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January 14, 2013

Pence seeks tort reform in first year

INDIANAPOLIS — Gov.-elect Mike Pence will include tort reform in his first-year legislative agenda, which is slowly taking shape.

Pence has declined to release the details of his agenda before he is sworn in Monday. But Sen. Mike Delph, R-Carmel, told The Associated Press on Thursday that he has filed Pence's proposal to make those on the losing end of lawsuits pay all of the legal fees.

Delph also is leading a group of eight senators who will push Pence's proposal for a 10 percent cut in the personal income tax.

Senate Education Chairman Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, is introducing Pence's workforce development plan in the Senate, which top legislative leaders have said will be a priority during the 2013 session. But Pence's hallmark tax cut measure has run into resistance from top Republicans who want to wait until new tax collection estimates come out in April before making a decision on whether to back it.

"I'm going to fight to do what I can to make his agenda happen," Delph said.

The tort reform measure marks a somewhat new priority for Pence: The former U.S. Representative never mentioned the issue in the governor's race, but talked about it routinely in Washington.

Pence spokeswoman Christy Denault did not return messages seeking comment Thursday.

The proposal has long been a priority among conservatives nationwide and would change Indiana's law to require that losers pay all the fees for civil lawsuits. Judges now have discretion over who decides.

Pence's tort reform would replace the trial systems' "American Rule" — a measure designed to protect the minority which has been in place since the 1700s — with "English Rule," which makes it harder for people to take on powerful interests, said Micki Wilson, executive director of the Indiana Trial Lawyers Association.

"The trial lawyers support the 'American Rule', we won that fight in the 1700s," she said.

A few days into the new legislative session, much of Pence's agenda has yet to be revealed. But that's expected to change in the coming weeks.

"We're going to meet with the bipartisan leadership of both parties, talk about this session of the General Assembly, and then our other meeting of the day will be with our economic development team," he said Thursday.

Kruse plans to push Pence's proposal to create workforce councils around the state. The councils would be run through the Indiana Education Roundtable and most likely be split into nine districts, matching the state's nine congressional districts, Kruse said.

"They would match the jobs with what training is in the high schools now," Kruse said.

The tax cut and workforce development proposals were stops on Pence's campaign "roadmap," but the specifics of how to would accomplish his promises have yet to be answered, likely as drafted legislation.

House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said he understands if the Pence team is taking its time putting its goals in legislation. Pence left Congress on Jan. 3, and has only recently been able to focus his full attention on assuming the governor's office.

He's also still building his team of advisers and Cabinet members, although many of those jobs were filled out this week.

"Of course they've got to get on their feet and get directed and direct themselves toward their goals. That takes a little time to warm up," Bosma said. "I'm sure we'll hear from the governor in a very strong fashion at his State of the State. That's generally the kickoff point for any governor's legislative initiative."=

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