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Liberty and Justice News

Seeking Consensus on Traffic Cameras

Instead of slamming the brakes on red-light traffic cameras, House Transportation Committee members have tentatively agreed to try and hash out a three-part proposal to guide and regulate their use instead.

The rough plan, which includes a series of studies and a possible moratorium on new red light cameras, would give lawmakers more tools – and time – to decide the ultimate role the new technology will play in Tennessee communities.

Still, a number of lawmakers haven’t backed off their basic objections with the red-light cameras, saying both that the photos they take subvert civil liberties and that the private camera-vendors collect too much profit off the issuance of violations.

But the hope is to approve one comprehensive plan and move it through the Legislature, according to Rep. Bill Harmon, D-Dunlap, who chairs the committee.

The panel batted around ideas Wednesday, including a plan by Maryville Republican Rep. Joe McCord to shuffle profits from citations to drivers education or trauma services statewide.

McCord, a vocal opponent of red light cameras, introduced legislation last year banning the technology. He has since dropped the ban, saying he now sees a safety value of the system, but he’s still uncomfortable with how the ticket-generated revenues are divvied up.

Many on the 12-member House Transportation Committee agree that the private traffic-camera service-providers currently have too much unchecked, profit-driven power over motorists.

The vendors capture alleged violations on camera, examine the pictures, cross reference the information with the Department of Motor Vehicles, then mail out the citations. In return, they receive the lion’s share of fines collected.

Harmon wants the state comptroller to take a hard look at the traffic cameras and report back to lawmakers on issues like what impact the systems have on vehicle crashes, the make-up of traffic-camera service contracts, and detail as to how citation revenues are spent.

Harmon also wishes to see the state Department of Transportation conduct an engineering study on each intersection proposed to use a traffic camera, and added he hopes to ban all unmanned speed cameras on state highways.

While many lawmakers on the panel generally seemed supportive of Harmon’s ideas, some still argue the cameras are unconstitutional and an invasion of privacy. “If it intrudes a little, it’s too much,” said Rep. Tony Shipley, a Kingsport Republican.

A study (pdf) by the free-market Tennessee Center for Policy Research released earlier this year argued that traffic-enforcement cameras are unwise, unnecessary and unsafe.

The City of Gallatin collected nearly $1 million in traffic citations linked to the traffic cameras in 2007, according to TCPR’s study. At least 16 Tennessee cities use some sort of traffic camera: Chattanooga, Clarksville, Cleveland, Gallatin, Germantown, Jackson, Jonesborough, Kingsport, Knoxville, Memphis, Morristown, Mount Carmel, Murfreesboro, Oak Ridge, Red Bank and Selmer.

“There’s a lot of money being made here,” said TCPR policy director Justin Owen, an attorney who co-authored the report.

Instead of installing cameras, he says lawmakers should require municipalities to extend the length of the yellow light, giving drivers more time to travel through the intersection instead of stopping short for fear of a traffic ticket.

“The mere presence of the watchful cameras encourages drivers to attempt to stop at yellow lights even if passing through the light would be safer. Coupled with a decrease in yellow light timing, this can readily explain the increase in the number of rear-end collisions that occur at intersections with red light cameras,” stated the TCPR report.

Rep. John Tidwell, an engineer from New Johnsonville, says he’ll push lengthening the yellow light next year.

The Tennessee Association of Chiefs of Police maintains that the cameras help enforce the rules of the road, reduce crashes and generally improve safety, said Maggi Duncan, executive director. The association plans to push for the red light and speed cameras this legislative session.

The committee hopes to formulate an initial legislative proposal at their next meeting on Jan. 11.

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News

Kelsey Wins Senate Seat

Republicans notched another fall 2009 special-election victory last night as former Rep. Brian Kelsey became a senator-elect with a victory over Democrat Adrienne Pakis-Gillon.

Shelby County Election Commission results show Kelsey won decisively over Pakis-Gillon in the low-turnout contest, capturing nearly 75 percent of the vote.

Kelsey, a 31-year-old suburban Memphis attorney, campaigned on creating jobs and opposing  “wasteful government spending” and “government-run health care.”

During the 2009 legislative session Kelsey introduced a constitutional amendment to prohibit the creation of an income tax in Tennessee. The bill did not pass.

In an effort to “take a stand against government-run health care,” Kelsey has also advocated loosening state health-care insurance regulations, which he says will make private medical coverage more affordable.

The results of the election are scheduled to be certified later this month, after which Kelsey will be officially sworn into office.

Kelsey’s lopsided win did nothing to change the partisan make-up of the Senate, however: Republicans still hold control of the chamber, 19-14.

The District 31 seat Kelsey will now occupy was previously held by Republican Paul Stanley, who resigned amidst revelations that he was the target of a blackmail attempt resulting from an adulterous affair he was having with a 22-year-old legislative intern.

Republicans also control the Tennessee House of Representatives, 49-48. Pat Marsh, a Republican from Shelbyville, beat Democrat Ty Cobb in a House special election back in October.

A special election to fill Kelsey’s vacated District 83 House seat is scheduled for Jan. 12 between Democrat Guthrie Castle , Republican Mark White and independent John D. Andreuccetti.

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Liberty and Justice News

Lawmakers Focusing on Possible New Traffic-Camera Rules

Traffic cameras may be growing in popularity among local governments and law enforcement agencies across the country, but some state lawmakers are questioning whether they belong in Tennessee.

Some say the cameras – which snap pictures when motorists drive through a stop light – are simply a tool to raise money.

“There’s no doubt that in some places it’s not about safety. It’s about revenue,” said Rep. Richard Floyd, a Chattanooga Republican.

House lawmakers examining the use of the high-tech traffic enforcement tools plan on introducing bills next year that could create statewide guidelines on the sorts of intersections where cameras could be used, and lengthening the duration of a yellow light before it turns red.

New Johnsonville Democrat John Tidwell, a civil engineer, said yield signals made one second longer will help reduce vehicle crashes, and he hinted he’ll push that issue in the coming session.

Also under discussion are laws to prohibit speeding-enforcement and stoplight-cameras completely.

The cameras are typically operated by private companies that set up the equipment, snap photos, evaluate violations and mail tickets to vehicle owners. Those organizations also receive a chunk of the revenues collected by violators, which is adding to the unease and outright opposition some critics are voicing.

Red-light cameras are under fire right now in a lawsuit arguing that traffic enforcement systems are operating illegally because they’re not properly licensed. Other suits attacking the practice have cropped up around the country.

Lawmakers Tuesday heard from Gordon Catlett, a patrol-support commander for the Knoxville Police Patrol Division who is a supporter of the cameras – and threat of a ticket – to change driver behavior.

“A lot of us treat a traffic signal like a yield sign,” he said.

The Transportation Committee will meet again Wednesday morning to discuss possible alternatives to traffic cameras, and ways to tinker with the system already in place.

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Environment and Natural Resources Liberty and Justice News

‘Guns-in-Bars’ Law Shot Down – For Now

A judge in Nashville on Friday triggered renewed debate over a controversial issue that fired up a range of competing interests during the 2009 Tennessee legislative session.

Davidson County Trial Court Chancellor Claudia Bonnyman declared on Friday that a recent change in law to allow non-drinking patrons to carry firearms in bars is so “fraught with ambiguity” as to be essentially indecipherable, and therefore unconstitutional.

Her legal finding likely reloads the topic to become a political flashpoint again in 2010.

Opponents of the law hailed Bonnyman’s ruling as “common sense.” Supporters promised to “reword the law” to ensure that it passes future legal muster.

Enacted over the veto of Gov. Phil Bredesen, the law allows permit-holding firearm carriers to posses their weapons in alcohol-serving eating establishments that meet certain caveats. In particular, the law declares that an establishment must derive more than 50 percent of its income from food, rather than the sale of booze, for customers to legally pack heat.

However, to the judge’s way of looking at the suit, which was filed by a group of restaurant and bar owners, calculating an establishment’s food-versus-liquor sales breakdown isn’t something citizens could reasonably be expected to determine for themselves.

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Press Releases

Health Care Robots: Next Generation Decision-Making Software, Eliminates Manual Systems Labor

PRESS RELEASE:

Cutting costs is key to health care reform. Linnaeus, Inc., a Franklin, Tennessee-based software company, has won Innovator of The Year honors for its healthcare administration automation product, Health Mason. It uses artificial intelligence to replace manual systems labor to result in unprecedented healthcare administration productivity savings.

FRANKLIN, Nov. 16 /PRNewswire/ — With health care reform taking the national spotlight, the sole point of agreement by all parties is that some form of change is necessary. Many health care industry experts believe that now is the worst time for government-mandated change because innovation has already begun to occur organically from within the industry. One Franklin Tennessee-based software company is defining that innovation and garnering attention in the industry.

Health Mason is the solution to the labor intensive, inefficient, and error prone process of health care claim payment. Health Mason is the first product to automate this process from beginning to end and simultaneously accommodate the frequent contract and compliance changes in the industry that has stymied past software solutions. The CEO of Linnaeus and creator of Health Mason, Sal Novin, describes Health Mason as a product that can emulate the work of a human claim examiner. “Health Mason reads a computer screen, it types in data, and decides how to perform a given task with no additional help or tools.” But not only does it replicate the work of a human operator, it performs every process with the same mechanical precision as the last, dramatically decreasing human error and increasing quality.

Still, Health Mason’s most jaw dropping feature is its raw performance, which is the stuff of science fiction. Novin attributes Health Mason’s performance to a technical concept called “multi-threading.” Each thread or instance of the application is like a super-human operator reading, typing and deciding the best way to process a health care claim at 3 to 10 times the speed of an average operator. Each thread works relentlessly 24 hours a day, without the need for breaks, food, or sleep – pausing long enough only for nightly backups and other system related tasks. Multi-threading means that adding “staff” is as easy as adding more items to a shopping cart on Amazon.com – no hiring, no training, and no overhead. Each new thread is a clone that processes as effectively and efficiently as the last.

Novin describes the creation of Health Mason as a case study in good old fashion American ingenuity – having come up with the concept to overcome an unprecedented claim backlog for a health insurer. The conventional solution was to hire temporary staff to clear the work load; however new staff had very little health care experience. The result was the introduction of new errors that were even harder to fix. The result was a solution that Novin had used previously while working in the financial sector, which was to simulate human input into a system. Employing that technique was significantly harder in health care, but the result became the underpinnings for a solution that was able to perform in two weeks what a 30 person department of examiners could not accomplish in a month. Today, the latest version of Health Mason can complete the same task in 50 hours.

The latest advancements in Health Mason’s logic have been to its decision-making capabilities. Health Mason draws much of its capabilities through a proprietary, health care-specific software scripting language. The scripting language codifies common health care decisions to enable rapid automation of manual processes. Most recently, Health Mason was required to audit claims – a significantly more complex task than claim editing or examining. The new scripting language was augmented to handle very sophisticated decisions.

The Linnaeus team has leveraged all these technological advancements to break from convention when it comes to health care technology in general. Novin added, “We set out to change all the negative health care software preconceptions, by making implementation time a few weeks, delivering direct one-to-one savings through a simple transaction model, and make the harder to quantify performance and quality improvements a free value-add.”

Health Mason still must face the uphill battle of broad acceptance. Mr. Novin is confident that the Linnaeus team is up to the challenge. “There are scores of executives and operations teams who have been burned by technology. Our goal is to target the ‘guts’ and not the ‘glory’ of operations and win over new health plans and providers that are in real need of productivity savings.”

If you would like more information about Health Mason, or to schedule an interview with Sal Novin, please call Gail McDuffie at 615-496-2993 or e-mail Gail at gail.mcduffie@linnaeusinc.com

SOURCE: Linnaeus Inc.