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TCA: State Legislators Cater to Corporate Interests

Newsletter from Tennessee Citizen Action; March 12, 2012:

Patterns. They’re everywhere. But in a political climate such as ours where money equals speech and large corporations and their CEOs can literally buy all the access to our elected officials that they want, the most troubling pattern is the one we’re noticing at our state legislature in Nashville.

While we maintain that our state legislators should be accountable first to the 99%, they believe that their sole purpose is to cater to CEO campaign contributors and their corporate interests.

Read the updates below and watch the pattern unfold.

  • CIVIL JUSTICE: Hold large corporations accountable for their egregious behavior.
  • EQUAL ACCESS TO THE BALLOT BOX FOR ALL: Make it easier for people to vote – not harder.
  • TRANSPARENCY AND ACCOUNTABILITY: Make our government institutions more transparent and accountable to the people – not less. A government that works for us.
  • WORKER’S RIGHTS: Value the hardworking people of the state and their families (our most precious resource) instead of attacking them.

CIVIL JUSTICE (aka HOLDING CORPORATIONS ACCOUNTABLE aka “YOU WANT YOUR DAY IN COURT? TOO BAD, ‘CAUSE WE’RE TOO BUSY PROTECTING CORPORATIONS AND THEIR CAMPAIGN CONTRIBUTING CEOs.”)

A couple of weeks ago we wrote about another Tennessean article that unfortunately established as given the memes that our civil justice system is broken (“tort reform”) and that Tennessee has a problem with lawsuits run amok. Neither is true. The article did, however, do an excellent job of explaining the malicious intent of HB2980 and HB3124 [go ahead and add HB174 and HB2979 to that quickly growing list], bills being pushed by “business, insurance and health-care interests…” Read more…

CIVIL JUSTICE BILLS UPDATE

HB2979 / SB2789

SPONSORS: Rep. Vance Dennis (R-Savannah) / Sen. Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown)

SUMMARY: Corporations are people…rummaging through your medical records. If this bill becomes law, it would allow health insurance corporations and their lawyers to see ALL your medical, mental health, and drug abuse record from ALL your doctors in defense of a lawsuit.

See, large corporate hospitals and nursing homes don’t care that 1985 was 27 years ago. If you file suit against one of them today, they want to be able to go back and read all about that bout of severe depression you had when you didn’t make your college baseball team.

  • In fact, if you were to file a lawsuit against a one of them today, HB2979 would allow them to obtain ALL your medical records from ALL your doctors – even the ones that do not pertain to the lawsuit.
  • And if that wasn’t enough of an invasion of your privacy, the bill would authorize the attorney of the health insurance company to get any of your mental health and drug and alcohol abuse treatment records – no matter how far in the past!
  • And if THAT wasn’t enough, the bill would also allow the attorney for the health insurance company to interview ANY of your doctors without your lawyer being present.

If it doesn’t have anything to do with the suit your family filed when your mother was abused in a nursing home, why do they need to know? Just what are they trying to dig up and how will they attempt to use it in their defense?

Update: Will be heard in House General Subcommittee of Judiciary on Wednesday, 3/14, at 8:30 AM or 3:30 PM in room 31. Watch here. See list of legislators on the committee here.

HB174 / SB360

SPONSORS: Rep. Glen Casada (R-Franklin), Sen. Jack Johnson (R-Franklin)

SUMMARY: Elimination of patient protections in the emergency room…and beyond.

Here we go again, another bill that hangs the least among us out to dry in favor of protecting the profits of large corporations. This bill, if it became law, would changes the burden of proof for medical malpractice cases originating in emergency rooms to ” gross negligence.” What’s wrong with that, you ask? Well, “gross negligence” is a very high burden to meet, anything short of criminal conduct, physical assault and abuse would be protected by this bill.

Example: A woman is sent home and dies after an ER doctor fails to diagnose the obvious signs of an ectopic pregnancy. This could be deemed mere negligence and the patient’s family would have no restitution.

And the accountability-free zone doesn’t stop in the emergency room. If you are admitted to the ER the bill also requires the “gross negligence” burden to follow you to emergency surgery and the OB unit.

The continuation of the war on women and low-income Tennesseans, anyone?

Update: Will be heard in House General Subcommittee of Judiciary on Wednesday, 3/14, at 8:30 AM or 3:30 PM in room 31. Watch here. See list of legislators on the committee here.

HB3124 / SB2638

SPONSORS: Rep. Vance Dennis (R-Savannah), Sen. Jack Johnson (R-Franklin)

SUMMARY: Motions to dismiss aka “Loser Pays.”

This bill would like to do the un-American thing and get rid of the “American Rule,” the rule that says that each party in a lawsuit pays their own lawyer’s fees. The effect? Deep-pocketed corporations and insurance companies that can afford the risk would drag out lawsuits brought by injured Tennesseans. And working-class Tennesseans and small businesses owners might be too scared to file a lawsuit because they could get stuck paying the litigation fees of a company with an unlimited funds.

Update: Will be heard in House General Subcommittee of Judiciary on Wednesday, 3/14, at 8:30 AM or 3:30 PM in room 31. Watch here. See list of legislators on the committee here.

HB2980 / SB2706

SPONSORS: Rep. Vance Dennis (R-Savannah), Sen. Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown)

SUMMARY: Requires a person who brought a lawsuit to pay the opposing side’s attorneys’ fees and costs if he or she rejects a settlement offer that later turns out to be better than the verdict.

Yet another potential law that, like loser pays, would have a chilling effect on holding corporations accountable for egregious acts of willful negligence. Remember “Kill Old People Cheap?”

Update: Will be heard in House General Subcommittee of Judiciary on Wednesday, 3/14, at 8:30 AM or 3:30 PM in room 31. Watch here. See list of legislators on the committee here.

Other Civil Justice News:

  • A South Carolina Baptist Pastor says caps on damages are “heartless & ridiculous.” Read more…

EQUAL ACCESS TO THE BALLOT BOX FOR ALL

There’s no better way to intro this section than to post the first paragraph of Ari Berman’s latest piece in Rolling Stone:

 Since the 2010 election, Republicans have waged an unprecedented war on voting, with the unspoken but unmistakable goal of preventing millions of mostly Democratic voters, including students, minorities, immigrants, ex-convicts and the elderly, from casting ballots in 2012. More than a dozen states, from Texas to Wisconsin and Florida, have passed laws designed to impede voters at every step of the electoral process, whether by requiring birth certificates to register to vote, restricting voter registration drives, curtailing early voting, requiring government-issued IDs to cast a ballot, or disenfranchising ex-felons.

Or maybe there is a better way. Maybe it’s the appearance Congressman Lincoln Davis made on Keith Olbermann’s show to fight back against the suppression tactics that prevented him from voting on Tuesday. Or maybe it’s TSU student Christopher Martin who narrowly escaped disenfranchisement. Or maybe it’s the World War II veteran who was turned away at polls. Or maybe it’s the new photo ID to vote law that triggered 285 provisional ballots, not all of which were counted. Or maybe it’s the fact that approximately 126,000 seniors who do not have a picture on their drivers license and only a fraction of that number of free IDs were issued since the law took effect. Or maybe it’s the illusion that you can get the ID you need to vote for free. Or maybe it’s just a lone former Marine taking a stand against a law that has taken away the right to vote from the least among us.

ELECTION BILL UPDATE

HB2176 / SB2139

SPONSORS: Rep. Mike Turner (D-Nashville), Sen. Lowe Finney (D-Jackson)

SUMMARY: Repeals the photo ID to vote law.

Update: The bill, along with all the other Voter Photo ID bills listed here, will be heard in House State and Local Government Subcommittee on Wednesday, 3/14, at 3:30 PM in room 30. Watch here. See list of legislators on the committee here.

Action #1: We will need a strong show of support in the committee room when this bill is heard on Wednesday. If you can come, wear yellow to support voting rights in Tennessee.

Action #2: Now is the time to START EMAILING AND CALLING YOUR REPRESENTATIVESin the State House and Senate to urge them to repeal the photo ID to vote law. Find the contact info for your representatives by going to www.capitol.tn.gov/legislators and entering your address and zip code. If you send an email, don’t forget to put your zip code in the subject line.

Sample call: “Hi, my name is _____________, and I am a constituent of Rep. ___________ (or Sen. __________). My address is ___________________.

I am asking you to please vote to repeal the photo ID to vote law. The requirements necessary to comply with the law are excessive & restrictive. It’s not right that Tennessee lawmakers are taking away a person’s right to vote and then telling them they have to have a very specific government-issued photo ID to get it back.

Government-issued photo ID restrictions like the one we have in Tennessee will disproportionately affect seniors, people with disabilities, students, rural Tennesseans, people who work 2 and 3 jobs, and people of color. This law will disenfranchise those whose vote is very often the only voice they have in our democratic process. Thank you.

EQUAL ACCESS TO THE BALLOT BOX IN THE NEWS:

  • Senator Stacey Campfield (R-Knoxville) accuses Judge Barbara Haynes, wife of Senator Joe Haynes (D-Nashville), of voter fraud. Watch video…
  • More from Tim Thompson, the former marine who protested the photo ID to vote law: Why he did it (for those who can’t vote) Watch video… & What we can do to change it (join together – both parties – and fight for voting rights) Watch video…
  • The Rachel Maddow Show blog summarizes Super Tuesday like this, “Yesterday in ‘Trying to Vote.'” Read more…
  • A Wisconsin Judge bars voter ID law temporarily. Read more…

A GOVERNMENT THAT IS TRANSPARENT, ACCOUNTABLE, AND WORKS FOR THE 99% (aka You know we SHOULD be able to see you, right?)

Governor Bill Haslam is on a secrecy bender and his Republican allies in the House and Senate have introduced their own gems. HB2385 would allow the governor to appoint the executive director of the Tennessee Regulatory Authority, which oversees everything from natural gas companies to suburban sewer systems and phone calls by telemarketers. HB3281 would remove that prohibition along with deleting the requirement on certain large contributions made within 10 days of election. SB2249 would allow the governor to appoint the executive directors of some key state agencies that work with moving our state forward on behalf of the 99%. The one good bill, HB2301, which would require legislators to identify the authors of legislation (like all those ALEC bills), has been killed in committee.

TRANSPARENCY & ACCOUTABILITY BILL UPDATE

SB 2207 / HB 2345

SPONSORS: Sen. Mark Norris (R-Collierville), Rep. Gerald McCormick (R-Chattanooga)

SUMMARY: Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposal to offer cash incentives to large corporations in secret and without any kind of accountability. SB2207 adds due diligence materials (which include “organization structure and ownership” to the list of documents and records that are to remain confidential within the Department of Economic and Community Development.

UPDATE: To be heard in Senate Commerce, Labor & Agriculture Committee on Tuesday, 3/13/12 at 1:30 PM in Room 12.

  • Joe White reports for WPLN, that the bill “flew out of a House committee unquestioned after Representative Kevin Brooks (R) argued for the bill, “At the very same time we’re protecting corporate privacy, which they, in the industry, have said to us is important.” Ah, yes, “they.” As in “they” who are undoubtedly more important to Rep. Brooks than the people and their right to know what their government is up to and how their hard-earned tax dollars are being spent.
  • The City Paper had a jaw-dropping exchange with Governor Haslam about the bill where he states that the people don’t have to know “whose crony is getting the money” because “we [his administration] would know.”
  • Sen. Roy Herron (D- Dresden) summarizes why this is a bad bill and Sen. Bo Watson (R-Hixson) also expressed his concerns with the bill.

HB 3281 / SB 3645

SPONSORS: Rep. Debra Maggart (R-Hendersonville); Sen. Bo Watson (R-Hixson), Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey (R-Blountville), Sen. Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro)

SUMMARY: Removes the prohibition on insurance companies to make campaign contributions, along with removing PAC aggregate limitation on candidates and deleting the requirement on certain large contributions made within 10 days of election.

HB3281 is more secrecy and more prioritization of corporate campaign contributors against the 99%. Doesn’t look like “Is it good for the people of the state?” to us. It is, in fact, extraordinarily self-serving legislation.

UPDATE: Passed by the Senate State & Local Government committee last week and sent to Calendar Committee to be scheduled for a Senate floor vote. To be heard in the House State & Local Govt Subcommittee on 3/14 at 8:30 AM or 3:30 PM in Room 30.

SB 2247 / HB 2385

SPONSORS: Sen. Mark Norris (R-Collierville), Rep. Gerald McCormick (R-Chattanooga)

SUMMARY: Would allow the governor to appoint the executive director of the which deals only with the Tennessee Regulatory Authority, which oversees everything from natural gas companies to suburban sewer systems and phone calls by telemarketers.

UPDATE: To be heard Set in Senate Government Operations Committee on 3/14/12 at 11:00 AM in Room 12. To be heard in the House State & Local Government Subcommittee on 3/14 at 8:30 AM or 3:30 PM in Room 30.

SB 2249 / HB 2387

SPONSORS: Sen. Mark Norris (R-Collierville), Rep. Gerald McCormick (R-Chattanooga)

SUMMARY: Would allow the governor to appoint executive directors the Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC), the Tennessee Commission on Aging and Disability, the Tennessee Arts Commission and the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth, taking that authority away from the boards themselves.

UPDATE: To be heard in Senate Government Operations Committee 3/14 at 11:00 AM in room 12. Also set for House Finance Subcommittee on 3/14 at 11:00 AM in room 29.

HB 3795 / SB 3430

SPONSORS: Sen. Mike Bell (R-Riceville), Rep. Jim Cobb (R-Spring City)

SUMMARY: Would remove printed public notice of legislative public hearings to review the performance of state agencies and post them to the state websites only.

This one was flagged by our friends at the League of Women Voters Tennessee: “A major concern is that placing these notices on state government websites will effectively bury any word of upcoming public hearings.” The Tennessee Coalition for Open Government highlights two of the problems: 1) Moving notices to the internet leaves out sizeable segments of the population, particularly seniors, rural residents, and others who do not own or use computers, and 2) While only 29% of households in a 2011 statewide survey reported interacting with government websites or elected officials on the internet, 70% of adults regularly read newspapers.

UPDATE: Good news! This bill was “taken off notice” in the House State & Local Government (which means it will not be heard from again this year) and was deferred to the last calendar in the Senate Government Operations.

HB2301 / SB3667

SPONSORS: Rep. Craig Fitzhugh (D-Ripley) / Sen. Jim Kyle (D-Memphis)

SUMMARY: Would require legislators to identify the authors of legislation. For instance, all those ALEC bills…

UPDATE: It’s a shame but this good bill, full of transparency, failed in House General Subcommittee of State & Local Government. During the discussion, Rep. Curry Todd couldn’t understand why other state reps needed to know this info. Why the people of Tennessee might want to know? Not even a passing thought for him.

TRANSPARENCY AND ACCOUNTABILITY IN THE NEWS

  • Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey (R-Blountville) questions the use of state cash to recruit businesses. He should. It’s time to start investing in our people. Read more…
  • Governor Haslam seeks to shield names of company owners asking for state money. Read more…
  • Tennessee Senate approves Amazon sales-tax agreement. The fixes the bad deal our former governor made with Amazon, which would have allowed them to avoid collecting sales tax. Read more…

STANDING UP FOR HARDWORKING TENNESSEANS (LABOR BILLS)

Why does our Republican-led legislature insist on attacking hardworking Tennesseans by taking away their rights, their voices, and their dignity?

LABOR BILLS UPDATE

HB 3815 / SB 3439

SPONSORS: Rep. Andy Holt (R-Dresden), Rep. Mike Bell (R-Riceville)

SUMMARY: Criminalizes the act of mass picketing in various cases including at any business, school, or private facility, but not a government building or facility.

Taking away the voice of hardworking Tennesseans is just one more way conservative extremists in the Tennessee state legislature are telling the 99% to “sit down and shut up.”

UPDATE: To be heard in the House Judiciary Subcommittee of Judiciary on Wednesday, 3/14/12 at 8:30 AM or 3:30 PM in room 31. Referred to Senate Judiciary (not scheduled yet).

HB 3386 / SB 3276

SPONSORS: Rep. Glen Casada (R-Franklin), Sen. Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown)

SUMMARY: Stops local governments from creating wage, benefit, and other regulations which go above what is required by state law.

Our friends from the Tennessee AFL-CIO speak truth to power: “The state should be setting a floor for employment regulations, not a ceiling. Local Governments should have the right to set their own minimum wages – higher if they choose! Local governments should be allowed to determine if conditions require more employee protections or benefits rather than setting a “one size fits all standard” for the whole state

UPDATE: Good news!!! The bill was “taken off notice” in House General Subcommittee of State & Local Government. Referred to Senate State & Local Government (but not scheduled yet).

STANDING UP FOR HARDWORKING IN THE NEWS

  • Campus Workers rally at the State Capitol against the bill to block the Living Wage. Read more…

MISC BUT BY NO MEANS TRIVIAL

  • You Should Know About The ” 99% Spring.”
  • Tennessee’s infrastructure has been graded by the American Society of Civil Engineers. We could do better. Read more..

EVENT: GET YOUR DANCE ON

We know that everyday you’re shuffling…shuffling…shuffling…so you might as well put all those cool dance moves to use and blow off a little workday steam. C’mon, you know you need it….

WHAT: Monthly Dance Party

WHEN: Thursday, March 15, 2012, 5:30 – 7:30 pm (rescheduled from March 8)

WHERE: No. 308, 407 Gallatin Avenue, Nasvhille, TN

SPECIAL GUEST: You…and your boogie shoes.

No Cover Charge

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