Ramsey Indicates Possible Committee-Assignment Shakeups

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey told reporters last week that he expects Senate leadership to stay the same, but indicated there might be some committee-level shakeups.

In his role as Senate speaker, Ramsey has final say on which senators get placed on which committees.

“I’m not starting afresh, but just because you’re on a committee right now doesn’t mean you’re going to stay on that committee,” the Blountville Republican said.

When it comes to committee chairs he said: “Possibly there may be some changes there, too. I just have to figure out how it works out and make sure, again, that we have the most qualified people in the right spots.”

For example, when asked by reporters if he would retain Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, on the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee, he declined to answer.

“I’ve not gotten that far down the road on who’s where,” Ramsey said. “There may be some changes different places.”

Trent Seibert can be reached at, on Twitter at @trentseibert or at 615-669-9501.

Health Care

Lawmakers Want State Nursing Board Sedated

Many legislators are unhappy with the Tennessee Board of Nursing for ignoring a law passed last year, and are suggesting an appropriate remedy to that rebelliousness would be to shorten the amount of time members of the board can serve.

The Tennessee Legislature and state Board of Nursing have been dueling since Rep. Debra Maggart pushed a bill last year that would let a new class of nurses issue medications to nursing home patients. Members of the nursing board refused to implement the new law the way the Legislature intended, saying they were charged with interpreting the law the best it could to protect the public.

Feeling slighted, the Hendersonville Republican fired back with a new bill this year clarifying some legal language to force the board to accept the law the way she intended it — a measure that won easy majorities in both chambers.

The 11-member Board of Nursing is responsible for granting nursing licenses and mandates what curriculum is appropriate for nursing education programs. It also interprets the law to determine standards of nursing practice then investigates and disciplines nurses who violate them.

Lawmakers complained about the board from the House floor last week, including Rep. Tony Shipley, R-Kingsport, who said the board “openly defied state law” and created an “inordinate amount of aggravation” to the House Health and Human Resources Committee this year.

“It seems to be more of an attitude problem than them not following their statutory obligations,” said Rep. Susan Lynn, a Mt. Juliet Republican who is carrying a bill that would shorten the amount of time appointed nurses can sit on the board.

“They were definitely disrespecting the opinion of the legislature,” said Lynn. “They were writing the rules as they saw fit.”

Lynn is sponsoring a bill — which passed on a 81-5 vote last week — to insert at least a four year break after the second term. Currently, members are allowed to serve three four-year terms, but some have been known to serve a different seat on the board which renews their number of terms.

The bill also seeks to ban members from serving in multiple capacities to stretch out the term of service and delay the board’s sunset date until 2016.

Shortening up how long members can serve on the board will loosen the board’s power grip and sense of entitlement, Lynn said.

The board has been doing its job reviewing licenses and hearing alleged violations, she said, but “attitude” is the problem. “It’s hard to legislate that,” said Lynn. “The best remedy I can think of is let’s move some of these people out and lets get new people in.”

To some lawmakers, that’s not enough: They’d rather see the board dissolved altogether. “It’s like a bunch of witches on a witch hunt,” Rep. Dale Ford, a Republican from Jonesborough, said last week. “As far as I’m concerned, we don’t need to extend this. We need to cut it.”

The Board of Nursing’s chairwoman said the body never meant to ruffle any feathers.

“I’m so hurt by the misunderstanding. I’m genuinely hurt,” said Cheryl Stegbauer, Board of Nursing president. The criticisms of the board on the House floor last week were quite stinging, she said, particularly “witches” comment.

“I think the misunderstanding has be perpetuated, the belief that we are arrogant and don’t care,” said Stegbauer.

She said the board interpreted the bill on nursing home medication givers after watching video of from of Sen. Diane Black pitching her bill on the Senate floor last year and made its best judgment off her testimony.

But Stegbauer said she’s in favor of the eight-year term limit for board membership but says she can’t conceive how the state could get by licensing 107,000 nurses, overseeing 63 education programs and conducting disciplinary hearings without a board in place.

Health Care Liberty and Justice News

Committee Taking Up H1N1 Vaccine Rule

The Joint Government Operations Committee is reviewing a plan today to let paramedics administer H1N1 flu vaccines.

The measure allows emergency medical personnel (pdf) to issue the flu shots at mass vaccinations in an effort to curb spread of the flu while keeping other public health personnel, like doctors and nurses, from getting sick.

The H1N1 rule is one of thirty up for approval before the  committee today.

Rules are not laws. Rather, they dictate how laws are enforced.

The H1N1 rule went into effect in late October, although it still needs to be OK’d by the committee and the General Assembly. Other rules will go into effect in January or as late as March.

Some rules are more routine, such as a rule up for approval today bridging the gap between old and new regulations for assisted care living facilities.

Others are more urgent, according to officials, and require immediate enactment. These rules are effective immediately after filing but will expire after 180 days.

The committee meets today at 10:30 a.m.

Liberty and Justice News

Seeking Consensus on Traffic Cameras

Instead of slamming the brakes on red-light traffic cameras, House Transportation Committee members have tentatively agreed to try and hash out a three-part proposal to guide and regulate their use instead.

The rough plan, which includes a series of studies and a possible moratorium on new red light cameras, would give lawmakers more tools – and time – to decide the ultimate role the new technology will play in Tennessee communities.

Still, a number of lawmakers haven’t backed off their basic objections with the red-light cameras, saying both that the photos they take subvert civil liberties and that the private camera-vendors collect too much profit off the issuance of violations.

But the hope is to approve one comprehensive plan and move it through the Legislature, according to Rep. Bill Harmon, D-Dunlap, who chairs the committee.

The panel batted around ideas Wednesday, including a plan by Maryville Republican Rep. Joe McCord to shuffle profits from citations to drivers education or trauma services statewide.

McCord, a vocal opponent of red light cameras, introduced legislation last year banning the technology. He has since dropped the ban, saying he now sees a safety value of the system, but he’s still uncomfortable with how the ticket-generated revenues are divvied up.

Many on the 12-member House Transportation Committee agree that the private traffic-camera service-providers currently have too much unchecked, profit-driven power over motorists.

The vendors capture alleged violations on camera, examine the pictures, cross reference the information with the Department of Motor Vehicles, then mail out the citations. In return, they receive the lion’s share of fines collected.

Harmon wants the state comptroller to take a hard look at the traffic cameras and report back to lawmakers on issues like what impact the systems have on vehicle crashes, the make-up of traffic-camera service contracts, and detail as to how citation revenues are spent.

Harmon also wishes to see the state Department of Transportation conduct an engineering study on each intersection proposed to use a traffic camera, and added he hopes to ban all unmanned speed cameras on state highways.

While many lawmakers on the panel generally seemed supportive of Harmon’s ideas, some still argue the cameras are unconstitutional and an invasion of privacy. “If it intrudes a little, it’s too much,” said Rep. Tony Shipley, a Kingsport Republican.

A study (pdf) by the free-market Tennessee Center for Policy Research released earlier this year argued that traffic-enforcement cameras are unwise, unnecessary and unsafe.

The City of Gallatin collected nearly $1 million in traffic citations linked to the traffic cameras in 2007, according to TCPR’s study. At least 16 Tennessee cities use some sort of traffic camera: Chattanooga, Clarksville, Cleveland, Gallatin, Germantown, Jackson, Jonesborough, Kingsport, Knoxville, Memphis, Morristown, Mount Carmel, Murfreesboro, Oak Ridge, Red Bank and Selmer.

“There’s a lot of money being made here,” said TCPR policy director Justin Owen, an attorney who co-authored the report.

Instead of installing cameras, he says lawmakers should require municipalities to extend the length of the yellow light, giving drivers more time to travel through the intersection instead of stopping short for fear of a traffic ticket.

“The mere presence of the watchful cameras encourages drivers to attempt to stop at yellow lights even if passing through the light would be safer. Coupled with a decrease in yellow light timing, this can readily explain the increase in the number of rear-end collisions that occur at intersections with red light cameras,” stated the TCPR report.

Rep. John Tidwell, an engineer from New Johnsonville, says he’ll push lengthening the yellow light next year.

The Tennessee Association of Chiefs of Police maintains that the cameras help enforce the rules of the road, reduce crashes and generally improve safety, said Maggi Duncan, executive director. The association plans to push for the red light and speed cameras this legislative session.

The committee hopes to formulate an initial legislative proposal at their next meeting on Jan. 11.