because the special interests he serves wish to maintain their advantage by maintaining the unconstitutional unfairness of the early offer law.

Shame on you, Mr. Bradley. Is this what New Hampshire voters expect? Is this what the people of the state of New Hampshire send our legislators to Concord to do – pander to the interests of a select few while wholly disregarding the rights of New Hampshire.

We at New Hampshire Association for Justice strongly urge Bradley’s constituents to consider his actions closely when next they travel to the polls. Only the will of the people, not that of a handful of special interests and their highly paid lobbyists, should control the New Hampshire Senate.

(Barney Brannen is president of the New Hampshire Association for Justice.)

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