Bills approved by both chambers Tuesday will increase the penalty for criminal assaults if the victim is either a firefighter, emergency worker or a health care professional.
The bills touched off considerable debate in the Senate as Republican Sens. Stacey Campfield of Knoxville and Brian Kelsey of Germantown questioned the wisdom of putting some victims on a higher level than others.
Campfield said the legislation violates the principle of “equal protection under the law” and questioned why a person assaulting a pregnant woman should face a lesser penalty than someone assaulting a doctor or fireman.
Proponents noted current law already makes the penalty higher when the victim is a law enforcement officer and said firefighters, emergency personel and doctors or nurses face greater risk of assault than others.
Both bills now go to the governor. The bill on health care provider assaults (HB306) passed 31-1 in the Senate and 63-31 in the House. The bill on firefighters and emergency workers (SB66) was approved 24-2 in the Senate; 93-3 in the House.
News release from Senate Republican Caucus:
(NASHVILLE, TN), May 23, 2012 — Legislation that decreases by 50 percent the registration and renewal fees associated with the Worker’s Compensation Exemption Registry for construction contractors has been signed into law. Governor Bill Haslam signed the legislation on Monday after approval by the General Assembly during the final days of the legislative session which ended May 1. The reduction in fees was part of Senate bill 2923, sponsored by Senators Doug Overbey (R-Maryville) and Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro), which also clarifies that either party in a worker’s compensation dispute may bring suit in the county in which the employee resided at the time of the injury rather than where the employee resides at the time of filing suit. The bill, as amended, reduces the registration and renewal fee because of the fund balance in the Registry after the first year of implementation.
Before, the law allowed worker’s compensation cases to be filed in the chancery or circuit court in the county where the employee resides or the county where the alleged injury occurred. This bill changes that to the county where the employee resided at the time of the alleged injury or the county where the alleged injury occurred.
“This new law simply changes the venue from where the employee resides at the time suit is brought to where the employee resided at the time of the injury. The purpose of the bill is to discourage forum shopping,” said Senator Overbey. “At the same time, the legislation decreases by one-half for contractors to place themselves on the Worker’s Compensation Exemption Registry. Fees are currently double the amount needed for proper regulation.”
The fee reduction comes after the state’s financial experts predicted that $712,500 would be generated from licensed and non-licensed contractors every two years through registration with the Worker’s Compensation Exemption Registry. The assumption was well below what actually occurred as renewal fees will still yield $1,341,550 after the 50 percent reduction is implemented. The exemption allows a business owner to exempt him or herself from the requirement to carry workers’ compensation insurance on him or herself.
The Registry is composed of individuals who are sole proprietors and own 100% of the assets of the business, or an officer of a corporation, or a member of a limited liability company with at least a 20% ownership interest, or a partner in a partnership with at least a 20% ownership interest. Registration is only available to individual business owners engaged in the construction services industry.
In addition, an applicant may qualify for the exemption if the applicant and members of the same family of the applicant hold at least 95% ownership of the business. Each corporation, Limited Liability Company, Limited Liability Partnership, Limited Partnership, General Partnership and family owned business may have up to 5 individuals who can qualify to be exempt. A sole proprietor can only have 1 exemption.
“When a business is overcharged for regulation, those fees need to be returned to them,” added Ketron. “There is no need to overburden them with excess fees. At the same time, it provides adequate funding to ensure our law is working as envisioned to protect workers. I am pleased this legislation has been approved and signed into law.”
There were only two foulups in Davidson County voting on Super Tuesday, reports the City Paper, but one was bad enough to get a poll worker fired. (Voter Al) Wilkinson, a 45-year-old landscape architect, said he showed up on Election Day, March 6, at his assigned polling location, the Northside Church of Christ on Old Hickory Boulevard. He had forgotten his wallet, however, which contained his driver’s license.
“I was in a hurry,” Wilkinson said.
According to Wilkinson, the poll worker advised him to go to the Davidson County Election Commission office on Second Avenue the next day where he could show his ID and cast a ballot there.
But that wasn’t the correct protocol.
Under Tennessee’s new photo ID voting law, voters lacking a proper ID are to first vote provisional paper ballots. They then have two business days after the election to go to the election office to present a valid photo ID.
Failing to cast a provisional ballot, Wilkinson was unable to vote.
Albert Tieche, the county’s elections administrator, said he dismissed the poll worker the day after the election. “That officer doesn’t need to work again,” he said.
In a second voter ID incident, Tieche said a poll worker mistakenly had an elderly voter who lacked a photo ID vote on a machine instead of cast provisional paper ballot.
“He should have voted a paper provisional ballot, which would have been counted by the provisional ballot counting board,” Tieche said.
Some Nashville officials are not happy with legislation proposed by Sen. Brian Kelsey and Rep. Glen Casada that would block cities and counties from enacting local ordinances that deal worker benefits provided by companies contracting with local governments, reports Michael Cass. “I continue to be amazed that the folks who are so often telling the federal government to get out of their business continue to want to create roadblocks for municipalities,” Councilwoman Megan Barry said.
Barry has worked to create a “living wage” for Metro employees, but she said she doesn’t have any plans to try to place similar requirements on other employers. (Memphis has a “living wage” ordinance that would apparently be impacted by the legislation. As enacted in 2007, it requires companies doing business with the city to pay $10 per hour with benefits or $12 an hour without benefits.)
Casada rejected the claims of Republican hypocrisy.
“We just want smaller government,” he said. “To have a big, overreaching local government would defeat the purpose.”
Through a spokeswoman, Kelsey referred questions to Casada. But he said in a news release announcing his proposal last month that the legislation would “open up job opportunities, especially for minority teens in Tennessee.”
Citing a study published in May by labor economists William Even and David Macpherson, Kelsey said increases in minimum wage requirements reduce employment rates for black male teenagers.
“Excessive regulations from local governments are unwittingly pricing certain employees out of jobs, especially minority teens, who do not yet have the skill set to demand high-wage, high-benefit jobs,” Kelsey said in the release.
News release from Secretary of State’s office:
More people are now eligible to claim exemptions from workers’ compensation as a result of a new law that took effect this month.
The law expands eligibility for people who can apply for and be listed on the Workers’ Compensation Exemption Registry, which is administered by the Secretary of State.
The expanded eligibility requirements are a result of the General Assembly’s passage of SB 1550, which was signed into law as Public Chapter 422 in June.
“I am pleased that the General Assembly has entrusted my office with the responsibility of administering the Workers’ Compensation Exemption Registry,” Secretary of State Tre Hargett said. “I am sure there are a number of business owners who will take advantage of the expanded eligibility for exemptions that was created by the new law. We look forward to serving them.”
The changes to the law allow business owners in the construction services industry to opt out of the requirement to cover themselves with workers’ compensation insurance if they meet certain ownership requirements. The new law increases from 3 to 5 the number of business owners of a corporation, limited liability company or partnership that can qualify for the workers’ compensation exemption.
Each applicant must hold at least a 20 percent ownership in the business to qualify for an exemption. An applicant may also qualify for the exemption if the applicant is an owner in a family-owned business, regardless of the percentage of ownership. A sole proprietor may also apply for the exemption if he or she owns 100 percent of a business’ assets.
The filing fee for an initial workers’ compensation exemption registration is $200 for a person who does not have an active license issued by the State Board for Licensing Contractors and $100 for a person who already has an active license issued by the State Board for Licensing Contractors.
The new law also allows a person to qualify for a subsequent workers’ compensation exemption that is associated with another business as long as business ownership requirements are met. Business owners can qualify for an unlimited number of subsequent exemption registrations as long as they meet the qualifications for each registration for which they apply. The filing fee for each subsequent workers’ compensation exemption registration is $20.
Applications may be completed and submitted online at http://tnbear.tn.gov/wc or at the Tennessee Department of State Business Services Division’s customer service counter on the 6th floor of the William R. Snodgrass Tower, 312 Rosa L. Parks Avenue in downtown Nashville.
Applicants who qualify and who submit their applications online will receive instant confirmation of their exemptions. Applications submitted in person or by mail will be processed in 10 or fewer business days from the date the application is received in the Business Services Division’s office.
For questions about the application process, please call (615) 741-2286 or email WorkersComp.ExemptionRegistry@tn.gov.