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Press Releases

Tennessee Health Freedom Act Returns

Press release from the Senate GOP Caucus, Jan. 13, 2011:

Senator Mae Beavers and Representative Weaver to file “Health Freedom Act” protecting patient’s right to make their own health care choices

(NASHVILLE, TN), January 13, 2010 – State Senator Mae Beavers (R-Mt. Juliet) and Representative Terri Lynn Weaver (R-Lancaster) announced today they will file legislation to protect the freedom of Tennessee patients to make their own health care choices, regardless of the federal action taken in Washington last year. The bill is similar to legislation Beavers passed in the Senate last year. That legislation, however, was not approved in the House of Representatives.

“The health care law passed by Congress last year is ‘big brother’ at his worst,” said Senator Beavers. “The citizens of Tennessee believe they should be able to choose whether or not they want to participate in a federal health care plan. That is what this bill seeks to accomplish.”

The Tennessee Health Freedom Act, does not seek to “nullify” any federal law, as it would still allow individuals the option to participate in a federal program. However, it acknowledges the right of Tennesseans to refuse to participate in a government-run health insurance program.

“The Tennessee Health Freedom Act, would protect a citizen’s right to participate, or not participate, in any healthcare system, and would prohibit the federal government from imposing fines or penalties on that person’s decision,” said Rep. Weaver. “It seeks a remedy to fight back against the overreach of federal power on the private lives of our citizens.”

Financial experts predict that the federal healthcare plan will consume any anticipated growth in Tennessee’s revenues once the economy recovers, crippling the state’s ability to make future improvements in critical needs like education, job investment and public safety. The federal health care law will also penalize citizens beginning in 2014 if they do not buy insurance.

“We are talking about stiff penalties that will escalate to 2.5 percent of a citizen’s taxable income by 2016 if they do not purchase health care insurance,” added Beavers. “This will put a heavy burden on citizens who are already struggling to make ends meet. I am very hopeful this legislation will pass our General Assembly this session.”

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Education News Transparency and Elections

Ramsey Would Reject RTTT Funds If ‘Strings Attached’

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, said Saturday that as governor he’d reject federal Race to the Top funds for state education if the money comes with requirements from Washington, D.C.that it be spent in specific ways.

“I hope and pray this Race to the Top money doesn’t have strings attached to it. If it does, and I’m governor, we’re not going to take it,” Ramsey said.

He said the funds should be used in non-recurring ways, such as putting it toward teacher and principal training.

Ramsey, who is seeking the Republican nomination to replace Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen, was speaking at a meeting in Franklin of the Professional Educators of Tennessee, an organization that offers teachers an alternative to joining a teachers union. The lieutenant governor said he is feeling much relieved now that the legislative session is over and he can concentrate on primary election campaigning

Other speakers at the meeting included Republican candidate Zach Wamp, Democrat hopeful Mike McWherter and independent candidates Bayron Binkley, Samuel Duck and Brandon Dodds.

Bredesen led the charge for the Race to the Top funds, and the federal government surprised Tennessee by granting the state $500 million, an amount the state wanted and applied for but did not expect to receive in full. The state had expected a much lower figure if it won. Only one other state, Delaware, won Race to the Top funds in the first of two rounds in the contest and was awarded roughly $100 million.

Ramsey told the group the Race to the Top funds were greatly due to the intense amount of work the Legislature put in during its special session on education in January.

Ramsey spoke highly of the effort in the special session and explained that he knew the subject of teacher evaluations was controversial but supported changes in the evaluation process. The reform effort was intended to help put together a strong application for the federal funds.

Ramsey said the special session was an example of “the way government ought to work.”

“This is not about some mass firing of teachers, but it is a tool we can use to help teachers,” Ramsey said. “In the end, this will work out. It will be fine.”

Ramsey was in full campaign mode and he became passionate when the issue of federal intervention rose.

“At first I thought this administration we have now was just incompetent. But now I think it’s conniving,” Ramsey said. “You don’t borrow $1.4 trillion one year, $1.6 trillion the next year and expect our country to stay the same. It’s not going to happen.

“I hope to have grandkids soon. There’s no way our kids can have the same world to grow up in that I did if we keep heading in this direction. It’s impossible.”

He said governors need to push back against the federal government.

“This is revolutionary,” Ramsey said. “I don’t mean like march on Washington, D.C., revolutionary. I mean revolutionary in the sense that I don’t think states have ever pushed back. We’ve never been in this position before.”

Wamp said a group like the Professional Educators of Tennessee deserves to have a voice in decision-making on education. He used the opportunity to state his case about the importance of early childhood reading and emphasized the importance of health issues among children.

“The truth is you are getting a product that requires you to be in law enforcement and psychology and everything across the spectrum instead of the ability to just educate the children based on you getting a decent product,” Wamp told the group.

McWherter tied education to the mission of creating more jobs in the state. He said he recognizes the importance of providing the resources necessary to teach children. He also lauded the Bredesen administration for landing the Race to the Top grant monies.

The primary is Aug. 5. The general election is Nov. 2.

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Liberty and Justice News

Senate Panel Probing Juvenile Sex-Offender Bill

A state Senate committee is hoping to put the final touches next week on a requirement to add juveniles convicted of certain sex crimes to Tennessee’s adult sex-offender registry.

Sen. Diane Black, a Gallatin Republican, is sponsoring the bill — which aims at making the state hew to a 2006 federal mandate handed down by the Republican-controlled Congress and President Bush — and told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee that she’d like to only add the most violent teen offenders to the registry.

Those targeted include 14 to 18-year-olds convicted of rape, rape of a child under 13 — if there is more than a four-year age difference between the offender and the victim — as well as aggravated rape of a child three years old or younger and aggravated sexual battery in cases where force or coercion with a weapon was involved in the crime.

Juvenile offenders added to the registry would have to be judged by a mental health professional as being at a “high risk” of re-offending.

Under Black’s version of the bill, offenders would be listed on the registry for 25 years. If an offender stays within substantial compliance with any requirements or restrictions placed on them by the court system, the individual can ask to be removed from the list when they turn 19. Those not in full compliance would have to wait an extra five years before requesting to be taken off the registry.

Tennessee’s online sex offender registry receives about 10,000 visits per day, said Black, quoting the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. More than 32 states have some type of juvenile sex offender registry in place, she said.

“Admittedly, it is an extremely sensitive issue,” said Black. “It would give an opportunity for parents and other caregivers of small children to make sure that, as they have their children exposed to these offenders, that they are given knowledge that these are offenders that are the most serious offenders and have a high risk of re-offending.”

“The intent is to protect the innocent children,” she continued. “When a child is perpetrated, we know the kinds of results of what will happen with that child for the rest of their life. We are protecting the innocent. The purpose of this is not to punish the offender because there is nothing in (the bill) that will prevent them from getting rehabilitation. We want them to get rehabilitation.”

Several senators on the panel expressed reservations about the bill.

“Not all of us sit around and peruse registries all the time, I promise you,” Memphis Democrat Beverly Marrero told Sumner County District Attorney Ray Whitley, who was testifying in favor of the bill. “It looks like you’re trying to set up people for a sort of a paranoia where people are going out everyday and going on the internet and trying to find out how many sex offenders are in their neighborhood and if they’re walking down their street.”

If people are not obsessing with the adult sex offender registry, they won’t be when the registry adds teen sex offenders, Whitley said.

Sen. Doug Jackson, D-Dickson, said he supports the new registry but is worried about some of the particulars.

“I see cases where this is not serving the public’s interest, but it’s hurting the child,” he said. “There’s no discretion with the court…and that’s the hallmark of juvenile court. This is tying the judge’s hands…to come up with the appropriate remedy.”

The bill, Jackson said, might create a system that “sweeps all of the children in rather than weigh in some mitigating factors.”

Black said only around one percent of juvenile sex offenses covered by the bill are now sent to adult court.

“These juvenile judges are not sending these most serious offenses…to the adult court,” she said.

A number of people who testified about the legislation repeated much of what they said earlier this legislative session when House committees were considering the change in law. Legislation in the House has been advancing, but it was recently put on hold until the budget situation is resolved.

Some senators who support the bill voiced concerns Thursday about the measure’s particulars.

Sen. Dewayne Bunch, R-Cleveland, worried that a mental health professional’s report to a judge could override the discretion of that judge. Relying on a mental health professionals’ decision takes power away from judges, he said, adding that a decision as to whether a juvenile ends up on the registry become somewhat “predetermined.”

He also questioned whether an offender could appeal the finding of the mental health professional and whether a lawyer representing an offender would have to prioritize fighting the alleged crime against the risk of being a re-offender.

“Should we have a separate and distinct hearing about whether the person is high risk?” asked Bunch.

The committee later agreed to amendments by Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, designed to put more of the risk-determination decision-making authority back in the hands of judges.

Bunch also criticized the bill’s definition of “mental health professional,” because it included such professions as a licensed clinical social worker and a licensed marriage and family therapist.

About five percent of minors in the 14-18 age-range would be affected by the legislation, Black said — though she also acknowledged those estimates might be low.

The bill is scheduled to come up for more discussion before the Judiciary committee Wednesday.

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Business and Economy Health Care Liberty and Justice News Transparency and Elections

Ramsey Revving Up Senate for Fresh ObamaCare Resolution

Even as he gears up for a Senate vote Monday urging the state’s top lawyer to sue over the new federal health care bill, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey has taken preliminary steps to investigate the use of a special counsel to take up the challenge should Tennessee Attorney General Robert Cooper ultimately refuse.

Ramsey, R-Blountville, said his hope is that Cooper will see votes in the House and Senate as persuasion to join other states in fighting the mandates of the new federal law, making a special counsel unnecessary.

But the lieutenant governor has been working with Joseph Barnes, director of the Office of Legal Services, searching for precedents as guidance on turning to a special counsel.

Thus far, there is little in the way of a roadmap if the destination is suing the federal government. “There is a precedent for hiring special counsel to defend legislators, or a special counsel when the legislature passes a law and the attorney general refuses to defend that in court because he thinks it’s unconstitutional to begin with,” Ramsey said. “But as far as a precedent in actually suing the federal government, no. So we’re trying to figure out how all this works.”

A Senate vote is scheduled for Monday on a resolution urging the attorney general to join at least 16 other states in challenging the constitutionality of the new federal health care law. The Senate Judiciary Committee approved the resolution last week. After that vote, Ramsey raised the possibility of using a special attorney to fight the federal government, saying that if Cooper refuses to do as the resolution asks, “We’ll cross that bridge when we get there.”

Ramsey said early on that if a special counsel were needed he would like to find someone to handle the job for free.

“Obviously, I’d like to think we could get somebody to do it pro bono. That has happened in at least two or three other states,” Ramsey said. “I have not gotten that far down the road, simply because I hope this resolution passes overwhelmingly in the House and overwhelmingly in the Senate and our attorney general will decide on his own to join in.”

While Ramsey said he wants the attorney general’s action, there is reason to doubt whether Cooper would grant the Legislature’s request. Cooper issued an opinion last week in response to the Tennessee Health Freedom Act, a bill that would allow Tennesseans to say no to requirements in the federal law that mandates purchase of insurance coverage and tells the attorney general to preserve the rights of Tennessee residents and defend the state if necessary.

But Cooper responded by saying the U.S. Constitution gives the federal government priority over the state’s measure. Further, he said the Legislature could not require the attorney general to act since his position falls under the state’s judiciary branch and would therefore create a separation of powers issue. The Senate has passed the Health Freedom Act, but it slowed in the House after Cooper’s opinion and is scheduled to be considered again by the House Commerce Committee on Tuesday.

Ramsey is waving Cooper’s opinion aside, saying that challenging the constitutionality of the federal law is a completely separate issue than what the attorney general dwelt upon in his response to an inquiry from three House Democrats about the constitutionality of the Health Freedom Act.

The desire to fight the federal law focuses on the constitutional grounds of mandating the purchase of insurance, but there appears to be little doubt that one element of the federal law that is driving opinions in several states is the unfunded mandates the law would place upon states by expanding the Medicaid program.

Ramsey, who is running for governor in the Republican primary, has said his effort is not motivated by political ambition. His two foremost opponents in the Republican primary take similar positions as Ramsey on the issue.

Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam said the state should pursue all alternatives to address the federal law and that he is open to a lawsuit.

“The health care bill does have serious ramifications for the state,” Haslam said. “It’s going to cost the state over $1 billion over the first five years of it, and we’re in the hole we’re in already. I think it’s incumbent upon the governor to see what the alternatives are to prevent that.”

He says there might be strength in numbers.

“I think if I were governor, what I would be pursuing would be banding together with other governors to go and make our case to Washington about the consequences of the health care bill for us,” Haslam said. “States should look at all alternatives. What you have to do when you do that is always consider the costs and the likelihood of success.”

In a gubernatorial forum Friday in Wilson County, another Republican contender, U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, who voted against the health care bill in Congress, said he would do “anything and everything” to protect the state on the health care issue.

“It is unfortunate that our state attorney general is not joining the other states’ attorneys general,” Wamp said, adding that the first signs of trouble came when the federal stimulus bill came down with stipulations for changes in unemployment compensation law.

“This is a constitutional conflict now between the states that have Tenth Amendment sovereignty defined in our Constitution and this nanny state federal government that’s raining down all over us,” Wamp said. “So we do need the attorney general to stand up. We need to legislatively try to cure this. We need to fight it at every level. As long as I’m in Congress, I’m going to work to repeal the whole blasted thing and start over with incremental reform.”

Haslam said he liked what Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander said on the floor of the Senate, that any senator who voted for the health care bill should have to go home and be the governor and live with it for five years.

“It’s like the federal government went out to dinner, ordered everything they want, then sent us a third of the bill,” Haslam said.

Mike McWherter, the likely Democratic nominee, has said the bill is the law of the land and should not be the subject of political grandstanding.

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Press Releases

Wamp Fighting Federal Healthcare Takeover In Washington, Nashville

Press Release from Zach Wamp for Governor, March 17, 2010:

NASHVILLE – Zach Wamp, Republican candidate for governor, today pledged to continue the fight against the proposed federal government takeover of healthcare insurance in Washington this week and vowed to work with the Tennessee General Assembly and other governors around the nation and to block its enactment here after he is elected as Tennessee’s next governor.

Wamp cited the 10th amendment to the Constitution and his fundamental belief in state sovereignty as guiding principals for his two-front battle against the costliest and most intrusive federal mandate in U.S. history.

“I will fight any mandate forced on us by the federal government that hurts our state’s economy and costs us more jobs, and the Pelosi healthcare bill will cost us thousands of jobs and threatens to bankrupt our state,” said Wamp. “State sovereignty gives us the right as Tennesseans to say no to Washington, and I will defend it with every ounce of my being.”

“Not only am I fighting and voting this week to prevent this unprecedented attempt by the federal government to takeover our healthcare, but I vow as Tennessee’s next governor to work with the state Legislature to block this crippling mandate if it’s forced upon the states despite objections from a bipartisan group of state leaders from across the country,” Wamp said.

Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen and U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander, who previously served as Tennessee governor, have been among the most vocal critics of the potentially devastating impact passage of the new federal mandate could have on Tennessee’s budget.

Wamp said he would rally the nation’s other Governors to help beat back unfunded federal mandates and to bring them together to help develop practical, common sense solutions to the rapidly rising costs of health care and health insurance faced by working families, small businesses and the states.

As a member of Congress, Wamp has seen firsthand the costly burden placed on state and local government agencies on the receiving end of federal mandates – mandates that tie the hands of local officials and tie up scarce resources.

To date, some 34 state legislatures across the U.S. have stood up for their rights provided under the 10th amendment and moved to preemptively block the healthcare insurance takeover measure being pushed by Democrats in Washington.

In neighboring Virginia, the Republican-ruled House of Delegates, with wide Democratic support, recently voted 80-17 for a bill aimed at blocking the impact of national healthcare reforms being pushed by President Obama, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell has said he intends to sign it.

Similar bills are now moving through the Tennessee General Assembly.

Wamp said it is going to take strong conservative governors like himself in Tennessee and Bob McDonnell in Virginia to beat back any overreach by the federal government and to defend the rights and freedoms of every citizen.

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Press Releases

Reps. Maggart and Lynn Ask State AG to Intervene in Federal Health Care Legislation

Tennessee House of Representatives press release, Dec. 21, 2009:

On Monday, State Representatives Susan Lynn (R-Lebanon) and Debra Young Maggart (R-Hendersonville) asked Tennessee State Attorney General Robert Cooper to prepare to take the appropriate legal action against the federal government in the event HR 3200, the controversial federal healthcare reform legislation, passes into law.

The legislators requested this action in order to grant Tennessee relief from the unfunded mandate contained in the bill that Tennessee complies with the expansion of the federal Medicaid program.

The letter notes that under the bill Tennessee would be forced to expand the state’s Medicaid program potentially costing the citizens of the state $1.4 billion dollars in additional state taxpayer funds annually.

“Such an increase would place a great burden on the citizens of this state. It is clear by the wording of the legislation itself that not every state would face a similar and equal burden,” stated Rep. Debra Maggart.

Lynn explained that, “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.”

Lynn and Maggart noted that the passage of this bill is imminent so it is important that the AG prepare now to take immediate action, and they referenced Governor Bredesen’s recent comment that “we can’t print money.” The great issue for the states is that states are not allowed to borrow money for operations expenses. “Obviously, this is something that many in Washington just don’t understand,” stated Lynn.