PASSING THE GAVEL
This is the last meeting of the 2006-07 Rotary year and it marks the change in leadership for both our Club and the District. We welcome District 6820’s College of Governors, who are with us today. Our Club has enjoyed record growth during President Larry’s year that also saw a number of new innovations. Now it will be Ned Browning’s turn at the helm.
District leadership passes from Mark Doiron of Madison-Ridgeland Rotary Club to Jack Forbus of Starkville.
MISSISSIPPI’S FOREST INDUSTRY
Our guest next week to kick off our new Rotary year will be Wayne Tucker, Director of the Mississippi Institute of Forest Investory (MIFI). He will discuss the importance of forests to the state economy, share results of recent forest survey work in South Mississippi, and report the impact on forests by Hurricane Katrina.
LAST WEEK AT ROTARY
Invocation and Pledge : Maridith Geuder.
Attendance : . There were 106 members (72 active, 34 exempt) present; and 61 active, 19 exempt, and all 10 honorary members missing. Two actives and one exempt member are on leave
Guests : Jim Martin of Starkville and Skip Descant (Commercial Dispatch) were guests of the Club. They were introduced by Vice President-Elect Chip Templeton, standing in for President-Elect Ned Browning who was at the RI Convention in Salt Lake City. Governor-Elect Jack Forbus was also at the RI Convention.
Makeups : Jim Henry made up in Columbus June 5; Ned Browning and Jack Forbus get makeups for attending the Salt Lake City Convention.
Awards to Two Rotarians : President Larry Mullins congratulated two members who have received major awards from their respective organizations.
Tom Knecht received the 2007 Professional Award from ACE (Association for Communications Excellence), an international professional organization of communicators and information technologists.
Prentiss Gordon was recognized by the United Methodist Conference with the prestigious Harry Denman Award for Evangelism.
Rotary Dollars at Work : President Larry presented a check for $250 to Jim Martin, representing the American Legion’s Boys’ State program. In thanking the Club, Martin said the funds would pay full tuition for one of the six boys the local chapter is sending to Boys’ State this year.
A check for $1,000 was presented to Chester McKee, representing SOAR. Chester said the Rotary funds will be matched with $500 from CREATE Foundation for the endowment fund that provides grants for community development in Starkville and Oktibbeha County.
President Larry said a Rotary check for $500 has been sent to United Way.
Rotary Minute : Briar Jones followed the check presentations with a Rotary Minute with a few additional facts about how our Club is helping organizations and projects.
“Counting our contributions to the Rotary Foundation through the Paul Harris program, our Club has provided more than $50,000 for service projects this year.”
He said more than $15,000 has gone for youth projects and $9,000 for community assistance. The rodeo project netted us around $6,500 and the fall social raised some $3,500. He reminded us that today (June 25) is the final day for us to get items to him or to John Simpson for the E-bay auction fund-raiser.
Other Meeting Notes : Following Roy Ruby’s rib-tickling “absolutely nothing to do about Rotary minute,” Larry said that advance orders for the CD of Roy’s gems are being received ($10).
The 2007-08 High School Mentor Scholarship Committee and the Board of Directors held brief meetings following adjournment.
Our Exchange Students : Rotary Exchange Students Marie Baran and Ruth Schorling will return late tonight from their 2-week exchange student western tour. Ruth leaves for Germany Wednesday from GTR Airport on the 11:40 a.m. ASA flight to Atlanta. Marie will be with us until July 26.
KATRINA AND TORT REFORM REVISITED
In what many agreed was one of the most interesting and best presented Rotary programs, State Rep. Jim Simpson captivated the audience with a straightforward and emotional discussion of Katrina and tort reform, “the two biggest things that have happened in Mississippi in my legislative career.”
Simpson has represented House District 120 (Harrison County) since 1995. Hurricane Katrina wiped out much of his district (“90% of the voters are gone”) including his home and personal possessions.
“Sixty thousand households are gone,” he said. “It’s a daily struggle but we’re coming back every day. Rome wasn’t built in a day, the Coast won’t be rebuilt in a day.”
He said the biggest problem facing coastal residents and businesses is insurance. Premiums have doubled or tripled and “you HAVE to have insurance or you can’t get a loan.”
The problem is most acute among those with annual incomes of $50,000 or less. “They are essentially out of the market. I don’t have an answer,” he said. “But in spite of this,” he reiterated, the Coast is coming back.”
Simpson, a former Rotarian, is an attorney and vice chair of the House Judiciary A Committee. He and Rep. Jeff Smith were leaders in the tort reform battle in the House.
“Tort reform has been talked about for a long time,” he said, “but Mississippi attracted national attention in just the past few years.”
Simpson described the situation before the Mississippi Legislature finally tackled tort reform. The situation worsened through 2002 and 2003 and by early 2004 there was a medical crisis in the state, especially in the Delta. Major insurance companies quit writing medical malpractice insurance or went broke. “Doctors couldn’t get insurance at any cost.” Some doctors continued to practice by “going naked” – without malpractice insurance. The problem they faced, however, is you can’t practice in a hospital if you don’t have malpractice insurance.
The problem was most acute at first for those in high risk fields – like OBGYN s and neurologists. In bad areas, OB doctors left. “There was nobody there, nowhere to go. It was a crisis situation.” The problem filtered into other medical specialties and the state was at a critical point, Simpson said.
The other problem was that thousands of plaintiffs were coming from out of state because they could get big judgements in some jurisdictions.
“Under the old rules, anyone could come to Mississippi and file suit. Our courts became jammed.” An example of the situation was Jefferson County. “At one time there were more plaintiffs than the entire country population.
“Because of only a few jurisdictions, Mississippi was listed as one of the 10 worst places in the country to get justice,” Simpson said.”The perception, true or not, was terrible. As things continued to worsen, it became evident to everyone that something had to be done.”
The Legislature made some attempts and managed to enact some minor malpractice reform. When Haley Barbour was elected governor, he gave tort reform top priority.
The Legislature made an effort but couldn’t get a vote so Gov. Barbour called them back in special session. “The Senate was always for tort reform, but the House was where the battle had to be fought. It was bitter – it literally tore us apart,” Simpson said. But the House members stuck with it, voting on it a piece at time. The “pieces” passed by close margins, with each piece getting a few more votes. By the time the entire bill was put to vote, the opposition waned and the House passed the final bill by a huge majority.
“I’m an attorney and have had considerable experience in litigation. Jeff Smith and I perhaps were the arguing spokesmen, but the real heavy battles were won by Gary Chism and others who aren’t lawyers. Gary ‘s specialty is negotiation,” Simpson said.
Where are we now? Today, four or five major companies are writing malpractice insurance. With the competition, there has been a significant reduction in cost. We’ve seen a tremendous turnaround in malpractice claims . The U.S. Chamber of Commerce now says Mississippi has enacted one of the most sweeping tort reforms in the country.
As a result, new industries and businesses are coming into the state. Simpson said that when Toyota began its search for a site, they told Gov. Barbour they couldn’t consider Mississippi because of the judicial system and litigation climate. “Today, Toyota is breaking ground near Tupelo – a $3 billion turnaround for Mississippi!”
Today, he said the state has improved the judiciary and changed. We’re working on changing the perception of the judiciary, but it, too will take time. “You can help get the message out that things are better in Mississippi!”
In summary, he said that just like the Coastal recovery from Katrina, “things are much, much better. Today, I have a house, a new suit and, a new 9-month-old son – a Katrina surprise. Yes,” he concluded, “things are MUCH, MUCH better. He responded to a number of questions.
The new law reforms venue. Plaintiffs can longer go outside the venue to seek litigation. Caps have been put on punitive damages. In medical malpractice suits, non-economic damages are capped at $500,000 – there is no cap on actual medical expenses.
While he wasn’t certain about premiums for malpractice insurance, he said one doctor had told him that before tort reform, his insurance premium went from $90,000 to $270,000 for one year with no renewal. “It wasn’t just the cost, however, it was the unavailability!”
What about the new wind pool? Created by the State and funded by charges to insurance companies, the pool “will affect all of you. You’ll see a significant increase in your homeowner premiums,” he predicted.
Simpson was introduced by his fellow legislator Gary Chism.
The resignation of Jim Henry, who is leaving our community, has been approved with regret by the Board.