Leaders at Odds Over Reforms

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Gov. Ronnie Musgrove was in Meridian Tuesday to address an east Mississippi business development corporation breakfast meeting.

A major portion of his talk was devoted to the current legislative special session. He reaffirmed his position that malpractice insurance comes first, then tort reform.

"And the reason that I did not put the two together is because I had some very strong indication that there were some problems in the House," said Musgrove.

After five fruitless days the governor said he called Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck and House Speaker Tim Ford to a meeting yesterday and asked Ford a question. "Mr Speaker, will you give, in public, some assurance that 1)we can pass the medical malpractice issue to address it and 2)will you publicly state you will not go home when I expand the call for civil justice reform and that you will take the bill and refer it to the select committee, not the judicial committee? And number three, will you make the representation that that bill will come out and there will be floor debate on the floor which has never happened before? He gave those assurances."

As a result, he told NewsCenter 11, he believes the stalemate will be broken. "I'm very optimistic that the legislature will address the medical malpractice insurance crisis," said the governor. "Once we do that I'm confident that they will then address the general civil justice reform system in Mississippi that needs to be addressed."

Later, at a news conference at the capitol, house speaker Tim Ford said that special interest groups are politicizing the debate over changing Mississippi’s civil justice laws.

Ford said the groups have been pressuring house members to violate their oaths by going beyond the agenda governor Ronnie Musgrove set for the special session that started last Thursday. Musgrove wants legislators to deal first with ways to help doctors get medical malpractice insurance.

If they do that, he will let them consider general civil justice reforms. Senators are pushing for a general bill favored by business groups, hospitals and doctors. Ford said he has assured senate leaders that if they pass a medical bill, he will keep the house in Jackson long enough to consider general civil justice changes. Lieutenant Gov. Amy Tuck said she was sorry ford was trying to turn the issue into a fight between the house and senate. She said she wants the two chambers to continue talking. House negotiators today rejected the latest senate offer because it still had general changes to the way civil suits can be filed and the kinds of awards that can be given.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.