State lawmakers answer questions and make connections in Wilsonville
Three Republican legislators, Rep. Richard Vial, Sen. Kim Thatcher and Rep. Bill Kennemer, packed the Wilsonville City Hall Council Chambers April 20 for a mid-session town hall.
The legislators each gave an update on their latest ventures in Salem covering the 2017-2019 state budget, housing, transportation, education and public safety.
Mayor Tim Knapp kicked off the evening by greeting the unexpectedly large crowd and introducing the legislators. Vial, representative of House District 26, including Scholls, Sherwood, and parts of Wilsonville, King City, Tigard, Beaverton, Aloha and Hillsboro, complimented the City and its leadership.
"For those of you who aren't from Wilsonville, this is a city that tries to welcome citizens, engage citizens and I'm grateful for them being willing to host us tonight," Vial said.
After the legislators' updates, they fielded questions from the audience. From overarching comments of concern regarding education to specific bills and measures, the question and answer period went over the time allotted for the meeting with more speakers still hoping to be called.
On the edge of his seat, watching the clock nervously near the end of the discussion session, Wilsonville resident Scott Busch waited eagerly for Vial to call on him to testify on behalf of Senate Bill 737.
In 2015, Busch was walking to work in downtown Portland when a Republic Services garbage truck entered the crosswalk after making an illegal turn and struck Busch. In an instant, Busch's left leg was severed.
Busch, 59, said that the garbage truck company had a $20 million insurance policy in case of accidents like his and the jury ruled to compensate Busch a little more than $10 million for negligent behavior of the driver. But due to a May 2016 Oregon Supreme Court ruling that reversed a 1999 ruling that banned compensation caps in cases involving injury, abuse or fraud, Busch's $10.5 million settlement was capped to $500,000.
"I'm coming to you tonight to ask for your support for bill 737, which would basically restore justice to victims," Busch said.
"The bottom line is: Do we allow justice to happen based on the thoughts of a particular case at a particular time or do we impose on it limits on how much we're going to get for injuries or deaths?" Vial said.
Thatcher, who represents Senate District 13, including areas of Wilsonville, was on the committee that formed SB 737, said that she couldn't support the bill based on the language that was used. She did, however, say that she drafted an amendment that would have changed the bill to have an unlimited cap on settlements, but she said that she couldn't get the support needed for the amendment.
"We have a lot of balancing acts here at the state and healthcare is presented to us as, 'We can't handle it if you make healthcare so expensive by lifting the cap and putting a big risk on insurance companies,'" she said. "But we've had two different, and I think opposing, Supreme Court decisions (revoking and then reinstating the cap) and I was just trying to say, 'Hey, let's put it back to the way it was.' It operated that way for 17 years, and it didn't make some of the business people happy, but I felt like the world didn't come to an end at that point, so let's go back to there."
"I practiced law for 35 years, tried a lot of cases," Vial said. "I trust that system and for my money, I think that we are probably making a mistake to try and manage the compensation levels artificially with government. The market really does work pretty well in that sense."
Although falling short of an actual bid of support from the legislators, Busch wasn't unhappy with their responses but he also said that he won't stop fighting for support for SB 737.
"I just hope that the Senate in their good minds here can see that one of our basic constitutional rights is to have a jury of our peers deciding matters like this and that they end up voting that way, because this won't end up costing the taxpayers anything," Busch said. "It will only go against people out there who are the wrongdoers and make them pay what is fair compensation to victims. With the case that I have, I'm dealing with a multi-billion dollar entity that hid behind the cap and I really don't appreciate that."
Busch is still in the process of appealing his settlement being turned over by the cap, but thus far he's only received enough to cover his short-term medical expenses and replace some of his financial losses.
"I'm worried about taking care of my family," Busch said, adding that although his family has been able to take over some of his previous household duties, there are gaps that now require him to hire out odd jobs. But that costs money, and Busch said that while the money can't undo what happened, it does go a long way to help out in ways that can improve.
"With a cap of $500,000, how can you replace these kinds of things?" Busch said. "A jury should be able to decide, by the facts of the individual case, how much should be awarded given the circumstances. With a cap on it, it's saying, 'Well, too bad. Here's the maximum. See ya later.'"