By Kenric Ward | Watchdog.org Virginia Bureau
FALMOUTH — Virginia’s Legislature won’t convene for six months, but House of Delegates Speaker William Howell is gearing up for the 2013 legislative session and already sees reform efforts on the horizon.
In a one-on-one interview Monday with Watchdog.org Virginia Bureau, Howell, R-Falmouth, predicted a push for tort reform and further efforts at curbing public-employee pension costs.
The Legislature is scheduled to meet for 46 days in 2013.
The Republican-dominated House, along with Virginia’s business community, are eager to ease the rules for dismissing lawsuits as part of a tort reform package, Howell said.
Unlike other states that allow for summary dismissals by a judge before a civil trial begins, Virginia law requires that plaintiffs and defendants put on a full case first, said Howell, a lawyer.
“There hasn’t been much tort reform in the last 15 years,” said the veteran lawmaker, who was first elected in 1988.
The House Courts of Justice Committee is scheduled to debate a streamlined tort law proposal on July 18.
Howell also predicted that public-pension costs will be up for more discussion next year.
Though the state pumped millions into the pension fund this year and has developed a “hybrid” pension combining the current defined-benefit system with a defined-contribution model used in the private sector, Howell said efforts thus far have “only nibbled around the edges” of real reform.
House and Senate Republicans may have an ally in state employee unions, who, Howell said, are open to conversion. But, he added, the Virginia Education Association, the state’s teachers union, remains unalterably opposed.