Senator Berger Newsletter

Gov. Beverly Perdue earlier this week vetoed three bills that impinge upon the rights of individuals in this state. I support those vetoes.

A schedule of the redistricting process for Congressional and N.C. legislative maps is listed at the end of the newsletter.

Medical Malpractice Bill

Senate Bill 33, also known as “Med Mal” (short for “medical malpractice”), in its current form is unbalanced because it doesn’t protect those who might be catastrophically injured by negligence from health care providers.   The bill limits the amount of liability for non-economic damages to $500,000.    Non-economic damages refers to money to compensate for pain, suffering, emotional distress, loss of consortium and inconvenience. Economic damages include lost past wages and lost future wages.  A child or an elderly person who is a victim of malpractice is much less likely to suffer provable economic damages with regard to loss of future earnings. The cap on non-economic damages will hit these two groups the hardest.

The only means of receiving a judgment on non-economic damages greater than $500,000 for non-economic damages is if the victim suffered disfigurement, loss of the use of a part of the body, permanent injury or death.  In order to receive compensation for these injuries, a victim of a mistake by a health care provider must show that these damages were the result of a reckless disregard of the rights of others. For all practical purposes, the provider would have to engage in an intentional act such as operating on someone while intoxicated.  A mix up in medical charts resulting in the amputation of the wrong body part would likely not receive additional compensation under the new law.

I believe, as did former Republican N.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice I. Beverly Lake, that the hard cap on noneconomic damages is unconstitutional. The right of a jury to decide the amount of an award is guaranteed. While I voted against the bill in its final form, I am willing to vote for the version of the bill that passed out of the House with strong bi-partisan support.

The Senate will most likely have the votes to override the veto, but the House vote is not so clear cut. In that chamber, the vote was 62-44. Eight representatives had excused absences that day and six simply didn’t vote. The House will need 72 votes to override the veto if all 120 members are present, so those 14 votes will be important.

Both chambers must approve the override for it to prevail.

Women’s Rights

The Governor also vetoed House Bill 854, entitled the “Women’s Right to Know” bill. The legislation, which, among other things, requires physicians to counsel women about alternatives to abortion and to perform an ultrasound of the fetus, is an intrusion into the relationship between a woman and her doctor. It is not the job of legislators to preach to physicians the proper way to counsel women.

The bill is an attempt to intimidate women who chose to seek an abortion. Certainly, the choice to go through the procedure is one of the toughest ones a woman will ever have to make. To play upon guilt and fear in these circumstances is inexcusable.

As many of you may recall, I voted for the legislation entitled Ethen’s Law that made it a separate crime to intentionally kill fetal life. Click here to view Ethen’s Law. I am a pro-choice Democrat, and in part that is why I voted for this bill. I thought it reflected that the choice by a woman to become pregnant should be recognized by the law; that if you take that right away there should be an appropriate punishment. It reflects a pro-choice value in upholding a woman’s right to choose pregnancy.  Likewise, I voted against House Bill 854 because I do not believe it respects a woman’s right to choose to not continue a pregnancy. I believe that making women wait 24 hours and forcing them incur the financial costs of an ultrasound will cause many women to return to obtaining abortions that are unsafe.

While I will vote to sustain the Governor’s veto, the Senate most likely will override the veto, but the House, given its prior vote, could be one vote short.

Voting Rights

The Voter ID bill has also been vetoed by Gov. Perdue. The bill is an attempt to keep the poor, the elderly and college students (all traditionally Democratic voters) from the polls. Many of these voters either don’t have an identification card or move often and because of this they may not have an up-to-date ID. North Carolina doesn’t have a history of substantive voter fraud, so this is a solution in search of a problem.

The legislation is problematic in another way. The bill requires local election boards to issue free IDs to those who don’t have one, but this will cost the state millions of dollars. This is unnecessary spending at a time when North Carolina is already strapped for cash. It is estimated that more than 400,000 currently don’t have a proper ID.

Other attempts to limit voting—cutting back on the number of early voting days and not allowing same-day registration—failed, but they are not dead issues. In the General Assembly’s Adjournment Resolution, any type of election law may be brought up for consideration during the redistricting session which begins July 21.

The veto appears that it will hold as House Democrats voted unanimously against the bill. The House would need four Democrats to vote with the majority for an override to prevail, and that seems unlikely.

Redistricting Schedule

For those of you interested in the redistricting process, there have been changes in the schedule.

  • U.S. Congressional maps will be released tomorrow (Friday, July 1). A public hearing on the maps is slated for Thursday, July 7. I will send out another newsletter before then to let you know the location of the hearing.
  • Full N.C. legislative maps will be released Monday, July 11. A public hearing on them will be held Monday, July 18.
  • Redistricting committee meetings in the General Assembly are scheduled for Thursday, July 21, through Saturday, July 23.
  • Congressional and N.C. legislative maps will be presented on the House and Senate floors for a first reading on Sunday, July 24.
  • Floor debates and votes on the maps will be held Monday, July 25, through Wednesday, July 28.