Business and Economy NewsTracker

Legislature Approves TN Workers’ Comp Overhaul

Republican Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam’s workers’ compensation reform legislation passed the state House of Representatives Thursday, 68-24. The bill now heads to his desk to be signed into law.

The House moved to concur with Senate Bill 200, where the bill passed by a vote of 28-2, with little discussion earlier this month. Only one Democrat – Rep. Charles Curtiss of Sparta – broke rank with the House minority party in voting against the legislation that expands the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development to oversee a process formerly handled by the courts.

“This bill is truly an overhaul of the system designed to make fundamental changes to avoid having to do it again in a few years,” said Rep. Kevin Brooks, who presented House Bill 194 to the body. House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, is the bill’s prime sponsor. In the Senate it was Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville.

Brooks predicts that the primary gains for employees will be fewer delays, better medical treatment, claim processes that are easier to follow and support from the workers’ comp division when problems arise. Gains for employers include cost reductions, predictability and more efficient claim-handling, said the Bradley County Republican.

Currently, the Volunteer State is one of only three states that adjudicate workers’ comp claims in courts. The legislation does away with the court system — but without any reduction of employees in the state’s 95 Chancery Courts located in each county, Democratic Leader Rep. Craig Fitzhugh noted.

Democrats complained that the legislation does not address the medical costs associated with workers’ comp. Opponents have claimed throughout the bill’s largely party-line trek to passage that the high cost of health care is the reason Tennessee’s costs continue to rise, while those in the surrounding eight states continue to fall.

House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rep. Mike Turner wondered from where the cost-savings in the new system will come. Brooks said “streamlining the process” will result in lower employer insurance premiums.

Turner said he suspects any real savings will come from lower payments to disabled-on-the-job employees. “We’re taking money out of the workers’ pocket. That’s not right. It’s not fair,” said the Old Hickory lawmakers, a firefighter who has served 13 years in the House. “We’re going to pass the savings onto business people. I’ve never seen a bill that tears at my heart like this one does.”

“I hope you understand what you know what you’re doing if you vote for this bill. We’ll be back in three or four years doing this again,” said Turner, urging members to send the legislation to summer study and to “do it right.”

Fitzhugh offered six of the eight amendments from Democrats. However, each one failed, just as they did when he presented them in the Finance, Ways & Means Committee, due to tabling motions to kill each without discussion. In both situations, the tabling motions overwhelming passed along party lines.

Following the House session, Fitzhugh told that he tried to “have amendments that would just put a little more common sense in there.

“The problems I have with it are that people thinks it’s going to be reform, but it’s really not,” said the nine-term representative from Ripley. “I’m afraid we’ll see it in a year or two and have to do something else with it. I don’t think this is going to turn out to be something very positive.”

Following the vote, Mary Mancini, executive director of Tennessee Citizen Action, a union-backed organization that has fought against the legislation, said in a statement that “the House of Representatives has clearly shown that instead of being on the side of protecting the hardworking Tennesseans who elected them, they are on the side of special interests like big insurance companies and large corporations who already benefit from so many tax loopholes and giveaways.”

Amelia Morrison Hipps may be reached at, on Twitter @DwnHomePolitics or at 615-442-8667.

Press Releases

TCA: House Should Say ‘Not Now’ to Haslam Workers Comp Request

Press release from Tennessee Citizen Action; April 9, 2013:

Nashville, Tenn. (April 9, 2013) – Tennessee Citizen Action issued the following statement calling on the State House of Representatives to delay the Governor’s push for changes to Workers’ Comp this week:

“The Governor’s assertion in the Tennessean today* that his proposed changes to workers’ comp law and the mismanagement within the Department of Labor and Workforce Development are unrelated is bizarre. The Governor is in charge of both administrative appointments as well as the effective use of taxpayer dollars. It was his choice for administrator of the Department of Labor that led directly to the mismanagement and waste of taxpayer dollars within the department. Now he wants the State House of Representatives to give him the sole authority to appoint an administrator to handle all workers’ comp claims and put that administrator under the Department of Labor?

In light of what we have learned, The Tennessee House of Representatives’ response on Thursday to the Governor’s request to give him the sole authority over the workers’ comp administrative decisions this year should be “Not now, Governor.”


Findings of the State Comptroller’s Single Audit Report detailing mismanagement, fraud and abuse within the Department of Labor and Workforce Development have surfaced. The Reports states: “The Department of Labor and Workforce Development’s management has threatened the integrity of the Unemployment Insurance Program by failing to provide sufficient internal controls and oversight.” Among the findings include overpayment of $73 million in jobless benefits, administrative delays that left employees bereft of an appeals process, and employers getting charged too much in unemployment premiums paid to the state.

Governor Bill Haslam is pushing changes that will take workers’ comp claims out of the impartial court system and put them directly under the Department of Labor and Workforce Development (HB194 & SB200), beginning in 2014.


Press Releases

TCA: Haslam Gives Another ‘Non-Answer’ on Dept. of Labor ‘Mismanagement’

Press release from Tennessee Citizen Action; April 3, 2013:


Nashville, Tenn. (April 3, 2013) – Yesterday, in response to the call from Tennessee Citizen Action, the AFL-CIO of Tennessee, and several legislators to put the brakes on his proposed changes to workers’ comp law that will create a new division under the Department of Labor and Workforce Development, the Governor said that he thought “the comptroller’s audit had no bearing on workers’ comp.” His full statement given during a press availability: “I think it’s a whole separate deal. One of those is about processing claims, and one of them is about adjudicating workers’ comp issues, so those are two very, very different issues. They’re in the same department, I admit, but they’re two very different issues.”

“We’ve heard this sort of non-answer answer before from Governor Haslam,” said Mary Mancini, executive director, Tennessee Citizen Action, “Instead of thoughtfully reconsidering his decision to add yet another division to the troubled Department of Labor, the Governor’s non-answer indicates his choice to trivialize and isolate the findings of the report and detach his public policy decisions from the mismanagement identified within the report.”

Governor Haslam is pushing to create a new multimillion-dollar workers’ comp division housed within the troubled Department of Labor and Workforce Development that has also in recent weeks seen it’s top management resign for “family reasons” and about which the Comptroller’s Single Audit Report said the “management has threatened the integrity of the Unemployment Insurance Program by failing to provide sufficient controls and oversight.”

The report found problems within 11 different state agencies and universities, and the Department of Labor and Workforce Development was the subject of 25% of the problems.

“If he wants to be honest, it’s not just the Department of Labor that has issues, it’s also 10 other agencies within his government,” said Wil Hammond, Communications Director, AFL-CIO of TN, “If anything, the mismanagement is worse than he is willing to admit to. This is clearly not the right time to add more responsibilities to an agency that can’t handle the load they have now.”

Tennessee Citizen and the AFL-CIO of Tennessee once again call on Governor Haslam to delay the creation of a new workers’ comp authority under the Department of Labor until he has had a chance to clean up department and the Comptroller has a chance to issue the 2013 Single Audit Report in 2014.


Press Releases

TCA: Haslam Workers Comp Proposal Creates ‘Disposable Workforce’

Press release from Tennessee Citizen Action; March 26, 2013:

Nashville, Tenn. (March 26, 2013) – Today at a rally in front of the state capitol, Tennessee Citizen Action, the AFL-CIO of Tennessee, the Jackson Central Labor Council, the Memphis AFL-CIO Labor Council, the Central Labor Council of Nashville and Middle-Tennessee, along with various other local unions, community organizations, and workers who have been injured on the job called on Governor Bill Haslam to stop his proposed changes that will gut workers’ compensation. The bill, which is part of the Governor’s legislative package, will leave hardworking men and women with less to take care of their families when they are injured on the job and remove incentives for employers to keep injured workers healthy and on the job.

The proposed changes to workers’ comp will not only cut insurance payouts to workers when they are injured on the job, but also will create a new bureaucracy completely controlled by the Governor and remove workers’ comp cases from impartial court system. Worst of all, it will allow employers to “throwaway” Injured employees.

“This legislative majority is no friend to working people,” said Jerry Winters of the AFL-CIO of Tennessee, “The blatant attacks on worker’s compensation, living wages, unemployment insurance, and retirement benefits are aimed right at the very people who keep Tennessee’s economy moving. It is time for workers to stand up and say enough is enough!”

As they consider Governor Haslam’s changes to workers’ compensation, the legislative majority have a choice to make: they can either do the bidding of the Governor and side with special interests like big insurance companies or they can fight to protect the hardworking Tennesseans who elected them.

“So far we have packed several legislative hearing rooms on Capitol Hill to make sure lawmakers know Governor Haslam’s proposed changes to workers’ comp will hurt hardworking Tennesseans and their families,” said Mary Mancini, executive director of Tennessee Citizen Action, “Since they are not paying attention, now it’s time to deliver the message directly to Governor Haslam.”

Tennessee Citizen Action works in the public interest as Tennessee’s premier consumer rights organization.

Featured Transparency and Elections

State: New Voter ID Law Proving a Success

Tennessee’s 2011 law requiring voters to show photo identification before casting a ballot had little apparent statistical effect on citizen access to the polls in the general election, records from the Secretary of State’s Office show.

Of the 2.45 million votes cast during the election, 674 provisional ballots related to the new photo ID law were filled out. Of that total, 178 voters returned with proper photo identification and had their ballots counted, according to records.

The new law states that voters who come to the polls without a photo ID may still vote using a provisional ballot. Voters can then return to the polls within two days with a valid ID, such as a driver’s license, and their vote will be counted.

“It’s not even 1 percent of the vote,” Secretary of State spokesman Blake Fontenay said.

The share of voters who did not have their provisional ballot counted because they lacked photo ID comes to roughly .02 percent of all votes cast.

The Nov. 6 election was the broadest test to date of the voter ID law, and lawmakers who supported it say it is proving a success.

“From the moment this law was introduced opponents have been screaming that the sky was falling in ways that would shame Chicken Little,” Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, said in a statement. “The numbers have shown otherwise. Photo ID provides voter protection, and now we have proof.”

View county breakdown in a larger map

Shelby County had the most voters casting provisional ballots due to the voter ID law, with 134 cast. Records show 15 of those voters returned with the required identification. Davidson County came in second with 41 voters casting provisional ballots.

“When I see these numbers and then open the paper and see obvious examples of voter fraud in Philadelphia and Cleveland, I rest comfortably knowing that Tennessee has done the right thing in protecting the franchise,” Ramsey said. “What these numbers reveal is that the only thing Tennessee’s voter ID law suppresses is voter fraud.”

When the Republican-controlled Tennessee Legislature passed the photo ID bill, opponents argued the measure was not designed to protect voter integrity, but rather was a deliberate move to discourage groups that tend to vote Democratic, such as the elderly and minority voters.

They say the real takeaway from the recent election is not that the vast majority appear unaffected by the voter ID law, but that potentially hundreds of otherwise eligible voters may have been turned away.

“Those numbers, they may seem low to you, but they’re not,” said Mary Mancini, executive director of Tennessee Citizen Action, a voter advocacy group.“That’s a good chunk of people who don’t have a voter ID.”

Mancini has opposed Tennessee’s voter ID laws. This week, for example, she said that the Davidson County Election Commission “utterly failed,” citing hundreds of voters experiencing problems at the polls on Election Day, including not being able to access provisional ballots.

“If one voter is kept from casting their vote because of this law then it’s one vote too many,” she said. “The other thing is that we’ll never really know many people showed up at their polling place, saw the sign about having a photo ID and just left.”

The Secretary of State’s Office maintains there were few problems at the polls, and that there’s another side to those arguments.

According to Fontenay, “Even one person impersonating a voter is one too many in our eyes. Their argument is that they have no way of knowing how many people might not have had an ID and might have stayed home. Our argument is that we have no way of knowing how many people might have, in the past, cast fraudulent ballots.”

While those are open questions, what seems clear is that public opinion is on the side of photo ID.

A poll conducted before Election Day by the Middle Tennessee State University Survey Group showed that 81 percent of Tennesseans approve of the law requiring people to show a photo ID before voting.

Tennessee is not alone in the debate over requiring an ID to vote.

Ten states in addition to Tennessee require a photo ID to vote. Twenty states, such as Massachusetts, California, Nevada and West Virginia, do not require some kind of identification to vote.

In all, 30 states have laws requiring voters to show ID at the polls, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

And that number could rise, according to the NCSL, because a total of 33 states have passed voter ID laws.

Mississippi, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin are among them, but those measures are tied up in court battles or, in the case of Mississippi, require both legislative approval and federal sign-off via the Voting Rights Act.

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

Press Releases

Davidson Co. Poll Watching Initiative Launched, Supported by Multiple Groups

Press release from Tennessee Citizen Action; November 5, 2012:  

Nashville, Tenn. (November 5, 2011) — Tennessee Citizen Action, along with many other organizations and concerned citizens, have launched a large Poll Watching initiative to protect the vote in Davidson County, TN.

Over one hundred and sixty volunteers have been trained as non-partisan Poll Watchers and on Election Day will fan out to protect the vote in voting precincts across the County.

The trained Poll Watchers are not out in the field on their own. A Command Center has been set up and will be open from 6 am until the polls close. The Command Center will be staffed with election law experts who will be available to assist in any way and help Poll Watchers do their job of protecting the franchise.

In addition, a local hotline number, 615-852-5525, has been set up for anyone who experiences problems while voting.

“This is participatory democracy at its finest,” said Mary Mancini, executive director of Tennessee Citizen Action, “the volunteers who have trained to be Poll Watchers understand that we all have a responsibility to safeguard our elections. This effort is driven by motivated citizens coming together to do just that.”

The Poll Watching Collaborative effort has been created and designed as a model that can be rolled out to the other 94 counties in Tennessee during future elections.

Participating organizations include:

  • American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee
  • The American Constitution Society for Law and Policy (ACS) – Vanderbilt Chapter
  • Conexion Americas
  • CWA Local 3808
  • Law Students for Social Justice – Vanderbilt University Chapter
  • Lawyers’ Committee for Civil RIghts
  • League of Women Voters Nashville
  • L Club
  • NAACP – Nashville Branch
  • Nashville Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.
  • Nashville for All of Us
  • National Council of Negro Women – Middle Tennessee Section (MTS-NCNW)
  • Nashville Metropolitan Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Chapter, Inc.
  • Sierra Club – Middle Tennessee Group
  • Tennessee Citizen Action
  • Tennessee Immigrant And Refugee Rights Coalition
  • Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition
  • UAW 737
Press Releases

TCA: Are Davidson Co. Elections ‘Borked?’

Newsletter from Tennessee Citizen Action; September 13, 2012: 


According to the dictionary for geeks, something is “borked” when it doesn’t work correctly or misbehaves, generally due to negligence by the person(s) that are responsible for it.

So just how borked are elections In Davidson County? Well, we’ll know this afternoon [pdf] after the Davidson County Election Commission meeting.

See, after deciding last week to NOT use the problematic Electronic Poll Books in the November Election, it came to our attention that the Davidson County Election Commission (DCEC) will meet again today to reconsider using the malfunctioning machines.

If the DCEC decides to reinstate the EPBs in November then we will be left scratching our heads and wondering why?

As the world’s leading democracy, we can’t use machines that deny some residents the opportunity to participate equally in our democratic process.

Read the rest of the story… and then call or email the Davidson County Election Commission and ask them to stick with their original decision to NOT use the Electronic Poll Books in November.

Go here for more…


State wants Davidson County Election Commission to ‘make a wrong a right,” WPLN, September 11, by Blake Farmer

Tennessee Citizen Action Raises More Questions, As Officials Reconsider Decision on EPBs,” Nashville Scene, September 12, by Steven Hale

Citizens’ group worries that problematic poll books will be used again,” Tennessean, September 12, by Brian Wilson

Davidson election leaders could reverse poll book vote,” WSMV-TV, September 12, by Cara Kumari.

Metro Councilmembers pull purse strings, ask for commission audit,” WPLN, August 30, 2012, by Blake Farmer


ECHOING ALEC’S PLAYBOOK, THE REAL STORY OF WALKER’s TORT “REFORM”: On New Year’s weekend in 2011, many Wisconsinites were focused on the Badgers’ return to the Rose Bowl or whether the Green Bay Packers would beat the Detroit Lions and get another shot to win the Super Bowl, but the incoming administration of Governor Scott Walker had other, bigger contests on its agenda. In mid-winter, while many in the state were worried about who would win or lose the big games, Walker’s team was preparing to change state law in numerous ways, including making it easier for corporations to win big cases and limit the damages paid if their products or practices kill or injure people in Wisconsin.

Walker, who had suddenly dropped out of college in his senior year at Marquette University, didn’t think up these changes to Wisconsin personal injury law all by himself. Key provisions of his “tort reform” package were previously drafted by lawyers or lobbyists for the global corporations that are part of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Read the rest…


PROGRESSIVE STATES ACTION: “ALEC and its high-priced global public relations firm have begun to attack its critics.

Wisconsin legislators affiliated with ALEC are deleting public records related to the organization.

In just 25 days last year, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker fast tracked his tort “reform” agenda through the legislature. Key parts of the package “were previously drafted by lawyers or lobbyists for the global corporations that are part of the American Legislative Exchange Council.” More

IN THE PUBLIC INTEREST: PROFITING FROM PRIVATE DOLLARS: For years, corporations have joined the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) for the opportunity to develop legislation that diverts public dollars into their corporate coffers. A new report by In the Public Interest, “Profiting from Public Dollars: How ALEC and Its Members Promote Privatization of Government Services and Assets,” exposes ALEC’s extensive privatization agenda.

The report details how private prison corporations, online education companies, health care corporations, and major industry players pay large membership fees to ALEC in exchange for valuable and unfettered access to state legislators. Corporations are able to work with ALEC lawmakers to craft bills that allow private control of public functions, and guarantee a steady stream of tax dollars to enhance profits.

Press Releases

TCA Pleased Davidson Co. Dropping Electronic Polls, Insists Questions Remain

Press release from Tennessee Citizen Action; Sept. 5, 2012: 

Nashville, Tenn. (September 5, 2012) — A week after Tennessee Citizen Action exposed anomalies in August primary and problems with the Electronic Poll Books used during the primary, the Davidson County Election Commission voted to reject the use of the machines in the November election and the Metro Council voted to remove the requested $400,000 funding for the machines.

“While we are pleased with the results of the Election Commission meeting and the decision of the Metro Council, questions remain,” said Mary Mancini, executive director of Tennessee Citizen Action, “and the people of Davidson County deserve answers.”

The Electronic Poll Books (EPBs) used in the August 2 primary election in Davidson County, TN, defaulted to the Republican ballot if a poll worker did not choose a specific ballot for the voter. Many questions regarding the use and performance of the machines, as well as the decisions made by the Election Commission, remain unanswered:

  • Why did it take almost a month and pressure from the media for the Administrator of Elections to admit that there were problems with the Electronic Poll Books?
  • What does their process to address and report voter complaints and issues look like? Is it thorough and transparent?
  • According to Jon Cooper, Metro Council attorney and staff, the election commission had no authority to buy the EPBs without the council appropriating the money. Who made the decision to circumvent the council and the process and purchase the machines?
  • If the Davidson County Election Commission did not direct Elections Systems & Software (ES&S), the manufacturer of the electronic poll books, to program the machines to default to the Republican ballot, then who did? Why?
  • With all the problems ES&S has experienced in the past with their voting technology, whose decision was it to give them the contract for the Electronic Poll Books? Why?
  • The administrator of the Davidson County Election Commission continues to say that using the Electronic Poll Books is an advantage and yet anomalies in split precincts have yet to be addresses – i.e. why were two people living in the same house given different ballots?
  • Will the EPB’s default to one precinct or another if used in a split precinct?
  • What does the poll worker recruittment and training process look like in Davidson County? Is it rigorous enough?

“Along with the Metro Council, we will continue to push for a complete audit of the Davidson County Election Commission,” said Mary Mancini, executive director of Tennessee Citizen Action, “No piece of any equipment that’s part of any election should ever default to one party or another. EVER. The fact that this happened, as well as the processes in place that allowed it to happen, need to be investigated further.”



Press Releases

TCA Calls on Hargett, Goins to Look Into Election Commission Problems

Newsletter from Tennessee Citizen Action; August 30, 2012: 

Last week it came to our attention that the electronic poll books used in the August 2 primary election in Davidson County, TN, defaulted to the Republican ballot, possibly affecting thousands of voters. Read the whole story here.

Since then, Tennessee Citizen Action has called upon the Davidson County Election Commission to explain what happened and who was responsible. What we hear from them, however, is that they were ” pleased with the results” and ” stand behind their new technology.”

Today, we asked Secretary of State Tre Hargett and State Election Coordinator Mark Goins to intervene and refuse to certify the August 2 primary election. Their answer is that they have no control over the certification process:

Mr. Hargett and Mr. Goins have described a process in which they are trying to get answers from Albert Tieche, the Davidson County Election Administrator and another process in which they will notify the 19,714 voters who may have been affected. So where are their answers? And have they contacted voters yet? And why are they going to certify the election today without receiving those answers or hearing from voters? Where are the intervening checks and balances at the state level?

We once again urge Secretary of State Hargett and the State Election Coordinator Goins to look at the County Election Commission problems with a sense of urgency and seriousness the voters deserve, instead of abdicating their control and authority.

We ask you to do the same.


Also today, Councilmember-at-Large Megan Barry, along with Councilman-at-large Ronnie Steine, Councilman-at-large Jerry Maynard, and Councilman and Chair of the Budget and Finance Committee Lonnell Matthews moved to remove funding for the purpose of purchasing additional electronic poll books and called for a complete performance audit of the Davidson County Election Commission.

We stand with the Metro Council and their request.

You can read about all about how the electronic poll books work and who was affected here.

Press Releases

TCA: Electronic Polls Defaulted to GOP During August 2 Primaries

Press release from Tennessee Citizen Action; August 28, 2012: 

It has come to our attention that the electronic poll books used in the August 2 primary election in Davidson County, TN, defaulted to the Republican ballot. Read the whole story here.

This is unbelievable and outrageous. No piece of any equipment that’s part of any election should EVER default to one party or another. Ever. The fact that the electronic poll books default to the majority party an issue that the DavidsonCounty Election Commission (DCEC) must address.

You can read about all about how the electronic poll books work and who was affected here, but it first came to our a few days after the election when Davidson County resident Karen Lawrence said [pdf] that when she and her daughter went to vote, her daughter was not asked which ballot she wanted and was automatically given the Republican ballot to vote on.

Ms. Lawrence also overheard a conversation between poll workers:

“My concern was that I overheard the two women who worked the registration desk discussing the error made on my daughter’s first receipt. The older lady who made the error insisted that she “hit Democrat” and that was the 2nd time it had happened to her today. The younger poll worker who ultimately corrected the error responded saying that you have to make sure because “the screen automatically chooses Republican and you have to select Democrat.”

A few days after that, we were contacted by Davidson County Sheriff Daron Hall who told us that he also was never asked which ballot he wanted and was automatically given, and then voted on, the Republican ballot. When he realized his mistake, Sheriff Hall immediately phoned Davidson County Election Administrator Albert Tieche to report the error. A few days after that, Mr. Tieche and Sheriff Hall spoke again and Mr. Tieche told Sheriff Hall that yes, the machines do indeed default to the Republican ballot if the poll worker does not choose a ballot.

Tennessee Citizen Action calls for the following:

  • Immediately halt of the use of the EPBs in any and all elections.
  • Complete & independent audit of the August 2 primary.
  • Complete & independent audit of Davidson County Election Commission.
  • The state must notify the TN Attorney General, District Attorney, and US Attorney ASAP to determine if this is a violation of the Voting Rights Act.