News release from House Speaker’s office:
NASHVILLE – Speaker Beth Harwell (R-Nashville) today announced she is recommending changes to the Tennessee House of Representatives internal rules that will make the governmental process more efficient and save taxpayer money. The changes follow an effort two years ago to streamline operations.
“Tennessee taxpayers have entrusted us with the task of governing–something I take very seriously,” Harwell stated. “These changes reflect the will of Tennesseans: that state government operates efficiently and effectively while saving money. These changes also reflect the will of the body. After surveying the members of the last General Assembly, we have incorporated some of their suggestions as well. While Congress remains mired in partisan gridlock and continues to waste time, the state legislature is working toward better government.”
The changes include:
•Restructuring the committee system to balance the workload of each;
•Adopting the annual ethics resolution into the House Rules which will ensure the body is abiding by an ethics policy from the first day;
•Limiting the number of bills filed to 10 per member annually which will encourage members to prioritize;
•Reaffirming that each member vote for only him or herself;
•And deleting the requirement that every document be printed to reduce the amount of paper used in committee and for floor sessions.
Harwell noted the committee restructuring, bill limits, and paperless measures are among those that will, in the long run, save the Tennessee taxpayer money.
“The new committee system will balance the workloads of each committee, ensuring that they are as efficient as possible. Bill limits will reduce duplication and ensure each member prioritizes their issues. I am seeking to eliminate the requirement that every document we produce as a body be printed in effort for us to adapt to the technology available and reduce the enormous amount of paper used each year. Each of these measures together ensure a more efficient, effective, and accessible government. This will also give us more time for thoughtful, deliberate analysis on each piece of legislation–which is something Tennesseans expect and deserve.”
— Note: Some details below.
The proposed recommendations will be taken up by the House Rules Committee, which will be appointed by the Speaker in January.
How much patients in Tennessee can recover for their pain and suffering could be significantly affected in the coming months if the state’s Supreme Court hears a challenge of a new law that limits medical malpractice awards, reports The Tennessean. The issue has taken on urgency as fungal meningitis victims start to craft medical malpractice lawsuits and attorneys weigh whether the suits will be filed in Tennessee or in Massachusetts, where injured patients can sue medical facilities for unlimited amounts of money for pain and suffering.
Gov. Bill Haslam signed the Tennessee Civil Justice Act of 2011 into law last July. The law does not restrict how much patients can recover in medical bills and lost wages in malpractice suits. But it caps rewards for nontangible injuries, such as pain and suffering, at $750,000. About half of the states limit awards for pain and suffering in malpractice cases, and for years legal battles have been waged throughout the country to overturn the caps. Tennessee could emerge as the latest battlefield.
Trial lawyer David Randolph Smith, a prominent progressive attorney who led the legal opposition to the guns-in-bars law and the English-only ballot measure, filed a federal lawsuit three months ago challenging Haslam’s landmark tort reform law as unconstitutional.
…Recent decisions in other states offer conflicting results.
Earlier this month, the Kansas Supreme Court upheld its $250,000 cap on pain and suffering damages.
In August, however, the high court in Missouri struck down caps on liability payouts. The Missouri court’s majority opinion said: “The right to trial by jury … is not subject to legislative limits on damages.”.
(Note: The different rulings may turn on differences in state constitutions and the federal court may send the case to the state Supreme Court for a decision on whether the damages limitation violates the Tennessee constitution. A relevant provision is in Article I, Section 6 of the state constitution’s Bill of Rights: “That the right of trial by jury shall remain inviolate, and no religious or political test shall ever be required as a qualification for jurors.” )
Scottie Mayfield promised Thursday to serve no more than 10 years if elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, making a pledge his top opponents recently refused or evaded, according to the Chattanooga TFP. Mayfield campaign spokesman Joe Hendrix said his boss decided to address term limits after reflecting on prior conversations with members of Congress.
“They told him they’d like to support certain legislation or initiatives, but choose not to vote for [them] because it would hurt their re-election,” Hendrix said. “Having term limits … creates the opportunity to vote for what the member believes is right.”
…Fleischmann is seeking his second term. In a May 21 debate, he avoided a direct question about a term-limits pledge, saying that elections every two years already make House members accountable to voters.
Weston Wamp, another Republican challenging Fleischmann, said at the debate that he would not make a term-limits pledge.
“I will serve in Congress as long as I am passionate about waking up every morning and doing the people’s work,” he said.
Legislation that repeals limits on the total amount of political money lawmakers can take from political action committees and corporations was approved in a committee this morning and sent on toward a House floor vote later today.
The bill, HB3281, was approved in the Senate earlier this year, but had been stalled in the House State and Local Government Committee. Sponsor Rep. Glen Casada, R-College Grove, at one point took it “off notice,” which is usually an indication that a bill is being abandoned.
But today – which lawmakers hope will be the final day of the 107th General Assembly – Casada brought the bill before the committee. It was approved on a 6-4 vote, sending it on to a vote of the full House. In the final days of a session, normal rules don’t apply, so the bill can be sent to a floor vote on the same day it comes out of committee.
Casada also successfully added a new amendment — not included in the Senate version — that gives corporations more freedom in how to structure their political donations.
Basically, they can opt to act as individuals, which means they are bound by lower limits on how much can be given to a single candidate but then don’t have to disclose the donation themselves. Or, they can opt to be treated as a PAC, meaning higher amounts can be donated to a single candidate, but they would have disclose the donations.
“Money is speech. You limit it, you limit our ability to reach out,” said Casada.
Currently, state law says legislative candidates can accept no more than $107,200 per election – or $214,400 in a primary and general election combined – from PACS. The bill repeals that “aggregate limit” so candidates can take as much money as PACs and corporations, which are treated like PACs under the law, will give them.
The amount a PAC or corporation can give in each individual contribution is not changed by the bill. A PAC can give an individual candidate for the House $7,100 per election; a candidate for the Senate $10,700.
In contrast, an individual person cannot give more than $1,400 to a candidate per election.
Democrats criticized both the bill itself and what House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner called the “last hour” push to enact it into law. Turner said the bill will lessen the importance of the “average guy” and increase the importance of big corporations and their PACs in electing legislators.
Note: A Registry of Election Finance memo on the current law and limits, as revised last year, is HERE.
A Senate-passed bill repealing the present limit on how much total money legislative candidates can take from political action committees – currently $107,200 per election – was taken “off notice” in a House Committee Tuesday.
The move, which typically means a bill is dead for the year, was taken by sponsor Rep. Glen Casada, R-College Grove. He said afterwards that he made the the decision on his own because “I’m just covered up” with other legislative work. But Casada said he will consider pushing the bill anyway if House leaders ask him to do so.
The bill was initially sponsored in the House by House Republican Caucus Chairman Debra Maggart of Hendersonville. Maggart said she signed the bill over to Casada because of his expertise in the area – Casada sponsored a bill last year that allowed direct corporate campaign contributions to Tennessee candidates – and trusts his decision on whether or not to push the measure this year.
The Senate voted Monday to repeal the current limit — $214,400 — on the total amount of money legislators can accept from political action committees during an election cycle.
Repeal of the aggregate limit on PAC money came over the objections of Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga, who said it will add to the public perception that “we are only here for the special interests; that we are only here for the people who can make these contributions.”
The sponsor, Senate Speaker Pro Tempore Bo Watson, R-Hixson, merely explained the bill and did not respond to Democratic criticisms.
Besides the aggregate PAC limit, also epeals a provision in current law that prohibits insurance companies from making direct contributions to state candidates. Watson said that the insurance company ban was inadvertently overlooked last year when the Legislature voted to allow corporations generally to make donations to legislator campaigns.
Sen. Joe Haynes, D-Nashville, offered an amendment to remove the aggregate PAC limitation from the bill, leaving the provision on insurance companies. He said repealing the PAC provision “takes us in the wrong direction” from “trying to keep down the influence of money in what we do here.”
Haynes motion was killed on a 17-12 vote. The bill itself was then approved 17-12. It now goes to the House.
A bill repealing limits on how much money legislative candidates can take from political action committees has won approval from a Senate committee on a party line vote – Republicans backing the bill, Democrats opposing.
The 6-3 vote in the Senate State and Local Government Committee clears the measure (SB3645) for a Senate floor vote. In the House, it is up for its first committee vote next week.
Under current law, a candidate for a House or Senate seat can take no more than $107,200 per election from PACs – or $214,400 for a primary and general election combined.
Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey is pushing the proposal. He told reporters Thursday his personal preference would be to eliminate all limitations on on political contributions and simply require that they be disclosed promptly through Internet filings..
“I think limits are silly,” he said.
But Ramsey said most other legislators would not go along with that idea, fearing that media criticism “would eat them alive.”
With Tennessee political action committees growing in numbers and pouring millions of dollars into legislative campaigns, Republican lawmakers are proposing to repeal the limits in current law on how much PAC money they can accept.
Senate Speaker Pro Tempore Bo Watson, R-Hixson, says SB3654 is a logical follow through to legislation enacted last year that authorized direct corporate contributions to state candidates and treats corporations as if they were PACs insofar as disclosing donations goes.
Last year’s law also raised the limits on how much PACs and individuals can donate to Tennessee candidates and provides those limits can be raised annually as inflation increases, a so-called “indexing” provision.
But the 2011 law, pushed by Republicans over objections from some Democrats, left intact the “aggregate limit” on how much PACs can give to candidates. It did raise the aggregate limit for legislative candidates from $75,000 per election to $107,200 — the latter figure being subject to annual increases through indexing.
“With indexing, you reach a point where that limit (on overall PAC donations) is, for lack of a better term, too limiting,” said Watson in an interview.
Tennessee schools have one less obstacle to opening buildings and sports fields to their communities, thanks to a law change being applauded by child fitness advocates, according to the Tennessean. State code signed into law in June and being explained to schools this fall frees schools from liability when they sign agreements to allow athletic leagues, churches and community groups to use school grounds.
“Our taxpayers pay for this equipment, whether it’s tracks or gyms. Meanwhile, communities are looking for low-cost solutions. It’s really a win-win,” said Chastity Mitchell, a senior director with the American Heart Association, which pushed for the change.
Counties surveyed by the association said “loud and clear” that they were afraid of being sued for accidents, Mitchell said.
Now, liability should be less of a concern (in cases of gross negligence, a school could still be liable). And because the association found that existing joint-use agreements vary in their formality, the law includes a phrase encouraging agreements to be written out and to address security, supervision, hours and maintenance policies.
(Note: This is an unedited version of Sunday’s News Sentinel column.)
Gov. Bill Haslam recently made a first, tentative step recently toward using his office a bully pulpit to prod the state Legislature into action – or maybe inaction, in this case.
His proposal, basically, was that the General Assembly should reduce the number of bills filed every year. There were about 2,200 bills this year – his administration had only about 20 of them in its package – and the governor said he would like to see that number reduced by about a third, say 700 or so.
House Speaker Beth Harwell and Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey indicated they are supportive of the governor’s idea, though other lawmakers voiced some misgivings about what they perceived as an executive branch intrusion into legislative branch functions.
On the other hand, when asked last week what role he would play in the developing wrangle over redistricting of Tennessee congressional and state legislative districts, Haslam had a rapid response of one word, “Zero.”