Tort Reform, vouchers and screwing consumers is the consistent ideology of Florida GOPers

In the late 1990’s conservatives throughout the country were pushing Tort Reform as a larger scheme to “defund the left.” Florida was an epicenter of activity as Jeb Bush’s Republican Party made breaking the Trial Lawyers and Teacher’s Unions (via merit pay, school vouchers and other education “reforms”) the priorities after gaining complete control of State Government after the 1998 General Election (yes, the Dems still retained a few Cabinet seats but that didn’t impact legislation directly).

The goal was to ensure the two groups most closely associated with funding leftist causes or campaigns would be financially starved. In the case of the trial bar, if attorney’s that practice that sort of law had less disposable income because caps on damages were low, then less money would flow into the campaigns and causes that opposed corporatism and conservatism.

This session, with GOPers playing populist talking about “woke ideology,” and “DEI/ESG” corporations, they’re really still the Bush GOP pushing legal reforms that disarm consumers and Florida’s working class while simultaneously advancing a private school voucher plan so extensive and dangerous it could be called a millionair subsidy.

The GOP-led House and Senate had passed a Tort Reform bill with bipartisan support in 1998, but Governor Chiles had vetoed it. In 1999, nothing was stopping passage. Republicans almost universally backed it as did many Democrats. Some Republicans put up a fight, but most rolled over. Very few Democrats seemed to care one way or another in the House. In the Senate they were better organized and fought but eventually lost.

In the following years, the GOP-led Legislature would with much help from Democrats looking to suck up to those in power pass one piece of legal reform after another, chipping away at the ability of consumers and ordinary citizens to hold business and insurance companies accountable. Many Democrats stood tall in fighting this with some wayward GOPers. But most in GOP and all too many Democrats were all to anxious to pass any and all legal reform.

Many Democrats had in reality during that era didn’t care about consumer protection or working class people that might be victims of corporate abuse. They were Democrats because of social issues or because they were running for liberal districts in southeast Florida…areas that are relatively affluent. Most of these legislators were selected in primaries and faced minimal GOP opposition. So funding for a primary was critical and they made the bet that corporations and the right would help them more.

Some saw trial lawyers as arrogant and gave no credit to the fact most attorney’s practicing the types of law that were impacted by the legislation have huge out-of-pocket expenses they must undertake to even take most cases. If lawyers were looking to make money, they’d become corporate attorney’s or practice real estate law, in my opinion.

Some Republicans (most notably Mike Fasano) regularly voted against efforts to reform torts, medical malpractice, product liability, etc in that era. But the vast majority of GOPers openly cheered the idea of putting lawyers out of business and limiting how much those who made defective products, acted irresponsibly or even killed people would have to pay in damages. While at the time it didn’t fit the GOP’s free market ideology, these days with the party increasingly anti-business and anti-corporate (and pro-market manipulation) tort reform now its better since it’s simply a giveaway to the donor base o the party.

On school choice, we know most GOP lawmakers and appointees have long offered school vouchers as a one-size-fits-all solution for everything that ails public education and we also know it’s motivated by a desire to crush teacher’s unions.

These items represent a long-term, consistent GOP ideology and all concerned Floridians need to work to push back against them.

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