As any member of the 108th General Assembly of the Tennessee Legislature will tell you, many of my priorities during my time in Nashville have centered on law enforcement, public safety and protecting good Tennessee residents from the bad guys.
But I have also kept my eyes and ears open to many other pieces of legislation that are important to the citizens of the 22nd Legislative District, as well as the 24th Legislative District which is capably represented by state Rep. Kevin Brooks, R-Cleveland.
Throughout our terms, we have worked closely as well with our senatorial colleagues, state Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville representing the 9th Senatorial District, and state Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga representing the 10th Senatorial District.
Today, I’ll concentrate on some legislation in Workers’ Compensation Reform, Tennessee Pension Reform and the Tennessee Asset Forfeiture Law.
Reform passes House
with flying colors
The Workers’ Compensation Reform Act of 2013, an initiative that was part of Gov. Bill Haslam’s legislative agenda for the year, easily passed the House of Representatives this session with a bipartisan vote from state lawmakers. House Bill 194 was shepherded through the House and Committee system by my Cleveland colleague, state Rep. Brooks.
“It was an honor to be asked by House Leader Gerald McCormick and the Haslam administration to carry this important piece of legislation this session,” Brooks said. “When Gov. Haslam and lawmakers met with small business owners all across the state prior to the 2013 legislative session, they were in agreement that a top issue was Tennessee’s worker’s compensation system.”
Workers’ Compensation is an insurance program, adopted in Tennessee in 1919, that compensates employees for injuries they suffer on the job. Employers are required to carry workers’ compensation insurance to cover the costs of medical expenses and lost wages of employees when they suffer work-related injuries.
As passed, the Workers’ Compensation Reform Act (House Bill 194) reforms the workers’ compensation system in Tennessee to provide more certainty for businesses while also protecting the interests of employees across the state.
Once fully implemented, HB 194 will reduce the time it takes to receive permanent workers’ compensation benefits and improve injury medical treatment. In addition, the process for resolving workers’ comp disputes will be streamlined, allowing injured workers to receive compensation and return to work quicker.
According to critics, the current workers’ compensation process in Tennessee is unpredictable, cumbersome for determining benefits and employees are often unable to receive benefits and return to work in a timely manner.
The new reform meets the overall goal of ensuring the most efficient and fair workers’ comp system for both employees and employers. The new system will also help Tennessee become an even more attractive place to work and do business.
State Pension Reform
Plan becomes law
Legislation proposed earlier this year to reform the state’s pension plan, the Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System, passed the full House of Representatives in Nashville. The reform represents a proactive approach by State Treasurer David H. Lillard, Jr. and House Republicans to ensure the security of pension benefits for current employees, retirees, as well as future employees that will be hired in years to come.
The changes, which will only affect new employees hired on or after July 1, 2014, will change the current defined-benefits system to a hybrid plan that includes elements of defined-benefits and defined-contribution programs. A defined-benefit plan guarantees retirees a fixed pension benefit based on their years of service and earnings, while defined-contribution plans do not have guaranteed payment levels, but rather specified contribution levels by the employer.
The pension changes will not affect anyone that is currently a state employee, a teacher, a higher education employee or an employee of a local government participating in the Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System.
victory to reform
Asset Forfeiture Law
Legislation designed to curb abuse of a Tennessee law that allows government agencies to take cash off drivers without a warrant unanimously passed the House of Representatives with a 95-0 vote. The bill will reform the practice known as asset forfeiture — the ability of law enforcement officers to take people’s personal property without charging them with a crime.
As passed, the bill ensures a fair hearing to any person suspected of being in possession of property subject to asset forfeiture. Specifically, the legislation spells out that such person is entitled to appear in court at a stated date and time to contest the issuance of a forfeiture warrant by a law enforcement officer.
Currently, Tennessee law requires such a hearing to take place without the person whose assets are being seized in attendance. It is not uncommon for some asset forfeiture cases to take months to settle.
When Republican legislators sat down and really started studying the issue of asset forfeiture, it was obvious that people are not being given the opportunity to be heard by a real judge in a reasonable amount of time. A prime example, they cite, is the New Jersey man who had $22,000 in cash taken from him during a traffic stop and was not immediately given a hearing to get his money back.
The story referred to by Republicans occurred in 2012 when an officer took George Reby's money based on the suspicion it might be drug money even though Reby stated he was in the process of buying a new vehicle through the popular auction website eBay. Once the case went to court, the police officer who had seized the money had a judge sign off on the seizure in a secret hearing, but never told the judge about Mr. Reby's side of the story.