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Health Care Liberty and Justice News

Fight to Finish Over Federal Health Care Reform

The state-level war over the national health-care package is going down to the wire in the 2010 Tennessee Legislature.

The House on Tuesday passed the “Health Care Freedom Act” — not to be confused with the “Health Freedom Act” the Senate approved earlier this session. However, there’s talk the two might in some way be merged or their language reconciled with one another before the Legislature adjourns for the year.

Both pieces of legislation state generally that government can’t require citizens to purchase health insurance. But the Senate’s version is broader in scope — for example, directing the state attorney general to defend Tennesseans who choose to ignore the federal mandate.

The Senate is scheduled to take up the acts and issues surrounding them again today, on what leaders in both chambers have said is likely to be the last day of the session.

“We’re going to have discussion on the bill in the Senate on the floor, and we’ll just have to see what comes out of that,” said Sen. Diane Black, R-Gallatin, whose SB2560 is the companion bill to HB2622 passed by the House.

Last week the Senate voted to pull SB2560 out of a closed committee to ready it for floor action, including possible alteration and amendment. That move was precipitated by the House killing the original “Health Freedom Act” in the Budget Subcommittee, which is controlled by Democrats and House Speaker Kent Williams.

Further complicating the issue is that Tennessee Attorney General Robert Cooper has stated that the “Health Freedom Act” is unconstitutional. On the other hand, the “Health Care Freedom Act,” wrote Cooper, probably does not run afoul of  either the United States or Tennessee constitutions.

The “Health Care Freedom Act,” sponsored by Rep. Susan Lynn, R-Mt. Juliet, states: “The people of Tennessee have a right to enter into private contracts with health care providers for health care services and to purchase private health care coverage. The legislature shall not require any person to participate in any health care system or plan, nor shall it impose a penalty or fine, of any type, for choosing to obtain or decline health care coverage or for participation in any particular health care system or plan.”

Black wouldn’t say what she anticipates happening or exactly what she’ll be proposing as far as amendment or adoption of SB2560. Adding to the uncertainty is the ongoing political feud in the GOP between Rep. Susan Lynn and Sen. Mae Beavers, two Mt. Juliet Republicans who are running for the same Senate seat this year. Beavers was the sponsor of the “Health Freedom Act,” Lynn of the language passed by the House Tuesday.

“The only thing that I can say is the Senate will be the Senate, and they will give the bill debate just like they do on any other bill,” Black said.

Debate in the House on Tuesday over Lynn’s bill was mostly a rehashing of well-worn positions staked out by conservatives and progressives in the Legislature. The measure ultimately passed, 53-32.

Republicans generally argued the federal government has no legitimate power to demand that individuals purchase health insurance or any other product. Democrats maintain that the states have no constitutional authority to resist the demands of the federal government.

Andrea Zelinski contributed video interviews for this story.

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Press Releases

Odom’s ‘Smart On Crime’ Bill Passes In House

Press Release from Rep. Gary Odom, D-Nashville; April 8, 2010:

House Passes Bill That More Than Doubles Penalty For Armed Robbery

(Nashville) — Democratic Leader Gary Odom passed a long-overdue measure through the Tennessee House of Representatives Thursday that will more than double the minimum time served for armed robbery.

“This is a big step we made today in making Tennessee a safer place to live,” said Odom (D-Nashville). “We hear from Tennesseans that it is time to get tough on crime. This bill gets tough on crime and it gets smart on crime, with no additional cost to the taxpayer.”

The bill doesn’t cost taxpayers because it is written to require that certain non-violent property offenders serve sentences in very extensive community corrections programs, under which they would pay restitution to their victims. By requiring these persons to serve in these programs, the measure would free up cells for the most violent criminals in society.

The bill passed the House on an 88-4 vote and will now head to the state Senate for consideration.

The bill, inspired by a West Nashville constituent held at gunpoint by a criminal who pleaded guilty to earlier armed robbery charges, will increase the minimum amount of time served from 30 to 74 percent.

“A constituent came to me and said: ‘Gary, this guy pointed a gun at me and robbed me in broad daylight in my yard. I was angry when I learned that he had done it before and should have still been in jail,’” Odom said.

The violent offender in the West Nashville case, under this legislation, would have served six of the eight years sentenced instead of only 2.4 years, Odom said.

Metro Nashville Chief of Police Ronal Serpas, a vocal proponent who was on the House floor to witness the vote, praised the bill as being “smart on crime.”

The bill, which now goes to the Senate for consideration, is endorsed by the Tennessee Association of Chiefs of Police and the Tennessee District Attorneys General.

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Press Releases

Odom’s Crime Bill Clears Fiscal Hurdle

Press Release from Rep. Gary Odom, D-Nashville, March 24, 2010:

Odom bill costs taxpayers nothing, ups sentences for armed robbers

(Nashville) — A bill increasing sentences for armed robbers, sponsored by House Democratic Leader Gary Odom, passed a major hurdle in the state House Wednesday by clearing the Budget subcommittee.

“In the past, the cost has kept us from getting tougher on violent crimes,” said Odom (D-Nashville). “Getting this measure through the Budget subcommittee, where most bills die because of costs, is a clear sign that this bill is on its way to the full House and to the governor’s desk to become law.

“A lot of armed robbers have been serving only a small percentage of their sentences, because of the tight budget. We have found a way to keep these people in jail longer by changing our sentencing priorities.”

Odom plans to move the bill through the House Finance Committee and to a full vote in the next two weeks.

The bill, inspired by a West Nashville constituent held at gunpoint by a criminal who pleaded guilty to earlier armed robbery charges, will more than double the minimum amount of time served for aggravated robbery from 30 to 75 percent.

“A constituent came to me and said a guy pointed a gun at him and robbed him in broad daylight in his yard. This criminal should have still been in jail,’” Odom said.

The bill doesn’t cost taxpayers because it is written to require that non-violent felons serve sentences in very extensive community corrections programs, under which they would pay restitution to their victims.

By requiring these persons to serve in these programs, the measure would free up cells for the most violent criminals in society. These community-correction sentences would include offenses involving limited amounts of fraud and forgery and other non-violent property offenses.

The violent offender in the West Nashville case, under this legislation, would have served six of the eight years sentenced instead of only 2.4 years, Odom said. The bill has been endorsed by the Tennessee Association of Chiefs of Police.