News

Prosecutor: There is No Meaningful Death Penalty in Tennessee

The natural-causes death of death row inmate Donald Strouth is the most recent example of problems with Tennessee’s death penalty and undermines the credibility of the criminal justice system, Sullivan County District Attorney General Barry Staubus said. Strouth had been on death row for more than 30 years, an appeal process length Staubus said is too long. Right now all executions in Tennessee are on hold because of a pending lawsuit where death row inmates, including Strouth, are questioning if the state's lethal injection process is constitutional. WJHL has more. On Wednesday, Nebraska lawmakers agreed to abolish the death penalty. The margin by which the bill passed in the unicameral state legislature is more than sufficient to override a promised veto by the state's governor, ABA Journal reports.

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Fungal Meningitis Victims to Share $200 Million

A $200 million settlement has been reached to pay out claims in the 2012 nationwide outbreak of fungal meningitis that was first detected in Nashville and was traced to an injectable steroid made by Massachusetts-based New England Compounding Center (NECC). The outbreak sickened 778 people across the country, killing 76, according to an investigation by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Tennessee was one of the hardest hit states with a total of 153 people sickened and 16 deaths. Dozens of civil lawsuits from across the country were consolidated into the bankruptcy filing of NECC. About 3,770 people nationwide have filed claims against the company. The Tennessean has the story.

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Firms Tell Gay Couples: Wed or Lose Benefits

Amid a push to make same-sex marriage legal, some employers are telling gay workers they must wed in order to maintain health-care coverage for their partners, the Wall Street Journal reports (subscription required). About a third of public- and private-sector employees in the U.S. have access to benefits for unmarried gay partners, according to a federal tally, but employment lawyers say the fast-changing legal outlook is spurring some employers to rethink that coverage. If the Supreme Court rules in favor of marriage equality in all 50 states, some say it could result in more employers dropping same-sex partners in favor of spousal benefits.

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TJC Hosts Free CHOICES Webinar

The Tennessee Justice Center will host a free webinar about changes to the CHOICES program on May 21 at 3:30 p.m. The CHOICES 3 program will be closed for most new enrollment on July 1. Join the TJC to learn what the closing means for consumers, advocates and providers. Contact John Orzechowski for more information.

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Tennessean Denies Requesting Personal Medical Records

The Tennessean is denying accusations that it asked for personal medical information for state lawmakers and employers. According to the publication, several Republican lawmakers, the Tennessee State Employees Association and others have said The Tennessean is seeking information that in some way violates the privacy of state lawmakers. "The Tennessean has never requested personal health care information about lawmakers or state employees regarding our coverage of Insure Tennessee,” said Maria De Varenne, news director of The Tennessean. “We have requested how much taxpayers pay for lawmakers to have state health insurance. ”

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Anti-ACA Senator Took Advantage of Health Care Law

Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, benefited from the Affordable Care Act by having his adult son enrolled on state benefits, but voted twice to keep Tennessee from using the federal health law to provide health coverage to poor people. The law mandates that all employer-based plans allow workers to add coverage for their children up to age 26. Gardenhire adamantly disputed state documents obtained by The Tennessean that showed he had a child on the plan and hung up on a reporter Monday morning. According to the newspaper, he then called back to "eat crow," apologize and say that his son, Andrew, had been covered.

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HCA National Medical Director Sued for Malpractice

Dr. Michael Murphy, the national medical director for HCA's Behavioral Health Services division, has been named as a defendant in a multi-million dollar medical malpractice suit along with two members of his former practice, the Nashville Post reports. Murphy’s former patient killed his father in the middle of a nervous breakdown. The suit alleges that Murphy failed to adequately transition the patient to two members of Murphy’s practice when he left for his current position with HCA and inappropriately accessed his medical records after he was no longer Murphy’s patient.

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Haslam Signs Abortion Clinic Bill

Clinics in Tennessee that perform more than 50 abortions per year will be regulated as ambulatory surgery treatment centers, according to a new measure signed into law Friday by Gov. Bill Haslam. The requirement means new rules governing the clinics’ physical building and staffing, the Tennessean reports. The governor has not yet signed another bill passed by the legislature that would require women seeking an abortion to obtain counseling by a physician and wait 48 hours before the procedure.

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Haslam Signs ‘Right to Try’ Legislation

Gov. Bill Haslam signed the so-called Right to Try Act into law this past Friday, the Chattanoogan reports. The new law, which passed the legislature unanimously, will allow terminally ill patients who have exhausted all conventional treatment options and cannot enroll in a clinical trial to access medicine that has been deemed safe by the Food & Drug Administration but has yet to receive the agency’s final approval. All medications available under the law must have successfully completed basic safety testing and be part of the FDA’s on-going approval process.

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B.B. King Family Loses Battle for Control

Family members of Blues legend B.B. King lost a bid to take control of their ailing father’s affairs in a Las Vegas courtroom on Thursday. Three of King’s 11 surviving children asked the court to take control from King’s longtime business manager because they said he was stealing money and neglecting King’s medical care. The judge ruled there was no evidence to back up the claims, WRCB-TV reports.

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Brentwood Hospital Group Agrees to Medicare Settlement

Brentwood-based Community Health Systems will pay $15.2 million in a settlement to resolve False Claims Act allegations, the Nashville Business Journal reports. The cases at 15 CHS-owned hospitals revolved around claims to Medicare for intensive outpatient psychotherapy services that a U.S. Department of Justice release said did not qualify for Medicare reimbursement.

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State Records Show Health Insurance Spending for Legislators

Tennesseans have paid close to $6 million in health insurance premiums for state lawmakers since 2008, the Tennessean reports after reviewing documents provided by a state agency. The newspaper sought the information on state-subsidized coverage after legislators voted down Gov. Bill Haslam’s Insure Tennessee proposal to expand Medicaid coverage.

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Hooker Weighs in as Committee Considers 'Death with Dignity'

This summer, state lawmakers will gather to discuss the controversial issue of death with dignity and whether or not those with a terminal illness have the right to decide when to die. Now John Jay Hooker, who has been diagnosed with terminal melanoma, is championing this cause and fighting for the right to die with dignity. “I think if a person is suffering wants to leave this earth that the government’s got no business to tell them that they got to suffer and stay,” he told WKRN.

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Court Enters Interstate Marijuana Dispute

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday asked for the views of the Obama administration on a dispute between three states over Colorado’s 2012 legalization of marijuana. The action is a sign that the high court may be interested in the dispute, the Blog of Legal Times reports. The suit, brought by the states of Nebraska and Oklahoma, does not challenge the legalization of marijuana but questions the manufacture and sale of the drug across state lines.

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Lifetime Carry, Cannabis Oil Bills Signed

Gov. Bill Haslam has signed legislation that allows Tennesseans to get a lifetime handgun-carry permit, Memphis Daily News reports. Prior to the legislature’s action this session, a permit was valid for four years. In other bill signings, WATE News 6 reports that Haslam signed a measure decriminalizes the possession of cannabis oil for treating seizures and epilepsy.

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Lawmaker Asks for AG Opinion on Indigent Health Funds

Tennessee House Majority Whip Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin, has asked Attorney General Herbert Slatery to weigh in on whether federal health officials may cut payments that help cover health costs for low-income Tennesseans just because the state chose not to expand Medicaid eligibility. The request comes in response to news that federal health officials recently told the state that funding to reimburse indigent care costs may be cut, the Tennessean reports.

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Haslam: Repeat Medicaid Sessions Not Constructive

Bringing lawmakers back to Nashville to again debate Insure Tennessee would not accomplish anything except creating “frayed nerves and hot tempers,” Gov. Bill Haslam told reporters this week. The comments came in response to a letter from House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, who said if he was governor, he would call a special legislative session “again and again” until lawmakers passed the plan. WBIR has the story from the Tennessean.

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Knoxville Celebrates ADA Anniversary

The disABILITY Resource Center (dRC) and the City of Knoxville are sponsoring a celebration in honor of the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) on May 14. The event will take place from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Market Square Mall. The Knoxville Bar Association’s Lawyer Referral and Information Service staff will have a table at the event to answer questions from attendees. For more information or to volunteer contact KBA staff member Tracy Chain.

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Court Remands Obamacare Question to 6th Circuit

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday breathed new life into the religious objections of Catholic groups in Michigan and Tennessee to the Affordable Care Act requirement for contraception coverage in health plans, Reuters reports. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals had ruled in favor of the administration’s position in a case that pre-dated the high court’s Hobby Lobby decision. The Supreme Court directed the appeals court to reconsider its decision in light of the June 2014 ruling that allowed certain privately owned corporations to seek exemptions from the provision.

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New Series for Elder and Health Law Attorneys Starts in May

A new webcast series starts May 5 and runs to the end of the month for elder law and health law attorneys. This series addresses TennCare changes, managed care delivery, intellectual disabilities and Medicaid coverage.

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Legislative Session Wraps Up

State lawmakers finished their work for the 2015 legislative session just before 10 p.m. last night, the Tennessean reports. Among the bills passed yesterday, lawmakers approved an additional exemption to the Hall tax on investment income, new rules for ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft, and the use of cannabis oil to treat seizures. Among the bills that failed to advance were measures allowing undocumented immigrants’ children who grew up in Tennessee to pay in-state tuition at public colleges and universities (which lost by one vote), allowing residents of parts of cities to de-annex territory, and banning alcohol sales to people with three or more drunken driving convictions. See a break down of more legislative winners and losers from the Associated Press.

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Feds Warn of Possible Medicaid Funding Cuts

Obama administration officials are warning Tennessee, which has failed to expand Medicaid coverage, that federal funding for treating uninsured patients could dry up, reports the Tennessean. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services apparently has contacted Tennessee officials to highlight principles that will be used in evaluating the continued funding of so-called Medicaid funding pools, which provide about $1.3 billion a year to the state to help offset the costs of providing uncompensated care. Craig Becker, president of the Tennessee Hospital Association, says any cuts to the funds would be catastrophic.

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New CLE Series for Elder, Health Law Lawyers

A new CLE webcast series starts May 5 and runs through the end of the month for elder law and health law lawyers. The series will address TennCare changes, managed care delivery, intellectual disabilities and Medicaid coverage. Sign up for one or all of the sessions on the TBA CLE website.

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Legislators Approve Rape-Kit Testing and Cannabis Oil Bills

Legislators approved and sent to Gov. Bill Haslam a bill that would create a protocol for the collection of sexual assault evidence kits. Sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, and Rep. Larry Miller, D-Memphis, the bill should go a long way in alleviating the kind of situation that resulted in a backlog of untested rape kits in Memphis and other parts of the state, the Citizen Tribune reports. Lawmakers also approved a bill allowing a person to possess cannabis oil under certain conditions. If it becomes law, certain amounts of cannabis oil can be used for the treatment of intractable seizures, especially in the case of children.

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House OKs $33.3 Billion Spending Plan

The Tennessee House has approved $33.3 billion for the state's annual budget after rejecting Democrat attempts to add an authorization for Republican Gov. Bill Haslam to strike a deal with the federal government over Medicaid expansion. Passing a balanced budget is one of the few constitutional requirements for Tennessee lawmakers, Memphis Daily News reports.

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