Latest News & Notes
This past week the New Hampshire Senate considered numerous pieces of legislation that while not nearly as important as the looming debate on the budget, nevertheless affects citizens' lives from personal liberties to health care. I will briefly describe several significant legislative initiatives and my responses to them.
HB-391 which passed, authorized the Department of Transportation to install what is known as open road tolling---a faster version of E-Z Pass. Unfortunately it has a cost and will require higher tolls. While open road tolls are good idea, I voted No. I believe recent toll hikes have been dramatic and that scarce resources should be used to repair roads and bridges.
HB-90 which passed, will allow a veteran to take an unpaid leave from work to commemorate Veterans Day. While this may make scheduling more difficult for employers, I believe that it is vital to allow those who have so ably served our nation and defended our liberties to participate in Veterans Day ceremonies.
HB-392 which passed, will allow so called 'cigar bars' to serve liquor. In my view, those who enjoy a cigar ought to be able to also enjoy a drink in the company of friends. A number of these premium cigar retail establishments will be aided by this bipartisan legislation. Though you won't find me doing so, those who choose to frequent such an establishment should have that opportunity.
HB-384 which passed, will allow a waiver from extensive paperwork required when a logging operation enters into the buffer around a wetland. Simplification of the paperwork will not harm the environment as a waiver is by no means automatic. But compliance costs for the forest products industry will be lower at a time when preserving jobs in the forest industry is essential.
An amendment to HB 667 would have required voters to produce identification before voting. This amendment unfortunately failed. With all the problems of illegal immigration and voter fraud, correct voter identification makes good common sense. I will continue to fight for this necessary reform.
HB-580 which dealt with patients medical records passed the House but was killed by the Senate---correctly in my view. This legislation was intended to provide patients more control over their personal medical records. While well intentioned, this legislation could be unworkable for medical practitioners especially in emergency situations when accurate, though personal, medical information is indispensible in providing necessary care. Furthermore, this legislation would not have provided doctors any protection from medical malpractice lawsuits even if the physician were forced to treat a patient without having access to the patient's medical history.
Lastly, HB-572 which dealt directly with medical malpractice also failed--thankfully in my view. HB-572 sought to alter recently created medical screening panels which weed out frivolous lawsuits that drive up the costs of health care. Americans are struggling with the high cost of healthcare, so to me eliminating frivolous lawsuits only makes sense.
California adopted placing reasonable limits on punitive damages years ago and the result has been a much more rational system where medical liability costs have remained in check. New Hampshire has not taken this approach and as a result higher risk specialty doctors such as neurosurgeons and OBGYNs have been priced out of the market and have left New Hampshire. In my view this is an unacceptable outcome.
What New Hampshire has wisely done is to create medical screening panels. Frivolous lawsuits can be disposed of by these panels without expensive settlements due to fear of large jury awards and expensive jury trials can be minimized.
Since 2005 when screening panels were approved after much legislative wrangling, fully one third of the malpractice lawsuits were resolved before reaching the screening panel stage. ; Of the 48 panels actually convened, only five actual cases proceeded to a jury trial thus avoiding many lengthy and expensive jury trials. Given the initial success of screening panels, in my view it makes no sense to undermine that success by altering the panels as HB-572 would have done. These panels have been in place four years and should be allowed to work.
This is important because frivolous lawsuits drive up the cost of healthcare. Doctors are forced to practice defensive medicine which means they over diagnose, over prescribe, and over treat to protect themselves from lawsuit abuse. Not only does this make medical treatment more invasive for individuals, but it has an extremely high cost for our medical system as well.
Many thanks to all those who have responded to my blog posts. I appreciate your thoughts and ideas.