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TCPR Questions Merits, Fairness of Tax Incentives

The Tennessee Center for Policy Research was often critical of the Bredesen administration for its incentive packages aimed at attracting business. And now the nonprofit free-market think tank is scrutinizing the Haslam administration for the same issues.

TCPR issued the 2011 edition of its annual “Pork Report” Tuesday, saying it has found $371 million that state and local governments in Tennessee have wasted over the last year.

The report takes immediate aim at $140 million in state and local funds that will go to appliance maker Electrolux to build a manufacturing plant in Memphis. That deal was struck by former Gov. Phil Bredesen’s economic development team, but the Pork Report notes that current Gov. Bill Haslam has pledged $97 million in taxpayer money to follow through on the commitment.

Haslam has consistently said he intended to honor such commitments made by the Bredesen administration. House Republican Majority Leader Gerald McCormick told TNReport recently that while he finds it “distasteful” to offer tax incentives to entice companies to relocate to Tennessee, “unfortunately, that’s the playing field that we’re on.”

As with previous years, the Pork Report hammers on prodigal politicians and big-spending bureaucrats who in TCPR’s view play far too loose with tax dollars. Taxpayers can ill afford ill-advised spending in these troubled times, said TCPR president Justin Owen, who added that spending done in the name of stimulating the sluggish economy is often particularly suspect.

“As this year’s Pork Report shows, it’s times in economic calamity where citizens are faced with waste in their government as government tries to fix the economic problems,” Owen told reporters at a press conference Tuesday.

“We see this year in the Pork Report hundreds of millions of dollars being spent on economic development incentive packages, on energy and environmental programs,” he added. “While these things are often sold as a way to spur job growth, particularly the economic development incentives, they amount to nothing more than taking money out of certain taxpayers’ pockets and handing it to others — oftentimes large corporations in the form of corporate welfare.”

Owen said rarely have proponents of incentive packages demonstrated an appreciation of existing businesses.

“I will say that Gov. Haslam has signaled his intent to re-evaluate this process,” Owen said. “You saw just this morning, with Startup Tennessee, he is wanting to start focusing on some of those existing Tennessee businesses.

“We encourage that, and we hope that his administration will continue to move in that direction rather than continue to hand money to certain companies at the expense of others.”

But Owen said the state has spent “wildly” on environmental programs.

“We all know about the former governor’s affinity for solar energy, and it appears this governor will keep that going,” Owen said. “We have another $14.5 million going into innovative project grants for solar, even though solar accounts for a very tiny sliver of the overall energy market.”

Owen said the state will spend another $13 million to buy forests and wetlands in conservation efforts across the state and pointed out that the land is being bought with funds from the real estate transfer tax, meaning the land is being purchased on the backs of homeowners.

The Pork Report itself is a 28-page booklet that identifies what the authors call “waste, fraud, abuse and mismanagement of taxpayer money by state and local government officials.”

“Despite a changing political landscape in Tennessee, wasteful government spending has not disappeared,” the report says.

The report does offer some solutions, calling on the Legislature to enact stricter spending laws. It calls for a “kicker” law that would require the state to “kick” surplus funds back to taxpayers. It says the state should strengthen the Copeland Cap, which has been on the books since 1978 and prevents the Legislature from increasing spending beyond the rate of personal income growth. TCPR says since a simple majority can override the Copeland Cap, that should be changed to a two-thirds vote requirement.

The governor’s office responded to the report.

“Governor Haslam is proud of the budget, which passed unanimously in the General Assembly and includes key investments, strategic reductions and savings for the future,” said David Smith, press secretary for Haslam, in an e-mailed statement Tuesday.

“He is focused on making Tennessee the No. 1 location in the Southeast for high-quality jobs, and while economic development incentives play a role in that process, it is also why he is focused on improving education and ensuring Tennessee has an attractive business climate.”

TCPR’s report also cited $13 million in federal stimulus funds going to the Port of Cates Landing in northwest Tennessee, noting Haslam has devoted $7 million from the state budget to help build the port. The Pork Report says statements by local leaders suggest “corporate welfare” might not have been necessary for the port, saying private money was secured to build the port if state and federal money didn’t.

The report criticizes $2.5 million in tax credits for purchasers of the electric-powered Nissan Leaf, which the report says could result in an increase in state gas taxes. Likewise, it challenges funds going to Wacker Chemie, the German chemical company locating a plant in Bradley County, and notes Haslam has pledged $34.6 million in the budget to expand the plant. The Wacker deal was another Bredesen project.

Elsewhere, the report takes a swing at state-run golf courses, calling for raising the greens fees or leasing the state’s courses to private businesses. The report called the course at Pickwick Landing State Park a “money-sucker,” saying it has cost the state $1.7 million since 2005.

On local government, the report takes note of news reports saying Davidson County Criminal Court Clerk David Torrence worked only three days a week, sometimes two, concluding he worked only 50 percent of the time for a job that pay $125,000 a year.

Ben Cunningham, spokesman for Tennessee Tax Revolt, called TCPR “an extraordinary resource to this state.”

“The most important budget of all is the family budget, the taxpayers’ family budget,” Cunningham said. “All other government budgets must first come from that family budget, and if that family budget is not healthy those other budgets will not be healthy.”

With Signing of Lawsuit Damage Limits, Haslam Caps Legislative Priority List

Gov. Bill Haslam effectively cleaned his plate of his first legislative package as governor Thursday, signing a tort reform bill that has been touted as a way to create a better climate for jobs in Tennessee.

Haslam signed the bill in a formal setting at the Capitol, making it a clean sweep on his personal legislative agenda. Haslam had previously signed three education reform bills, one at the Capitol on teacher tenure changes, one in Memphis on charter schools Wednesday and one in Murfreesboro last week on his plan to apply Hope scholarships toward classes taken in summer school.

Haslam offered no jobs package of legislation per se, stating from the start that he did not think the state could legislate new jobs — a point with which Democrats took great issue. But the closest measure to a jobs bill was Haslam’s tort reform effort, which met forceful opposition, foremost among trial lawyers who employed lawyer/actor Fred Thompson to do their high-profile lobbying on the issue.

The bill passed 21-12 in the Senate and 72-24 in the House in a Legislature with a heavy Republican majority in each chamber. The Legislature adjourned May 21, but a strong contingent of key Republican lawmakers joined the governor for the signing ceremony on Thursday.

“This was obviously one of our key pieces of legislation,” Haslam told reporters after the ceremony. “I honestly think this will help encourage a better business environment.

“I think we did it in a way that protects victims’ rights but also sets up a predictable landscape for business, and that was our goal all along.”

One interest group, the free-market Tennessee Center for Policy Research, had estimated 30,000 jobs a year could be created with tort reform, translating into 577 jobs a week. Throughout the legislative session, however, it became difficult to get lawmakers or other proponents to put a number on potential job creation. Haslam refused to do so on Thursday. But Haslam said that growth would be genuine.

“I’ve seen supporters of this had a number that they thought it would create. I don’t know how you quantify it. But I do think it’s real,” Haslam said.

The law, formally the “Tennessee Civil Justice Act,” places a cap of $750,000 on non-economic damages in civil cases, although it creates exceptions in cases that involve intentional misconduct, destruction of records or activity under the influence of drugs and alcohol. That cap is extended to $1 million in catastrophic cases, which the law specifies as paraplegia, quadriplegia, amputation, substantial burns or the wrongful death of a parent leaving minor children.

The law places a cap on punitive damages at two times the compensatory damages or $500,000, whichever is greater.

Opponents of the bill had insisted that such decisions should be left in the hands of juries. People who had settled cases that involved severe personal suffering had been brought in to legislative hearings to help make the case against the bill. Thompson in particular had given stirring testimony about the need to leave such decisions in the hands of jurors.

Haslam made special mention Thursday of his legal counsel, Herbert Slatery, and his work on the matter.

“People on both sides of the issue were giving him a strong piece of their mind,” Haslam said of Slatery. “But he kept coming back to ‘What’s the right thing to do?'”

Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, said Thursday he had seen seven years as a legislator waiting for the day to come when such a bill would be signed. Sen. Mark Norris, R-Collierville, said it was more like 10.

“Ten years is the length of time we’ve toiled in this vineyard to bring true tort reform to the state of Tennessee,” Norris said. “It wasn’t until Governor Haslam came along with his vision and his focus that we were able to get it across the line.”

The law is particularly welcome in the medical profession.

“For the doctors in the state, this has been a long time coming,” said Don Alexander, CEO of the Tennessee Medical Association. “They need stability in their practices, when the largest expense is their professional liability. Now they know how to at least gauge and know exactly what to set aside to pay. They can limit their coverage a little bit more.

“This is going to make an environment in Tennnessee much more attractive to doctors to come to Tennessee.”

Alexander said that previously doctors who were trained in the state would leave the state because of a liability environment that has been “kind of toxic.”

With tort reform and education legislation completed, Haslam is likely to draw more attention now to his efforts to combat unemployment more directly.

Now that steps have been made ostensibly to create a better climate for business, the issue of job growth will get more scrutiny under the first-year governor. Haslam has made job growth in the state his top priority and has said his legislative agenda was designed for that purpose. Nevertheless, further discussion of education reforms is also expected, including issues of school calendars and the length of school days.

Mike Morrow is a correspondent for TNReport.com, an independent nonprofit news organization supported by readers like you.

Tort Reform Bill Passes Senate

The Senate delivered for Gov. Bill Haslam on one of his primary legislative objectives Thursday, passing a tort reform measure that includes caps on non-economic damages in jury awards.

The vote was 21-12, with Sen. Mike Faulk, R-Church Hill, the only Republican voting against it. Faulk explained that he is a conservative and that that means believing in personal responsibility and less government, so he could not support legislating the change in the judicial system.

The measure, HB2008, still needs another trip through the House because of a minor Senate amendment before it goes to the governor, but there was a celebratory spirit among the Republican leadership and the Haslam administration outside the Senate chamber after the vote.

The bill is the second major legislative victory for Haslam, following his successful initiative on tenure reform for teachers. The House passed the tort reform bill earlier this week 72-24.

The legislation has been characterized as a jobs bill, with proponents saying it will help create an environment that would be attractive to businesses looking to relocate or expand in the state. It has been difficult to pin down lawmakers on how many jobs might be created because of tort reform.

“I believe this legislation will be an important piece of the puzzle — the mosaic as it were — that will make Tennessee more attractive for new and expanded business. I do sincerely believe that,” Sen. Mark Norris, R-Collierville, the Senate majority leader who carried the bill for Haslam, said after the vote.

“How many jobs? Nobody can say. There’s no crystal ball for that. We’ve joined the majority of states in the nation that have put a number of these reforms in place. At least on the global scale we can remain competitive.”

The Senate used well over three hours of debate before the vote. Norris and Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, did most of the talking for the bill, while Sen. Roy Herron, D-Dresden, and Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga, made most of the arguments against it.

Herron was especially passionate, suggesting that caps on non-economic damages on someone who has been harmed for life could be calculated to be less than what lawmakers get in their per diem serving in the Legislature.

As advocates for the bill told individual stories related to the bill, Berke called the bill “legislation by anecdote,” which Norris said was not the case. Kelsey argued that the bill could bring certainty and predictability into the system of awards in civil suits.

The bill caps non-economic damages at $750,000. It does not cap economic damages. It also caps punitive damages at $500,000 or two times the amount of compensatory damages, whichever is greater — although those caps would not apply in cases where the defendant’s act resulted in a felony conviction, or if records in the case have been intentionally falsified or concealed, or if the defendant was under the influence of alcohol or drugs during the act.

Another key element of the bill is the establishment of a cap of $1 million in cases that are considered to be “catastrophic” in nature. That figure had been the point of adjustments throughout the legislative process. One Democratic amendment offered Thursday would have raised the caps on non-economic damages to $1.25 million and catastrophic damages at $2.25 million but was defeated.

The bill spells out which conditions are to be considered catastrophic, including spinal cord injury resulting in paraplegia or quadriplegia; amputation of two hands, two feet or one of each; third-degree burns over 40 percent or more of the body as a whole or third-degree burns on 40 percent or more of the face; or the wrongful death of a parent leaving a surviving minor child or children for whom the deceased parent had custody.

Several other attempts by Democrats to alter the bill failed, including one that would have tied caps to increases in the consumer price index and one that would have added brain damage to the list of conditions spelled out in the catastrophic category.

Herbert Slatery, Haslam’s legal counsel, said the administration seeks a better environment for businesses.

“As the governor said, the long-term impact hopefully will be to create a more predictable structure in which businesses can quantify what the risk is going to be,” Slatery said after the vote. “It’s one really important factor in how they decide to expand in Tennessee or relocate in Tennessee. It’s just a very, very important factor.

“I think that kind of structure and predictability will allow them to assume what we really want them to assume, and that’s the risk of placing capital in the marketplace. If they will invest their capital and sign guarantees and things like that to expand their businesses, and take the business risk without having to worry so much about the legal side of it, at least they will know what the risk is — more now than they did. Then they will expand and relocate, we hope.”

Deputy Gov. Claude Ramsey was also in the hallway outside the Senate chamber following the vote.

Slatery’s presence in the hall was noticeable for the absence of former U.S. Sen Fred Thompson, who had been a high-profile lobbyist against the measure. Thompson was in Washington on Thursday, where he joined a group advocating for a totally different type of reform — creating a popular vote tally to determine the outcome of a presidential election.

Thompson was named a national “co-champion” of the National Popular Vote campaign, saying in a formal statement, “This is an idea whose time has come.”

Democrats had lawyerly spokesmen, however, in Herron and Berke, among others, against tort reform in Tennessee.

“Those who have done the worst will pay less of a price,” Herron said after the vote. “Those who have been hurt the most will pay more of a price.”

Herron is still looking for the problem that brought on the legislation.

“When you look and see where Tennessee ranks in terms of site selection and business rankings, we’re right at the top of the list, right now, already,” Herron said.

Norris emphasized the need to compete with other states.

“Competitiveness is important. But holding the system together and improving it along the way are also important, and I think these changes will do that,” Norris said.

“And if they don’t we’ll revisit them and fix them.”

Norris was asked what he would say to a victim who had been seriously wronged.

“That if there were not caps in damages there might be no system from which they could recover at all,” he said.

As the debate went long in the Senate, stacks of pizza were delivered to the lawmakers, with a list of other items on the calendar creating a work session that ran close to six hours. Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, made special mention of the length of debate on tort reform.

“It was an excellent debate,” Ramsey told the members. “That was four hours we spent on one bill, but it deserved four hours.”

Said Slatery, Haslam’s counsel, “I thought it was a very valuable exercise and was well-evaluated.

“I was proud of how the system worked.”

TCPR: Tennesseans Favor Tort Reform

Press Release from the Tennessee Center for Policy Research, April 6, 2011:

New Survey Shows Tennesseans Support Curbing Lawsuit Abuse

NASHVILLE – A recent survey of likely voters shows that Tennesseans support current efforts to curb lawsuit abuse. The poll was commissioned by the Tennessee Center for Policy Research and conducted under the supervision of Dr. David Woodard, a political science professor at Clemson University.

The survey posed a number of questions related to lawsuit abuse and reform to 450 Tennesseans who have voted in two of the past three general elections and plan to vote in 2012. These Tennesseans are responsible for the make-up of the present General Assembly, and will determine the next one as well.

By more than a two-to-one margin, 58 percent to 26 percent, Tennessee voters favor limiting medical malpractice lawsuits. Further, significantly more Tennesseans (46 percent) think that general lawsuit abuse reform is a “good thing” versus those that prefer the status quo (30 percent).

Additionally, the poll results show that:

  • Fifty-one percent of voters believe that making it more difficult to file lawsuits would help Tennessee’s business environment.
  • Over 44 percent of voters believe that people file lawsuits just to “win big money.”
  • Candidates for office who pledge to support tort reform are “more likely” to receive the vote of 71 percent of those surveyed, while 84 percent of voters said they would be “less likely” to support a candidate who took campaign contributions from personal injury lawyers.

“It’s not surprising that Tennesseans overwhelmingly support curbing lawsuit abuse in our state,” said Justin Owen, president of the Tennessee Center for Policy Research.

With a majority of Tennesseans linking the correlation between a reformed civil justice system and economic prosperity, the general sentiment of Tennesseans follows empirical evidence that reform leads to a better economic climate. TCPR’s recent policy report, Lawsuit Abuse in the Volunteer State, highlight many examples of this evidence.

“States like Texas and Mississippi have experienced measurable economic benefits since reforming their civil justice systems. Tennesseans understand that reform here could lead to many of those same results including new jobs, availability of health insurance and greater access to health care,” said Owen. “This poll shows that voters understand that Tennessee needs more jobs, not more lawsuits.”

About the Survey

The poll sample was representative of likely voters in Tennessee. There were 450 respondents surveyed between March 7 and March 11 by David Sparks & Associates in Clemson, South Carolina, under the supervision of Dr. David Woodard, Professor of Political Science at Clemson University. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percent.

The sample mirrored the voting population for Tennessee, with a female to male ratio of 53 percent to 47 percent. Age and race breakdowns were also identical to the voting population. Of those surveyed, 26 percent affiliate with the Republican Party, 20 percent with the Democratic Party, 17 percent identify themselves as independents, while 31 percent vote based “on who is running” and six percent identify with another party or did not answer.

About the Tennessee Center for Policy Research

The Tennessee Center for Policy Research is an independent, nonprofit, and nonpartisan think tank committed to achieving a freer, more prosperous Tennessee. Through research and advocacy, the Center promotes policy solutions grounded in the principles of free markets, individual liberty, and limited government. For more information, visit www.tennesseepolicy.org.

TCPR: Health Freedom Act Gives Tennesseans Recourse Against ObamaCare

Press Release from the Tennessee Center for Policy Research, March 7, 2011:

NASHVILLE – The Tennessee Center for Policy Research (TCPR) applauds the House of Representatives for passing the “Health Care Freedom Act” Monday evening. Once signed by the governor, the act will safeguard Tennesseans from the unconstitutional federal healthcare law that has become notoriously known as ObamaCare.

The “Health Care Freedom Act” protects the right of Tennesseans to participate or not in any healthcare system, and prohibits the government from imposing fines or penalties for that decision. It also protects the right of individuals to purchase—and the right of doctors to provide—lawful medical services without government fine or penalty.

“This is a very important day for Tennesseans, as the date draws near that the federal government will force them to purchase health insurance,” said TCPR president Justin Owen. “This new law will provide Tennesseans with additional recourse against what two federal judges have already ruled to be an unconstitutional mandate. We were honored to have played a role in securing this protection for our fellow citizens.”

TCPR congratulates the main sponsors of the legislation, Sen. Mae Beavers and Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver, as well as others who have worked tirelessly on the measure. The full list of co-sponsors can be viewed at www.capitol.tn.gov.

The Senate passed the bill in February by a bipartisan vote of 21-10. It passed overwhelmingly on the House floor tonight. The bill now goes to Governor Bill Haslam for final approval.

Tennessee joins Virginia, Idaho, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Missouri, and Oklahoma as the first eight states to pass a law or constitutional amendment protecting the healthcare choices of their citizens.

“It’s refreshing to see Tennessee lawmakers take a stand against the unconstitutional federal healthcare mandate,” said Christie Herrera of the American Legislative Exchange Council, the main proponent of this and similar legislation across the nation. “We thank the General Assembly for addressing this important issue before the true implications of ObamaCare hit home.”

The Tennessee Center for Policy Research is an independent, nonprofit and nonpartisan research organization committed to achieving a freer, more prosperous Tennessee through the ideas of liberty. Visit TCPR online at www.tennesseepolicy.org.

TCPR: Many Benefits Would Result from Restricting ‘Lawsuit Abuse’

Press Release from the Tennessee Center for Policy Research, March 1, 2011:

NASHVILLE, TN – Tennesseans can expect to see job growth, more affordable health care insurance, greater access to health care (particularly in rural counties), decreases in property/casualty rates, and a more predictable civil justice system should lawmakers pass much-needed lawsuit abuse reform, a panel of legal experts recently stated at a public education forum held on the campus of Vanderbilt University.

The three-member panel of James Blumstein, a law professor at Vanderbilt University; Ted Frank, Senior Fellow at the Manhattan Institute; and Charlie Ross, a former State Senator in Mississippi, presented their perspectives on how Tennessee businesses and citizens would benefit from lawsuit abuse reform, or tort reform. Their experiences are based on before-and-after findings in states where reform has passed, as well as academic research discussed in a newly released white paper called Lawsuit Abuse Reform in the Volunteer State.

Panelists agreed that Tennessee’s current civil justice system is both inconsistent and unsustainable. Senator Ross, who successfully led lawsuit abuse reform efforts in Mississippi, said “Reform brought more predictability to our civil court system. Our objective was never to take away the right of someone to file a lawsuit; our objective was to create more balance, and we did that.”

Other key points included:

  • Based on reforms in other states, lawsuit abuse reform could result in 30,000 jobs a year or 577 jobs each week in Tennessee.
  • Reform could mean 67,000 more Tennesseans would have health insurance.
  • Reform means greater access to medical care, particularly in rural counties.
  • Reform could lead to legal settlements that are more in line with actual harm done.

Representatives for Focus577, a recently launched campaign to educate citizens about the need for reform in civil lawsuits, say lawsuit abuse reform is quickly becoming a hot topic for the Tennessee General Assembly. The goal of Focus577, named for the potential of 577 new jobs created each week through reform, is to educate Tennesseans of the positive legal and economic impact that lawsuit abuse reform has had in other states.

February’s forum was sponsored by the Tennessee Center for Policy Research, an independent, nonprofit, and nonpartisan think tank committed to achieving a freer, more prosperous Tennessee. For a detailed account of the forum, see the Tennessee Report at http://tnreport.com/2011/02/talking-tort-reform.

Through research and advocacy, the Tennessee Center for Policy Research promotes policy solutions grounded in the principles of free markets, individual liberty, and limited government. For more information about lawsuit abuse reform, visit www.focus577.org or www.tennesseepolicy.org.

Talking Tort Reform

A former Mississippi state senator and key figure in enacting landmark lawsuit reform in his state told a group in Nashville Tuesday night that Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam is offering up beneficial legislation of his own in that regard.

“I’ve looked at the governor’s proposed bill. In my judgment, it is a very good bill. In my judgment, it can only make your system better,” said Charlie Ross, a lawyer and past chairman of a Mississippi legislative committee that hashed out the framework for comprehensive state tort reform in 2004.

“If you look at states like Mississippi, you can see it is not just pie in the sky. I commend you. Try to pass what the governor is proposing,” Ross told an audience of about 70 people gathered for a panel discussion on tort reform at Vanderbilt University.

The program was arranged by the Tennessee Center for Policy Research, a free-market think tank that plans to hold similar forums across the state as part of the group’s new campaign “to educate Tennesseans on the benefits of lawsuit abuse reform.”

“Like many states, Tennessee is plagued by a flawed civil justice system that allows trial lawyers to abuse the process to the detriment of all Tennesseans,” according to TCPR’s new tort reform-focused website, Focus577.org, The site is named for TCPR’s calculation that lawsuit reform of the sort being proposed by the Haslam administration would result in the creation of 577 new jobs a week in Tennessee.

“Among other consequences, lawsuit abuse costs Tennesseans jobs, limits access to healthcare, and drives up the cost of goods and services,” the Focus577.org site states. “As states like Texas and Mississippi have experienced, lawsuit abuse reform can be the catalyst for substantial job and economic growth in Tennessee. Without question, simply enacting responsible reforms that lead to a more fair and just legal system will have a tremendous impact on our state’s economy.”

The discussion TCPR hosted Tuesday evening included three panelists, all of whom agreed legislation of some type is necessary in Tennessee to mitigate or limit the negative effects exceedingly large judgments can have on the overall business environment or ability of professional services providers — particularly in the field of health care — to profitably operate in the state.

Comments leaned heavily on the issue of unpredictability in the current system. The panelists said defendants need to know what the parameters and possible outcomes of cases are heading into a trial — and that currently there is little or no way to gauge what the size of an award might be.

James Blumstein, a constitutional law professor at Vanderbilt University often quoted in news articles on Tennessee legal matters, emphasized the need to have “safe harbors” of standards, narrowed and focused, and understood by all sides on the front end of a case.

Ted Frank, an adjunct fellow with the Manhattan Institute’s Center for Legal Policy, said industries cannot adequately anticipate what might happen in cases against them. He used the car manufacturing industry as an example, where the safety of specific parts of vehicles come into question.

Frank and former Sen. Ross used common phrases like “jackpot justice” to describe what has been happening.

There were differences of opinion among the panelists as to how to achieve their goals.

Blumstein said he isn’t a big advocate for simply capping damages, an approach that constitutes the thrust of what Haslam has proposed for Tennessee. “I would be very cautious about adopting a cap,” said Blumstein, who has indicated he believes any reform law that applies hard-and-fast caps is destined for serious legal challenge.

Blumstein instead advocates a system of “established scenarios,” with ranges of awards for each of them, that courts should follow. He said that would provide more structure and make awards more predictable — which the system badly needs, he added.

Blumstein compared the current civil-litigation environment with that of criminal law before the adoption of sentencing guidelines, when defendants accused of the same crimes faced wildly different punishments from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

Frank argued that any perceived flaws in caps on awards, particularly in the arena of medical malpractice, are outweighed by the positive effects caps have by lowering the insurance premiums doctors pay in general, which in turn entices good doctors to stay instead of moving on to where it is more affordable to operate a business.

Haslam, who just last week introduced his first package of legislative proposals since taking office, has placed education and tort reform at the top of his wish list. While Haslam has made jobs his top priority, he has not made job recruitment, per se, the subject of legislation. Tort reform, however, will make the state more competitive with other states in its recruitment of jobs, the governor argues.

Haslam has called for a cap of $750,000 on non-economic, pain-and-suffering damages in a case, and a cap on punitive damages of two times compensatory damages or $500,000, whichever is greater.

TCPR Hosting Tort Reform Forum: ‘Lawsuit Abuse’ Aggravates Unemployment, says Free-Market Group

Press Release from the Tennessee Center for Policy Research, Feb. 21, 2010:

Focus577  Campaign Kicks Off with February Forum

NASHVILLE, TN – Key changes to the state’s civil justice system could create an average of 30,000 jobs a year, provide health insurance for 67,000 more Tennesseans, give greater access to much needed medical care, and result in legal settlements that are more in line with actual harm done, say representatives for Focus577, a campaign launched today to educate citizens about the need for reform in civil lawsuits.

Lawsuit abuse reform, or tort reform, is quickly becoming a hot topic for the Tennessee General Assembly. Based on similar legislation passed in other states including Mississippi and Texas, proponents argue that reducing lawsuit abuse will lead to a more fair and just system, as well as boost the state’s economy.

Focus577, named for the potential of 577 new jobs created each week through reform, is being launched by the Tennessee Center for Policy Research, an independent, nonprofit, and nonpartisan think tank. The goal of Focus577 is to educate Tennesseans of the positive legal and economic impact that lawsuit abuse reform has had in other states.

“The facts speak for themselves,” said Justin Owen, Tennessee Center for Policy Research president. “Independent academics and researchers have studied states that have passed various types of reform ranging from non-economic and punitive damages caps to class action reform. Based on the measurable outcomes in those areas, there’s no question that Tennesseans could best be served by lawsuit abuse reform through job creation, availability of health insurance, greater access to medical care, and an overall improved quality of life for them and their families.”

According to a new study, Lawsuit Abuse Reform in the Volunteer State, released today by the Tennessee Center for Policy Research:

  • With lawsuit abuse reform, Tennessee can create an average of 30,000 jobs each year. That’s 577 jobs every week.
  • Reform could allow as many as 67,000 uninsured Tennesseans to finally obtain health insurance.
  • Forty-seven counties in Tennessee currently lack an emergency doctor. Reform could bring an emergency doctor to at least five or six of these counties, a much needed infusion of doctors in areas that must now do without.
  • If lawsuit abuse reform had been enacted in 2000, the state could have produced an additional $895 million in health care revenue, $611 million in durable goods manufacturing, and an additional $806 million in the retail trade industry in Tennessee over the ensuing decade. That’s more than $2.3 billion in additional production lost due to abusive lawsuits.

Owen stressed that lawsuit abuse reform isn’t about taking away the rights of citizens to file suit or limit their access to the courts. “When an individual or a business does wrong, they should be held accountable,” said Owen. “Unfortunately, our current civil justice system is rigged to allow trial lawyers to prey off both plaintiffs and defendants.”

“Our goal is to help people understand the benefits of making changes that would curb frivolous lawsuits, unclog the system, diminish unjustified multi-million dollar judgments, and at the same time, protect innocent Tennesseans from trial lawyers’ predatory practices. By following the lead of other states that have implemented broad-based lawsuit abuse reform, Tennessee could reap significant economic and legal benefits while maintaining a fair, just legal system.”

The Tennessee Center for Policy Research will kick off the Focus557 campaign by hosting an educational forum for the public on Tuesday, February 22, from 6:30 to 8:00 p.m. at the Vanderbilt University Commons Center, Room 237, 230 Appleton Place. Free parking is available in Lot 77 off the corner of 18th Avenue South and Horton Avenue. Click here for a map. For more information or to RSVP, call (615) 383-6431.

The full study, Lawsuit Abuse Reform in the Volunteer State, can be downloaded at:

http://www.tennesseepolicy.org/wp-content/uploads/Lawsuit-Abuse-Reform-in-the-Volunteer-State.pdf.

The Tennessee Center for Policy Research is an independent, nonprofit, and nonpartisan think tank committed to achieving a freer, more prosperous Tennessee. Through research and advocacy, the Center promotes policy solutions grounded in the principles of free markets, individual liberty, and limited government. For more information, visit www.tennesseepolicy.org.

Study: Florida Education Progress Proves Tennessee Can Do Better

Press Release from the Tennessee Center for Policy Research and the Foundation for Educational Choice, Feb. 9, 2011:

NASHVILLE, TN – Tennessee K-12 education has experienced a “lost decade”, while by comparison, a decade of revolutionary reforms has led to extraordinary K-12 achievement gains in Florida, according to a new study released today by the Indianapolis-based Foundation for Educational Choice and the Tennessee Center for Policy Research. “Lessons for Tennessee from Florida’s Education Revolution” is a primer for state leaders who want to improve education results, better serve families, and close the academic achievement gap.

The study compares critical fourth-grade reading scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). It found that Florida’s students, who ranked behind Tennessee in 1998, gained 20 points – the equivalent of two grade levels – to best Tennessee’s scores by nine points. Key among the study’s findings is that Florida’s Hispanic students on average are outperforming the statewide average of all Tennessee students on that test.

“Through its revolutionary, yet common-sense reforms, Florida has created a path to improvement that can work in Tennessee,” said Dr. Matthew Ladner, the study’s author, who noted that fourth-grade reading results are a reliable, commonly accepted predictor of students’ future academic trajectory. “Florida established high standards, implemented innovative testing, ended social promotion of illiterate students, rewarded effective teachers, and increased parental choice in schooling. Tennessee has done none of these, a fact that is sadly reflected in the state’s academic performance.”

In his research, Dr. Ladner found that Florida’s Hispanic students outperform or tie the statewide average of all students in 30 states, including Tennessee.

“This study and the state of Florida prove that it’s time to enact the reforms necessary to equip our children to succeed,” said Justin Owen, president of the Tennessee Center for Policy Research, a free market think tank in Nashville. “Florida’s example shows that remarkable gains across demographic and economic lines are possible when policies are in place that empower parents and teachers and hold schools accountable.”

In addition to gains by the state’s Hispanic students, the academic growth of Florida’s African American students is equally impressive. Over the past decade, African American students in Florida, on average, realized a 25-point gain in reading achievement, whereas African American students in Tennessee progressed by only four points. Moreover, Florida’s low-income students gained an astounding 27 points (equivalent to nearly three grade levels) to tie with the statewide average of all Tennessee students.

“This study is more proof of what we’re seeing across the nation,” Robert Enlow, president and CEO of the Foundation for Educational Choice, said. “When true reform occurs and parents are given the freedom to choose the education that’s best for their children, students are able to break through every barrier and truly excel. The real question is whether the adults making the decisions impacting Tennessee schools have the courage to do what’s right for the kids trapped in stagnant schools.”

About the Foundation for Educational Choice

The Foundation for Educational Choice is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit and nonpartisan organization, solely dedicated to advancing Milton and Rose Friedman’s vision of school choice for all children. First established as the Milton and Rose D. Friedman Foundation in 1996, the foundation continues to promote school choice as the most effective and equitable way to improve the quality of K-12 education in America. The foundation is dedicated to research, education, and outreach on the vital issues and implications related to choice and competition in K-12 education.

About the Tennessee Center for Policy Research

The Tennessee Center for Policy Research is an independent, nonprofit, and nonpartisan research organization that provides solutions to public policy issues in Tennessee. The Center is committed to achieving a freer, more prosperous Tennessee by advancing the principles of free markets, individual liberty, and limited government.

About Dr. Matthew Ladner

Dr. Ladner is a Senior Fellow with The Foundation for Educational Choice. He is Vice President of Research for the Goldwater Institute and coauthor of the American Legislative Exchange Council’s Report Card on American Education: Ranking State K-12 Performance, Progress, and Reform.

Visit www.EdChoice.org/TNvsFL to read the full study.

TCPR Releases Updated Legislators’ Guide

Press Release from the Tennessee Center for Policy Research, Jan. 12, 2011:

Think Tank Releases Second Edition of its Legislators’ Guide to the Issues; Policy guide offers free market recommendations on dozens of topics

NASHVILLE – The Tennessee Center for Policy Research today released the second edition of its Legislators’ Guide to the Issues (pdf). The guide is a 90-page resource for state lawmakers as they confront various policy issues during the 107th General Assembly. A complimentary copy of the guide was provided to every state legislator.

“We are proud to provide a comprehensive policy guide to lawmakers for the second straight General Assembly,” said Justin Owen, president of the Tennessee Center for Policy Research. “No other publication offers a better roadmap to a freer, more prosperous Tennessee than our Legislators’ Guide to the Issues.”

The guide also contains citations to additional resources that lawmakers, the media, and citizens alike can use to educate themselves on a range of policy issues.

The first edition of the Legislators’ Guide was essential at promoting common sense policy solutions in the state. The General Assembly advanced legislation related to nearly one-quarter of the 43 proposals in the first guide.

“Our first Legislators’ Guide served as an invaluable tool for state legislators, and we are confident that the new-and-improved guide will serve members of the 107th General Assembly well as they conduct the people’s business,” said Owen.

An electronic copy of the Legislators’ Guide to the Issues can be found online at: www.tennesseepolicy.org or downloaded here. Those wishing to purchase a hardcopy can do so by emailing info@tennesseepolicy.org or calling (615) 383-6431.