Senator Mark Norris
9A Legislative Plaza,
Nashville, Tennessee 37243-0232
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By Tom Humphrey, KnoxNews.com
April 1, 2013
NASHVILLE — Sen. Frank Niceley has postponed a Senate floor vote on a bill that would let state legislators pick party nominees for the U.S. Senate after harsh criticism of the measure Monday from Tennessee’s Democratic chairman and a Republican colleague.
Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains, requested the vote be rescheduled for the last day of the 2013 legislative session. As a practical matter, given the hectic nature of proceeding on a session’s last day, that likely means it will wind up being put off until next year.
The bill (SB471) calls for the Republican state legislators to meet in caucus to choose the Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate and Democratic legislators to do the same for choosing a Democratic nominee. It would take effect on Nov. 30, 2014, meaning Sen. Lamar Alexander would be selected under the present system of contested primary elections.
State Democratic Chairman Roy Herron characterized the bill Monday as an effort by “reactionary and radical Republicans” to “steal the people’s right to vote to nominate our United States senators.” He called on legislators to amend the bill so it would not apply to Democrats, leaving the party to select its nominees by election.
When the bill came up on the floor Monday night, Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, denounced the measure as “entirely self-interested” for legislators.
“This bill is anti-democratic. This bill smells of elitism and cronyism. It would open a system that could in the future be ripe for corruption,” said Kelsey.
Two other Republicans, Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris and Sen. Janice Bowling of Tullahoma, urged Niceley to delay a vote so Tennesseans could become more familiar with the proposal and let their views be known.
Norris also questioned whether the measure could achieve Niceley’s stated goal — prodding the federal government, through the Senate, to show more respect for states’ rights — if Tennessee is the only state to pick Senate nominees via the Legislature. Niceley said three other states — Arizona, Louisiana and Wyoming — are considering the idea and Tennessee can be a leader.
He said the bill has already accomplished good by getting the attention of Alexander and Sen. Bob Corker.
“Our senators have called and talked to more House and Senate members in the last two weeks than they have in the last 20 years,” Niceley said.
Workers’ comp: Gov. Bill Haslam’s bill to overhaul the state’s workers’ compensation system was approved 28-2 by the Senate on Monday evening and now needs only an expected favorable House floor vote to reach his desk.
The bill (SB200) makes multiple changes to current law, including directing disputes over claims by workers for on-the-job injuries from the courts to a new administrative system. Norris, sponsoring the bill for Haslam, said Tennessee is now one of just two states that still adjudicates such claims in courts and currently has higher rates for workers’ compensation insurance than neighboring states.
“I feel confident these reforms are not only going to keep Tennessee competitive but will benefit employees as well,” said Norris.
The two no votes came from Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Lowe Finney of Jackson and Sen. Doug Overbey, R-Maryville, both lawyers.
Overbey gave the only speech in opposition, saying he approved of most changes but is “troubled” by the creation of 20 new state government positions in the new “court of workers’ compensation claims” and various other new administrative jobs in the new system. Court clerks and judges across the state are already familiar with handling claims and could continue, he said.
The senator also said that, under the bill, there is little difference between what a worker is paid if he or she returns to work and payments if he or she does not. The bill could thus reduce incentives for injured workers to return to work, he said.
Norris said most of the newly created positions will be covered by eliminating current jobs in the Department of Labor and Workforce Development. Some state employees in those jobs may get positions in the new system.