Tennessee lawmakers churning out bills

Tennessee lawmakers churning out bills

April 21st, 2017 by Andy Sher in Local Regional News

House Republican Caucus Chairman Ryan Williams of Cookeville, right, confers with Rep. Mike Carter, R-Chattanooga, during a House Transportation Committee meeting in Nashville, Tenn., on Tuesday, April 11, 2017. The panel was taking up Gov. Bill Haslam's proposal to boost transportation funding in Tennessee. (AP Photo/Erik Schelzig)

Photo by The Associated Press /Times Free Press.

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NASHVILLE — Tennessee banks and financial service providers could legally alert authorized persons to potential fraud involving elderly and vulnerable adults under a bill headed to Gov. Bill Haslam for his consideration.

The House on Thursday took final action on the Elderly and Vulnerable Adult Financial Exploitation Prevention Act, voting 89-1 for the measure.

Rep. Kevin Brooks, R-Cleveland, sponsored the legislation. It was part of a packet of bills by a group of lawmakers including Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, and Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, aimed at protecting Tennessee seniors. The measure already had passed in the Senate.

Rep. Mark Pody, R-Lebanon, the lone "no" vote on the bill, said that while "I love the intent I believe in personal responsibility."

But Rep. Sami Kumar, R-Springfield, a physician who serves on the Tennessee Commission on Aging and Disability, defended the measure, saying seniors can be vulnerable to deceptive practices.

"This is fraud at such a sophisticated level," said Kumar, noting fraudsters will even tell their victims how to answer questions from wary bankers or others when withdrawing large amounts of money. "It's very important to stop such deceit."

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When unveiling the legislation earlier this year, lawmakers said the elderly sometimes fall prey not just to strangers but family members.

In other legislative action Thursday:

  • ┬áSenators voted unanimously to make public Tennessee Bureau of Investigation probes of officer-involved shooting deaths.

Senate Minority Leader Lee Harris, D-Memphis, said he believes "there is no greater government action than the taking of a life and no more legitimate public interest in government- produced information. We shouldn't keep these records confidential from the public after the investigation and prosecution are concluded."

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, told colleagues, "We need to make this information public to exonerate law enforcement officers who are at times wrongfully accused of wrongdoing, and we need to make this information public when there is wrongdoing so the public will have confidence in our law enforcement."

TBI investigation records are exempt from public disclosure unless the agency is directed by a court to release them. The House companion bill, sponsored by Rep. G.A. Hardaway, D-Memphis, is scheduled to be heard next week.

There have been at least nine officer-involved shootings in Tennessee so far this year, including three in Hamilton County.

Christopher Sexton was killed in January after leading officers on a lengthy pursuit that ended on Sequoyah Access Road in Soddy-Daisy.

Matthew Paupp was shot and wounded in February after a disturbance at his father's home on Fuller Road in Chattanooga.

Daniel Hendrix was killed in March after a domestic incident on Shawnee Trail in Chattanooga.

At least 16 officer-involved shootings happened in Tennessee in 2016.

  • ┬áRepresentatives voted unanimously to require legislators to disclose privately funded trips by anyone seeking "to inform or advise" lawmakers on state public policy issues.

Members voted 88-0 for the bill, sponsored by Rep. Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga. An amended version is scheduled to come up next week in the Senate.

"Good bill, representative," Rep. Bo Mitchell, D-Nashville, told McCormick as he presented the bill.

The Nashville lawmaker asked McCormick whether the bill would cover organizations like the American Legislative Exchange Council, the National Conference of State Legislatures or "other organizations where these corporations give them millions of dollars to disperse out scholarships to members so they'll come to these conferences and get in front of them."

The legislative exchange council, a conservative group, has been criticized over such practices — various groups have blasted its array of "model legislation" for the 50 states as a one-stop shop for special interests, a charge the group's legislative members adamantly deny.

The State Ethics Commission's bare-bones ethics disclosure form "does not have dollar amounts on it," McCormick noted. "But it will require you to say, yes, this organization paid for me to go on a trip."

McCormick's bill seeks to address controversies related to lawmakers' previously undisclosed travel in recent years.

  • ┬áLawmakers in the future would have to provide tax money to make up for discounted hunting and fishing license fees they grant to various groups under a bill passed unanimously by senators.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Mike Bell, R- Riceville, is scheduled to be heard next week in a House committee.

An avid hunter and fisherman, Bell said he has no problem with past discounts lawmakers have enacted on behalf of minors, veterans and the disabled.

But Bell said such actions cut into Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency revenue. Last year's fee was up 20 percent, which officials said was necessary to recoup a $5 million loss in operating revenue.

"The TWRA had to raise it to make up for policy decisions" by lawmakers, Bell said.

He said that as the state's policy makers, lawmakers have every right to make those decisions. But he said the bill requires that if lawmakers do grant discounts to new groups in the future, it "will be up to the state to fund" the difference.

Contact staff writer Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550. Follow on Twitter @AndySher1.


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