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Fitzhugh Commends Haslam on Avoiding ‘Devastating, Catastrophic’ TennCare Cuts

Press Release from the House Democratic Caucus, May 5, 2011:

Democrats reach agreement to restore healthcare cuts; Negotiations with governor successful in improving budget

NASHVILLE – House Democrats this week were successful in budget talks with the Republican administration. Vital improvements were made in curbing harmful cuts, House leaders said.

“Governor Haslam’s original budget contained devastating and catastrophic cuts to TennCare that would have drastically affected the lives of those citizens in our state who need us the most,” said House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh (D-Ripley).

The preliminary budget included cuts to nursing homes, medical transportation providers, lab and x-ray services, Meharry Medical College, the department of intellectual and developmental disabilities, dental services for children, home health providers, and services that help young children stay alive. There were also cuts to the Regional Med in Memphis, Metro General Hospital, and Jellico Hospital.

“As Democrats we met with the governor and expressed how serious these cuts were,” Fitzhugh said. “Through our negotiating with the governor and his commissioners, we are pleased to announce that we have convinced the governor to restore nearly $250 million to TennCare.”

“We are happy that the governor has listened to our concerns, and that he agrees funding in these crucial areas is the right thing to do,” Fitzhugh said.

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TSEA: Gov’s Raises a ‘Slap in the Face’

Press Release from the Tennessee State Employees Association; April 7, 2011:

TSEA Shocked By Commissioners’ Pay Increase

The Tennessee State Employees Association learned today that Governor Haslam has increased the minimum pay of commissioners by 11% to $150,000. TSEA President Phil Morson said: “We are shocked to hear this. The remainder of the state employee workforce has gone over 3 years with no salary increase, but the Governor gives his cabinet huge raises as they walk in the door. This is unfair. It is a slap in the face to the every-day state worker who has the same right as those at the top to be valued for their hard work and competence. As we move forward, we hope the Governor and the legislature will take swift action to address this painful inequity.

TSEA is a nonprofit association existing to provide a strong unified voice with which it advocates the work-related interests of its members. The attainment of association objectives will ensure a better life for our members and will attract and retain an effective, efficient state workforce to provide services for all Tennesseans. TSEA was established in 1974. For further information, visit the Web site at www.tseaonline.org.

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TCPR: Tort Reform Means ‘More Jobs, Fewer Lawsuits’

Press Release from the Tennessee Center for Policy Research, March 24, 2011:

Balance, Predictability Recurring Themes of Lawsuit Abuse Reform Hearing

NASHVILLE, TN – A prevailing theme of predictability and balance seemed to repeat itself during the first public hearing on Governor Haslam’s lawsuit abuse reform package held on Wednesday by the House Judiciary Subcommittee.

While no vote was taken, a packed room that spilled into the hallways of Legislative Plaza indicated strong interest for and against reform in Tennessee’s civil justice system. A significant majority of those in attendance were sporting “More Jobs, Fewer Lawsuits” stickers in favor of reform. From lawyers to business professionals to actors, at least a dozen spoke on the topic.

“The reality is that government is unable to create jobs,” said Herbert Slatery, legal counsel to the Governor, in his opening statement. “However, we can foster an environment to attract new businesses to Tennessee. We know that decision makers for locations, expansions and investments consider factors like taxes, site suitability and risk of litigation.”

Among the highlights of Tennessee Civil Justice Act of 2011 were:

  • Dozens of counties in Tennessee suffer from high unemployment rates from 15 to 23%.
  • Tennessee has steadily fallen down the list of “good” states in which to do business – from 10 to 22.
  • Compensatory damages are designed to make the plaintiff whole. There are no proposed caps for economic damages; there is a proposed $750,000 per injury for non-economic damages, which are competitive with neighboring states.
  • Punitive damages are to punish and deter; the legislation also proposes a cap on these damages.

Several businesses owners testified at the hearing, including service providers and a construction official whose industry is currently experiencing 22% unemployment rates. All agreed that the purpose of lawsuit abuse reform is to provide greater predictability in the civil justice system and quantification of risk, which will in turn lead to job growth throughout the state.

Former State Sen. Charlie Ross of Mississippi gave a before-and-after look of lawsuit abuse reform in his state, which he argued was the “salvation of the medical community” and led to more job and economic growth, while still preserving citizens’ access to the civil justice system.

Before lawsuit abuse reform:

  • Medical malpractice rates were increasing 25% a year.
  • Businesses were crossing state lines to relocate.
  • No large employers were considering Mississippi as a place to do business.

After lawsuit abuse reform:

  • Medical malpractice rates were 60% less than the exorbitant rates of 2004.
  • Property/casualty rates decreased.
  • Physicians started relocating to the state.
  • Toyota was among several giant employers that considered the state for manufacturing locations.

Sen. Ross concluded by urging Tennessee lawmakers to enact reform before Tennessee becomes a judicial hellhole like his state, saying that “Mississippi waited until the house was burning before calling the fire department.”

“We were very pleased with this first hearing. As we’ve said from the beginning, our goal is to educate Tennesseans about the need for and benefits of lawsuit abuse reform, and nearly everyone agreed that a balanced and fair system would be best for our state,” said Justin Owen, president of the Tennessee Center for Policy Research.

The House Judiciary Subcommittee is expected to vote on the governor’s legislation next Wednesday, March 30.

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 .

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First Lady: Parents Should Get Involved in Kids’ Education

Press Release from First Lady Crissy Haslam; March 16, 2011:

NASHVILLE – First Lady Crissy Haslam announced at Children’s Advocacy Days 2011 event that she will creatively seek out ways to increase and inspire parental involvement, both in Tennessee schools and during early childhood development.

“To help convey the message that a parent is a child’s first teacher, I want to encourage parents, engage communities and empower families in Tennessee,” Mrs. Haslam said.

The First Lady said she plans to travel the state and meet with parents in order to listen and challenge communities to set local objectives for parental engagement. Mrs. Haslam plans to work with parents to help meet their goals.

The First Lady also announced as part of her initiative, she will be focusing this first year on early childhood reading and plans to partner with Governor Haslam and the Tennessee Department of Education to raise the literacy rates for children.

“Outside of parental support, literacy is the number-one predictor of a child’s ability to succeed in school,” Mrs. Haslam said. “We have to be preoccupied with teaching our children to read, because it is a foundational skill upon which the rest of schooling is built.”

The First Lady will support the Department of Education’s Early Grades Reading Delivery plan, which aspires that 60 percent of all Tennessee third graders read at a proficient level or above by 2014.

“Until third grade, it’s important that we teach our children to read, because after the third grade, they read to learn,” Mrs. Haslam said. “Without appropriate grade level reading, children are not equipped for the transition of acquiring reading skills to using the skill to learn other things.”

While the First Lady is encouraging parents to start reading to their children early, she acknowledges that 7,300 children are living in state custody and will work to steer volunteers to be sure that every child has an engaged support network.

“We cannot leave these children out of the growing process,” Mrs. Haslam added. “Community groups and volunteers all play a part in ensuring that we have upward growth in how we empower children from all walks of life.”

The First Lady plans to join Governor Haslam as he talks to principals and teachers at small breakfast gatherings across the state, and she will reach out to local parents to meet, listen and learn how to overcome the obstacles parents might face.

“Bill and I know from experience that being a parent is challenging work,” Mrs. Haslam said, “so my objective is to listen to parents and to be better informed on how we can encourage them.”