Gov. Dayton vetoes GOP lawsuit reform legislation

By T.W. Budig, ECM Capitol Reporter

DFL Gov. Mark Dayton has vetoed a series of Republican bills dealing with lawsuit reform, bills the governor characterized as the canned product of a conservative, business-driven group.

Dayton styled the Republican legislation, which “drastically” lowers the statute of limitations on filing a civil court claims and makes other changes, as less reflecting meaningful court reform than “padding the bottom line” of big insurance companies.

“Calling a crow a swan doesn’t make it one,” Dayton said.

The governor depicted a perceived “rush-it-to-pass-it” Republican mentality with the bills as betraying an unwillingness to compromise.

Dayton said Republican leaders never contacted him about the legislation.

Holding aloft a publication from the American Legislative Exchange Council — a conservative, business-oriented think tank — Dayton panned the Republican bills on Friday, Feb. 10 during a State Capitol press conference as legislation stamped by the council.

Minnesotans do not want their laws written by Big Business, Dayton said.

“The Minnesota (courts) system has worked quite well,” he said, noting favorable ratings from the national Chamber of Commerce.

An administration official further noted the number of lawsuits filed in Minnesota had sharply declined over the past 15 years.

Things looked differently to Republicans.

“He can pick a fight with us all he wants,” said House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove.

The governor doesn’t owe Republicans an explanation about the vetoes. He owes Minnesota business one, Zellers indicated.

“This is not a coalition of wrongdoers,” Zellers said of state business interests

Republicans presented a list of Minnesota businesses and organizations they say back lawsuit reform.

It includes the Dakota County Regional Chamber of Commerce, Lakeville Area Chamber of Commerce, TwinWest Chamber of Commerce, others. The list also includes many private businesses — bowling alleys in Coon Rapids, Burnsville, Ham Lake and elsewhere.

“I just find this morning a little disappointing,” said Senate Majority Leader David Senjem, R-Rochester. “I think it’s time for the governor to put the spears down.”

Republicans dismissed the idea that they were acting at the behest of the exchange council. Zellers said he once was a member, but was unsure of his current membership status.

A Republican House Caucus official said none of their caucus members attended a recent exchange council event.

Senate Tax Committee Chairwoman Julianne Ortman, R-Chanhassen, explained that rather than drawing from the council, she drew from observations gained as a practicing attorney for ideas for some of the legislation.

“We want swift justice,” she said.

The Republican leaders said they had mentioned the lawsuit legislation to the governor at a recent breakfast meeting. Further, the legislation began moving through the legislature last year, they noted.

Zellers styled it “a lame excuse” for Dayton to complain about the process.

Republicans will not give up on their lawsuit reform legislation despite the vetoes, Zellers explained. “I’m not a quitter,” he said.

But DFL State Party Chairman Ken Martin said Dayton did exactly the right thing in vetoing the bills.

“The four bills Governor Dayton vetoed today would damage our state’s justice system and change a legal system that has proven to be one of the most successful and credible in the country,” he said in a statement.