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Texas voters approve 22 amendments

Turnout at the polls tops 11% as lawsuit award lid wins nod

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AUSTIN, Texas — Texas voters approved all 22 constitutional amendments on a statewide ballot, including a heavily debated plan to limit medical malpractice and other civil lawsuit awards.

The vote was close on the lawsuit amendment, known as Proposition 12. With 99 percent of precincts reporting Sunday, 51 percent, or 734,897 voters, favored it, while 49 percent, or 708,726 voters, opposed it.

Voters also approved amendments that, among other things, allow wineries in "dry" counties to sell their products on premises; protect religious groups' undeveloped land from taxation; allow issuance of up to $250 million in bonds for loans to communities trying to stave off military base closures; and allow six-person juries in district court misdemeanor trials.

The voter turnout topped 11 percent, above the 9 percent officials had predicted.

"Tonight Texans voted to protect doctors and nurses, to improve our civil justice system, and to preserve access to quality health care by passing Proposition 12," Republican Gov. Rick Perry, who campaigned aggressively for the lawsuit amendment, said after voting ended Saturday.

The amendment sets a $750,000 cap on non-economic damages in medical malpractice lawsuits, such as awards for pain and suffering, and empowers lawmakers to enact caps in all types of lawsuits. It limits awards against individual doctors to $250,000.

Doctors and business groups argued the limits would stop frivolous lawsuits and out-of-control jury verdicts. Trial lawyers, consumer advocates and some anti-crime groups said the amendment would let negligent people and corporations escape accountability.

Donald J. Palmisano, president of the American Medical Association, praised the constitutional change, saying it was "desperately needed to help curb lawsuit abuse in Texas."

"The nation was watching Texas, and Texas showed how to do things right," Palmisano said.