June 21--CONCORD -- A bill that would bring a first-of-its-kind medical malpractice reform program to New Hampshire was among four pieces of legislation Gov. John Lynch vetoed Wednesday.
The legislation would make New Hampshire the first state to permit health care providers to extend to injured victims an offer to accept a cash settlement to avoid a trial. The measure known as "early offer" was strongly sought by some hospital executives and their lobbyists.
Victims could turn down the offer, but if they didn't get much more from a jury at trial than what they were offered, they would have to pay the legal fees of health care providers they sued.
Lynch said the program was well-intentioned but unfair to victims.
"I believe that the Legislature's efforts to fashion a balanced, reasonable early offer program should continue," Lynch wrote in his veto message. "It needs more work in order to adequately protect the interests of injured patients."
Among the other bills Lynch vetoed Wednesday was one alerting anyone registering to vote that within 60 days, they also must register their cars with the state. Lynch also vetoed a bill having to do with collective bargaining and tax breaks on income from trusts.
The battles shift back to the Legislature, which meets in a one-day session next Wednesday to take up all of Lynch's vetoes. Two-thirds of both the House and Senate must support the legislation to override a gubernatorial veto.
Regarding "early offer," Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, said the program could help reduce the escalating cost of malpractice insurance, particularly for specialists in medicine.
Former Sen. Robert Clegg, a Hudson Republican, lobbied for trial lawyers against the bill.
"The governor has done the right thing. He saw the unfairness in the bill. It is clear that this type of legal reform needs to be balanced on both sides," Clegg said. "It took real guts to do this, and I commend the governor for it."
Two insurance companies that control 47 percent of the medical malpractice market opposed the bill and warned it would cause insurance premiums to increase.
In his veto of the voter registration bill, Lynch said it would disenfranchise young student and senior citizen voters.
"Persons who are 18 and older who attend college in New Hampshire should be able to vote regardless of where they drive or have a license," Lynch said. "This provision is overly broad and will effectively require resident seniors, as well as retirees and young persons coming from out of state, to register a car and apply for a New Hampshire license in order to vote."
Sen. Sharon Carson, R-Londonderry, sponsored the bill (SB 318).
"As the home of the first-in-the-nation presidential primary, New Hampshire should have clear standards like the one SB 318 provides concerning who is and who is not qualified to vote in our state," said Carson, who represents Hudson. "It's disappointing Gov. Lynch has decided against supporting clean elections here in New Hampshire."
Another vetoed bill (HB 1666) required negotiated contracts with state worker unions to go to the Legislative Fiscal Committee for an up or down vote.
Lynch said it is the role of the executive branch to negotiate contracts and the legislative branch then gets to decide if it wishes to pay for them.
As for the income from trusts bill (SB 326), Lynch said as written, it could cause significant loss to the state treasury from payments under the state's tax on interest and dividends.
The four-term Democratic governor still has on his desk a few dozen bills he must make decisions on by Friday.
Additional vetoes would hardly be a surprise; one of the pending bills would legalize medical marijuana and Lynch has already promised he would reject it once it got to his desk.
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