Saturday, January 31, 2009

Day 10 of the Legislative Session

As it was a Friday, the day went by quickly allowing all the legislators to get back home. It looks like we will be in all 5 days next week and then, rumor has it, we will only be in session 3 of the 5 days in the weeks to follow. Of course there will be many committee meetings on the off days.

SB 75, the Governor's Agritourism bill, was dropped today. GTLA has been heavily involved in this legislation over the past few years making sure that Georgia's families are safe when visiting such facilities. We look forward to working on this bill again this year.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Day 8 and 9 of the Legislative Session

(My apologies for missing a day of blogging... a furry member of my family had surgery and taking care of him kept me from getting on the computer...)

Wednesday and Thursday were pretty interesting under the Gold Dome. The word on everyone's tongue? PEANUTS.

Dangerous, deadly peanuts-- peanuts approved by the FDA.

Jim Galloway over at the AJC posted a great blog at the Political Insider.

In the post, Bill Clark, Director of Governmental Affairs for GTLA, asked, "If the FDA can't protect citizens and consumers from peanut butter, do we really want them to be the only line of defense for drugs and medical devices?"

The Governor's office stated the the "F" is much different than the "D" in the FDA-- and that comparing the two is like comparing apples and oranges.

Research suggests otherwise-- pages and pages of research. The controversy surrounding the FDA right now is all about the "D"-- not the "F." But I suppose we'll have that conversation when we actually get to see the bill.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Day 7 of the Legislature

The buzz at the Capitol today revolved around some big political announcements.

Peach Pundit was the first place that I saw Representative Austin Scott's (R) official decision to run for Governor in 2010. Now there are four Republicans in that field. Peach Pundit also printed that Representative Mike Coan (R) may be running for Insurance Commissioner and Representative Jeff Lewis (R) may have his eye on Secretary of State.

In other news, Representative Jim Cole is now the Governor's Senior Floor Leader.

No 'tort reform' bills were dropped today... We continue to be vigilant.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Day 6 of the Legislative Session

The legislature was out all last week for MLK Day, the Presidential Inauguration and budget hearings.

Today the House was in at 10:00 and the Senate came in at 1:00. Both Chambers were in and out fairly quickly. And neither Chamber had a member introduce the Governor's "tort reform" package.

While checking the boards for upcoming meetings, I saw that there will be a meeting on Wednesday morning at 8:00 in the House Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee on the Peanut Butter Recall. Tainted peanut butter is yet another example of the failure of the FDA.

A consumer watchdog group, the Center for Science in the Public Interest released the following statement: "This latest outbreak proves again that FDA is woefully inadequate to the task of protecting American consumers from unsafe food. It presently inspects low risk peanut butter plants rarely, or not at all, leaving the job to state inspection agencies.”

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Meeting a product standard isn't enough-- a Letter to the Editor in the AJC

Government regulations provide no assurance that any product is truly safe. The Titanic carried lifeboats with a capacity of less than half those on board, yet it satisfied all government safety regulations at the time. Gov. Sonny Perdue and the AJC's Jim Wooten ("Limiting lawsuits, college access, bike theft," @issue, Jan. 16) want to insulate companies from responsibility for injuries their products cause if the products meet government standards.

Why do supposed conservatives such as Wooten and Perdue suspend their normal suspicion of all things governmental and ignore their mantra of self-responsibility by allowing government to insulate a manufacturer of a harmful product from responsibility? They say it will attract business, but no business I want. "Come to Georgia: You can hurt our citizens and they won't be able to do anything about it" is hardly the slogan we should use to attract anyone.

Tom Stubbs
Stubbs is a Decatur attorney.

National corporations attempt to influence Georgia public policy

Last Thursday,The Macon Telegraph published a Letter to the Editor by Lawrence J. McQuillan, the Director of the Pacific Research Institute (PRI) in San Francisco, commending the Governor for introducing so-called "tort reform" and for proposing complete immunity for pharmaceutical corporations.

It's no surprise that PRI is a private organization funded by large pharmaceutical corporations, big tobacco and oil companies... Of course they want immunity. Immunity would allow them to be negligent and get away with it. It's like a "Get Out of Jail Free" card for the real world.

PRI is responsible for one of the more bogus annual reports concerning the Civil Justice System-- The U.S. Tort Liability Index. Each year they rank states according to their tort laws and their tort costs. To the PRI, high tort costs equate with an unhealthy business climate. In 2008 the PRI ranked Georgia 27th in the nation for tort costs. A couple of months later, CNBC in its America's Top Business Report ranked Georgia as 8th in the nation. Shortly thereafter, Forbes Magazine ranked Georgia the third best state in the nation for developing new biomass industry. Why would CNBC and Forbes give Georgia such great rankings if we really had an unhealthy business climate like the PRI stated?

PRI reached such a skewed ranking of our state because of the completely inaccurate methods they use to research. In July of 2008, AAJ released a report debunking PRI's research and research methodology. The report cites an analysis by three leading academics that the PRI's "tort tax" claims are "without scientific merit and present a very misleading picture of the American tort system and its costs." According to the analysis, “Not one of the numbers included in the table of tort costs in the report comes from a ‘prestigious academic publication’ or was subject to peer review by independent experts.” In fact, the PRI cites themselves or the American Tort Reform Association (ATRA) no less than 34 times in the footnotes.

Even if one were to take the report seriously, one would only have to look at Georgia's ranking to see that "tort reform" doesn't work. PRI ranks Georgia 27th in the nation for tort costs. Yet Georgia is ranked 4th in the nation for the best tort laws. Wouldn't conventional wisdom say that such great "tort laws" would lower the overall "tort costs?"

But they don't.

So-called "tort reform," like Governor Perdue is proposing, does nothing to lower costs-- just like it won't do a thing to create jobs. The PRI, and other "tort reform" organizations like to make these claims to provide a palatable reason for the general public while the corporations who fund them can lobby for legislation allowing them to allude accountability for wrongdoing in a fair court of law.

So while I may have been a bit surprised to see a Letter to the Editor in the Macon Telegraph from San Francisco (because honestly, how often do Georgia papers print letters from readers in San Francisco?), I am not surprised that the PRI is involved in this latest scheme to get Georgia to pass more "tort reform."

In fact, I would bet that there is more to come. I'll be on the look-out for more of these national, special interest organizations, like the PRI, to pop up here in Georgia. If history is any indication, they will all be working together to present a hefty PR campaign in this state to support the Governor's new "tort reform" package. GTLA will be vigilant in uncovering where their information comes from.

Representative Rob Teilhet takes the Gold Dome to YouTube

Representative Rob Teilhet from Cobb County has started a YouTube Channel to discuss the issues under the Gold Dome. Watch his videos and subscribe to his Channel HERE.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

A Call To Service......

There was a movie some years ago called "The American President." It starred Michael Douglas and featured a pivotal scene in which his character says, "America is advanced citizenship."

Yesterday we saw the real life version of that sentiment expressed when President Obama was sworn in to office. Among the ideas he has advanced is a renewed call to service. The idea that as Americans we have a stake in what happens in our communities and to our Country which requires our participation is a persuasive one.

As a trial lawyer, and as a member of GTLA, it is my hope that jury duty is recognized as one of the most important ways that we can be of service to our democracy.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Day 5 of the Legislative Session

Friday, Day 5 of the Georgia General Assembly was rather short as legislators got ready to head back to their districts for the long weekend. Democratic Representative Rick Crawford from Cedartown was added to the House Judiciary Committee. And the legislature began preparing for an arduous week working on the budget.

The Legislature will not be in session next week as Monday is MLK Day, Tuesday is the Inauguration and the rest of the week will be filled with budget meetings.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Day 4 of the Legislative Session

The big news today was that the House finalized who sits on what committee. Representative David Ralston no longer chairs the House Non-Civil Judiciary Committee and is now the Vice-Chairman of the Judiciary Committee. The Governor's floor leader, Rich Golick is now the Chair of the Non-Civil Judiciary Committee. Representative Mark Hatfield is the committee's Vice Chair.

New to the Judiciary Committee: Doug McKillip, Tom Weldon, Stephan Allison, Elly Dobbs and Jay Powell.

GTLA continues to speak to the press and to legislators about the Governor's "tort reform" proposals. Rather serendipitously, today the New York Times had an article reporting that the Government Accountability Office has criticized the FDA for failing to test medical devices before their approval. This research illustrates just another reason why Georgia should not count on a federal bureaucracy to keep its citizens safe.

Tomorrow should be a fairly short day, and then the legislature will not be in session until January 26th. Next week, Georgia's Senators and Representatives will be in appropriations committee meetings, attempting to solve the state's budget crisis. GTLA will continue to keep you posted.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Day 3 of the Legislative Session

The Senate and the House were in for just a short while before the Governor delivered his "State of the State" address this morning. Interestingly, Governor Perdue made no mention of the so-called "tort-reform" measures that he touted at yesterday's Eggs and Issues breakfast.

The talk in the halls indicate the bills will be dropped by the 6th day of session. GTLA has continued to discuss these issues with legislators and the press. Today's editorial in the AJC by Maureen Downey, "Drugmaker immunity is a poison pill,"does an incredible job of illustrating the dangers of giving blanket immunity to pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturers. Her arguments against such proposed legislation are accurate and compelling.

Tomorrow several committees will hold meetings. While these are mostly for organizational purposes, we should be able to find out who on is on what subcommittee. And we should know the Speaker's decision about who will sit on what committee.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Day 2 of the Legislative Session

In comparison with Day 1, Day 2 was decidedly eventful.

This morning at the Eggs and Issues Breakfast Governor Perdue called for more sweeping 'tort reform' measures in Georgia including,complete immunity from lawsuits for any Georgia corporation manufacturing medical devices or pharmaceuticals if the products have been approved by the FDA, a loser-pays provision requiring that the losing side in a civil suit pay the legal fees of the winning side if the case is dismissed "at the earliest possible stage," and testing the legal merits of a case before the process of discovery begins.

We could offer significantly more information on these bills had we been given notice that they were part of his agenda or if we could see the drafts.

Andy Peters over at the Fulton County Daily Report dug around and has some additional information available in his article online.

With the economy a mess, a budget shortfall and serious issues facing our state, why would Governor Perdue decide-- when folks are already facing hard times-- to eradicate citizens' Constitutional Rights?

Corporate immunity is not the answer to a flailing economy. The very idea of completely immunizing an industry basically erases any incentive for that industry to manufacture safe products-- because they no longer are accountable for negligence.

We are preparing our talking points and media plan now-- and we will post what we can when we are able to. Andy Peter's article indicated that the bills would be filed this week or by the 26th of January at the latest...

There will be more to come on this...

Monday, January 12, 2009

Day 1 of the Legislative Session

The first day of the legislative session was relatively brief in duration and decidedly uneventful. The Democrats in the House, having decided against putting up their own candidate for Speaker, joined the Republicans and declared Glenn Richardson the Speaker of the House by acclamation. Facing a significant budget short-fall, the Democrats joined the Republicans to show their commitment to putting the welfare of Georgians over partisan politics.

The halls were abuzz with the formal announcement by Secretary of State Karen Handel's bid for the Governor's mansion in 2010. The Political Insider reports today that past State Senator, Brian Kemp of Athens will make a bid for the vacated Secretary of State seat.

For information on various bills and legislators, please visit the Georgia General Assembly online HERE.

NOTE: Every day that the General Assembly is in session, GTLA will post on this blog. In addition to covering all the Capitol happenings related to the Civil Justice System, GTLA will blog about general business under the Gold Dome.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Heart attacks expected to decline due to Colorado law on smoking

Here is news regarding the impact Colorado's statewide ban on smoking has had:

New evidence in that state suggests that heart attacks will be in sharp decline in Colorado in 2009. A study out of Pueblo, CO (endorsed by Georgia's own Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or "CDC") found that hospitalizations for heart attacks continue to fall five years after the city enacted its ban in 2003.

Several cities, including Pueblo, found that heart attacks went down in the 18 months after a smoking ban began. But the new study looked at the next 18 months - a total of three years of data - and found that:

* Hospitalizations for heart attacks fell another 19 percent from early 2004 to mid-2005, after dropping 27 percent in the first 18 months of the ban.

* Hospitalizations in Pueblo County - not including the city - and in neighboring El Paso County were tallied as a way of comparison. Those two counties, which did not have smoking bans at the time, did not show significant changes.

Significantly, this affects those exposed to secondhand smoke. The CDC report notes this: "xposure to secondhand smoke (SHS) has immediate adverse cardiovascular effects, and prolonged exposure can cause coronary heart disease (1). Nine studies have reported that laws making indoor workplaces and public places smoke-free were associated with rapid, sizeable reductions in hospitalizations for acute myocardial infarction (AMI) (2--7)". Source here, the Report from the CDC.

In May 2005 the State of Georgia banned smoking in public places with exemptions for restaurants and bars that do not serve minors, designated hotel rooms and workplaces with separately ventilated rooms for smokers

The most telling statement from that report? This one: In addition to the previous study conducted in the city of Pueblo (3), eight other published studies have reported that smoke-free laws were associated with rapid, sizeable reductions in hospitalizations for AMI.

Could that be good news for the citizens of Georgia? Let's hope so.

Link to Article here.

Ultram Recall Announced

Biovail Corp. said on 12/31/08 it is recalling certain lots of its chronic pain drug Ultram ER because of problems with tablets dissolving, a move which will cost the Canadian drug developer more than $7 million in fourth-quarter expenses and lost revenue.

Ultram Extended-Release is approved by the Food and Drug Administration to manage chronic pain in adults who require around-the-clock pain treatment long-term. The once-daily drug steadily releases pain medication throughout the day.

Biovail said the recall does not impact patient health or safety, is related to coating the tablet during manufacturing and is being corrected.

Many sources, including here.