Senate rejects Nevada malpractice ballot question

The Senate voted 12-9 Monday to reject legislation putting a malpractice question on Nevadans' ballots next year to compete with a doctor-backed initiative petition. The Assembly also voted for medical regulation changes with amendments expected to win final legislative approval from senators.

Ten Republican senators were joined by two Democrats in opposing the Assembly-Senate conference report on SB97 -- though GOP Sens. Mark Amodei and Maurice Washington said the house could reconsider its vote late in the evening.

The measure would have presented voters with a ballot choice similar to medical malpractice lawsuit reforms enacted after a special legislative session last year.

It would be called "Keep Quality Medical Care In Nevada" and would be an alternative to the initiative petition by the Nevada State Medical Association titled "Keep Our Doctors In Nevada." The Democrat-dominated Assembly proposed the new language.

"In adopting this report we are giving the voters the choice that we have every day here," Sen. Terry Care, D-Las Vegas, said before the Senate vote.

But all Republicans except northern Nevada Sens. Bill Raggio, Mark Amodei and Mike McGinness voted "no" on the compromise bill. Sens. Mike Schneider and Bob Coffin, both Las Vegas Democrats, also opposed it.

"I didn't want to see our ballot cluttered up with another confusing choice," Coffin said after the floor vote.

The doctors' petition failed in the Legislature and is required to go before voters as a 2004 ballot question. It tightens previously approved caps on malpractice pain-and-suffering jury awards, limits lawyer fees, and makes other changes proponents say would help reduce doctors' malpractice premium rates.

Lobbyists for the Nevada Trial Lawyers Association were pushing late evening to find new votes to change the action.

Also late Monday, the Assembly unanimously approved SB250 which revamps Nevada's medical regulation in order to avoid doctor shortages and malpractice insurance premium spikes and better track malpractice cases.

Sen. Randolph Townsend, who backed the original bill, said the Senate would concur with Assembly amendments made Monday morning.

"The large portion of the bill is there, and I think it's well-crafted," the Reno Republican said. "The public is served so well in the insurance reform and Board of Medical Examiners reform ... that I think in a two-house process these are the compromises you make."

Townsend had pushed part of the bill raising the evidentiary standard for the Board of Medical Examiners to discipline doctors for malpractice, from the lesser "preponderance of evidence" to the higher standard of "clear and convincing evidence."

The Assembly took that out and made some other changes. Parts of the measure apply to all statewide professional or occupational regulators, monitoring jobs including engineers, architects and accountants.

It ensures that all complaints filed with boards are public, as are all disciplinary actions by the regulators. Regulators or boards could recover investigation costs and lawyer fees if a licensee violated board regulations. Currently only some boards cannot recover lawyer fees. The bill also mandates that all disciplinary actions by boards or regulators are public.

It also requires that doctors disclose any past malpractice claims to the Medical Examiners Board when they apply for a Nevada license. The board may fine doctors who fail to do so. The board must also investigate any settlement or judgment of malpractice and release a public report. It also has to maintain an Internet site listing alphabetically all disciplinary actions against licensed Nevada doctors.


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