They Call it “Sine Die” (2012 Legislative Session Wrap Up)

OH HAI! HOW’VE YOU BEEN?!

We’ve been thinking about you for over a month now – time has gone by so fast and so much has happened. Not least of which has been the sine die* adjournment of the 107th Tennessee General Assembly and its 2012 legislative session (the next time they convene it will be the 108th General Assembly which will last until 2014) – but we’ll get to that in just a sec.

First, we want to thank you very much for all of the committee hearings you attended, all the visits and phone calls you made, and all of the emails and letters you sent to your legislators to voice your opinions, encouragements, and concerns.

Standing up and making your voice heard is EXTREMELY important not only to help pass smart laws and defeat bad public policy, but also to let our elected officials know that the people they work for are watching, listening, and holding them accountable.

*Sine Die is latin for “without a day” as in , “without a day for a future meeting.” What’s latin for “WOOHOO!”?

THE BIG PICTURE OF 2012 (So far!)
 
The Big Picture of the 2012 Tennessee legislative session can be summed in one sentence: special interests in Tennessee are well funded and wield significant influence among the state’s decision makers.

And it looks like we have two special interests wielding away in Tennessee – large corporations (and their campaign-contributing CEOs) and social conservative extremists. These two groups did a great job of sucking up all the oxygen at the state capitol – at your expense.

How can we change this? Well, we had a good start this year but, remember, we’re in a marathon and not a sprint. With each election cycle and each subsequent General Assembly, our collective voice will get stronger and stronger until the first question asked whenever a lawmaker introduces a piece of legislation will not be,”Is this good for special interests and how will it affect my coffer come campaign time,” but rather, “Is this good for the hardworking people of our state?


LEGISLATIVE PRIORITIES – PLACED AND MISPLACED

Tennessee Citizen Action has the following legislative priorities:

  • CIVIL JUSTICE: Free and fair access to a jury of our peers; hold large corporations accountable for egregious acts.
  • EQUAL ACCESS TO THE DEMOCRATIC PROCESS FOR ALL:Make it easier for people to vote – not harder.
  • TRANSPARENCY AND ACCOUNTABILITY: Make our government institutions more transparent and accountable to the people – not less. A government that works for the 99%, instead of capitulating to large corporations and their campaign contributing CEOs.
  • WORKER’S RIGHTS: Value the hardworking people of the state and their families (our most precious resource) instead of attacking them.
  • CONSUMER PROTECTION: Protect consumers from harmful business practices and hold large corporations accountable for egregious acts.

How do our priorities differ from those of some others?

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam and Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey have claimed their priorities as “pro-business.” Last month, Governor Haslamcomplained to the press that “it was sometimes difficult” to keep the focus where he wanted it, on his ‘pro-business’ agenda. And the Lt. Governor has repeatedly taken to The Twitter to crow about a fluffy little survey of chief executives by Chief Executive Magazine (HA!) resulting in the pronouncement by said chief executives that Tennessee has the 4th business-friendly reputation in the nation.

And while our two Governors are busy giving you the business, the other part of the ruling majority in the General Assembly is all focused on the social issues that pander to a small group of social conservatives extremists.

In that context, what ultimately happened during the legislative session makes a whole lot of sense. While the Governor and the Lt. Governor are all, like, “we’re helping the ‘job-creators‘” (FYI, we know they’re actually not “job-creators” but rather the source of lobbying funds that keep the system rigged), and while their friends in the House and Senate were busy passing legislation that not only divides us but actually does harm, what got lost in the shuffle was what certain corporate and political interests really wanted lost in the shuffle: legislation that reduced transparency, accountability, access to the courts, access to the democratic process, and access to safe and healthy work places so a parent can work one job and make enough to support his or her family.

Even if all the funny-but-not-really-funny social issues didn’t suck all the oxygen out of the room and Governor Haslam (and by proxy Lt. Governor Ramsey) got his wish to “keep the focus on his pro-business agenda,” we still would not have heard that he is balancing his pro-business agenda on the breaking backs of hardworking Tennesseans.

 


 

CIVIL JUSTICE UPDATE

We think R. Neal summed it up best: “Unfair caps on damages undermine the right to a trial by jury and ‘loser pays’ rules limit access to the courts for average citizens. The state has given negligent corporations and unscrupulous operators who prey on Tennessee residents a virtual free pass, and made it harder than ever for victims to get justice. And America is fundamentally about justice. Without it there is no ‘free enterprise’ and no equal opportunity.”

HB2979 / SB2789
SPONSORS: Rep. Vance Dennis (R-Savannah) / Sen. Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown)
SUMMARY: Corporations are people…rummaging through your medical records. If this bill becomes law, it would allow health insurance corporations and their lawyers to see ALL your medical, mental health, and drug abuse record from ALL your doctors in defense of a lawsuit.
UPDATE: Signed by the Governor; effective July 1, 2012
HB3124 / SB2638

SPONSORS: Rep. Vance Dennis (R-Savannah), Sen. Jack Johnson (R-Franklin)
SUMMARY: Motions to dismiss aka “Loser Pays.” This bill would like to do the un-American thing and get rid of the “American Rule,” the rule that says that each party in a lawsuit pays their own lawyer’s fees. The effect? Deep-pocketed corporations and insurance companies that can afford the risk would drag out lawsuits brought by injured Tennesseans. And working-class Tennesseans and small businesses owners might be too scared to file a lawsuit because they could get stuck paying the litigation fees of a company with an unlimited funds.
UPDATE: Passed; Awaiting the Governor’s signature.
HB3125 / SB2637 
SPONSORS: Rep. Vance Dennis (R-Savannah)/ Sen. Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown)
SUMMARY: When corporations know they can be held responsible for the acts of their employees they are more likely to enforce stricter hiring policies, promote safety  within  their  organization  and provide the  proper  job training. Why should corporations get a free pass from being responsible members of our society? Why are we giving them any reason to cut corners and make our state less safe?
UPDATE: Failed in Senate Judiciary.

HB174 / SB360
SPONSORS: Rep. Glen Casada, Sen. Jack Johnson
SUMMARY: Changes the burden of proof for medical malpractice cases against emergency room doctors to “gross negligence.” What’s wrong with that, you ask? Well, “gross negligence” is a very high burden to meet, anything short of criminal conduct, physical assault and abuse would be protected by this bill. And the protections don’t stop in the emergency room. If you are admitted through the ER the bill also requires the “gross negligence” burden to follow you to emergency surgery and the OB unit.
UPDATE: Died in House Judiciary Subcommittee
HB2980 / SB2706

SPONSORS: Rep. Vance Dennis (R-Savannah), Sen. Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown)
SUMMARY: Requires a person who brought a lawsuit to pay the opposing side’s attorneys’ fees and costs if he or she rejects a settlement offer that later turns out to be better than the verdict. Yet another potential law that, like loser pays, would have a chilling effect on holding corporations accountable for egregious acts of willful negligence. Remember “Kill Old People Cheap?”
UPDATE: Died in Senate Judiciary.


EQUAL ACCESS TO DEMOCRACY FOR ALL UPDATE
Even though many good bills were introduced that would have softened the disenfranchisement blow landed by the new law requiring Tennesseans to have a government-issued photo ID to vote, only two passed. The first no longer allows seniors to renew their driver’s license without a photo. The second owers the age in which a person can vote absentee “no questions asked” from 65 to 60.

The Al Jazeera English produced “Fault Lines” came to Tennessee to look at efforts to disenfranchise minority voters. You can watch the episode on YouTube here

SB2267 / HB2287
SPONSORS: Sen. Jim Tracy (R-Shelbyville), Rep. Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville)
SUMMARY: Seniors can no longer renew their license without a photo.
UPDATE: Passed; Waiting for the Governor’s signature.
HB2174 / SB2128
SPONSORS: Rep. Debra Maggart (R-Hendersonville), Sen. Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro)
SUMMARY: Allows persons age 60 and older to vote absentee upon request, instead of age 65 and older.
UPDATE: Passed; Waiting for the Governor’s signature.

HB2176 / SB2139
SPONSORS: Rep. Mike Turner (D-Nashville), Sen. Lowe Finney (D-Jackson)
SUMMARY: Repeals the photo ID to vote law.
UPDATE: Died in both House & Senate State & Local Govt committees.

SB2692 / HB2709
SPONSORS: Sen. J. Haynes (D-Nashville), Rep. M. Turner (D-Nashville)
SUMMARY: Allows for ANY registered voter in Tennessee to vote by absentee ballot.
UPDATEDied in both House & Senate State & Local Govt committees.

SB3089 / HB3753
SPONSORS: Sen. A. Berke (D-Chattanooga), Rep. M. Turner (D-Nashville)
SUMMARY: Exempts senior voters age 60+ from having to have a Photo ID to vote.
UPDATE: Died in both House & Senate State & Local Govt committees.

HB 2730/SB 2447

SPONSORS: Sen. Lowe Finney (D-Jackson), Rep. Joe Pitts (D-Clarksville)
SUMMARYWould allow valid photograph identification cards issued to students at public institutions of higher learning in Tennessee to be used for voting
UPDATE: Died in both House State & Local Govt committee.

HB2586 / SB2465
SPONSORS: Rep. JoAnne Favors (D-Chattanooga), Sen. Andy Berke (D-Chattanooga)
SUMMARY: Requires the Secretary of State to publicize the photo ID to vote requirement at least 30 days prior to early voting via Public Service Announcements on radio & TV.
UPDATE: Died in House State & Local Government Committee

HB3747 / SB3728
SPONSORS: Rep. Mike Turner (D-Old Hickory), Sen. Roy Herron (D-Dresden)
SUMMARY: Would allow county election offices to take photo ID to vote if there isn’t Driver Service Center in that county.
UPDATE: Died in House State & Local Government Committee

HB3388 / SB3378
SPONSORS: Rep. John Mark Windle (D-Livingston), Sen. Eric Stewart (D-Belvidere)
SUMMARY: Would exempt someone with an honorable discharge from the military from the photo ID to vote
UPDATE: Failed in House State & Local Government Committee


CONSUMER PROTECTION UPDATE

Steven Hale of the Nashville Scene quotes Rep. Mike Stewart from the floor of the House to sum up the problems with this bill quite nicely: “This is a significant change in the law…From now on for the first time ever – and this is a complete change in the law – once you pay your insurance premium, that creates a rebuttable presumption, you agree to everything your agent told you, you agree to everything that’s in your contract…Right now it’s on the insurance company to make sure the insured knows what’s going on…And what we’re asked to do today is completely transform the law and say, ‘No, senior citizen, you, upon paying your bill, will now lose any option for going into court and being successful for trying to assert what you understood to be your agreement.'” Ouch.
HB2454 / SB2271
SPONSORS: Rep. Charles Sargenat (R-Franklin), Sen Jim Tracy (R-Shelbyville)
SUMMARY: If an insurance company changes your policy and notifies you in the fine print of a flyer they send to you with your bill, the change to your policy will take effect and bind you to that change by the simple act of you paying your bill. The U.S. insurance industry has trillions of dollars in assets, enjoys average profits of over $30 billion a year, and pays its CEOs more than any other industry. This is just another example of how they still engage in dirty tricks and unethical behavior at the consumer’s expense to boost their bottom line even further.

UPDATE: Passed; Signed by the Governor and effective on 5/10/12. 

TRANSPARENCY AND ACCOUNTABILITY UPDATE

SB 2207 / HB 2345
SPONSORS: Sen. Mark Norris (R-Collierville), Rep. Gerald McCormick (R-Chattanooga)
SUMMARY: Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposal to offer cash incentives to large corporations in secret and without any kind of accountability. Would you ever allow a deal to be made in your name without knowing all the details? What it if it affected you financially? Of course not! 
UPDATE: Died in Senate Commerce, Labor & Agriculture Subcommittee
UPDATE #2: From StateIntegrity.org: Secrecy was the major sticking point in another bill presented by Gov. Haslam’s Department of Economic and Community Development, which wants to give incentive grants to private companies to bring jobs to the state.  In order to perform the department’s due diligence in checking out privately held companies, the state wanted to keep confidential the companies’ identity and all proprietary information.  The administration and legislators were unable to reach agreement on confidentiality and the measure did not pass.
UPDATE #3: More from Jack McElroy, editor of the Knoxville News Sentinel: “Haslam, in turn, was thwarted in his desire to let the state give incentive grants to businesses that did not want to reveal the identity of their owners….If a company wants public money they ought to be honest and public about who they are,” said Sen. Roy Herron, in an argument that ultimately carried the day…Amen.”
HB 3281 / SB 3645
SPONSORS: Rep. Debra Maggart (R-Hendersonville); Sen. Bo Watson (R-Hixson), Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey (R-Blountville), Sen. Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro)
SUMMARY: Tennessee families are working harder, getting paid less, and falling behind our parents’ generation, and yet they want to dismantle campaign finance reforms by allowing corporations to make secret cash campaign contributions in the critical 10 days before an election. This bill removes the prohibition on insurance companies to make campaign contributions, along with removing PAC aggregate limitation on candidates and deleting the requirement on certain large contributions made within 10 days of election. This bill is about more secrecy and more prioritization of the corporate campaign contributing 1% against the 99%. Doesn’t look like “Is it good for the people of the state?” to us. It is, in fact, extraordinarily self-serving legislation.
UPDATE: Late in the session, this bill was turned over to a new sponsor, Rep. Glen Casada, and was pulled from the legislative calendar. During the last few days of the session, Rep. Casada put the bill back on the calendar in the State & Local Government Committee and it passed out 6-4. It was scheduled for the floor later that day but was withdrawn without a vote. Background to repeal of aggregate PAC limits at Knoxville News Sentinel.

SB 2247 / HB 2385
SPONSORS: Sen. Mark Norris (R-Collierville), Rep. Gerald McCormick (R-Chattanooga)
SUMMARY: Politicizes the appointment of the executive director of the Tennessee Regulatory Authority, which oversees everything from natural gas companies to suburban sewer systems and phone calls by telemarketers, by allowing the Governor to make the appointment.

UPDATE: Passed but not yet signed by the Governor. Additional coverage in the Tennessean here.
SB 2249 / HB 2387
SPONSORS: Sen. Mark Norris (R-Collierville), Rep. Gerald McCormick (R-Chattanooga)
SUMMARY: Would take away the authority of the boards to appoint the executive directors of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, the Tennessee Commission on Aging and Disability, the Tennessee Arts Commission and the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth, and give it to the governor.
UPDATE: Signed by the Governor; Effective dates July 1, 2012 & Octover 1, 2012.

 


WORKER’S RIGHTS UPDATE
SB3658 / HB3431
SPONSORS: Sen. Jack Johnson (R-Frankin), Rep. Jimmy Matlock (R-Lenoir)
SUMMARY: “The Unemployment Accountability Act of 2012.” This law will tilt the balance of power in the workplace away from the hardworking people of Tennessee and punish the unemployed in inexcusable ways. Andy Sher writing for the Chattanooga Times-Free Press has a thorough rundown. In Tennessee, people who are fired “for cause” cannot receive benefits. This law gives employers more subjectivity in what they can cite to the state as “cause” to deny benefits. The law also mandates that those receiving benefits take jobs that pay less money than the worker’s prior employment. “For example,” Sher writes, “after 13 weeks of unemployment benefits, jobless workers are required to accept ‘suitable work’ at 75 percent of their former pay or face termination from the program. After between 26 to 38 weeks, recipients are obligated to take ‘suitable work’ paying 70 percent of their former salary. After 38 weeks, the threshold falls to 55 percent.” A skilled laborer should be given every opportunity to find work that matches their skill-level, not forced into a job that would take time away from that search. It bears repeating here that this kind of legislation devalues our workforce and balances Governor Haslam’s “pro-business” agenda on the backs of hardworking Tennesseans.
UPDATE: Passed; Not yet signed by the Governor.

SB2580 / HB2725
SPONSORS: Sen. Stacey Campfield (R-Knoxville), Rep. Julia Hurley (R-Lenoir City)

SUMMARY: Requires applicants for TANF benefits to undergo a drug test before receiving such benefits. People who are unemployed are not criminals. Let’s just start there. So when Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey, supporter of a bill that would require anyone getting any kind of government assistance to be drug tested says, “I’m in favor of drug testing for people that are on any kind of benefits. Whether it’s unemployment compensation, workers compensation or whatever it is, because I don’t think that we need to be supporting that kind of lifestyle,” we have to wonder, why does the Lt. Governor of our state think so little of the people he has sworn to serve? Here’s an idea, instead of this monumental waste of time what if our legislators worked just as hard to figure out how to provide meaningful employment and reemployment tools to those who are out of work? Crazy, we know.
UPDATE: Passed; Not yet signed by the Governor.

HB 3815 / SB 3439
SPONSORS: Rep. Andy Holt (R), Rep. Mike Bell (R)
SUMMARY: Criminalizes the act of mass picketing in various cases including at any business, school, or private facility, but not a government building or facility. Taking away the voice of hardworking Tennesseans is just one more way conservative extremists in the Tennessee state legislature are telling the 99% to “sit down and shut up.”
UPDATE: Failed in House Judiciary Subcommittee

HB 3386 / SB 3276
SPONSORS: Rep. Glen Casada (R), Sen. Brian Kelsey (R)
Stops local governments from creating wage, benefit, and other regulations which go above what is required by state law. Our friends from the Tennessee AFL-CIO speak truth to power: “The state should be setting a floor for employment regulations, not a ceiling. Local Governments should have the right to set their own minimum wages – higher if they choose! Local governments should be allowed to determine if conditions require more employee protections or benefits rather than setting a “one size fits all standard” for the whole state
UPDATE: Failed in House State & Local Government Subcommittee


LET’S WRAP-UP THE WRAP-UP
While the focus of the legislature these past few months has been on a “pro-business” agenda, let’s see where the people of Tennessee find themselves:

And the gaggle gets their wrap-up on:

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Comments

4 Responses to “They Call it “Sine Die” (2012 Legislative Session Wrap Up)”
  1. Mark says:

    What’s the Latin for “I’ll see you one ‘sine die’ and raise you one ‘without paycheck’?”

  2. TN voters will become disenfranchised with the Voter ID law..this is as bad as civil rights in 60’s…NOT one person should be stopped from voting !! This truly is a crime against the people and the R’s in our Legislature and Senate here are pushing against the VOTERS!!

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