Governor Gary Locke’s Remarks
News Conference on Primary and Medical Malpractice
March 3, 2004
Good morning. Thank you all for coming. I am here today to talk about two issues: the primary and medical malpractice reform.
Yesterday the state Senate passed Senate Bill 6453 -- the so-called "Cajun primary," modeled after the Louisiana system. I am disappointed the Senate passed legislation.
This system is a bad choice for Washington voters.
I stated last week that the primary system we develop must meet four tests:
· First, we must make sure that the replacement we choose avoids legal and constitutional uncertainty.
· Second, we need to choose a replacement that best protects voters’ independence and encourages voter participation.
· Third, we need a primary system that best protects voters’ privacy.
· And finally, we need to find a replacement that county auditors can easily understand and administer.
The Louisiana primary does not meet these tests. It will result in endless litigation and decreased voter participation.
First, such an approach would – without a doubt -- lead to legal uncertainty. Uncertainty that will only be resolved through expensive and time-consuming litigation. We need certainty in our election system, not another round of court challenges.
Second, it shifts the most important election decisions to the primary, where far fewer people vote. We shouldn’t move the most significant decisions for voters to a time when participation is lowest.
It will also result in the parties resorting to nominating their candidates by conventions.
The parties have already said they will do this, in order to protect their right to nominate their own candidates. This means even fewer people will have input into the selection of party nominees.
Third, it would severely hurt smaller parties – Libertarians, Greens, and others – who would be banned forever from the general election ballot. Whether you agree with them or not, small parties are part of the democratic fabric of this country. Their participation should not be limited to the primaries.
The Senate missed an opportunity to adopt a system that avoids all the problems of the Louisiana primary. A modified Montana system, developed by both Democrats and Republicans in the Legislature and examined by county auditors, would be a far superior version.
Not only do democrats and Republicans in the Legislature support the modified Montana, but so do Senator Cantwell and Representatives Dunn, Hastings, Dicks, Larson, Baird, Inslee, and Smith. We haven’t been able to contact the other members of the delegation.
In this system, voters may voluntarily register with a party, or make no party selection.
Those who choose not to register with a major party are considered “unaffiliated.”
Unaffiliated voters may choose any major party ballot during the party. Voters registered with a major party will receive only that party’s ballot.
The modified Montana primary meets the four criteria for a superior election system.
It protects the party’s First Amendment right of association. It maintains voter independence and choice. Voters are free to choose to register with a party if they want.
But no one is forced to register with a party to vote in the primary. And because it was developed in consultation with county auditors, we are confident that it can be properly administered.
The debate now moves to the House of Representatives. I ask members of the House to compare the Montana and Louisiana options. I urge them to ask hard questions about the Louisiana system’s effect on voter participation, voter choice, and minority parties. And I ask them to choose the option that avoids legal problems, endless litigation, and electoral uncertainty. This is a critical election season, with races for all the House seats, half the Senate seats, county commissioners, and others up and down the ticket. We don’t want to be in court all summer.
Now I would like to discuss medical malpractice and patient safety. Caring for patients is the paramount duty for doctors. We rely on our medical community to be there for us. But skyrocketing medical liability insurance premiums are putting financial pressures on many of our doctors in our state. This threatens our access to vital services, such as obstetrics and emergency room care.
That’s why, at the beginning of the session we introduced proposals designed to accomplish three important goals:
· Help improve the safety of medical patients;
· Moderate the cost of medical malpractice insurance; and
· Reform elements of the civil legal system.
We listened carefully to what the doctors said about our reform package. We responded to many of their concerns. With just a few days remaining in the session, we need to adopt a package of bills that will make a difference.
Many measures have been passed in House and Senate committees. We believe, in combination, these changes can help contain malpractice insurance costs. These include:
· Reducing frivolous malpractice cases;
· Shortening the amount of time that an injured person can wait before they file a medical malpractice lawsuit;
· Reducing the cost of medical malpractice lawsuits;
· And increasing patient safety and reducing medical errors.
These are solutions we can adopt now, without amending the state Constitution.
Included in the budget is a proposal for a 29 percent Medicaid reimbursement rate increase for obstetricians and family practitioners who deliver babies. This will especially help in rural and other underserved areas. The House Democrat budget also includes an 85 percent increase in payments for treatment performed by emergency room doctors. These increases will help doctors pay their malpractice premiums and other increasing costs. Helping these doctors will ensure that these critical services remain available across the state.
We need to do our best to protect patients. We need to ensure people can receive the medical attention that they need. We need to make sure our medical community is there to provide care. And we need to ACT NOW.
I am looking forward to working jointly with the House and Senate, Democrats and Republicans, on these proposals. Together, we will find the best way to control the cost of malpractice insurance and ultimately improve patient care.
I will now take your questions.