AUSTIN Ã¯Â¿Â½ The two top lawmakers in Texas spent time this week with two of the state's leading tort reform groups.
On March 1, Texas House Speaker Joe Straus addressed nearly 400 supporters of Texans for Lawsuit Reform who converged on Austin from throughout the state to meet with elected officials and reaffirm their support for tort reform.
Straus lauded TLR for their role in bringing much needed balance to the state's civil justice system.
"Texas had a runaway civil justice system that permitted frivolous lawsuits and outrageous jury awards. 'I'll see you in court,' became a common refrain because, in Texas, just about anyone could sue anyone for anything," he said.
Straus added that lawsuit reform has played a critical role in strengthening the Texas economy, noting that 75 percent of all private sector jobs created in America were created in Texas.
He also said that tort reforms had increased doctors throughout the state including in his home county, Bexar, where there are now 900 more physicians than there were when medical liability reforms were passed in 2003.
The next day, Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse (CALA) groups from across Texas joined Gov. Rick Perry, lawmakers and several Texas employers to mark "Reform Works Day" at the Capitol.
The group urged lawmakers to protect legal reforms that have helped millions of Texans and to ward off relentless efforts to undermine reform or create new ways to sue. Legal reforms are widely credited with creating and retaining jobs, allowing small employers to flourish, dramatically improving access to health care -- especially in underserved areas of the state.
"Texas once had the biggest lawsuit abuse problem in the nation. Personal injury lawyers flocked here and bragged that they could win big money in Texas courts," said Cliff Collier, chairman of CALA of Central Texas.
"Common sense reforms worked to restore justice in our courts. But the fight to protect this progress never ends. Today, we're linking arms with our colleagues and state leaders to stop those intent on abusing the legal system. Reform only works if we protect it. "
As evidence of the need for continued vigilance, CALA points to some 900 pieces of legislation filed during the last legislative session that would have created new ways to sue or undermined current laws designed to curb lawsuit abuse.
CALA welcomed Gov. Perry, Chairman Todd Hunter, Rep. Connie Scott, Rep. Paul Workman and other lawmakers at the Reform Works! Breakfast.
"The leadership of our elected officials and the commitment of more than 25,000 CALA supporters statewide is the reason we can talk about how Reform Works for Texas," said Bob Parker, Chairman of Bay Area Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse in Corpus Christi.
"Legal reforms passed in Texas allow employers to feel more comfortable doing business here." said Bobby Jenkins, a long-time champion of legal reform and the owner of ABC Services, a family-owned home services business in Austin, Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and College Station.
"It's not that we don't get sued, but the courts and court proceedings seem more predictable and more fair." He continued, "Texas has become a place where businesses want to be Ã¯Â¿Â½ and that means more jobs and a stronger economy. And jobs are really what drive our communities to be successful."
Beyond his company, Jenkins described the impact of lawsuit abuse on Texas families: "The threat of a frivolous lawsuit can keep me up at night because abusive lawsuits don't just affect me personally, they threaten the people who work for my company and who depend on their job to provide for themselves and their families."
Texas is now a leader in the lawsuit reform movement and the resulting benefits to Texans are undeniable, according to Michelle Martin with CALA Houston. Thanks to the reforms passed since 1995, Texas has added almost a half a million permanent jobs, according to an economic study by The Perryman Group. That same study credited a reformed legal climate with a more than a more than $100 billion increase in annual spending and with the fact that more than 400,000 Texans have been added to the ranks of those with health insurance.
"Fighting lawsuit abuse all of these years has taught us that we can't take our progress for granted," Martin said. "Our 'Reform Works Day' shines a spotlight on the important benefits of legal reform and reminds our lawmakers that we must fight any attempt to return Texas to the days when lawsuit abuse ruled this state."
"Texans agree that legal reforms are worth protecting," added Linda McKenna with Rio Grande Valley CALA. Citing a recent statewide survey released by Texans Against Lawsuit Abuse, McKenna said that "nearly 80 percent of Texas voters Ã¯Â¿Â½ from across party lines Ã¯Â¿Â½ believe the Legislature should protect reforms designed to reduce abusive lawsuits. The majority of Texas voters surveyed believe that lawsuit reforms have helped increase access to health care, injected fairness in our courts, and helped attract employers and jobs to the Lone Star State."