Category Archives: women

‘Fetal assault bill’ may lead to more drug treatment funding for pregnant women

An impassioned and unresolved controversy over whether to continue criminal prosecution of women who give birth to drug-addicted babies has birthed a bipartisan and unanimous committee crusade to spend more state money on treatment for addiction.

All members of the state House Criminal Justice Subcommittee, where the opposing sides argued emotionally and at length about the “fetal assault bill” last week, signed on afterward to a proposed state budget amendment that would provide $10 million in new funding “for the sole purpose of drug addiction treatment services for pregnant women and newborn babies with neonatal abstinence syndrome.”

The bill, HB1660, appeared on the verge of defeat after a Sevier County judge who presides over a drug court joined others in telling legislators that a two-year experiment in authorizing prosecution of addicted mothers has been a failure.

The others included a Blount County mother who is among about 100 women prosecuted under the law — she drew applause after testifying, with legislators joining in a technical violation of legislative rules — as well as a doctor specializing in neonatal abstinence syndrome, or NAS, and people involved in addiction treatment.

Legislators in 2014 made Tennessee the first state in the nation to enact such a statute, deeming illegal use of drugs just prior to birth a misdemeanor assault on the fetus — thus the “fetal assault” label. But included in 2014 was an automatic repeal on July 1, 2016, unless renewed by the General Assembly.

Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver, R-Lancaster, who sponsored the 2014 law as well as the bill this year to keep it on the books permanently, joined the committee members in signing as a co-sponsor of the $10 million drug treatment budget amendment, drafted by Rep. William Lamberth, R-Cottontown, a former prosecutor who staunchly supports the measure. Continue reading

House sub shoots down minimum wage, ‘equality pay

Bills to create a Tennessee minimum wage and require “equality pay” for women were killed in a Republican-controlled House subcommittee last week with Democrats complaining the measures — similar to legislation regularly defeated in past years — did not get an appropriate hearing.

Rep. John Ray Clemmons, D-Nashville, brought the “Tennessee Pay Equality Act” (HB1947) before the House Consumer and Human Resources Subcommittee, accompanied by Dia Cirillo of Murfreesboro, public policy chair of American Association of University Women in Tennessee.

Cirillo testified that 70 percent of Tennessee women have outside-the-home jobs and, on average, make about 83 cents on the dollar compared to men in the same positions.

The subcommittee chair, Rep. Susan Lynn, R-Old Hickory, took the lead in criticizing the measure. She contended that the “pay gap” between men and women is already narrowing, that federal law on the subject is adequate and that some pay differences are the result of “life choices that women make” — citing herself as a “perfect example” — that give priority to family over careers.
Continue reading

House sub kills ‘pay equality’ bill

In the process of killing a proposed “Tennessee Pay Equality Act,” House Consumer and Human Resources Subcommittee Chair Susan Lynn touted the benefits of stay-at-home mothers and suggested the sponsor, Democratic Rep. John Ray Clemmons of Nashville, was trying to boost business for lawyers such as himself.

So reports Jeff Woods, who includes block quotes of exchanges between Lynn, R-Old Hickory, and Clemmons along with critical commentary of the chair and Republican legislators generally.

Lynn said…”I delayed finishing my college education because of raising my children, then I chose jobs that were close to their school. Because I wanted to be available for my family. And I know lots of women who make those choices, and thank God women make those choices. Children need their parents, particularly their mother.”

Clemmons replied, “Thank God you had the opportunity to make the choices you made. A lot of women across Tennessee don’t have the opportunity to make that choice. They’re working one, two, three jobs to support their families. They don’t have the opportunity to make the choices you were able to make.”

…Lynn: This proposed state law, it would be extremely litigious, wouldn’t it? It would probably be very litigious. Would this not stand to benefit you, as an attorney, personally as an attorney?

Clemmons: Stand to benefit me as an attorney? No, it would stand to benefit women with equal pay.

Lynn: Would it stand to bring you more business as an attorney possibly because this is a very litigious bill? It really is.

…Clemmons: I appreciate the question. That’s a good point. It’s not a fair point and it’s not an accurate point. But just like any law that creates a civil rights action, laws are only as litigious as they are violated. So if every employer paid women equally there’d be no cause of action and no need for litigation…. It’s not to create business for me. It’s not to create business for my colleagues. It is to protect women. It is to bring our state into the year 2016 and make sure that women are treated equally to men and paid equally to men.

The bill (HB1947) was killed on a party line vote; Democrats for it, Republicans against.

With erectile dysfunction bill down, Democrats try ‘tampon tax’ cut

While a House subcommittee killed last week a proposal from two Democratic women to put new restrictions on erectile dysfunction medications, they are now pushing legislation that would reduce the state sales tax on diapers, feminine hygiene products and nonprescription drugs.

The erectile dysfunction bill (HB1927) was killed on voice vote by the House Health Subcommittee after Dr. John Hale, president of the Tennessee Medical Association, declared the statewide physicians’ organization opposed the measure as unnecessary and unwarranted.

“You’d make a lot of your constituents very unhappy if you pass this,” Hale, a Union City doctor, warned the panel.

Rep. Sherry Jones, D-Nashville, and Sen. Sara Kyle, D-Memphis, sponsored the measure – perhaps somewhat tongue-in-cheek – as a contrast to Republican legislators enacting various measures to put restrictions on abortion, often arguing that concern over women’s health motivated their efforts.
Continue reading

Democrats push tax cut for feminine hygiene products, diapers

News release from Senate Democratic Caucus
NASHVILLE – Following discussion of several proposals to cut the Hall tax on stock dividends, state Sen. Sara Kyle and state Rep. Sherry Jones have introduced legislation to cut sales taxes on basic necessities.

“We have a $600 million budget surplus, and our colleagues have spent a lot of effort trying to cut taxes on investment income and stock dividends,” Sen. Kyle said. “We are suggesting an alternative that would benefit every single Tennessean at every income level. We have some of the highest sales taxes in the nation, and it’s wrong to take money out of people’s pockets on the basic necessities of life.”

SB 2285 and HB 2059 would reduce the sales tax on diapers, feminine hygiene products and nonexempt over-the–counter drugs from 7 percent to 5 percent, the same rate charged on food. It will be presented Tuesday in the Senate Finance Ways and Means Revenue Subcommittee.
Continue reading

Lawsuit contends UT created ‘hostile sexual environment’

By Steve Megaree, Associated Press
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — A lawsuit filed by a group of women alleges that the University of Tennessee has violated Title IX regulations and created a “hostile sexual environment” through a policy of indifference toward assaults by student-athletes.

The federal suit filed Tuesday in Nashville states Tennessee’s policies made students more vulnerable to sexual assault and says that the school had a “clearly unreasonable response” after incidents that caused the women making complaints to endure additional harassment. The suit also states the university interfered with the disciplinary process to favor male athletes.

There have been several sexual assault complaints made against Tennessee student-athletes over the last four years, including former football players A.J. Johnson and Michael Williams. They were indicted on aggravated rape charges in February 2015 and have separate trial dates this summer.

The suit was filed by David Randolph Smith, a lawyer representing six unidentified plaintiffs, against the University of Tennessee and the director of the office of student conduct and community standards. No individual were named as defendants in the complaint.
Continue reading

TennCare pushing birth control for drug-abusing women

TennCare officials are pushing health care providers to prescribe birth control implants to mothers of children with drug dependency, reports WPLN.

The state’s prescription painkiller epidemic is the underlying problem. Babies born to mothers hooked on opiates often suffer withdrawals, known as neonatal abstinence syndrome. According to the latest figures, 93 percent of all NAS births in the state are to mothers on TennCare. The agency now spends $50 million a year on the related hospital bills as infants go through detox in a neonatal intensive care unit.

To make sure mothers don’t end up having a second child with the same condition, TennCare is prodding obstetricians to recommend long-acting birth control implants.

“We want to put in place the right incentives for that conversation to occur,” chief medical officer Vaughn Frigon says.“That’s really a conversation that’s best between the treating physician and the mother. But what we want to do is make sure that those contraceptives are available.”

TennCare has made it so doctors can get paid more for the procedure if its done while a new mother is still in the hospital. The agency has also made it easier for hospitals to keep the implants or intrauterine devices (IUD) on hand.

The latest TennCare data shows fewer women on prescribed painkillers taking birth control pills too. Among 30 to 34-year-olds, just 15 percent of those on prescribed opiates also were on contraceptives.

Women’s health groups are somewhat wary. Health officials have also been pushing birth control as women leave jail in some counties with particularly high instances of neonatal abstinence syndrome.

Patches provide compromise on ‘Lady Vols’ legislation

A bill forcing the University of Tennessee to reinstate the “Lady Vols” nickname for all of its women’s sports teams has been shelved in return for a Lady Vols commemorative patch on all women’s sports uniforms for the 2016-17 school year, reports the News Sentinel.

After the 2016-17 year, individual women athletes would be allowed to have the commemorative patch on their uniforms at their discretion.

UT Knoxville chancellor Jimmy Cheek released a statement Monday in anticipation of the announcement:

“We have worked diligently with members of our Knox County legislative delegation to reach a compromise that is in the best interest of all parties to continue to honor the Lady Vols.

“All Tennessee women’s athletics teams will wear a commemorative patch on their uniform, honoring the legacy of the Lady Vols during the 2016–2017 season. The patch will include the Lady Vol logo. Women’s basketball will not wear the patch because they have maintained the name Lady Vols as a tribute to Coach Pat Summitt. After that season, each student-athlete will have the option of wearing the patch on her uniform.

“We realize there have been differences of opinion with the choice to use the Power T for all of our women’s athletics teams, except for basketball. A new branding effort and a combined athletics department, however, will never erase history and tradition. We want to focus on being stronger financially, improving facilities, and training and supporting all of our student-athletes and their programs.”

…In Nashville, state Rep. Roger Kane and Sen. Becky Duncan Massey described the agreement as a compromise. Kane (R-Knoxville) said he will take the bill filed forcing reinstatement of the name “off notice” in House subcommittee where it ran into difficulty last week — effectively placing the bill on hold. Sen. Frank Niceley (R-Strawberry Plains), the bill’s Senate sponsor, had not advanced the bill and joined with Kane and Massey at their State Capitol press conference.

“My goal always was to keep the brand alive for decades to come, to continue honoring the legacy of Coach Pat Summitt and the women she inspired as a coach, as a mentor and as a lifelong friend,” Kane said. He said he believes UT’s agreement to maintain intellectual-property rights in the Lady Vols name and logo, achieves that goal.

Massey (R-Knoxville) said the compromise “is not the perfect solution” but is “the compromise we agreed to. It resolves most of it. Obviously with any compromise, there’s some give and take. We would like for the logo to have come back but it will have a presence. The Lady Vol logo will be present on every female athlete at UT next year,” through the commemorative patch, she said.

‘Lady Vols bill’ debated, delayed

A state legislative subcommittee discussed a bill to force the University of Tennessee to reinstate the “Lady Vols” nickname to all of its women’s intercollegiate sports teams for more than 90 minutes Tuesday before deferring a vote to next week, reports the News Sentinel.

The House Education Administration & Planning Subcommittee bogged down on whether the estimated $221,000 cost to the UT athletic department to reinstate the nickname is “state” money. That estimate was made by legislative fiscal analysts and contained in the “fiscal note” — the official estimate of a bill’s costs — attached to the bill.

UT’s vice president for government relations, Anthony Haynes, urged the subcommittee not to get involved in what he said should be a business branding decision made by the Knoxville campus and backed by the university’s board of trustees.

“This is the first time in state of Tennessee history that this Legislature has been asked to put the long arm of the government into the operations of a university athletics department,” Haynes said.

But Rep. Roger Kane, R-Knoxville, the bill’s sponsor, said the Legislature involves itself in campus issues often, citing the student-led “Sex Week” controversies of the last two years and current legislative efforts to “defund” the UT diversity office.

Molly Graves Delozier, a UT graduate and former swim team member who is leading a petition drive to return the Lady Vols name and logo, told the subcommittee she believes UT officials have been unresponsive to backers of the Lady Vols name, despite meetings with them by UT President Joe DiPietro and UT Knoxville Chancellor Jimmy Cheek. She said the petitions now has over 28,000 names.

“It seems to me that when a public, state land-grant university is ignoring all these people, we have no choice but to come to the Legislature,” Delozier said. “The university has ignored us, they have belittled us, they have not treated us with respect.”

Women inmates to be held in West TN prison

Part of West Tennessee State Penitentiary will be used to house women prisoners under plans outlined by Correction Commissioner Derrick Schofield in a memo, reports The Tennessean.

Right now, West Tennessee State Penitentiary consists of two sites that house general population and high-security male inmates. Sometime this spring, though, the state will make one of those sites a female prison and house only maximum-security male inmates at the other site.

Site 1, which currently houses general population male inmates, will become the designated female facility.

“Each prison will have its leadership team but will use a centralized administration for areas such as Human Resources, fiscal, etc.,” Schofield said in the memo. “This mission change will assist in managing the growing female population and provide instant relief to our partners operating county jails.”

…There are 13 total state prisons in Tennessee. The Tennessee Prison for Women in Nashville and the Mark H. Luttrell Correctional Center in Memphis are the two main prisons for female inmates, but at least two other facilities do house female inmates as well.

Schofield points to the increase in the number of female inmates as a reason to make the change, but doesn’t specifically say why the state chose West Tennessee as the site to change.

“Over the last year, the team has examined the mission at each prison and sought out areas where inefficiencies could be gained. One recurring theme is the need for more beds and programming for female offenders,” Schofield writes.

“For several years, the female offender population in Tennessee has consistently increased and has doubled in the past 15 years with only minimal increase of female beds within the TDOC to support such growth.”

State data shows there were less than 800 female inmates in 1993 compared to 1,400 in 2000 and 2,700 this year.

The number of inmates at the facility has changed significantly in recent months. As of August there were 2,212 inmates and the facility had 2,318 total beds, according to state data. By the end of November, though, there were 1,819 inmates and 2,198 total beds.

The prison, located roughly 50 miles east of Memphis in Henning, has remained the most persistent staffing challenge for the state. Correctional officers, inmates and their families have complained about scheduling and pay changes leading to understaffed facilities statewide. When understaffed, the prisons become more dangerous for inmates and officers alike.