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Health Care Liberty and Justice News

Legislature Prepares For Votes On Abortion ‘Coercion’ Signage

Abortion providers might have to post signs stating that it’s illegal to coerce women into having an abortion, according to legislation passed out of House and Senate committees this week.

But an amendment to make it illegal to force a woman out of an abortion failed in a House Health and Human Resources Committee Tuesday.

The committee ended up approving HB3301 but dropped the amendment proposed by Rep. Sherry Jones, a Democrat from Nashville.

“If we honestly want to protect women and we want to be fair to women and we want to do what’s best for women…the sign should read you can’t be coerced either way, period,” she said. “And that’s the right thing, the fair thing, the logical thing to do. Be sure (women) know the law is on both sides, not only one side.”

Rep. Susan Lynn, R-Mt. Juliet, who is sponsoring the bill, said Jones’ amendment was unnecessary.

“If your wording was on the sign…I don’t know that they would ever see the sign because they might not show up at the abortion clinic” because they wouldn’t get the abortion, she said.

“I don’t know that it would serve any effect at all,” Lynn continued. “But we know that women who are coerced (into getting an abortion) do show up at an abortion clinic.”

Rep. Tony Shipley, R-Kingsport, said the amendment could have unintended consequences.

“As a parent, giving loving, parental advice to my child to not have an abortion, could I be prosecuted (under this amendment)?” he asked. “At what point does it become coercive rather than a loving parent?”

Jones countered with some questions of her own, asking if she would be charged with a crime if she “lovingly talked to my daughter and told her that this was not the time to have a child and she should have an abortion.”

The committee’s attorney said the answer to both representatives’ questions would depend on how a court would interpret the language “knowingly coerced, compelled or exercised duress.”

In the Senate Judiciary Committee, which also passed the measure Tuesday, Sen. Beverly Marrero, D-Memphis, challenged Sen. Jack Johnson, the bill’s sponsor who is a Franklin Republican, on whether abortion is the only medical procedure he is concerned with protecting people from being coerced into.

“I think anyone being coerced into any medical procedure…is not looked upon with any favor,” said Johnson.

“Considering the vulnerable state that most women are in, in that unfortunate situation…whether it’s boyfriends, or husbands, or rape, or employers, or parents that coerce a young lady into maybe making a decision that will have long-term ramifications on her life and perhaps having that procedure done against her will,” he continued, “I think it’s perfectly reasonable that we would post this in a facility where those procedures are performed.”

Clinics covered by the legislation, if found in violation, would be subject to a separate fine for each day that the sign is not posted.

The measure now advances to the House and Senate chambers for a floor vote. If approved, the measure would need to be OK’d by the governor before it could become law.

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Business and Economy Health Care Liberty and Justice News

Health Care War in TN Going Nuclear

Tennessee Republicans demanded Tuesday that House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner apologize for implying that opposition to federal health care legislation may be driven by racist disdain for President Obama.

They could be waiting a while, however, because later in the afternoon Turner said he has “nothing to apologize for.” And House Democratic Leader Gary Odom issued a press release afterward accusing Republicans of “hypocrisy” and “intentionally (taking Turner’s comments)…out of context for the purpose of political grandstanding.”

The spat arose from Turner’s comments during a press conference at the state Capitol Monday, when, standing with Odom, Turner rebuked Republicans for pushing bills advocating “state sovereignty and all that.”

“They’ve done that on a lot of issues,” Turner told reporters. “All of the sudden, we have a black man elected president, and everybody wants to start acting like something’s wrong with our country. I think we need to go back and take a good, hard look at this. I didn’t agree with a lot of the things George Bush did, but I didn’t want to secede from the Union.”

Republicans took umbrage with Turner’s assessments of opposition to Obama and his health care agenda. Three House Republicans — Reps. Jason Mumpower, Glen Casada and Mike Bell — declared to reporters during a press conference they called at noon Tuesday that the Old Hickory Democrat’s comments were inaccurate and inappropriate, and called on other Democrats to denounce him.

“When someone disagrees with the president, all that Chairman Turner and Tennessee Democrats know to do is name-call — in this case, to call people racist,” said Mumpower, R-Bristol. “Democrats don’t have any substance to their discussions or their arguments, all they like to do is name-call and point fingers.”

Bell, R-Riceville, is the chief House sponsor of the “Tennessee Health Freedom Act,” which passed last month in the Senate 26-1. Bell said state residents “from Mountain City to Memphis” have contacted his office to tell him they oppose the federal health care legislation.

“They oppose (it) not because our president is an African American,” said Bell. They oppose it “because they are angry at an oppressive federal government that is overreaching its bounds.”

“We’re a free a country — at least I hope we still are a free country,” Bell added. “And people want to be free to choose to participate in a federal program, or to keep their private insurance. That is what the anger is about.”

Casada found Turner’s implication “offensive,” too, and said he’s getting calls and emails from Tennesseans angry that an elected public servant “would raise and wag his finger and call you racist and call me racist just because you don’t agree with his big government policies.”

“Chairman Turner needs to apologize,” said Casada. “This type of demeaning people to try to put them down has got to stop.”

TNGOP Chairman Chris Devaney on Tuesday also joined the chorus, sending a letter to state Democratic Chairman Chip Forrester to “immediately ask Rep. Turner to apologize for his personal attacks on the vast number of Tennesseans who do not agree with his Democratic Party’s agenda for our country.”

Responding to Republican calls for him to express remorse, Turner told TNReport he has no plans to retract his comments. Regarding those angered by his sentiments, Turner said “maybe they got a guilty conscience.”

“Anybody who would honestly say that some people are not against (Obama) because he is an African American, I think they’re living on a different planet,” said Turner.

In a press release that outlined a six-point list of what he called “examples of Republican political activities in our state (that) should never be forgotten,” Odom declared, “I find it remarkable that House Republicans would condemn the use of racial overtones in political debate, when you consider recent Republican activities in our state and our country.”

The list went on to point out instances of alleged racism within Tennessee’s Republican party, including a former GOP Party Chairman “sending out Christmas music entitled “Barack the Magic Negro'” and a Republican Senate staffer sending out a “photo composite that pictured all of the U.S. presidents but depicted President Obama in a black background with only two white eyes.”

Andrea Zelinski contributed to this report. She can be reached at andreazelinski@tnreport.com. Mark Todd Engler can be reached at markengler@tnreport.com.

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Business and Economy Health Care Tax and Budget

Ramsey Impressed with Cover Tennessee

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, wants to expand Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen’s Cover Tennessee health care insurance program, he said this week.

Ramsey, a GOP primary candidate for governor, views the fledgling program as an example of the kind of health care reform needed — a policy that encourages personal responsibility, shares buy-in and, if managed properly, is sustainable over the long term.

“I think it’s a way we could actually solve the problem here in Tennessee,” Ramsey said of Cover Tennessee, which was launched in 2007 as a way to provide a reasonable amount of coverage for workers in small businesses, the self-employed and for people unable to find affordable coverage elsewhere.

“I know the governor had intentions of expanding it, but we have to face fiscal reality in Tennessee, too,” he added. “We can’t be like the federal government and print money. We have to actually pay for things.

“So I would like to see what’s working in that program and expand it, because small businesses are the ones that need health care insurance, and Cover Tennessee could at least be part of that solution,” he continued.

Cover Tennessee was created as a way to offer limited-benefits coverage to the working uninsured. It was never portrayed as a large-scale answer on health-care reform, thus its modest beginning.

The fundamental concept in the program is that the premiums are split three ways, with an employer covering one-third of the premium, the employee covering one-third and the state covering one-third. If an employer did not choose to participate, the employee could pay two thirds of the premium.

The program includes CoverTN for uninsured workers; CoverKids which is free comprehensive coverage for children; AccessTN for those who can’t find insurance due to pre-existing conditions; and CoverRx for providing affordable drug coverage.

CoverTN was forced to suspend new enrollment after Dec. 31, 2009 in order to keep the program manageable. CoverKids also suspended new enrollment late last year but has since reopened enrollment, beginning March 1. Budget factors were cited as the reason for the enrollment suspensions, which was seen as both regrettable for limiting the rolls but also a sign that the program is working and has had a good satisfaction record.

Ramsey said, on his watch, the program would not drift away as some sort of experiment by the Bredesen administration.

“That’s a model I like actually, to allow some minimum coverage to where people can at least have coverage and pay part of it.” he said. “That’s exactly the kind of program I think works as opposed to what the federal government is trying to do, which is to completely take over health care, one-sixth of our economy.”

Ramsey’s support for the program seems to be exceeded only by his disdain for the kind of health-care changes being discussed in Washington. In fact, he sounds downright angry about the direction the national health-care debate has taken.

“I tell you, it has come down to this: I don’t think Washington really cares what passes. They just want something to pass,” Ramsey said. “That’s been obvious to me over the last month or two. I guarantee you there’s hardly a congressman or senator who could tell you what’s in that bill, even the ones who are for it. I don’t think the president could tell you what’s in that bill.

“They will mold it. They will squeeze it. They will make it whatever they can just so they can have a photo-op and stand in front of some flags with senators and congressmen saying, ‘We passed health reform,’ even though it does not solve the problem. That’s what bothers me. That’s no way to enact public policy.”

Ramsey said he ultimately would prefer it if Washington allow states to work out health care problems on their own.

“I’d tell them to leave us alone and don’t force us to expand our Medicaid rolls, when they can operate on borrowed money and we can’t,” Ramsey said. “In Tennessee, in general, we’ve had to make some very tough decisions in the last few years, to remove 140,000 from the rolls.

“We’ve gotten from where it was 38 percent of the state budget and now 26 percent of the state budget, and I’d just tell them to flat-out leave us alone, let us work on this problem as states should, as laboratories, and don’t tell us how to fix it.”

He sees a program like Cover Tennessee as something that could grow.

“We’re working on some solutions a little bit at a time in Tennessee, with Cover Tennessee, that will allow small businesses to buy into it,” Ramsey said. “That’s a program that should be advertised a little more than it is right now, because I think most people don’t know about it.”

Ramsey does endorse a reform concept that’s often been discussed in Washington as a significant policy shift generally more acceptable to opponents of a public-option plan.

“If the federal government could do anything to help us, it would be to allow insurance companies to compete across state lines,” he said. “Right now you can buy your car insurance across state lines. You see what the Geicos of the world and the Nationwides of the world are doing, advertising those lower rates. Competition works.

“You can buy fire insurance across state lines. Why shouldn’t you be able to buy health insurance across state lines? I think competition in the free-market system would help drive down health insurance costs.”

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Business and Economy Featured Health Care News

Who Should Give Medications in Nursing Homes?

A proposal to expand the range of employees in long-term care facilities who can legally administer certain medicines to patients is running into opposition from some registered nurses.

The change is designed to lighten the heavy workloads often carried by nurses — or at least to possibly free up some of their time so they can use it on more challenging professional tasks, according to some lawmakers.

At issue is a measure to let a new class of nursing assistants give patients medications like commonplace pain relievers, topical creams and a limited number of prescription drugs. Lawmakers, including Gov. Phil Bredesen, OK’d that plan last year — but the Tennessee Board of Nursing shot it down.

The measure, which was up for debate Tuesday, will be heard again next week in a legislative sub-committee.

The nursing board — in what some lawmakers saw as open defiance of the legislature and the governor — adopted rules recently indicating that registered nurses be the only ones to decide which lower level workers will give medications to whom.

Lawmakers who passed the measure last year said the specific intent was for licensed practical nurses, who are a step below registered nurses, to also delegate that duty to certified medication aides.

Two Republicans introduced bills this year that would require both registered nurses and licensed practical nurses to delegate their medicine-giving authority. They would oversee the certified medication aides who could administer the drugs once they’d completed 75 hours of training.

Individuals can apply to become a certified medication aide only after working for at least year as a nursing assistant, which includes helping patients with tasks like getting out of bed, eating or using the bathroom.

There is a long list of medications the aides would not be allowed to give, leaving only oral drugs such as Tylonol, Advil, vitamins, laxatives, blood pressure and allergy medications or topical creams like Neosporin.

Sen. Diane Black, a registered nurse from Gallatin, led her bill to passage 27-1 last month in the Senate. Sen. Beverly Marrero, D-Memphis, was the only member to vote against it.

But the House bill is still in committee.

Sponsored by Rep. Debra Young Maggart of Hendersonville, House Bill 3368 was on hold last week in the Professional Occupations subcommittee after Rep. JoAnne Favors, D-Chattanooga, and Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner, D-Old Hickory expressed opposition.

Turner asked Maggart to hit the brakes for a week to give members more time to figure out their vote. Although Favors indicated there’s little likelihood she’ll be changing her mind anytime soon.

“If we pass this, we can come back in a couple years and call it the Euthanasia Bill,” Favors said during last week’s committee meeting.

The new class of nursing assistants, created by a state law approved last year, lacks the medical training necessary to understand if a patient is having an adverse reaction to a medication, she said. And requiring an additional 75 hours of training will not prevent the increased potential for deadly medicine mix-ups that the proposed legislation may inadvertently encourage, said Favors.

“It really is the dumbing-down of administering drugs, and that should not happen,” she told TNReport.

Favors opposed last year’s legislation. Despite her efforts to derail it in 2009, the measure passed by comfortable bipartisan margins in the House and Senate.

But the Tennessee Board of Nursing, which was charged with writing the rules to implement the new law, agreed with her and decided the plan wasn’t a good idea.

At the Jan. 21 board meeting, members voted on rules to keep registered nurses in charge of deciding who will give out medications to patients — essentially erasing any new authority licensed practical nurses, LPNs, would have to assign the new aides to  issue the pills or rub on medical ointments.

“We did not arbitrarily go against the will of the legislature,” said Cheryle Stegbauer who has chaired the nursing board since 2004. After listening to hours of archived legislative committee meetings discussing the measure, she said members of the board believed lawmakers were referring to registered nurses, not LPNs.

“I don’t think the board really saw that they had a mandate. If we thought we had a legislative mandate to open it to LPNs as well as RNs, we would have. We would have complied, but I don’t think that’s our understanding,” she told a committee of lawmakers Tuesday. “If you talk about intent of the legislature, you can look at the tapes and a lot of things said were not exactly what happened in the law.”

She said the board will keep an eye on the bill if it moves through the legislature and continue to do what it believes is safest for the public — but doesn’t plan to try to stop the bill.

The Tennessee Nurses Association is backing the board’s rule-making decision.

“We’re trying to make this as safe as possible for our frail and elderly who can’t advocate for themselves,” said Sharon Adkins, association executive director. “LPNs are trained to give medications. And let me tell you, their training is more than 75 hours.”

AARP Tennessee, which represents retired persons, hasn’t taken a side in the bill debate.

“We see it really as a stop gap. What we really need to see in Tennessee nursing homes is more staff,” said Karin Miller, the state’s AARP spokeswoman. “The state overall is facing a nursing shortage that is expected to get worse in coming years, and that issue is only exacerbated in some of our long-term care institutions.”

Tennessee nursing homes have the second largest shortage of registered nurses in the U.S., according to a 2009 report titled “Quality of Care and Litigation in Tennessee Nursing Homes,” commissioned by AARP.

Tennessee was also one of the 10 worst states for time RNs spend with each patient, which averaged 30 minutes a day, compared to 36 minutes nationally.

According to the study, Tennessee licensed practical nurses ranked above the national average. The LPNs logged in an average of 54 minutes per patient each day, compared to the national average of 48 minutes.

There are 22,000 nurses and caretakers to manage patients in the 37,850 nursing home beds, according to the Tennessee Health Care Association, which wants the new nursing aides to administer medications.

“Clearly we do not want to reduce the licensed nursing staff. It’s to use nursing staff more efficiently in the building,” said Deborah Heeney, THCA’s government relations director who predicted the nursing board will “fight us to the end.”

“It’s just because the nurses don’t believe anyone else should be able to give medication besides the nurses,” she said.

Maggart says she has the votes to push her bill through the House, but said she may consider officially asking the state attorney general to weigh in.

“There’s a lot of ways to skin a cat. There’s other ways we can go at this if, for some reason, it doesn’t pass,” said Maggart.

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Health Care

TennCare Cuts Coming Soon

TennCare officials told lawmakers earlier this week they have no choice but to initiate significant cost-savings measures to the state’s Medicaid program.

The planned program-reductions include capping annual in-patient hospital-stay reimbursements at $10,000, and limiting the number of lab and X-ray services a person can seek per year at eight.

“We tried to put forth as best recommendation we can under an incredibly ugly set of circumstances,” TennCare Director Darin Gordon told the legislature’s TennCare Oversight Committee. “The alternative would be cutting direct services to offices and hospitals, and I’ve already gone into that well fairly deeply.”

Gov. Phil Bredesen has said there’s little alternative but to trim around 9 percent, or about $201 million, from of TennCare’s budget to balance the state’s books in the coming fiscal year. The agency is trying to reduce its total state-and-federal budget from about $7.6 billion to $6.8 billion.

Gordon said the decisions as to what to cut have been based on trying to “affect the least amount of people.” None of the proposed cuts would affect children or pregnant women, which he said make up the majority of the program’s enrollment, he said.

The proposed cuts could be softened somewhat by a federal Department of Health and Human Services decision last week to re-work a formula used to determine how much money the state owes the federal government in “clawback” funds, which are reimbursements for prescriptions by certain people in the program.

“It equates to about $120 million,” Gordon said. “I’ve already shot off a recommendation to the governor on how to appropriate those funds.”

Lawmakers nonetheless expressed concern that the cuts are going to hit many Tennesseans hard at a time when TennCare enrollment is increasing as a result of the prolonged recession. Scott Pierce, TennCare’s chief financial officer, said there were a few months last summer during which the program grew by over 8,000 enrollees per month.

Tennessee is not alone in its struggles with its Medicaid program. According to Gordon, 43 states have already implemented reductions in the program.

A Kaiser Foundation study found that “nearly 3.3 million more people (in America) were enrolled in state Medicaid programs in June 2009 compared to the previous June. It was the biggest ever one-year increase in terms of absolute numbers, and boosted the June monthly Medicaid enrollment by 7.5 percent to 46.9 million people nationally.”

Another TennCare cost-cutting proposal on the table, a potential 7 percent reduction in reimbursements to health care providers, is going potentially put some of them out of business, said Sen. Charlotte Burks, D-Monterey.

“Then my people are going to do without hospitals,” said Burks.

Dr. Wendy Long, TennCare’s chief medical officer, said the agency has already done all it can to reduce costs in other areas, including closer case management for patients, more pharmacy controls, and an increased emphasis on the prevention and detection of fraud and abuse.

“It’s not going to create immediate budgetary reductions we need to balance this year’s budget, but they are very important to minimize expenditure growth over time,” she said.

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Ramsey’s Balancing Act Takes Up Two Stages

When you’re the Speaker of the Senate, it’s not like you can skip out on your job for a day and nobody’s going to notice.

It doesn’t take long to see that Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey’s legislative role is both an advantage and a disadvantage in running for governor when the General Assembly is in session.

Tasked with conducting the Tennessee Senate’s daily political business to the general satisfaction of his legislative colleagues, the press and the public, the Blountville Republican must also invest the energy necessary to get his name and message out where the likely GOP primary voters are.

Foremost in juggling the facets of his self-imposed predicament, Ramsey said he’s trying to “make sure I don’t miss any sessions.”

“I’m in Nashville Monday afternoons, Wednesday mornings and Thursday mornings. But I am traveling here in Middle Tennessee some on Tuesdays and obviously on the weekends,” he said recently.

Ramsey is in the thick of the Republican primary for governor, where the main opposition is Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam, U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp of Chattanooga and Shelby County District Attorney General Bill Gibbons. Under no circumstances does Ramsey want to be away from the Capitol when key legislation he could be charged with implementing and executing as governor comes up on the Senate agenda.

“It’s tying me down some because I want to be doing the people’s business,” Ramsey said. “I want to make sure we’re balancing the budget without raising taxes. We’re going to do that. It’s still pretty well flexible where I can get out in the collar counties around Davidson County.”

Fortunately for Ramsey, though, he really doesn’t have to go far from the Capitol to locate some prime vote-hunting grounds. This year the “collar counties” surrounding Nashville — most notably Sumner County, Rutherford County and Williamson County — are the central battleground in the four-man Republican field for governor, primarily because none of the candidates are originally from Middle Tennessee.

The political landscape wasn’t always that way. In recent years, the growth of population in the collar counties surrounding Nashville has been significant, and it has especially been so for the Republican Party.

“When I became caucus chairman of the Republicans, Republicans had one of the six state Senate districts around Davidson County. We now have five of the six,” Ramsey said. “That just shows you the trend that’s going on, especially in the Republican primary.”

The situation might even be considered a geographic advantage for Ramsey, who among all the candidates is in some ways closest to “home” in Nashville. Gibbons and Haslam have to work Middle Tennessee from opposite ends of the state.

Wamp has to spend a lot of his time working in Washington, D.C. Not only is the nation’s capital one of the last places rank-and-file Tennessee Republicans are likely looking today for political leadership on issues of state concern, it’s many more miles away from Nashville even than Sullivan County.

None of this is unusual, though: It’s an election year, which means all public officials who are running for new jobs are in a constant state of juggling responsibilities. And it’s one reason state legislators are hopeful the session won’t last too long, since they want to be on the campaign trail.

Another factor for members of the General Assembly is that they may not raise money for their state campaigns while in session, which puts Ramsey at a disadvantage alongside state Sen. Jim Kyle, D-Memphis, who was the last of the current Democratic gubernatorial field to announce his candidacy.

Just as being lieutenant governor can boost the visibility of Ramsey working on state business, Kyle can make a similar claim. Kyle was quite visible as a workhorse on education reform in the special session called earlier this year by Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen. Actively handling important legislation can be as important as making campaign stump speeches.

Other Democratic gubernatorial candidates are Mike McWherter, a Jackson businessman, and Kim McMillan, a former House majority leader.

One drawback to being in the legislature is the law that prohibits legislators from raising funds during the session. As long as lawmakers are at work, they must refrain from accepting campaign donations, at least until after May 15. The prohibition does not apply to opponents who aren’t in the General Assembly.

Lawmakers who are running for federal office, however, may raise money during that time, which applies to state Sen. Roy Herron, D-Dresden, Sen. Jim Tracy, R-Shelbyville, and Sen. Diane Black, R-Gallatin. Herron is running for the retiring U.S. Rep. John Tanner’s seat in the 8th District, while Tracy and Black are both among candidates for the 6th District seat being vacated by Democratic U.S. Rep. Bart Gordon.

But just as important to remember is that in an election year, it’s not exactly everyone for themselves. A lot of networking goes on, which means candidates help other candidates. Such an example could be found last Wednesday night when Ramsey appeared at a gathering for Dustin Dunbar, who is running for Williamson County commissioner in Spring Hill.

“He and I are good friends. We’ve worked together on several projects in the past,” Dunbar said. “I told him I’d be running for county commission here in Williamson County, and I would definitely appreciate his support. By having the support of those state-level leaders it’s definitely beneficial for somebody on the county level to have some cooperation from people on the state level, because there is so much interaction we have.

“I would say he supports me in my efforts, and I support him in his efforts.”

As if to prove the point of all the interaction, Spring Hill Mayor Michael Dinwiddie addressed the crowd at the Spring Hill event and said he would introduce all the politicians in attendance but it might take an hour, so he called for applause for anybody running for office or currently serving. Dinwiddie introduced Ramsey, and the lieutenant governor introduced Dunbar to the crowd.

“Obviously, if I’m standing in front of a crowd I always want to remind people I’m running for governor,” Ramsey told the group. “I want to just bring that up.”

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Business and Economy Health Care Liberty and Justice

Bill to Fight Federal Insurance Mandate Moves Toward Full Senate Debate

A measure to require the Tennessee attorney general to defend residents against federal laws or regulations mandating that citizens purchase private health insurance is headed to the state Senate floor.

Tennessee is among about 36 states now trying to legislatively assert sovereignty against what sponsors of the various new statutes and constitutional amendments see as federal encroachment into policy areas the U.S. Bill of Rights reserves to state governments.

On Tuesday, the Idaho House of Representatives approved a bill similar to the one under consideration in the General Assembly here. And last week, Virginia’s state Senate approved legislation prohibiting government at any level from requiring that individuals purchase health insurance.

“It is declared that the public policy of this state, consistent with our constitutionally recognized and inalienable rights of liberty, is that every person within this state is and shall be free to choose or decline to choose any mode of securing health care services without penalty or threat of penalty,” reads SB3498, which passed out of the Senate Commerce, Labor & Agriculture Committee Tuesday with eight votes in favor and one member, Reginald Tate, D-Memphis, abstaining.

Two versions of health care reform were passed by Congress last year and are now awaiting reconciliation. Both include requirements that most Americans carry medical insurance.

Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, chief sponsor of the proposed “Tennessee Health Freedom Act,” called the federal policy on individual mandates “unprecedented.”

“The federal government has never required people to buy any good or service as a condition of lawful residency,” Beavers told the Senate committee. “All my bill does is say that you don’t have to purchase health insurance. I don’t think the federal government has any business telling us in the state of Tennessee that we have to buy health insurance.”

Beavers said the new federal laws under consideration could require Tennesseans to pay up to $15,000 a year in health insurance, with the IRS put in charge of enforcing penalties against those who do not.

“This health care that is proposed in Congress seeks to ban our decision to do nothing,” said Beavers. “This bill would protect the person’s right to participate, or not, in any health care system.”

The only member of the committee who voiced any reservations during discussion of the bill was Sen. Eric Stewart, D-Belvidere.

Stewart said he agrees that the neither the federal government, nor the state, should force the purchase of health insurance. But he asked, “How do we fill the hole along the lines of auto insurance where I pay the premiums and I pay an uninsured-motorist premium because some folks are not living by the law and are not taking care of their responsibilities?”

Beavers responded, “There are people out there who are going to work the system, and I don’t think any law that you are going to pass is going to take care of that.”

Stewart later voted in favor of sending the bill to the Senate floor.

In a press release issued later, Beavers said, “Unlike car insurance which is not compulsory but is required when one chooses to utilize the privilege of driving on public roads, the pending health insurance mandates are entirely different because they are based solely as a requirement of U.S. citizenship.”

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Bill Blizzard Ongoing Until Thursday

With the special session on education all but wrapped up, an avalanche of bills are awaiting consideration in legislative committees.

Since Jan. 12 lawmakers have mostly been focused on education. This week 28 committee meetings are scheduled at the Capitol to take up a range of issues. Roughly 75 bills now sit in committees to which they’ve been assigned, though not all will be heard this week.

More than 2,000 bills are currently alive. More than 400 have been introduced since the beginning of 2010 — and the floodgates are open until the Thursday deadline to file new bills.

Normally the deadline is slated for the tenth legislative day or the second Thursday of regular session, whichever leadership decides, according to the Senate Clerk’s Office. But when special session pushed the regular session back, the House and Senate leadership set the deadline for Jan. 28.

This week, the bustling committee schedule includes several presentations from state departments:

  • The House Commerce Committee will hear a department update from Commerce and Insurance Commissioner Leslie Newman.
  • Department of Agriculture Commissioner Ken Givens will give the House Ag Committee an orientation-like review of the department programs, services and budget proposal presented to Gov. Phil Bredesen last fall.
  • Senate Environment, Conservation and Tourism Committee will listen to a presentation on alternative energy from Oak Ridge National Laboratory and another outlining new initiatives within state tourism from Tourist Development Commissioner Susan Whitaker.
  • The Consumer and Employee Affairs committee will hear a presentation on the Unemployment Trust Fund from the Department of Labor and Workforce Development.
  • The State Collaborative on Reforming Education will give a presentation to the House Education Committee

they are free to vet other bills ranging from making it a “deceptive act” for a company to ask for a person’s social security number to changing the way the state counts multiple DUI offenses.

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Health Care News Tax and Budget

Guv Taking Hands-Off Approach to Health Care Reform Challenge

Gov. Phil Bredesen indicated today he won’t push to try blocking federal health care legislation in court.

While Bredesen, a Democrat in his last year in office, has in the past taken issue with the hefty $1.5 billion price tag the plan could mean to Tennessee in expanded Medicaid costs, he said the decision-making authority to file legal action is properly left to Attorney General Bob Cooper.

“I think it just encourages really bad behavior on the part of legislators just seeing everything as an opportunity to hold things up and get something. That’s not the way it’s supposed to work,” he told reporters Monday after addressing the Nashville Rotary Club.

Cooper said last week he’s going to hold off deciding whether to pursue a legal course against the federal government’s health care reform package until the final legislation is ironed out in Washington.

Republican state Reps. Susan Lynn, Mt. Juliet, and Debra Young Maggart, Hendersonville, urged Cooper to begin investigating now whether Tennessee has a case against the health care overhaul on the basis that the federal insurance-purchase mandate is a violation of Tenth Amendment state sovereignty protections.

Another sticking point for many critics was the political compromising behind the U.S. Senate’s bill, which exempted Nebraska from paying its share to expand Medicaid programs.

State Senate speaker Ron Ramsey, a Republican candidate for governor in 2010, has also called on Cooper to “examine the constitutionality of federal legislation which singles out Nebraska for favorable treatment over 49 other states.”

Sen. Diane Black, a registered nurse from Gallatin, said she’d too would like to see Tennessee fight the federal government’s health care plan on the basis that it creates a mandate and favors one state over others.

“I would just assume they just not try to mandate how health care should be conducted in our particular state,” the Republican said.

Bredesen said he was “very unhappy” that Nebraska will be spared the full cost of the legislation.

“I will be honest. It is just a huge load on the states at a time when we’re still digging out of this recession,” Bredesen said about Washington’s efforts at health care reform.

The governor stopped short of saying whether he felt the state should join or ignore the 13 other Republican attorneys general who have lined up to fight the health care package.

Legislators in at least 16 other states have introduced bills or constitutional amendments to stifle the health care package, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

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Health Care Liberty and Justice News

Tennessee AG Not Yet Ready to Fight Feds on Health Care

Government officials and lawyers from a number of states around the country are lining up to battle against the advancing federal health care overhaul. But Attorney General Bob Cooper says he’ll sit this one out – at least for now.

Cooper’s office said expending time and effort investigating the legal complexities of the health care legislation under discussion in Washington, D.C., before its details are fully settled and finalized, “would not be an appropriate or effective use of this office’s resources.”

“Until we know what the bill as enacted says and when its provisions take effect, any such analysis is premature,” read a statement from Sharon Curtis-Flair, Cooper’s spokeswoman.

However, Rep. Susan Lynn — one of two House lawmakers publicly asking Cooper to start crafting legal defenses against federal impositions — also plans soon to introduce state legislation confronting measures and mandates in the health care revamp that she believes outstrip their constitutionality.

Lynn wants the Tennessee Constitution amended “to clarify the people of the state will never be mandated by the government to purchase a product,” including health insurance.

“I am very concerned about this overreaching of federal powers. If these unconstitutional issues…are allowed to pass or they go unchallenged, there will absolutely be no limits left on the federal government,” said the Mt. Juliet Republican, who chairs the House Government Operations Committee.

Tennessee is one of several states gearing up to possibly take on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, a health care overhaul approved by the U.S. Senate on Christmas Eve. At issue in addition to its constitutionality is the bill’s cost and a controversial political compromise that helped get it passed.

On Tuesday, Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum, a Republican, took issue with the health care legislation, questioning whether it’s legal to charge people a tax or penalty for lacking health insurance.

In a letter sent this week, he urged fellow attorneys general across the country to help launch a “full review” of that mandate’s constitutionality and pinpoint legal options states can use to block federal directives they find objectionable.

Lawmakers in 15 states have filed bills or constitutional amendments attempting to halt the health care package, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Officials in at least 11 other states are reportedly considering doing the same.

Tennessee isn’t on that list yet, but Lynn and Rep. Debra Young Maggart, R-Hendersonville, say they’re determined to thwart the new federal mandates.

The two state representatives asked Cooper just before Christmas if he’d begin prepping a legal case against the health care legislation, citing a violation of Tenth Amendment state sovereignty protections.

Demands for Washington to heed the Tenth Amendment have dramatically intensified among conservatives following the election of President Barack Obama, and opposition to expanded federal control over health care has galvanized protesters at Tea Party rallies around the country throughout 2009.

Lynn, who is running for state Senate in 2010, helped pass a resolution last spring reiterating Tennessee as a sovereign state and denouncing federal legislative overreach. She says Democratic-led health care reform efforts, which include an estimated $1.4 billion price tag, are an unfunded and ultimately unlawful mandate on the states.

“We see this as a violation of equal protection of the law, an affront to our sovereignty, and as a breach of the U.S. Constitution,” she said.

Gov. Phil Bredesen, a Democrat, has expressed concern in the past on the price of the pending health care reform effort as well. His office declined to comment on whether the attorney general should commit to building an arsenal of legal arguments to try and block the legislation.