The Tuesday Count: Medical malpractice measure makes California ballot

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May 20, 2014

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Edited by Brittany Clingen

1 certification
89 measures for 2014



Healthcare (News)
Taxes (Quick hits)
GMOs (Spotlight)

California 2014 ballot measures
A fifth measure has been added to California's November 4, 2014 ballot, as the Increase in Cap on Medical Malpractice Lawsuits Initiative was officially certified on May 15, 2014. Supporters of the initiative refer to it as the Troy and Alana Pack Patient Safety Act of 2014, after two children were killed by a driver under the influence of abused prescription drugs.[1] If approved, the measure would create the first law in the United States to require the random drug testing of physicians.[2]

The initiative, if approved at the ballot box, would increase the state's cap on damages that can be assessed in medical negligence lawsuits to over $1 million from the current cap of $250,000; require drug and alcohol testing of doctors and reporting of positive tests to the California Medical Board; require the California Medical Board to suspend doctors pending investigation of positive tests and take disciplinary action if the doctor was impaired while on duty; require health care practitioners to report any doctor suspected of drug or alcohol impairment or medical negligence; and require health care practitioners to consult state prescription drug history databases before prescribing certain controlled substances.[3]

The Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act (MICRA) was signed in 1975 by Gov. Jerry Brown (D). MIRCA capped pain and suffering damages, as a result of medical malpractice, at $250,000. He did so in response to doctors who complained about medical malpractice awards being too high. If MIRCA was pegged to inflation, the cap would now be set at $1.1 million. $250,000 in 2014 would have been $57,600 in 1975.[1] The measure has not been without controversy. The San Diego Union-Tribune argued that the first sentence of the ballot title - "Drug and alcohol testing of doctors." - was intentionally placed first by Attorney General Kamala Harris (D). The editorial board continued, "That’s right — Attorney General Kamala Harris intentionally deceived ballot signers by highlighting one of the fig leaves that trial lawyers attached to the measure to hide their real intent. It’s in keeping with her long history of using misleading ballot titles and summaries to help measures her allies like and hurt measures they don’t."[4]

Supporters of the measure reported submitting an estimated 830,000 signatures on March 24, 2014, significantly more than the 504,760 required.[5] Those in favor of the measure argue it's necessary to protect patients from negligence on the part of doctors. Consumer Watchdog issued the following statement in support of the initiative: "According to a study published in the Journal of Patient Safety, medical negligence is the third leading cause of death in the country behind only heart disease and cancer. As many as 440,000 people die each year from preventable medical negligence. That’s like a 747 crashing every 10 hours."[6]

However, people opposed to the measure fear it will engender frivolous lawsuits and drive up costs, ultimately hurting doctors and patients alike. Dr. Richard Thorp, president of the California Medical Association, argued, "A ballot measure that is certain to generate more medical lawsuits and drive up costs for every health consumer in California is the worst possible idea at the worst possible time. This initiative is bad for patients, bad for taxpayers and bad for California’s entire system of healthcare delivery."[7]

World's highest minimum wage measure defeated

On Sunday, May 18, voters in Switzerland declined to instate what would have been the world's highest minimum wage in their country. An overwhelming 77 percent of voters defeated a referendum known as the Decent Salary Initiative, which would have set the minimum wage rate at $25 per hour for unskilled workers. The country doesn't have a minimum wage law, so rates are set via employment contracts or collective bargaining techniques. Despite lacking a specific law, Switzerland boasts one of the highest paid unskilled workforces in the world. Even some people whose earnings would have increased as a result of the measure's approval, opposed it. Luisa Almeida, a nanny and housekeeper, earns $3,250 per month, which puts her wage rate below that of $25 per hour. However, she was unsupportive of the measure, saying, "If my employer had to pay me more money, he wouldn't be able to keep me on and I'd lose the job."[8]

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2014 Count
Number: 89 measures
States: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Washington, Wisconsin, West Virginia and Wyoming

Quick hits

Georgia Democrats to vote on party-specific advisory questions today: Georgia Democrats have the opportunity to vote on four advisory questions in today's state primary election. The questions are meant to encourage constituents to vote in the primary and to influence the Georgia Democratic Party.[9][10] Together, the four questions address minimum wage, healthcare, government accountability and education. Georgia has an open primary system, meaning any registered voter, regardless of party affiliation, can request any party's ballot. However, a voter can only vote in one party's primary. Those who select a Democratic ballot will vote on the advisory questions.

Former Gov. Christine Gregoire wants cigarette tax initiative in Washington: Former Gov. Christine Gregoire (D), along with the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and Seattle Children's Hospital, is calling for a Cigarette Tax for Cancer Research Initiative.[11] The measure, upon voter approval, would increase the tax on cigarettes by five cents per cigarette and by ten percent on other tobacco products. Revenues from the tax increase would be deposited into a state-administered fund for cancer research, prevention, and care.[12] The Tax Foundation found that nearly half the cigarettes consumed in the state are smuggled from out-of-state. Both Oregon and Idaho have much lower cigarette taxes and the initiative would only increase the discrepancy, possibly encouraging more cross-border purchases and smuggling.[11]

Organized opposition forms against medical marijuana initiative in Florida: A group calling itself Drug Free Florida (DFF) has formed to oppose Florida Amendment 2, an initiative that would legalize medical marijuana. DFF contends that the initiative has four loopholes, including a "pot-for-anyone-who-wants-it loophole" and a "drug dealer loophole."[13] People United for Medical Marijuana, the supporting organization, issued a point-by-point response to DFF's arguments.[14] Drug Free Florida has raised $100,000. All contributions so far have come from Republican fundraiser Mel Sembler. Supporters, on the other hand, have raised $5,025,743.[15]

Spotlight

Activists square off for the biggest local ballot measure battle of the year, so far:


Video of supporters and opponents of Measure 15-119

The video on the right shows two groups of zealous protesters, one hoping that voters will approve Measure 15-119 during today's election and the other urging voters to reject it. Measure 15-119 seeks to ban the cultivation of genetically modified or engineered crops from Jackson County. Despite opposition from state legislators, who passed a bill trying to put a stop to initiatives such as Measure 15-119, and big businesses, anti-GMO petitioners managed to get Measure 15-119 on the May 20, 2014 election ballot through a successful initiative petition drive. Now it is up to the local voters to decide the issue. The vote is expected to be close, since local farmers, who would be most directly affected by the measure, are strongly divided over the issue.[16]

Moreover, both the "yes" and "no" campaigns are well funded for local ballot measure advocate groups. The opposition, however, which is organized into the PAC called Good Neighbor Farmers, has the backing of large, national corporations and collected contributions of close to a million dollars, dwarfing the war chest of the proponents, which remains under $450,000.[17]

Many supporters of this measure are local organic farmers who complain about their crops being pollinated by GMO farms nearby. One of the petitioners for this measure and a leader of the "yes" campaign, Our Family Farms Coalition, said that the main purpose of the GMO ban is to protect organic farmers facing the danger of losing money if their crops are contaminated, preventing them from selling produce or seeds as "Organic" and "GMO free." According to reports, some farmers have had to throw away seeds worth thousands of dollars because of contamination. Speaking about the impact of nearby farms using genetically modified organisms, Glenda Ponder said, "It ties our hands for saving our chard seed and planting or selling it as organic. Selling organic seed is a good way to make money, but we can't do it."[16]

The Our Family Farms Coalition website claims that the Measure 15-119 will:[18][19]

  • Protect small farmers from having their crops contaminated by pollen from nearby genetically engineered crops, preventing the crops from being sold as organic and GMO-free and costing the farmers thousands of dollars in potential profits;
  • Protect the water sources, the environment and the health of residents from the dangerous side-effects of increased chemicals and pesticides that are used on GMO crops; and
  • Protect farmers from patent lawsuits when seed or pollen from patented GMO crops is carried by the wind onto the land of other farmers.

Opponents of the measure, which include large businesses that produce genetically modified seeds in the county or supply farmers in the area, as well as the farmers who grow GMO crops, argue that GMO and non-GMO farmers should be able to compromise and coexist. Some farmers have said that they make their living in the competitive market through using genetically modified crops and claim they would go out of business if they were put at the disadvantage of being denied the ability to grow what has become a standard product in U.S. farming.[18]

In an article he wrote opposing Measure 15-119, Sen. Doug Whitsett (R-28) proposed that the ban would cause artificially expensive food production, crippling the non-organic farming industry in Jackson County. He also said that the World Health Organization, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the World Bank and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization have certified that genetically engineered food is not harmful and has the same nutritional value as non-GMO food. He concluded his article with the following three paragraphs:[20]

Organically produced and “GMO free” food products are significantly more expensive to produce than conventional products. They are consistently more expensive for the consumer to purchase, even though a compelling body of evidence proves they have no measurable advantage in either nutritional value or food safety.

In our free market economy, self-designated growers are definitely entitled to produce all of the “organic” products they can sell. Self-selected consumers certainly have the right to purchase organically grown products whenever that is their desire. However, in my opinion, their rights do not extend to artificially driving up the price of food products for the majority of consumers who want to purchase less expensive equally nutritious and safe non-organic products.

Measure 15-119 should be rejected because it will artificially increase both the cost of production and the retail cost of food products. It should be rejected because it serves to unfairly penalize non-organic growers for producing safe, nutritious and affordable food products. It should be rejected because it represents an affront to our free market economy.[21]

Sen. Doug Whitsett (R-28)[20]

Follow Ballotpedia's page on Measure 15-119 to see elections results as they become available tonight after 8 PM PST.


A nearly identical measure is also being voted on in Josephine County. Moreover, similar initiatives are circulating in Benton and Lane counties.

Other notable measures being decided today:

See also

2014 ballot measures
Tuesday Count2014 Scorecard

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 Washington Post, "The most expensive race of 2014 could be this California ballot measure," March 25, 2014
  2. PR Newswire, "California Ballot Initiative Will Enact Nation's First Law Requiring Random Drug Testing Of Physicians, says Consumer Watchdog Campaign," April 16, 2014
  3. Los Angeles Times, "Special interest groups look to shape 2014 California ballot," December 7, 2013
  4. San Diego Union-Tribune, "Malpractice ballot measure: Shame on AG Kamala Harris," March 29, 2014]
  5. Larkspur-CorteMadera Patch, "Would You Support California Measure Raising Damages in Medical Malpractice Lawsuits?," March 24, 2014
  6. Consumer Watchdog, "The Problem: Medical Negligence Kills 440,000 Americans Every Year," March 24, 2014
  7. Los Angeles Times, "Backers of malpractice cap ballot measure submit signatures," March 24, 2014
  8. 13wmaz.com, "Swiss reject world's highest minimum wage," May 20, 2014
  9. The Augusta Chronicle, "Georgia Democrats includes questions on primary ballot," April 8, 2014
  10. Neighbor Newspapers, "Democratic ballot includes four nonbinding questions," May 12, 2014
  11. 11.0 11.1 The Seattle Times, "$1-per-pack hike in cigarette tax would create state cancer fund," May 15, 2014
  12. Washington Secretary of State, "Initiative Measure No. 1356," accessed May 16, 2014
  13. Vote No on 2
  14. The Tampa Tribune, "“Vote No on 2” anti-marijuana campaign commences," May 15, 2014
  15. Florida Secretary of State, "Campaign Finance," accessed May 18, 2014
  16. 16.0 16.1 The Mail Tribune, “Initiative would ban GMO foods in Jackson County,” Jan. 2, 2013
  17. Oregon Secretary of State website Campaign finance information, accessed May 20, 2014
  18. 18.0 18.1 Our Family Farms Coalition website, archived March 24, 2014
  19. GMO-Free Jackson County website, accessed February 21, 2014
  20. 20.0 20.1 Oregon Catalyst, "In opposition to Jackson County Measure 15-119 GMO ban," April 18, 2014
  21. Note: This text is quoted verbatim from the original source. Any inconsistencies are attributed to the original source.