LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — A retired judge appointed by the Arkansas Supreme Court to review petitions submitted for a measure limiting medical lawsuit damages said Wednesday that all of the approved signatures could be invalidated, a move that would disqualify the measure from the November ballot.
The campaign behind the proposed constitutional amendment didn’t certify in writing that its paid canvassers had passed a criminal background check, retired Judge J.W. Looney said in a report, adding that the violation could be a “material defect and disallow the counting of all signatures” that had been approved by election officials.
The proposed amendment would allow the Legislature to cap non-economic damages awarded for medical injury against health care providers at a minimum of $250,000.
The high court is considering two lawsuits attempting to block votes on the proposal in November. The Committee to Protect Arkansas Families, which filed the suit that prompted Looney’s report, is challenging the measure’s petitions and its language.
“The corporate nursing home owners will stop at nothing in their quest for higher profits, including blatantly violating the law to try and pass a constitutional amendment to protect themselves,” committee director Martha Deaver said in a statement. “The special master’s report calls out the sponsor’s blatant disregard for the law when trying to amend our state’s constitution.”
The group behind the proposed amendment has argued the limits are needed to control health care costs and said Wednesday that it worked carefully to honor the petition process. Looney wrote the group’s sponsor said he made “verbal” certifications of the background checks..
“We are confident that the Supreme Court will respect the will of the people and keep Issue 4 on the ballot this November,” Chase Dugger, executive director of Health Care Access for Arkansans, said in an email. “Reforms like Issue 4 have been put in place in half the states across the nation and have led to greater access to doctors and better care. Arkansas doesn’t need to be left behind.”
Earlier this year, election officials verified there were 93,102 signatures from registered voters, more than the 84,859 required to qualify for the ballot.
But Looney said 1,872 of the signatures should be tossed for other violations, including canvassers who hadn’t submitted their names to the state before collecting signatures. He also said another 10,764 signatures could be invalidated if justices rule that the campaign and the firm it hired to gather signatures violated the law by using a third party for background checks.
He also recommended several hundred signatures by the group that had been rejected by the state be counted.
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