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VOL. 132 | NO. 93 | Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Tennessee Legislature Adjourns After Voting on Last-Minute Bills

By Sam Stockard

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The Legislature wrapped up its business for the year, adjourning Wednesday after taking up a spate of last-minute bills, including postponing a bill increasing the amount of campaign contributions lawmakers could accept.

Rep. Tilman Goins opted to “roll” his fundraising legislation until 2018 after a conference committee amended the bill allowing the House and Senate to take more money from donors. The conference report would allow donations to nearly double.

“It helps preserve the free speech of all Tennesseans with their spending limits,” Goins said.

Nevertheless, he opted for postponement after House Minority Chairman Mike Stewart urged the body to discuss the matter fully before taking action. He pointed out the conference committee drafted a completely different set of contribution levels after a 15-minute meeting, raising political action committee limits to the point there would be no limit on how much a person could donate.

“I just don’t think that’s the kind of momentous decision we should make in the last minutes of our Legislature this year, with no debate in our committees,” Stewart said.

A vote to table Stewart’s move to postpone the bill passed by only 41-40.

Overdose bill passes

Sen. Lee Harris passed legislation requiring Emergency Medical Services personnel to take overdose patients to a hospital when they’ve overdosed.

Harris, a Memphis Democrat, said the bill was endorsed by the Metro Drug Coalition, Tennessee Medical Association and Tennessee Association of Chiefs of Police.

“It establishes a baseline for treatment in the case of an overdose,” Harris said.

Initially, the bill would have given people who overdose more than one opportunity in which they could be treated without being arrested and charged with drug use. But the crux of the bill was stripped.

Sen. Richard Briggs, a Knoxville Republican and medical doctor, backed Harris’ proposal, calling it a “medical bill.”

Too often, when first responders administer drugs to stop an overdose, the person wakes up and looks OK but then slips back into a coma, causing ambulance service personnel to return and treat the person again.

Some senators argued the bill could make emergency workers liable in situations when people refuse to be transported. Harris, however, said the Supreme Court upholds the right of people to turn down transport.

Briggs pointed out people can’t be treated against their will if they’re competent enough to make a decision. Sen. Doug Overbey, a Maryville Republican, agreed when drugs are administered to counteract an overdose people should be taken to a hospital.

“It is best to give them treatment and treatment options,” Overbey said.

Harris also noted there is no liability if the patient declines to be transported. Ultimately, the bill passed 26-1, with the House concurring later.

Third-party contributions

Lawmakers will be required to report contributions from private sources for trips and other items, filing them on their ethics reports with the state, which include statements of interest and income.

Rep. Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, sponsored the legislation following reports of lawmakers taking a fishing trip to Florida last year paid for by supporters of charter school legislation. McCormick pointed out private sources paid for him and other legislators, including House Speaker Beth Harwell, to fly to North Carolina for a day to visit a charter school.

The legislation would not require legislators to report contributions they make to their work, including gas or lunch.

“It is not an intent to turn a legislator into a private source,” McCormick said.

Sam Stockard is a Nashville-based reporter covering the Legislature for the Memphis Daily News. He can be reached at sstockard44@gmail.com.

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