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Senate reaches ‘genuine compromise’ on tort reform bill during another late night debate

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The Missouri Senate had another marathon debate lasting overnight and into the early morning Thursday, this time with tort reform taking center stage.

For nearly nine hours, lawmakers debated and filibustered SB 224, legislation championed by Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer aimed at modifying a variety of rules related to discovery. The Republican said his goal was to narrow the scope of discovery and increase effectiveness as well as to curtail parties from using discovery “as an offensive tool, a sword, to increase costs.”

However, Democratic Sen. Scott Sifton, who largely held court Wednesday night, had three main areas of concern with the legislation: how the bill defined the scope of discovery, the requirement of costly expert reports, and provisions for how to prove a party wrongfully destroyed electronically stored information (ESI).

Sen. Jamilah Nasheed also advocated for the protection of personal information collected during discovery. She has her own bill, SB 22, that would allow prosecutors to redact personal information from materials provided to a defendant’s counsel during the discovery process. Her legislation sits on the Senate’s perfection calendar and similar language was added to SB 224.

Just before 2:30 a.m., both sides came together to form what Majority Floor Leader Caleb Rowden called a “genuine compromise that’s good for the state.” Included among the changes was the vast elimination of the requirement of expert reports — which Sifton contended could be costly and unnecessary — and the ability for victimized parties to prove tampering of ESI information in a less difficult manner.

Other discovery sanction provisions were also tweaked before the bill was perfected early Thursday morning.

“It was a 35-page bill, and I’d say we probably made edits to half of the pages in the bill,” Sifton told The Missouri Times. “There were a lot of edits, and that’s why it took long. It was a late night less because parties were entrenched and dug in and slugging it out, and more because it was a very complex bill with a lot of changes, and preparing revised versions of the bill was just very time-consuming.”

“There were strong feelings on both sides, but this was not the same kind of late night we had on CAFOs,” he continued.

“We talk a lot about rushing through things, but when we have nights like [Wednesday], we are not rushing through, we are legitimately trying to get it right,” Minority Floor Leader Gina Walsh told reporters Thursday afternoon. “I think that Sen. Sifton and Sen. Luetkemeyer did a fine job last night, and I know how difficult a job it was for both.”

This was the third lengthy debate for the Senate of the week — and the second filibuster lasting overnight. On Monday, the Senate debated until 7:30 a.m. — for nearly 12 hours — before perfecting legislation blocking local governments from creating rules for agricultural operations stricter than those already imposed at the state level.

And Tuesday, a House bill creating grant programs for adults seeking further education related to high-demand jobs stalled in the Senate after conservatives launched a nearly four-hour filibuster arguing for school choice.

Earlier Wednesday, the Missouri House voted in favor of Sen. Ed Emery’s SB 7, which changes the state’s joinder and venue laws, sending the legislation to the governor’s desk. The bill previously passed out of the Senate in February following an all-night filibuster.

UPDATE: The bill was passed on May 6, 2019, with a 24-9 vote.