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Russell Daniel Andrew Breaker

COLUMBIA -- Gov. Nikki Haley urged state senators Wednesday to move swiftly to pass legislation meant to limit lawsuits, warning that she will be grading them on it.

Haley put a time limit on what she wants, saying the Senate needs to pass a bill capping punitive damages next week, following the budget debate. She called it essential to her job-recruitment efforts.

And the Republican issued a reminder after several months in office: "It is on the Haley legislative report card." In March she released a draft of her report card that she plans to distribute publicly after the session ends.

"I need the Senate to come through if they truly care about jobs," she said at a news conference.

Haley framed the issue as pitting trial lawyers against jobs.

Mike Hemlepp, executive director of the state Association for Justice, said her remarks unnecessarily politicize a complex issue that could have unintended consequences on South Carolina businesses if not handled correctly.

The bill passed by the House in February would limit the maximum punitive damage award to $350,000 or three times the actual damages awarded, whichever is greater. Floor debate in the Senate began in March, but was put on hold as senators handled the budget for the coming fiscal year.

House Speaker Bobby Harrell said the state is at a competitive disadvantage because neighboring states have limits on punitive damages. He noted the House passed the measure 100-7.

"This isn't a Republican versus Democrat or a lawyer versus non-lawyer issue. There are more than seven lawyers in the South Carolina House of Representatives," said Harrell, R-Charleston. "That's why we're all here today. We can't stand idly by and watch while the clock runs out."