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Representative Dennis Powers Weekly Wrap May 9 –13

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Job-creating tort reforms pass the house by wide margin

Legislation that caps non-economic damage awards at $750,000 and at $1 million in cases where victims suffer certain catastrophic injuries was given final approval by the House on Monday.

The bill is a central focus of the majority’s legislative agenda. State Rep. Dennis Powers, a co-sponsor of the bill, believes these reforms will bring stability to the legal environment companies have to account for when considering relocation to Tennessee or doing business here.

The majority leader has talked about the fact this reform will drastically improve the business prospects for Tennessee. “Leveling the playing field so Tennessee is more competitive with other States in the region is the smart thing to do for our citizens,” he said recently.

The floor debate on the legislation was wide-ranging and covered many of the bill’s highlights. One proponent stated, “In my opinion, we have a lot going for our state—right to work, low-taxes—but we can add an additional feather to the cap and make sure we are at least on the same footing as our sister states in the South. Ultimately, this means more and better jobs for our citizens, and that is something we should all support.”

Another member speaking in support of the legislation remarked, “When relocation teams from various companies are considering Tennessee, factors they seriously weigh are litigation risk and cost. Let’s pass this bill and take away a reason for them to exclude Tennessee.” He concluded, “We will inspire more confidence in those businesses looking at Tennessee for relocation. This bill is about predictability for businesses—and jobs for Tennesseans.”

The bill also caps punitive damages meant to punish accidental negligence by businesses or individuals. Awards for injuries that can be quantified, such as medical care, rehabilitation, or loss of income, are not capped.

Powers co-sponsors tough legislation cracking down on meth

On Thursday, the House passed HB 1051, legislation that adds new criminal acts for meth production and enrolls pharmacies in a national drug exchange program that tracks pseudoephedrine purchases.

The bill is a strong reaction to the outbreak of meth use and addiction that is hurting Tennessee families. Recent news reports have detailed the numerous instances where meth production has cost lives throughout the state.

During the discussion on the legislation, one house member stated, “We cannot sit here and pretend this meth problem will go away. There are far too many families who are losing loved ones because of the ease in which meth can be created.” After passage of the legislation, Powers added, “This bill represents a smart and strong step towards stopping the creation of meth. That drug is hurting our citizens and we need to be doing all we can to put an end to its destructive effects.” The bill passed the House by a unanimous vote and named the “I Hate Meth Act” in honor of the meth awareness group in Campbell County.

Judicial accountability measure passes full house

In a move that many view as a way to restore accountability to the judicial system, the House passed HB 694 on Thursday. The bill consolidates the methods for deferral of criminal proceedings and removes an avenue that criminals could use to delay their sentence or avert taking responsibility for their actions.

 “With the current system, criminals can avoid responsibility for their actions and that is unacceptable,” stated the Majority Chairwoman of the House. “Under this bill, defendants can still make a case in front of a judge to obtain probationary status but must take responsibility. It brings fairness to the courtroom and sends a message that accountability and victims’ rights will be respected in our judicial process.”

General Assembly honors law enforcement officers

During the middle of the week, a ceremony was held in the Capitol to honor Tennessee’s finest for their sacrifice to keep citizens safe. The event was part of “National Police Week” an annual event recognized across the United States.

Additionally, a memorial for fallen officers was held downtown. Across the state, in a number of communities, police officers have laid down their lives to ensure the tranquility of the public.

The event comes on the heels of the recent loss of a member of the Tennessee Highway Patrol who lost his life in the line of duty. The House Speaker noted, “I am in awe of the work that our law enforcement officers do on a daily basis.  They risk their lives every day to make our communities safer and we should all be thankful for their commitment.”

Bipartisan Legislation unveiled for tax exemption for tornado and flood victims

Over the last several weeks, the State of Tennessee has been ravaged with storms of historic proportions that have affected thousands of citizens. Strong tornadoes have hit East and Middle Tennessee, while West Tennessee is currently enduring some of the worst flooding seen since the 1930’s.

With this as the backdrop, house leaders announced a bipartisan plan to provide tax relief for the victims of these events. Under the proposal, Tennesseans who qualify for Federal Emergency Management Agency assistance will be able to purchase appliances, building materials, and home furnishings tax free, through the end of the year, to put their homes and lives back together.

“Disaster relief is not a partisan issue. I am proud to stand with our colleagues from across the aisle and across the state in support of sales tax relief for victims of Tennessee tornadoes and floods,” said one sponsor of the legislation.

Another member added, “It is important for the State Legislature to do all we can to help those Tennesseans who are in need.”

“Our hearts go out to those that lost so much due to these terrible acts of nature,” said a Committee Chairman who is helping with the legislative effort. “We’ll be issuing more information on how to apply for these tax refunds when the bill passes in the coming weeks.”

House Chairman releases statement concerning Tennessee Wildlife Resources Commission

During the week, one chairman made it clear oversight of the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Commission, the governing body of the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA), would continue to be a top priority on his watch.

At a meeting of the Government Operations Committee on Wednesday, the Chairman announced his plans to move consideration of reauthorizing the Commission to 2012.

 “Right now, I believe it is best to move this legislation until 2012 to give the General Assembly more time to examine the role the Commission plays in the overall function of the TWRA. The fact is, the TWRA Commission has been slow to respond to constituents and answer questions regarding the activities of the agency,” stated the Representative.

He continued, “This move will have no effect on the agency itself. No one will lose their jobs and I expect the TWRA to continue functioning as normal. I am actually pleased with the good work that is being done by our wildlife officers throughout the State. Unfortunately, the Commission responsible for managing the affairs of the agency has been hard to reach, obstinate in their views, and uncooperative in their actions. That must change.”

Oversight of the activities of the TWRA and the Commission is the responsibility of the General Assembly. This move is consistent with the majority’s commitment to bring more accountability to Tennessee government.