State Rep. Jimmy Eldridge defends to the Jackson Sun his comments on a workers comp bill moving like a freight train through the Legislature — caught on a video that he didn’t realize was recording (Previous post HERE.) He said in an interview with The Jackson Sun on Thursday that his comments in the video have been twisted and taken out of context.
“This workers’ compensation bill is moving through, and we feel strong that it’s a good deal that we got the votes to pass it. We want (bills) to move like a freight train, in a very careful way. I want to get this bill to the House floor and debated by all the members,” he said.
He later said that “all interested parties will have the opportunity to express their views and give input on how to craft the best piece of legislation possible.
“We all want to ensure that this initiative is fair for both employers and employees, and I welcome the healthy discussion and debate that is starting to take place in the coming days regarding this extremely important piece of legislation,” Eldridge said.
Tennessee Citizen Action has called on House Speaker Beth Harwell to explain Eldridge’s comments. Jeff Woods reports that reporters asked her and House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick about the remarks, but didn’t get much of a response. “I appreciate his enthusiasm for the bill,” McCormick said. “I think it’s a good bill. Maybe his choice of words could have been better.”
“I don’t know that I can comment for Chairman Eldridge,” Harwell said. “You’re more than welcome to ask him for a response on that.”
We tried that yesterday. One of his minions puffed out his chest, stood in front of the representative’s office door and informed us that “Speaker Harwell’s office” had instructed Eldridge not to talk to reporters. That’s neat, isn’t it? Harwell tells us to talk to Eldridge, and Eldridge says Harwell told him not to talk to us.
It’s all in keeping with the speaker’s motto: “The less you say, the better.”
Without realizing the Legislature’s streaming video equipment was recording his remarks, House Consumer and Human Resources Committee Chairman Jimmy Eldridge likened a bill overhauling the state’s worker’s compensation system to a “freight train” roaring through the Legislature.
The video, initially reported and posted Wednesday on the Nashville Scene’s blog, features Eldridge, R-Jackson, complaining about criticism of the bill – pushed by Gov. Bill Haslam – as unwarranted and intended “rouse employees” and “scare them to death.” A companion says the critics are “uneducated people.”
“I’m going to take care of that bill,” says Eldridge. “That freight train is going off.”
The accidential recording was made prior to the bill’s initial appearance Wednesday in a subcommittee of the committee Eldridge chairs. The subcommittee approved the measure on voice vote with two Democrats recorded as voting no.
The measure (HB194) makes multiple changes to the workers compensation system, the largest being removal of disputed cases from the court system and sending them to a new board, appointed by the governor.
Haslam says his bill will streamline the system while being fair both to workers hurt on the job and businesses who hire them. Critics such as Mary Mancini, executive director of Tennessee Citizen Action, say it will “gut workers’ compensation as we know it in Tennessee. ”
“HB194 will cut paychecks to injured workers who can return to work by one-third,” Mancini said said in a news release Wednesday. “These cuts, along with cuts made in 2008, means an injured worker who goes back to work will collect 60% less than in 2007. The bill will also eliminates certain injuries as being work related and make it more difficult for workers to prove their injury was caused at work and subsequently, more difficult for an injured worker to collect a paycheck when injured.”
Similar remarks are apparently the sort of criticism Eldridge was criticizing.
(Note: This is a column appearing in the Knoxville Business Journal.)
Jeb Bush, appearing with Bill Haslam at a two-man January education forum in Nashville, offered the opinion that “bigger is better” in a gubernatorial reform agenda.
“If it isn’t controversial or hard to do, you probably needed to add a few more bales of hay on the truck,” Bush said. “If you’re focused on pleasing the people who are there all the time (in state government or the Legislature), you’re going to be tweaking workers’ compensation.”
Haslam promptly quipped in reply: “Careful … Now you’ve gone from preaching to meddling.”
Unbeknownst to the former Florida governor, the present Tennessee governor had been hatching – some folks call the Haslam approach “task forcing” – a plan for workers’ compensation reform for the past year or so.
Haslam formally announced the gist of his proposal in his “state-of-the-state” speech on Jan. 28 to the the 108th General Assembly.
The proposal is pretty big, insofar as workers’ compensation goes in Tennessee. Far more reaching than the last reform effort, presided over and pushed through a Democrat-dominated Legislature by Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen almost a decade ago.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush inadvertently took aim at one of Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam’s legislative priorities this year when the two appeared at an education forum.
Bush said Monday during the question and answer phase of the event featuring the two Republicans that as governor he relished taking aim at the bigger challenges, even if it meant facing stronger resistance.
“If it isn’t controversial or hard to do, you probably needed to add a few more bales of hay on the truck,” Bush said. “Bigger is better.”
Otherwise, he said, the inclination is toward less sweeping agenda items.
“If you have legislature that’s focused on pleasing the people who are there all the time, you’re going to be worried about tweaking the workers’ comp bill,” Bush said.
Haslam, who this year plans to introduce changes to the way injured workers claims are processed in Tennessee, interrupted Bush with a laugh.
“Careful,” Haslam said. “Quit preaching on about that one!”
Bush quickly changed analogies, instead saying lawmakers shouldn’t cater to fringe groups like the “left-handed Albanian caucus.”
“There’s all sorts of little things you can focus on,” Bush said. “I’ve found if there’s a bigger focus on the big things, the little things don’t get time.”
Bush was effusive in his praise of Haslam’s education initiatives after the event organized by the State Collaborative on Reforming Education.
“I’m a huge Gov. Haslam fan,” Bush told reporters. “Tennessee’s lucky to have him.”
Problems in the Department of Children’s Services and the state parole system have something in common, according to Gail Kerr: Low pay for state employees in key jobs. Gov. Bill Haslam and the state legislature have to make a choice: Do they keep Tennesseans safe or allow children to die and be sexually assaulted because of stubborn determination to keep government from growing?
…Two key state departments that are charged with keeping children safe share the same problem: They aren’t getting the job done. They have too few employees in stressful jobs making salaries so small that turnover is the norm. Both departments have come under fire in recent weeks for several missteps that endanger the lives of children and adults.
The Department of Children’s Services has struggled to even say how many cases each social worker is handling. Its child-abuse hotline call center is so understaffed that 25 percent of the people who call to report something hang up because they stay on hold too long. The trained social workers who answer those calls hear the worst of the worst, yet the pay is so low that 10 of 65 workers left or transferred over the past year.
A look at the state’s job application website shows there are 41 positions open for DCS case managers right now. Their pay? Between $27,468 and $31,128 a year.
Over in the state Department of Correction, the parole and probation division is in a similar mess.
A recent report shows that, too often, convicted sex offenders are not checked for violations of their supervising rules, including where they are living. Officers failed to visit offenders in their homes in 40 percent of cases and routinely ignored GPS monitor alerts that an offender was where he’s not supposed to be.
In at least one case, an offender was caught living in a home with the child he was convicted of abusing. Every parole officer is supposed to supervise no more than 25 sex offender cases. The average, however, is 40.
The state lists 36 open jobs for probation and parole field supervisors. Their pay range is $26,364 to $29,886.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A Davidson County election training session is coming under scrutiny for teaching poll workers to challenge voters they believe may not be U.S. citizens.
Davidson County Election Commissioner Eddie Bryan, a Democrat, told The Tennessean (http://tnne.ws/R1l8yV) he believed the training was designed to block immigrants from legally voting.
But Republican election officials said it was designed to teach poll workers how to deal with a potential challenge.
Under the state’s Challenge the Right to Vote Act, poll workers may ask a voter to take an oath that they have the right to vote. Those refusing the oath cannot vote.
The training last month told poll workers that citizenship requires the ability to read, write and speak basic English, but it noted exceptions for immigrants over 50 and those with impairments.
News release from United Campus Workers:
Days after the University of Tennessee system’s Board of Trustees and the Tennessee Board of Regents raised tuition and fees for their respective campuses, and following Governor Bill Haslam’s announcement of a conference on the future of higher education to be held this Tuesday, United Campus Workers-Communications Workers of America local 3865 has issued a call to Haslam to include staff, faculty, and students from the campuses in the dialogue.
While invitees include politicians and even representatives of the Tennessee Chamber
of Commerce, the Governor’s office left out invitations to those people who are at the heart of the state’s higher education system: its faculty, staff, and students.
“We’re confused and disheartened by the Governor’s choice to privilege business interests over the interests of the people who are most directly involved in the higher education system,” said Tom Anderson, President of UCW-CWA and staff at the university of Tennessee-Knoxville. “We want to be at the table because we think we’re in the best position to see what’s working–and maybe more importantly what isn’t working. Any solution is going to involve all of us, so why aren’t all of us being asked to participate in this conversation?”
Tennessee Department of Children’s Services is eliminating its contract with an outside agency that trains social workers, reports WPLN. DCS is one of several state departments finding savings by doing more of its work in-house. The Tennessee Center for Child Welfare – which is affiliated with MTSU – plans to lay off 45 employees. It had a $14 million annual contract to provide training for DCS case workers.
Spokesperson Molly Sudderth says DCS can save several million dollars if it does its own training. That does require adding roughly 30 permanent positions. She expects many will be filled by longtime social-workers looking to advance their careers with the state.
“This gives them an opportunity to put their unique skill set, which is experience with those families, to good use training new young employees who might be coming up.”
Other state departments are also moving functions in-house to save money. TDOT Commissioner John Schroer says some of the design work for roads and bridges is returning to state employees, who can sometimes do it for half the cost. He says spending on consultants had tripled in a matter of five or six years.
News release from Administrative Office of the Courts:
Nashville, Tenn. – In a unanimous opinion, the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled that the statute of limitations on a workers’ compensation claim does not begin to run until an employee discovers or, in the exercise of reasonable diligence, should have discovered that he has a claim.
On June 23, 2008, Steven Ratliff was diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) caused by viewing bodies of two co-workers who died in separate workplace accidents earlier that year. Exactly one year after the diagnosis, Ratliff requested a benefit review conference. The employer, Gerdau Ameristeel, Inc., argued that the statute of limitations began to run from the date of the second accident and that the claim was barred. Ratliff contended that the statute of limitations did not begin to run until his diagnosis date. The trial court agreed with employer. However, the trial court determined that Ratliff could not have discovered his injury until his diagnosis and if the statute of limitations did not bar his claim, Ratliff was entitled to an award of 20 percent permanent partial disability.
Today, the Court reversed the trial court’s decision, holding that the statute of limitations began to run on the date of the accident but was tolled until Ratliff discovered his injury. The statute of limitations therefore does not bar Ratliff’s claim because the trial court found that Ratliff could not have discovered his injury prior to his diagnosis. The case is remanded for entry of a judgment awarding Ratliff permanent partial disability consistent with the trial court’s alternative findings.
To read the Gerdau Ameristeel, Inc. v. Steven Ratliff opinion authored by Justice Janice M. Holder, visit http://www.tncourts.gov/sites/default/files/gerdauopn.pdf.
A unanimous recommendation from a state advisory council Thursday could translate into a 5.1 percent overall reduction in average charges for workers’ compensation insurance premiums for Tennessee businesses, reports The Tennessean. The recommendation now goes to the state’s insurance commissioner, whose approval is required for any rate change. If approved, it could go into effect Aug. 9, when a 60-day stay expires that a joint committee of the state legislature had put on a 11 percent reduction in the so-called medical fee schedule under which physicians, hospitals and others are paid.