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Insurers vs. lawyers: A classic Capitol battle is rejoined

For the third time in three years, an attempt by trial attorneys to boost their potential legal fees has made it to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s desk. The other two were vetoed. Backers hope the latest effort, caught in the swirl of Capitol politics, stands a better chance.

“It would overturn well-settled law and increase the payments in tort cases to increase trial lawyers’ fees,” said Steve Suchil, general counsel at the western office of the American Insurance Association, which, with other insurers, opposes the plan and dismissed it as product of “last-minute legislative shenanigans.” Trial lawyers, who see it as a consumer-protection issue and sound public policy, consider the proposal their most important bill of the year.

The proposal, contained in SB 93 by Sen. Ellen Corbett, D-San Leandro, was one of a menu of Democrat-backed efforts tucked into the budget trailer bills. But it was scuttled after Republicans balked–one of several sticking points that were removed and paved the way for the Senate GOP to finally vote for the 2007-08 state budget after a two-month delay. As a budget trailer bill, it required a two-thirds vote and was virtually veto-proof.
But it popped up again in the final days of the session, this time as a simple-majority-vote bill, which meant it could be approved by Democrats without Republican votes. It received scant scrutiny. A separate bill with the same contents also was introduced in case the first one foundered.

In the Senate, it zipped through the Rules Committee and hit the floor in what is known in the Capitol as a “jam job.” It was sent to the governor’s desk with the bare minimum required–21 votes in the 40-member house.

On the Assembly side, it was also approved with the bare minimum, but only after Assembly Speaker Fabian N

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