The Anniston Star had a most interesting editorial in its June 7th edition relating to Alabama’s business climate and tort reform. The writer is pretty much on target when it comes to our state’s image in the business community. If you could recall all of the corporate money that has been spent over the years to create the belief that our country’s court system is broken and needs fixing, we would have enough cash on hand to turn the federal government’s current deficit into a hefty surplus. The myth of tort reform has worked in that it has kept lots of public relations firms in business. Let’s see what the editorial in the Star had to say.
OPEN FOR BUSINESS IN ALABAMA
More important to our new GOP legislative majority than bringing the state’s indigent defense system under its control has been the passage of a plan to protect the business community from trial lawyers and their clients. Finally, after years of trying, Republicans (and a few Democrats) passed a tort reform package which, in the words of the chairman of the Business Council of Alabama’s Board of Directors, let it be known that “Alabama is open for business.”
Which begs the question, when hasn’t it been? Although many business groups attacked Alabama courts as “judicial hell holes,” it is hard to see how the fear of lawsuits prevented Gov. Bob Riley from recruiting the companies to Alabama that he did. Nor has anyone come forward with more than anecdotal evidence to suggest that companies are avoiding our state for fear they might be sued — unless, of course, they plan to do something that could lead to a suit.
Moreover, it can be argued that the primary cause of lawsuits in the state has been the way the Legislature, which has been controlled by Democrats until late last year, has historically catered to the interests of business. Even before the 1920s when Gov. Bibb Graves decried the influence that the “Big Mules” (agriculture and industry) had on state government and denounced the Legislature for paying scant attention to the needs of working folks, this state has catered to commerce and manufacturing with low taxes, hostility to organized labor and few, if any, environmental regulations.
This left the courts as the only place where citizens can go with their grievances. Now that avenue of redress has been limited. In congratulating itself for getting tort reform passed, the Business Council of Alabama noted that tort reform will lead to “new businesses and new jobs.” Maybe so. More likely, however, is that tort reform will simply be added to the list of things the Legislature has done for business which, in the long run, will benefit only business. Anything positive that the general public gets must be viewed in that context.
I have served on the Board of Directors of the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce for several years. During that time, I have heard from governors, key legislators and business leaders, all telling me how great the business climate is in Alabama. Perhaps, the tremendous industrial development success that our state has enjoyed over the past 20 years is the best evidence of how good that climate has really been. Nevertheless, the Alabama Legislature passed another tort reform package during the Regular Session.
Source: Anniston Star
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