NewsTracker Transparency and Elections

E-Balloting System Showed Problems Aug. 2, Activist Says

A new system that checks in voters before they cast ballots had glitches during the recent primary, and the irregularities could have troubling implications if the system is launched statewide, Tennessee Citizen Action’s Mary Mancini said Monday.

Mancini, executive director of the left-leaning public advocacy group, said three elected officials and at least two registered voters in Davidson County were electronically issued Republican ballots by default using electronic poll books during the Aug. 2 primary election. Mancini said the system issued tickets for GOP ballots if the voter was not asked which ballot he or she wanted or poll workers failed to hit the Democratic primary ballot key hard enough.

“It is obviously outrageous that it defaults to any party ballot. It should not default to any ballot, at all,” Mancini said outside the Davidson County Election Commission office Monday.

Citizen Action and the League of Women Voters are asking the state to audit the primary election and the Davidson County Election Commission.

Tennessee Coordinator of Elections Mark Goins is already looking into the irregularities and is recommending against using the electronic poll books in the general election, according to Secretary of State Spokesman Black Fontenay.

NewsTracker Transparency and Elections

Voter ID Law Tweaked

Republicans threw a bone to opponents of Tennessee’s new voter ID law by allowing retired state employees to flash their old work IDs at the polls to vote.

But the GOP-led Legislature — which passed a law last year requiring all voters to present a photo identification card before casting a ballot — easily swatted off attempts from the minority party and other critics to fully repeal the law.

The General Assembly has been considering three bills that would open up the new voter ID law.

One, HB3195, which won final approval Monday, would allow state workers to continue to show their employer ID card at the polls after retirement. The measure passed 90-3 Monday in the House, following a 31-0 vote in the Senate earlier this month.

Another, SB2267, would require adding photos to driver’s licenses for people at least 60 years old, which are now processed without pictures. The new IDs could then be presented at the polls. The Senate approved the bill 20-12, and the measure now awaits a vote in the House.

A final bill, HB2174, would allow people 60 years old and older to vote via absentee ballot no-questions-asked. Currently, voters 65 and older can vote absentee, although people younger than 65 have to prove they were outside of the county they vote in throughout early voting and election day. That measure passed the House 96-0 and awaits a vote in the Senate Finance committee.

“While we appreciate the sentiment of these bills, voting is supposed to be the more fair and even playing field that we have in our democracy,” said Mary Mancini, executive director of Tennessee Citizen Action, which fought a losing battle this year to overturn the photo ID law. “Any exception to that rule basically renders the whole system of voting more unfair and more unequal.”

The new voter ID law specifies that any state- or federally-issued ID besides a college ID can be used to prove a voter’s identity. A repeal effort, SB2139, won approval in a House subcommittee but was later pulled off the agenda in the full committee. It later died in the Senate State and Local Government Committee, 6-3.

A February poll conducted by Middle Tennessee State University suggests that most Tennesseans support new rules requiring photo IDs at the ballot box.

Alex Harris contributed to this report.

Press Releases

TN Citizen Action: Real Human Cost to Capping Damages

Press Release from Tennessee Citizen Action; May 12, 2011:

Mary Mancini, executive director of Tennessee Citizen Action, released the following statement on the Senate passage of Governor Bill Haslam’s Tennessee Civil Justice Act of 2011:

Even when faced with irrefutable proof that placing caps on damage awards is a solution in search of a problem, a majority in our state senate choose to pass a bill that takes away the right of Tennesseans to have their day in court.

There is a real human cost to placing caps on damages and we’ve all heard the tragic stories. Any legislator that voted for this bill will have to look into the eyes of a victim’s family member and tell them. “This how little I think your loved one is worth.”

If the governor signs it, Tennessee will no longer have a civil justice system that is robust and can hold corporations accountable for egregious acts that lead to abuse, neglect, and death.

Tennessee Citizen Action asks Governor Haslam to determine if there is room in the “new normal” to consider the real human cost of putting caps on damages.

Press Releases

TNCA to Haslam: “Where’s the Justice?”

Press Release from Tennessee Citizen Action, April 7, 2011:

Passage of “Miscarriage of Justice Act” Amplifies The Need for Corporate Accountability in Tennessee

NASHVILLE, TN – April 7, 2011 – The attack on hardworking Tennesseans and their families continued yesterday when a piece of Governor Bill Haslam’s legislative package, the so-called “Tennessee Civil Justice Act of 2011,” passed the first hurdle on its way to becoming law.

The bill will place a $750,000 cap in most personal injury and health care malpractice lawsuits and would also limit punitive damages to twice the amount of compensatory damages or $500,000, whichever is greater. It passed in the House Judiciary Subcommittee and will be heard next in the full House Judiciary Committee.

“It should be called the “Miscarriage of Justice Act of 2011,” said Mary Mancini, executive director of Tennessee Citizen Action, “I don’t know how any legislator can look into the eyes of a victim’s family member and tell them how much they think their loved ones’ life is worth.”

Several studies point to the need for a civil justice system that is robust and can hold corporations accountable, instead of one that places arbitrary caps on potential damage awards:

  • A Health and Human Services report released in March estimates that approximately “90 percent of nursing homes in the U.S. have at one time hired an individual with a criminal record.”
  • The 2011 HealthGrades Clinical Excellence Research & Consulting report on trends in hospital quality and patient safety states that there were “79,670 patient deaths among patients who experienced one or more patient safety events.”
  • The same report states that “nearly one million patient-safety incidents occurred among Medicare patients over the years 2006, 2007, 2008.”
  • The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) found that there were 181,000 severe injuries attributable to medical negligence in 2003.

“It’s common knowledge that damage awards act as a deterrent and make large corporations think twice about repeating egregious acts that can lead to abuse, neglect, and death,” Mancini said, “This bill takes away the right of victims to have their day in court and the right of juries to hold accountable any responsible parties.”

Tennessee Citizen Action works in the public interest as Tennessee’s premier consumer rights organization. Our mission is to work tirelessly to improve the overall health, well-being, and quality of life for all people who live and work in Tennessee.

Press Releases

TNCA: Multi-Million Dollar Corporations Lobbying To Take Away Tennesseans Rights

Press Release from Tennessee Citizen Action; March 29, 2011:

Constitutional Right to Trial by Jury Under Attack

Nashville, Tenn. (March 29, 2011) — Multi-million dollar corporations are currently asking legislators they helped elect to grant them special immunities from being held accountable. These corporations want to deprive Tennesseans of their constitutional right to a jury trial.

Members of the leadership of the recently-formed special interest lobbying group, Tennesseans for Economic Growth, are associated with repeat offenders that have been repeatedly held accountable by juries for their wrongful conduct.

For example, National HealthCare Corporation, the largest provider of nursing home care in Tennessee, has been involved in numerous cases of resident neglect throughout the state. A fire in a Nashville NHC facility caused the death of 16 elderly residents in 2003, and the company has also been the subject of repeated instances of sexual abuse of its elderly and, in some cases, completely helpless patients. Aside from the poor quality of care, NHC’s profits jumped 160 percent during the fourth quarter of 2010, bringing in $13.2 million for its shareholders, compared to just $5 million in the last three months of 2009.

The leadership of this special interest lobbying group also includes Smith & Nephew’s former president. Smith & Nephew, a multinational medical device maker headquartered in Europe, has had a number of its products recalled in the United States after serious questions were raised about the safety of their products. Smith and Nephew has also been held accountable by juries in cases for making and selling unsafe products in the United States. Interestingly, when Smith & Nephew feels like it has been damaged, it has repeatedly brought its grievances to a jury in the American court system where the company was awarded tens of millions of dollars against rival companies.

“Not surprisingly, the types of special immunities these companies are seeking would still allow multi-million dollar corporations to seek and recover every penny of the damages they incur, while at the same time, they would prevent ordinary Tennesseans from holding the corporations accountable for the full extent of the harm the corporations cause,” stated Mary Mancini, executive director of Tennessee Citizen Action.

Our legislature needs to send a message to these companies that Tennesseans will not tolerate corporate misconduct in our state, no matter what the size of these corporate pocketbooks. Our legislators should be trusted to ensure the constitutional rights of citizens are not taken away.

Press Releases

Tennessee Citizen Action: Lawsuit Caps Would Have Negative Effects

Press Release from Tennessee Citizen Action, March 23, 2011:


Nashville, Tenn. (March 23, 2011) — In the House Judiciary committee late this afternoon, testimony was presented on behalf of Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam’s “Tennessee Civil Justice Act of 2011,” which would cap medical malpractice damages at $750,000. Unfortunately, the testimony continued with an all-too common theme of catering to large corporations at the expense of hardworking Tennesseans.

“Herbert Slatery, the Governor’s counsel, said that unemployment in Tennessee is really bad and we agree,” said Mary Mancini, executive director of Tennessee Citizen Action, “But all his remarks were about what’s beneficial to large corporations. Not once did he mention the real human impact the Governor’s bill would have on the hardworking people of the state.”

Earlier in the day, Tennessee Citizen Action directed a press conference in which the impact of the bill was discussed by the family members of victims of medical malpractice and nursing homes abuse. The constant refrain from these brave family members was that caps on damages would remove the most important reason they had for filing suit: to deter fraudulent and abusive business practices so that what happened to their loved ones never happens again.

In his remarks, Mr. Slatery, said also said that the litigation risk is a factor in businesses decision to move here. But it is widely known that since 2008 when a unique Tennessee solution was put in place to make it more difficult to file non-meritorious claims, there has been a 44% decline in the number of medical malpractice lawsuits filed.

Tennessee Citizen Action believes that businesses are run by intelligent people who will be attracted to the state because they can see that, one, we are not known for excessive jury awards and, two, we already have a solution in place that streamlines the process in malpractice suits and weeds out non-meritorious claims. But most importantly, businesses will be attracted to the state when we begin to treat it’s people as it’s number one priority, producing a well-educated and highly motivated workforce that stands on a firm foundation of a well-developed public infrastructure.

News NewsTracker

Reform v. Repeal; Mary & Co v. Mae & Co

A self-described consumer rights advocacy group held a press conference at the State Capitol Tuesday, during which its leaders called on state Sen. Mae Beavers to back off pushing one of her most cherished legislative initiatives.

Tennessee Citizen Action, a coalition of activists, progressive community organizers and union members, told reporters Tuesday they are trying to convince the Mt. Juliet Republican that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is really a very splendid, popular law that ought to be warmly embraced and even expanded, rather than unequivocally denounced as dangerous and unconstitutional.

TNCA Executive Director Mary Mancini said Beavers and other lawmakers rallying against national Democrats’ health care overhaul, like freshman GOP Tennessee Congressman Scott DesJarlais, are “wasting time on issues that we really can’t do anything about.”

“Right now that’s not going to help the people of Tennessee who are suffering in this bad economy, who are suffering from high unemployment and are finding it difficult to feed their families because food prices are so high,” said Mancini.

However, the Tennessee Senate Judiciary Committee chairwoman indicated Tuesday evening that Mancini is the one “wasting time” with her attempts to convince her, Beavers, to betray core conservative constituencies and renege on key campaign promises.

“I’m running with the bill no matter what,” assured Beavers. “(Mancini) can still have national health care if she wants it.”

Beavers said her Tennessee Health Freedom Act does nothing to prohibit anyone from enrolling in government-run or private health insurance programs if they choose; it only seeks to insulate citizens against retribution from the federal government if they choose not to.

Beavers added that, in her view, supporters of the federal health care legislation passed last year  — and, in turn, present-day opponents of the effort to repeal ObamaCare — “don’t know what they’re talking about.”

“They think it’s going to be free health care for everybody. Nothing is free. Somebody’s going to have to pay for it,” said Beavers.

In a press release issued last week, Beavers said “the health care law passed by Congress last year is ‘big brother’ at his worst.”

U.S. Rep. DesJarlais, a physician from Jasper, has shown no recent signs of abandoning his promise to fight the Affordable Care Act either. Earlier this week he told WPLN radio that “people didn’t want government run health care in the nineties; they didn’t want it now.”

“So the bill needs to be repealed and then we need to go about finding common-sense reform in health care and in my opinion not necessarily replace it with a new bill,” he said.

Mancini says she understands TNCA faces an uphill battle in changing GOP minds. Nevertheless, they’re charging upward and onward, she said.

“Instead of using this as a political football, (Republicans) need to start listening to the people of Tennessee, to their constituents,” Mancini said. “Talking about repeal gets everybody fired up. It’s a big, sexy issue and it gets people talking about the repeal of this health care bill, Mae Beavers’ bill to do away with the mandate. Again, that’s not something we can do. That’s going to be decided in a higher court.”