Republican lawmakers are pushing legislation to slash dependent benefits for unemployed Tennesseans as a way to rein in a program that was expanded in 2009 under the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, reports The Tennessean. The bill (HB639), which cleared a key House committee with little resistance on Tuesday, would save the state an estimated $62.5 million annually, according to the Tennessee Department of Labor. Those savings are necessary, supporters say, because $141 million in federal funds given to the state under the stimulus have run out, and Tennessee employers have had to pick up the bill.
A Democratic leader in the House called the proposal a bad bill that would hurt the unemployed in the state. But Republican leadership, including Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, said the state was fixing what amounted to an unfunded mandate.
Consideration of the bill comes one week after the Department of Labor’s unemployment benefits program was blistered in a state audit that found fraud and mismanagement that “threatened the integrity” of the unemployment benefits system.
“This is the very definition of an unfunded mandate,” said state Sen. Jack Johnson, R-Franklin, adding that the state needed to halt the expanded benefits in order to preserve the health of the unemployment insurance fund. “Experts say there’s no way our fund could withstand another recession.”
Under current state law, unemployed workers receive $15 per week for each dependent, with a cap of $50 per week, in addition to their regular unemployment check. The bill, sponsored in the House by Rep. Jimmy Matlock, R-Lenoir City, and in the Senate by Ramsey and Johnson, would end such dependent benefits.
Unemployment checks for individuals are capped at $275 per week. A family with four or more dependents receives an additional $50 each week.
The bill cleared the House Consumer and Human Resources committee Tuesday with a voice vote, though Democrats such as Rep. Mike Turner, D-Old Hickory, expressed their opposition.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit by a group of Catholic nonprofits in Nashville that challenged a provision of the new federal health care law.
An attorney for the nonprofits said in court earlier this month that the agencies have a religious objection to providing health care coverage for their employees that includes services like contraception and sterilization.
He asked U.S. District Judge Todd Campbell to issue an injunction, preventing the government from enforcing the so-called contraceptive mandate.
Campbell last week dismissed the suit, ruling that the nonprofits have suffered no injury from the new rule because it is not currently being enforced.
The rule is being revised to try to accommodate nonprofits with religious objections to it.
The Diocese of Nashville and seven other local Catholic institutions filed suit against the federal government Wednesday, challenging a mandate that requires them to offer contraceptive coverage and morning-after pills as part of their employees’ health insurance.
Further from the Tennessean’s report: The suit claims the contraceptive mandate required by the nation’s health-care overhaul is “in violation of the centuries’ old teachings of the Catholic Church.”
“Plaintiff’s genuinely held religious beliefs dictate that it is unacceptable to support, pay for, provide, and/or facilitate abortion, sterilization, or the use of contraceptives as these services are contrary to Catholic Doctrine,” the suit said.
Joining the lawsuit are Father Ryan High School, Pope John Paul II High School, Catholic Charities and Aquinas College. Also included are Mary Queen of Angels, Villa Maria Manor and St. Mary Villa. Each is incorporated and operates independently.
The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court in Middle Tennessee, joins a growing list of similar legal actions challenging the reproductive health-care requirements of the Affordable Care Act since the rules were first written in August 2011. At least 28 suits have been filed so far on behalf of 88 religious schools, hospitals and other entities, according to the Washington, D.C.-based Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.
News release from Senate Republican Caucus:
(NASHVILLE, TN), February 16, 2012 — State Senator Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) filed a resolution in the State Senate today urging President Obama and Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius to reverse the administration’s decision requiring all employers to provide birth control as part of their health plans. The birth control mandate is part of the rules implemented as a result of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) as spelled out by Sebelius.
Individuals have not been required previously to participate in a health service program or a research activity funded in some part by the United States Department of Health and Human Services if such participation is contrary to their religious beliefs or convictions. The retreat from that position has prompted numerous religious organizations, including Catholic bishops, to announce strong opposition to the interim rule. They have also called for stronger protection of the consciences of religious employers and health plans.
“This action tramples on the liberties of many Tennessee citizens and religious organizations,” said Senator Kelsey. “It could also impose significant costs on Tennessee and other states if religiously affiliated hospitals, schools, universities and agencies which provide social services to the poor are no longer able to continue due to this rule.”
The bi-partisan measure calls for a copy of the resolution to be sent to the President of the United States, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, and each member of the Tennessee’s congressional delegation upon passage.
Senate Resolution 84 is co-sponsored by Senators Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville), Jim Tracy (R-Shelbyville), Mike Bell (R-Cleveland), Jim Summerville (R-Dickson), Mark Norris (R-Collierville), Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro), Mae Beavers (R-Mt. Juliet), Rebecca Duncan Massey (R-Knoxville), Steve Southerland (R-Morristown), Ken Yager (R-Harriman), Mike Faulk (R-Church Hill), Jack Johnson (R-Franklin), Doug Henry (D-Nashville), Reginald Tate (D-Memphis), and Speaker Pro Tempore Bo Watson (R-Hixson).
News release from Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker:
WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander, both R-Tenn., today introduced legislation to stop an overreach by the federal government – commonly called an unfunded mandate – requiring local governments to replace road signs according to new visibility standards by arbitrary 2015 and 2018 deadlines.
According to estimates from the Tennessee County Highway Officials Association, meeting the current compliance deadlines will cost local governments at least $50 million in Tennessee alone.
The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has updated federal rules governing minimum nighttime visibility standards (known as “retroreflectivity”) for road signs. State and local governments must present plans for overhauling their old signs by January 22, 2012. Traffic safety signs, such as stop and yield signs, must be replaced by 2015, and all signs must be replaced by 2018.
The Corker-Alexander bill would waive the compliance dates and instead permit state and local governments to comply with the new standards when they replace signs at the end of their normal life cycle.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The state House has approved a proposal that would require Tennessee insurance companies to include hearing aids for individuals up to 18 years of age in their policies.
The measure sponsored by Republican Rep. Richard Montgomery of Sevierville was approved 82-12 on Thursday. The companion bill is awaiting a vote in the Senate Finance Committee.
Under the proposal, the companies would be required to pay up to $1,000 per hearing aid every three years. Montgomery says “it’s critical for a child’s learning ability to be able to hear.”
Jim Brown is the Tennessee director for the National Federation of Independent Business. He says he’s glad the bill’s sponsors limited the size of the mandate, but his members oppose any kind of health care mandate.
Note: For a very thorough report on the House hearing aid debate, see Richard Locker.