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Tennessee Senate Dems Legislative Update: May 13

Press Release from the Senate Democratic Caucus, May 13, 2011: 

Tort Reform Passes

Senate Democrats fought Republican efforts on Thursday to cap noneconomic damages for civil lawsuits. House Bill 2008, as approved by the Senate, limits those damages designed to compensate an injured person for pain, suffering, and the decreased quality of life that accompanies severe injuries.

Senator Eric Stewart described the action by saying, “Today state lawmakers put a price on the life of our children. They put a price on the life of our parents and grandparents. They put a price on the life of the weak, the paralyzed, the neglected — all under the guise of economic development.”

The measure, which removes authority from juries to award damages as they see fit, would also cap punitive damages at twice the total of economic and noneconomic damages, therefore creating an effectively lower cap for people with lower incomes.

Given that last year only 14 trials resulted in verdicts that would have exceeded these caps, Chairman Lowe Finney argued, “This legislation doesn’t create jobs. Instead, it hurts those who need help the most.”

Voter Confidence Act Damaged

On Thursday the Senate also passed House Bill 386, a bill that removes the requirements for counties to use more secure voting machines with a verifiable paper trail. Senator Roy Herron, who has been vocal in his opposition to this measure, said that “the state should invest in the integrity of our ballot box and making sure our votes count through a verifiable paper trail.”

This move comes despite numerous incidents of voting machines getting hacked and malfunctioning in the last election and many of Tennessee’s voting machines being called “the least secure in the country” by experts.

Anti-discrimination ordinance overturned

The Senate also approved Senate Bill 632, a bill that repeals a recent Nashville ordinance that protects homosexuals and transgendered people from discrimination by city contractors. The bill, which requires all local anti-discrimination policies to match state policies, was strongly opposed by Davidson County representatives who accused state lawmakers of supporting government interference in what should be a local matter.

Collective bargaining restrictions back in House

For the second time, House Bill 130, the bill that would limit teachers’ ability to collectively bargain, has moved out of the House Finance, Ways, and Means Committee. The House bill differs from the Senate version in that it still allows teachers to negotiate on some issues, but if the measure passes on the House floor next week, it is expected to be altered to match the Senate’s more restrictive language. After the 13-12 vote in committee, the bill moves to the House floor this Monday.

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