Drebes: Finally, some good news out of Jefferson City for trial attorneys

Missouri Republicans have been critical of frivolous lawsuits since I was a kid. Recent changes have seen a slight shift. The party's new rallying cry is "tort reform".

Drebes: Finally, some good news out of Jefferson City for trial attorneys

Since I was a child, Missouri Republicans have been scathing about frivolous lawsuits.

Their platform for the state party includes a plank to limit lawsuits. It is part of their probusiness agenda. They have passed tort reform almost every year since taking control of the state legislature.

Missouri Republicans have been pushing for tort reform, just like they did pro-life legislation and continue to loosen gun regulations.

This has resulted in lawyers losing big settlements and having to keep their awards down. They have imposed caps on non-economic damages, changed the definition of medical malpractice damages, and narrowed the standard for determining expert witnesses.

Trial attorneys have mainly been associated with the Democratic Party during this period. They have been an integral part of fundraising efforts for Democratic candidates in Missouri, along with labor unions.

However, this is slowly changing. Trial attorneys are forming relationships with Republicans more and more frequently.

Two large law firms, for example, have given substantial donations to Secretary Jay Ashcroft. Ashcroft is expected run for governor in 2024. Ashcroft's PAC has received $750,000 from Ketchmark & McCreight in Kansas City and the Holland Law Firm in St. Louis.

The state Senate has seen trial lawyers become more active in the last couple of cycles and have not always supported Democrats. It felt like they had finally sown the seeds of their hard work.

Senate floor voted for the session's tort reform bill (SB 117). SB 117 would alter the deadline for filing personal injury lawsuits in Missouri. There is currently a five year window. SB 117 would reduce the time frame to two years.

Tort reform has been a subject that has gotten a majority vote of the Senate's party in the past. There have always been Republican legislators who hid or assisted in background negotiations to soften the measures. But last week, a new phenomenon emerged. A bipartisan filibuster was held, which included a group of Republicans.

Six Republican senators took it in turns to block the bill's passage. Two of them were from St. Louis: Senator Bill Eigel, from St. Charles, and Sen. Ben Brown from Franklin County.

It is important to note that both conservatism and trial lawyers are not necessarily ideological enemies. Ex-Senator Matt Bartle from Lee's Summit was a Republican who used to argue that a strong court system was better than overreaching government regulations to keep business malfeasants in check.

The occasional Bartle has been an isolated voice throughout the years. They have been beaten by the Republican majority in the legislature.

These six Republican senators still make up a minority of the 24-member caucus. They were able to stand together and work with Democrats so they weren't swept aside.

These six senators along with ten Democratic senators are very close to the crucial 18 vote threshold. There would be a majority of Missouri senators that would vote against a tort reform bill at that point. A filibuster would not be required any longer; they could just vote it down.

This was just one bill. It would be wrong to extrapolate one event into a new trend. It does indicate that we are nearing the end a nearly two-decade-long period in which the legislature reflectively passed antitrial attorney bills every session.