News

House Approves Bill That Permits Counselors to Deny Service on Religious Grounds

The Associated Press reports a bill that would allow counselors to turn away patients based on their personal beliefs has passed in the state House. The Senate already approved the measure (SB1556 / HB1840), but must approve an amendment adopted by the House before the bill can head to Gov. Bill Haslam. The American Counseling Association has condemned the measure.

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Register Today for the 135th Annual TBA Convention

Join us on June 15-18 in Nashville for the 135th Annual Convention! Registration for the 2016 TBA Convention includes:

  • free access to all TBA CLE programming;
  • the Opening Reception;
  • the Bench Bar Programming and Luncheon;
  • Law School and general breakfasts;
  • the Lawyers Luncheon;
  • the Thursday evening Joint (TBA/TLAW/TABL) Reception;
  • the Thursday night dinner and entertainment at the George Jones Museum;
  • and the Friday night Dance Party.

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Court Seeks More Information in Birth Control Case

The U.S. Supreme Court today asked for additional information on both sides in Zubik v. Burwell, in which religious nonprofits are seeking an exemption from the Obama administration’s contraceptive coverage rule. The order instructs parties in the suit “to examine the minimum the groups must do in order to register their objection to paying for contraception,” the Associated Press reports. The court set an April 20 deadline. A 4-4 split has previously been predicted in the case, which would leave different rules in place in different parts of the country.

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'Fetal Assault Law' to End

A state law that criminalizes women who give birth to drug-dependent babies will sunset later this year after a House committee failed yesterday to pass a bill (HB 1660 / SB 1629) that would extend the law. The Tennessean reports the legislation, sponsored by Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver, R-Lancaster, failed to receive the necessary approval from the Criminal Justice subcommittee as a result of a tie vote on the six-member committee.

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Insurance Costs Reduction Act Deferred to Summer Study Committee

The House Insurance and Banking Subcommittee today deferred to a Summer Study Committee a bill (HB546) referred to as the Insurance Costs Reduction Act, sponsored by Rep. Glen Casada, R-Franklin. The bill is the vehicle for the creation of the Patient Compensation System, a workers' comp-like system for medical malpractice.

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Mentors in Health Law Needed

The TBA Mentoring Program is looking for volunteer mentors who practice health law in the Davidson County or Williamson County areas. Mentoring is the most effective way to pass along skills, knowledge and wisdom and it is critical to a new lawyer’s success. There are many new attorneys signed up for this program, but there is a shortage of mentors to match them with. 

To qualify as a mentor, you must have a minimum of eight years of experience with no formal BPR investigation pending or disciplinary action imposed in the last 10 years. For more information on the program, visit http://www.tba.org/programs/the-tba-mentoring-program.

If you’re interested in signing up, please contact Kate Prince at 615-277-3202.

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Bill Would Repeal 'Spiritual Treatment' Exemption to Child Neglect Law

The state Senate last week unanimously approved a bill that would repeal the "spiritual treatment" exemption to the state's child abuse and neglect statute, the Knoxville News Sentinel reports. The measure (SB 1761 / HB 2043) is sponsored by Sen. Richard Briggs, R-Knoxville, a cardiac surgeon. The exemption was at the center of a case involving the 2002 death of a Loudon County girl after her mother refused medical care in favor of “spiritual treatment” and prayer. The state House Criminal Justice Committee is scheduled to consider the bill Wednesday.

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Senate Passes Bill Allowing Pharmacists to Provide Birth Control

A Tennessee bill (SB 1677 / HB 1823) that would allow women to obtain contraceptives from pharmacists cleared the Senate today and now heads to the House, The Tennessean reports. According to the bill, interested pharmacists would have to enter into a collaborative agreement with a physician, who would oversee a series of protocols for the pharmacist to follow. 

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Court Deeply Divided on Abortion Case

The nation’s High Court is closely divided over an abortion rights case regarding a Texas law imposing regulations on abortion clinics and doctors. The justices on Wednesday heard arguments in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, and USA Today reports Justice Anthony Kennedy appears to hold the outcome of the case in the now eight-person court. Much of the extended 85-minute arguments centered on “the definition of undue burden,” as the clinics argue the regulations have caused many Texas clinics to close. The outcome of the case will impact a challenge to Tennessee abortion laws filed by three state abortion clinics.

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Guilty Pleas in Patient-Referral Kickback Schemes

Dr. Bruce Rubinowicz, who formally operated several sleep labs in Middle Tennessee, faces five years in prison and a $25,000 fine after pleading guilty Friday to taking cash kickbacks in exchange for patient referrals. Rubinowicz admitted to agreeing to receive cash kickbacks in exchange for referring patients to Nashville-based Air Affiliates, a medical supplier. Bradley Sensing, owner of Air Affiliates, and Lane Wilkinson, owner of a Columbia-based medical equipment supply company, also pleaded guilty to federal charges in the schemes. Read more from the Brentwood Home Page.

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Bill Would Allow Counselors to Deny Service on Religious Grounds

Despite opposition from LGBT groups, the state Senate yesterday approved a bill (SB 1556) that would give state-licensed counselors and therapists the right to deny service on religious grounds. WPLN reports the proposal comes in a response to a 2014 revision to the American Counseling Association’s code of ethics, which stated counselors could not deny service based on religious objections. "We're doing nothing to prohibit or restrict the ability to get counseling from someone who is trained and willing to provide that counseling," said bill sponsor Sen. Jack Johnson, R-Franklin. Opponents, including the Tennessee Counseling Association, argue the measure will make it harder for people in rural areas to access help.

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In This Issue: Retaliatory Discharge, Advanced Care Planning and Dale Bumpers

This month the Tennessee Bar Journal's employment law column by Edward Phillips and Brandon Morrow covers retaliatory discharge in "Badges and Blown Whistles: Recent Retaliatory Discharge Actions in Tennessee." Monica Franklin collaborates with Dr. Gregory Phelps in her elder law column, "Advanced Care Planning: When Law and Medicine Intersect."  Humor columnist Bill Haltom writes about the late Dale Bumpers, the small-town lawyer who defended Bill Clinton before the Senate in the 1999 impeachment trial. Read these and the rest of the February issue.

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Tennessee Oncology Files Lawsuit Over Cancer Drug

Nashville-based Tennessee Oncology is suing Genentech for false representation in the packaging of its cancer drug Herceptin, The Tennessean reports. Tennessee Oncology, represented by Bass Berry & Sims, claims the label on the drug misrepresents the amount of product after following the approved preparation instructions for the freeze-dried powder. Similar lawsuits are pending in six other states.

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Shelby County Mental Health Court Opens

A new Mental Health Court opened today in Memphis and will handle nonviolent, misdemeanor cases involving mental health patients, WMCActionNews5 reports. An estimated 25 percent of all Shelby County inmates have a mental illness. Judge Gerald Skahan will oversee the court, which is located at 201 Poplar Ave.

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Challenge to State Abortion Laws on Hold

The outcome of a Texas case before the U.S. Supreme Court challenging abortion laws will impact a legal challenge in Tennessee. The operators of three Tennessee abortion clinics filed a lawsuit challenging the state’s abortion laws, including a 2015 requirement that clinics performing 50 or more surgical abortions each year be regulated as ambulatory surgical care centers. U.S. District Judge Kevin Sharp granted a temporary hold on the proceedings until the Supreme Court case is resolved. "The standards expected to be addressed by the Supreme Court will be critical for developing and evaluating the relevant evidence in this case," lawyers for the state and the clinics noted in their joint request for the halt. Read more from The Tennessean.

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Guns, Abortion Included in Gov. Haslam's 2016 Agenda

Gov. Bill Haslam’s 2016 legislative agenda includes public safety and issues related to handguns and abortion. The Republican governor also will introduce the Fetal Remains Act, which would require more reporting of the disposition of fetal remains and establish a mandatory assessment process for surgical treatment centers that annually perform more than 50 abortions. “The Fetal Remains Act strengthens accountability and transparency for surgery centers performing abortions,” Haslam said. The Tennessean also reports Haslam will also attempt to lower the cost of obtaining a handgun permit.

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Was Jail Best Destination for Man Experiencing Mental Health Crisis?

The man who climbed up onto a sign over Interstate 65 in Nashville earlier this month was sentenced to 20 days in jail -- but the Nashville Scene examines why jail was the ending to this story. While Williams Walters was self-evidently guilty of disorderly conduct and obstructing a roadway, Metro police was also aware that Walters was experiencing a mental health crisis. District Attorney spokeswoman Dorinda Carter said the decision to imprison Walters was “the best disposition to protect the community and the defendant." Metro Public Defender Dawn Deaner responded, “This leaves the criminal justice system on the hook for addressing what is actually a public health problem — something we are ill-suited to do.” 

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Bill Would End Shield for Parents Choosing Prayer Over Medical Care

Parents who want to rely on spiritual means to treat a sick child in lieu of medical or surgical treatment would lose a legal shield under a bill filed today by Sen. Richard Briggs, R-Knoxville. SB 1761 removes the exemption, known as the Spiritual Treatment Exemption Act, the Tennessean reports.

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TMA Seeks Amendment to Protect Damage Caps

The Tennessee Medical Association is asking for a constitutional amendment that protects the General Assembly's ability to set caps on noneconomic damages in medical malpractice lawsuits, The Commercial Appeal reports. The proposed legislation comes after a Chattanooga judge last year ruled Tennessee’s cap is unconstitutional. TMA argues that the cap is necessary to keep good doctors in the state, but some attorneys argue the caps “infringe on the right of trial by jury.”

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Body Weight: From Malnutrition to Obesity, 1 Hour of CLE

Improving health is a popular New Years resolution, but knowing and understanding issues with changing body weight is important for attorneys and their clients. The Evolving Tipping Point of Body Weight: From Malnutrition to Obesity, an online CLE planned for Jan. 27 at noon, will provide useful information and insights on the etiology, risks and effects of changes in weight. The course is approved for one CLE credit.

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Mental Health Court Opens in Shelby County

Shelby County launched its Mental Health Court under the leadership of Shelby County General Sessions Judge Gerald Skahan, the Memphis Flyer reports. Defendants suffering from mental illness will have a chance to have their charges dropped in exchange for completing a year-long mental health treatment plan. "The benefit to the community is this is a tremendous savings because it's expensive to house somebody in jail and give them their medicine,” Skahan said.

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Baptist Healing Trust Lawsuit

An item in Tuesday’s issue of TBAT incorrectly reported the amount of money that Baptist Healing Trust has awarded to health care agencies and non-profits. Baptist Healing Trust, which supports programs that help people enroll in health insurance on the exchange, has awarded more than 1,000 grants totaling $72 million.

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Baptist Healing Trust Files Lawsuit Against Federal Agency

Baptist Healing Trust filed a lawsuit against Pension Benefits Guaranty Corp. in an attempt to protect Baptist's $123.9 million in assets during the sale of Baptist Hospital to Saint Thomas Health. The federal pension agency received authority in 2013 from the U.S. Bankruptcy Court of the Middle District of Tennessee to pursue the Nashville non-profit’s assets, The Tennessean reports. Baptist Healing Trust has awarded more than $72 million in grants and supports programs that help people enroll in health insurance on the federally run exchange. "We are just so passionate, so heartfelt about what we do, that we’re going to do whatever it takes to protect that work,” said Cathy Self, CEO and president of Baptist Healing Trust.

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Female Attorneys File Brief in Abortion Case

More than a hundred women in the legal profession who “have exercised their constitutional right to an abortion” filed a brief in support of petitioners in an upcoming abortion case before the U.S. Supreme Court. The case, Whole Women’s Health v. Cole, debates restrictions on clinics and physicians who provide abortions in Texas. “To the world, I am an attorney who had an abortion, and, to myself, I am an attorney because I had an abortion,” one of the women wrote. Read more from The Atlantic.

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Rep. Womick Introduces New Ultrasound Abortion Bill

Rep. Rick Womick, R-Rockvale, again filed the "Woman's Ultrasound Right to Know Act," which requires women to undergo an ultrasound test before they have an abortion. The Tennessean reports the bill, revised from a 2015 edition, also requires the doctor to give the woman the opportunity to see the live ultrasound, see a picture from the ultrasound and hear any heartbeat that may exist. "I think it’s just an attempt by politicians to frighten women who are often in emotional or stressful situations," Jeff Teague, head of Planned Parenthood of Middle and East Tennessee, said.

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