About Me

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Business, Free Enterprise and Constitutional Issues; Pro-Life and Pro Second Amendment. Susan Lynn is a member of the Tennessee General Assembly. She serves as Chairman of the Consumer and Human Resources subcommittee and on the Finance Ways and Means Committee. She holds a BS in economics and a minor in history.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Have Joy - Christmas is Legal

This year we are once more in a public debate with the politically correct crowd over the word Christmas and related religious expression. Most of us are filled with joy at this time of year and want to celebrate by saying merry Christmas, singing carols, wearing clothing displaying a Christmas message and with a community Christmas tree or nativity display. It seems that many are reacting to the pressure by removing Christmas and religious displays from our view.

We have no need to fear because it is legally okay to say Merry Christmas. It seems that misunderstandings over the origin and meaning of the phrase “separation of church and state” have encouraged a few to embark on a mission to remove all references to religion from schools, government buildings, public property and even attempt to change the public lexicon.

The phrase “separation of church and state” does not appear in the Constitution. It originated in 1802 in a private letter from Thomas Jefferson to a group of Baptist ministers in Danbury, Connecticut – 13 years after the First Amendment was passed. Courts have consistently ruled since then that eliminating all signs of religion from the public square is just as unconstitutional as establishing a religion.

In response to recent efforts to censor Christmas in our country, it might help to clarify the forms of religious expression that are legal under the Constitution in case law.

1. Students are free to express their religious beliefs in school. As long as it’s not materially disruptive, students may express their beliefs verbally with phrases such as “Merry Christmas”; through clothing that conveys religious messages with words, colors, or symbols; or through written materials like school assignments, religious cards, gifts, or tracts given to teachers and classmates (Lovell v. City of Griffin, 303 U.S. 444 [1938]; Westfield High School L .I. F. E. Club v. City of Westfield, 249 F. Supp.2d 98 [D. Mass. 2003].

2. At school, students can sing Christmas carols at concerts, teach the biblical origins of Christmas, and perform the Christmas story of Mary, Joseph, Jesus, and the shepherds. The Constitution does not require the exclusion of religion from public institutions. Christmas is part of our heritage and ingrained in our culture; therefore, expression of it through art and music and teaching of it as history serve both a religious and secular purpose. Provided these activities promote the “advancement of the students’ knowledge of our society’s cultural and religious heritage; an opportunity for students to perform a full range of music, poetry, and drama that is likely to be of interest to the students and their audience,” any of these activities can be conducted in public schools without creating an Establishment Clause problem (Flory v. Sioux Falls School District, 619 F. 2d 1311 [6th Cir. 1980]; Stone v. Graham, 449 U.S.39 [1980].

3. Nativity displays can be placed in schools, parks, and government buildings. No Supreme Court decision has ever forbidden a private citizen from setting up a nativity display in a public park, as parks, streets, and sidewalks are all public forums traditionally devoted to “assembly and debate.” Such displays may also be placed in public buildings provided the government has opened the property for expressive activity. The Free Exercise Clause assures religious speakers the same access to public forums given to secular speakers (Americans United for Separation of Church and State v. City of Grand Rapids, 980 F. 2d1538 [1992]. Nor can private citizens be forced to include objects such as snowmen in their faith-based displays (West Virginia v. Burnette, 319 U. S. 624, [1943].

Furthermore, even under current decisions, city governments may include a nativity in a seasonal display provided 1) there are a sufficient number of secular objects along with religious ones, 2) the secular objects are in a close proximity to the religious ones, and 3) overall, the display is sufficiently secular (Lynch v. Donnelly, 465 U.S. 668,671 [1984].

The U. S. Constitution, laws and court decisions are all constructed to protect and permit religious expression in both public schools and government buildings. Attempts to remove Christ from Christmas do not stem from the Constitution, but from those who simply seek to silence the Christian message. That very act is a violation of the Constitution.

Thank you for taking the time to read this article and for this opportunity to clarify the legal position on keeping Christmas and many other forms of religious expression a vital part of our community.

Merry Christmas and my best wishes for a joyous New Year.


Susan Lynn
State Representative
57th District, Tennessee
www.repsusanlynn.com

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Thank You and a Perspective on the Elections

Dear Friends,

I have so much to thank you for that it is difficult to know where to start.

Thank you, first and foremost, for the privilege of representing you for two more years in the Tennessee General Assembly. It is challenging, thrilling, a great responsibility, a great honor, and at times, so humbling, I truly feel unworthy. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

As always, you know that you can speak to me anytime about an issue. You always have my confidentiality and, I will always work as hard as I can to help you.

Thank you to so many who volunteered for the GOTV phone calls and voter ID phone calls. Your efforts made a huge difference in Wilson County - Bob Corker received a wide, wide margin of the vote, we maintained the state Senate, the marriage amendment passed and, to my great surprise, I received the second highest number of votes out of all House races in the state of Tennessee - THANK YOU!

Thank you for not becoming annoyed with all of the election emails. Your patience is appreciated!!!

Now, a little perspective on what happened in the state House, Senate and U.S. Senate on election night.

Prior to the election, some of the House Democrats were openly stating that not only would the Republican House members not win any additional seats but that the Democrats would win back several of our current House seats.

Indeed, things did not look good for TN House Republicans. Two weeks prior to the election, polling showed at least four of our Republican members would lose their seats - this was a shock to us!! One week later, several more of our incumbents were in trouble! However, last minute efforts, some changes on the national scene and a change in direction in the US Senate race turned the day around.

In the end, the Tennessee House Republicans maintained all of our incumbent seats - we didn't pick up any seats but we didn't lose one member!

In addition, although we lost a seat in the state Senate, we maintained the Senate by re-electing Senator Beavers in Wilson County - thanks to you!!

Third, Bob Corker, Senator Bob Corker now, won a very hard fought race against Harold Ford jr.!!!

Forth, the marriage amendment passed overwhelmingly!!!!

So actually, it is the Tennessee Democrats who had a very bad night on Tuesday. In spite of the poor national climate for Republicans, they couldn't unseat one Republican House member, they missed getting back the state Senate, they lost the US Senate seat they were seeking - where nationally, Democrats won a lot of US Senate seats. And Tennesseans expressed what I believed all along was their true belief that marriage should be between a man and a woman!

Even though Democrats drifted to the right to try to win - they just couldn't get the job done in Tennessee!

Most sincerely,

Susan

Susan Lynn
State Representative 57th District

215 War Memorial Building Nashville, Tennessee 37243

Tel - 615-741-7462
Cell – 615-596-2363

www.repsusanlynn.com

Friday, October 27, 2006

Secure Elections? We can do better

By: State Representative Susan Lynn
Tennessee General Assembly
349 words


Voters may like the new touch screen voting technology used for elections but in retrospect many agree that it doesn’t increase voter confidence for secure elections at all.

High on the list of noted problems is that some of the new machines are run completely by computer software programs. No paper ballot is produced to back up information or to perform random audits of machine totals for accuracy.

Because the machines employ computer software to conduct an election, few have the skill or ability to verify the software source code for voting integrity. In addition, almost no one has the opportunity to verify the source code. Further, no law requires the source code to be stored for verification at a later date.

Recently, Princeton University’s School of Engineering and Applied Science demonstrated how easily a virus, created to steal an election, can be uploaded into electronic voting machines and then erase all indication of itself after voting is complete; thus, eliminating all evidence of foul play. The report and video demonstration can be viewed at http://itpolicy.princeton.edu/voting/.

Something as simple and inexpensive as a verifiable paper trail would help to alleviate many concerns for voters. As each voter casts his or her vote, they verify their choices on an anonymous paper record. Once voting is complete, random audits comparing the paper record to the electronic totals help to confirm the accuracy of the election.

Because of these concerns, some states like Connecticut, Maryland, and New Mexico are reconsidering their use of electronic voting equipment that does not employ a paper trail for the upcoming November elections.

Unfortunately, for the past three years, numerous opportunities to pass state legislation requiring the use of paper trails for electronic voting equipment, and for the archiving of computer source code with the Secretary of State’s office have been passed up in Tennessee, (HB 312 and HB 313).

Tennessee should follow the lead of the other states. Before touch screen voting equipment is used for our elections we should ensure voter confidence and ballot integrity by employing systems to back up information and make audits possible.

Susan Lynn
State Representative 57th District
215 War Memorial Building Nashville, Tennessee 37243

Friday, September 29, 2006

ACLU attempts to silence a community

The ACLU lost an important lawsuit in the Tennessee Supreme Court this past summer. They attempted to keep Tennesseans from voting on the Marriage Amendment ballot question in November. Because they lost, you will have the opportunity to vote on what marriage means in Tennessee.

Now the ACLU is attacking on another front, they are trying to use the courts to defeat the First Amendment right Wilson Countian’s to express their faith by meeting to pray in our community.

The ACLU should know better because of similar failed battles in other states.

Again and again the courts have held that religious speech is protected under the First Amendment. (i.e., Good News Club v. Milford Central School District, 533 U.S. 98 (2001), Lamb's Chapel v. Ctr. Moriches Union Free Sch. Dist., 508 U.S. 384 (1993); Widmar v. Vincent, 454 U.S. 263 (1981))

Among court findings;

· Both students and teachers retain their First Amendment liberties while on campus.

· Students have an individual constitutional right to display their faith as long as they do not disrupt classroom learning by doing so.

· If schools allow other groups to advertise their events through school bulletin boards, school PA systems, general posting of student flyers, or other means, the school cannot forbid the same means of advertising for religious events.

· A government body may not suppress or exclude the speech of private parties just because the speech is religious or contains a religious perspective.

The Supreme Court has clearly stated: “Our precedent establishes that private religious speech, far from being a First Amendment orphan, is as fully protected under the Free Speech Clause as secular private expression” and "[i]t can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate."

It is hard to miss the irony of the ACLU, a group that purports to protect free speech, seeking to use the courts to bully and silence. Their attempt to keep you from voting on what marriage means in Tennessee failed. Hopefully, their attempt to silence citizens who wish to join together and express their faith will fail as well.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Budget Surplus Should be Returned

Every year when the General Assembly works on the budget huge numbers start flying around and it is difficult to understand what is really going on. This year is no different. Thankfully, the talk is of budget surpluses not shortfalls.

Recently, we’ve heard numbers predicting the budget surplus to be as low as $51 million to as high as $700 million. Just what is the real number?

Legislators are as confused as anybody so I spent my Sunday afternoon at the General Assembly budget hearing in Nashville to better understand the figures. Let me share what I’ve learned.

To understand all of the budgetspeak it’s important to understand five terms; current tax revenue projections; next year’s tax revenue projections; the Copeland Cap; recurring funds and non-recurring funds.

For the current fiscal year, tax revenues are $162,900,000 over collected. In other words, it’s the end of the year, we’ve got extra money, and legislators want to spend it.

Constitutionally, we can’t spend all $162.9 million. The Copeland Cap Constitutional Amendment declares the state government cannot spend more percentage-wise than the economy grows. Thus, if the economy is projected to grow at 3%, this year’s budget can only be 3% more than last year’s budget.

The growth in the current budget was smaller than the rate of growth of the economy. Because constitutionally, the General Assembly may spend up to the growth rate of the economy, we may spend $111,600,000 of the $162.9 million surplus. $51 million of the surplus revenue exceeds the growth in the economy. Therefore we cannot spend that money without overriding the Copeland Cap.

Now, onto the budget surplus for next fiscal year; when the Governor proposed his budget back in February, he received his revenue projections from the State Treasurer. However, revised projections indicate we’ll receive $328,600,000 more tax revenue than the ‘06-‘07 budget proposes to spend. Therefore, plans are being made to spend that extra money too.

Some of that money is recurring funds; funds we expect to come in year after year. Some of the money is non-recurring funds. Therefore, it is important not to spend the non-recurring funds on recurring expenses.

The bottom line is Tennessee has $491,500,000 of un-budgeted surplus revenue. That figure includes the current surplus, next year’s surplus and the funds over the Copeland Cap limit.

Finding ways to spend the money is never a problem. For instance, Cover Tennessee, Cover Kids, and the risk pool were not in the Governor’s February budget and must be funded. State employee raises and capital projects are important but so is setting aside money in the rainy day fund.

However, the right thing to do would be to give surplus money back to the taxpayers. Clearly, the $51 million indicates that Tennessee collected revenue faster than the economy grew. Perhaps, an indication the economy in Tennessee is very healthy. But it’s also a sign that our tax rates are simply set too high.

Giving money back to the citizens through a reduction in the sales tax on food would be a great way to do something that every Tennessean could enjoy everyday.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Public policy & healthcare, Parts 1 & 2

Part 1

Someone asked me the other day – what is the government going to do about the high cost of healthcare? Like most, this person obviously felt powerless to do anything about the state of healthcare today.

One thing I firmly believe, our government policies should encourage and promote self-sufficiency, prosperity and commerce.

Bad policies oft increase dependence on government; swell our tax burden and knock markets off balance. Healthcare for example shows strong signs of bad government policies as medical care and health insurance have become evermore unattainable and unaffordable, resulting in greater dependence on government programs. Yet, healthcare industry profits are soaring.

Seventy-eight percent of all healthcare spending is now paid for by either a public or private third party payer system. Providers take your dollars, direct your care and neglect to give you useful information about how much services actually cost.

Without realizing it, consumers have lost substantial decision making power mostly due to government policies that have allowed the provider to have more power than the consumer. I feel Policies that the government imposes should at least be neutral – neither side should have an unfair advantage.

Why so much political control over healthcare spending? If we support less government dependence and desire a stable healthcare market why form regulations that foster neither?

Now the Governor wants the state to actually enter the insurance business by creating healthcare plans for the uninsured. Once implemented, steep enrollment increases are projected; eventually expanding limits to include even more Tennesseans.

Public policy analysis? Sparse benefits will ensure public lobbying for broader coverage year after year. Fee structures will entice businesses to drop current more generous health and prescription coverage for the state’s version. Guaranteed issue may encourage people to buy the insurance as they need it and drop it when they don’t. Rationed benefits, meant to curb usage, risk hurting people who are truly medically needy.

Additionally, many of the same old regulations that inflate healthcare and insurance costs will still be around. And who will pay? Everyone - users, businesses using the plan, self-insured businesses not using the plan, government self-insured plans, insurance companies, and the taxpayers – Worst of all, the lack of a long term funding plan guarantees you a future full of heavy taxes.

Imagine that you are supported by a system where healthcare is rationed – if told you do not need an expensive procedure or test, you have no way of knowing if this decision is state of the art medicine or potentially life threatening rationing. And should you need the procedure, you will have to cope with the long waiting periods produced by rationing.

In general, there is no right or wrong amount of money to spend on healthcare. How can there be? Therefore, planning state and federal budgets is fairly difficult, and usually leads to poor policies, over expenditures and some form of rationing.

I believe the stated objective of low cost, portable, and easy to obtain health insurance is a great target. But can’t the private market provide such coverage? Tomorrow, we’ll explore one answer to that question.

By: State Representative Susan Lynn


Part 2

Yesterday I wrote about the Governor’s ideas to create government run health insurance plans. However, its best to avoid poor policies that may actually increase dependency, assure price increases, and risk hurting people who are truly medically needy. In addition, powerless to do anything else, like a house of cards, the private insurance market may well fold as people fall headlong into government run healthcare.

I believe the stated objective of low cost, portable, and easy to obtain health insurance is a great target. But can’t the private market provide such coverage?

Think about it, do you really want a healthcare bureaucracy and politicians making choices for you regarding your care and your money? If not, who should?

How about you! No one cares more about you than you do. What if you were empowered to make choices based on self-interest, competition, price, and the value of the product or service being offered?

We could accomplish this by promoting Health Savings Accounts (HSA) in conjunction with a major medical policy. The premise is to save for minor illnesses and insure for major ones.

Because HSA owners decide how to spend their healthcare dollars they’re encouraged to become better consumers, pursue healthful lifestyles, and curb over consumption on their own.

They cost less too. HSA’s earn interest and grow with before tax dollars. HSA’s follow employees from job to job, through unemployment, into retirement and ultimately, can be passed onto heirs. Physicians work for patients and help them make good medical decisions instead of working for a healthcare bureaucracy to limit costs.

In the world of HSA’s, government, in its role as an insurer of last resort, no longer serves as a buyer of healthcare but pays premiums for indigent plan-holders until they can do so for themselves. Beneficial policies like vaccine programs and health departments are still available.

Some states are urging reforms that encourage HSA's such as free and open competition between providers, removing caps on medical careers and facilities, releasing mandates, passing common sense malpractice reforms, allowing pooling through associations to purchase plans and urging federal reforms to allow the selling of plans interstate.

I don’t think a government monopoly is needed in healthcare. Instead we need good government policies that empower you by encouraging and promoting self-sufficiency, prosperity and more free market choices with you, the consumer, deciding how to spend your healthcare dollars.

If you are afraid of a market based healthcare system or the concept of a Health Savings Account and think making more of your own decisions may harm your health just think of what choosing the wrong politician could do to your health in a government run healthcare system. Healthcare is one of the most important decisions for your life. Market based system advocates feel such decisions should be left up to you.

State Representative Susan Lynn
215 War Memorial Bld.
Nashville

615-741-7462

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Safe Vaccines for Tennessee's Children Committee Notes

April 25, 2006

HB 956 / SB 1616

Amends TCA Title 56 and Title 68.

· Prohibits vaccinations administered to children under eight years of age and pregnant women from containing mercury-based preservatives.

· Allows commissioner of health an exemption in the case of a documented outbreak that requires use of vaccines containing mercury-based preservatives.

· Requires insurers who cover vaccinations to charge the same percentage fee for vaccines that do not contain mercury-based preservatives as for those that do.


House sponsors:
Hargett, Lynn, Stanley, Maggart, Gresham, McCormick, Brown, Niceley, Fowlkes, Brooks (Knox), Ferguson, Campfield, Hill, Buck, Johnson R, West, Towns.


Senate sponsors:
Black, Finney, Beavers, Williams, Burks, Miller, Bryson, Burchett, Chism, Cohen, Cooper, Crowe, Crutchfield, Ford, Fowler, Woodson, Harper, Haynes, Henry, Herron, Jackson, Ketron, Kilby, Kurita, Kyle, McLeary, McNally, Norris, Person, Curtis, Ramsey, Southerland, Tracy, Wilder.)



Study Committee


Who testified?


HB 956 was moved to study committee last spring. The study committee met twice this fall for a total of three days to hear testimony from all interested parties.

Speaking on behalf of the bill:

Dr. Boyd Haley, Professor of Chemistry at the University of Kentucky.

Dr. David Adams, Internal Medicine practicing in Chattanooga, TN.



Speaking in opposition to the bill:

A doctor from Vanderbilt University

The Tennessee Department of Health.

Pro HB 956

What did we learn in study committee?

Vaccines can be important to overall health, especially for the well-being of children.

Tennessee should reinforce the need for “safe vaccines.”

Children and pregnant women should be given the safest vaccines possible.

Thimerosal is a poison – it is 49.6% mercury - it has a skull and crossbones on the bottle.

The industry is voluntarily removing thimerosal from vaccines but there is no federal law to prohibit the use. It may be added without notice.

Mercury is a proven highly toxic substance. It is the second most poisonous element on the planet and should never be consumed or injected into the human body.

Mercury effects are cumulative and can cause mercury poisoning and neurodevelopmental damage.

Children and pregnant women are especially vulnerable to its dangers.

There is a plethora of peer-reviewed scientific studies published over the last 50 years that show that mercury, and specifically thimerosal, is:

· Genotoxic (damages DNA)
· Nephrotixic (damages kidneys)
· Immunotoxic (damages the immune system)
· Cytotoxic (causes cell death)
· Cardio toxic (damages the heart)
· Thyrotoxic (damages the thyroid)
· Neurotoxic (damages the neurological system).

In fact, as early as July 1999, the US Public Health Service and the American Academy of Pediatrics released a joint policy statement regarding Thimerosal declaring:

"thimerosal containing vaccines should be removed as soon as possible."

Further, in October of 200l, the Institute of Medicine - Immunization Safety Review Committee concluded the link between thimerosal containing vaccines and neurodevelopmental disorders is "biologically plausible" and stated:

"The committee recommends the use of the thimerosal-free DTaP, Hib, hepatitis B vaccines in the United States, despite the fact that there might be remaining supplies of thimerosal-containing vaccine available."

They went even further by stating:

"The committee recommends that full consideration be given by appropriate professional societies and government agencies to removing thimerosal from vaccines administered to infants, children, or pregnant women in the United States."

And that is what this bill is attempting to do.

According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) located in Atlanta, Georgia, one of the most respected authorities on toxic substances in the world, (they operate under the auspices of the Centers for Disease Control), their web page called ToxFAQs on mercury states in part:

"The nervous system is very sensitive to all forms of mercury."

" ... mercury can permanently damage the brain, kidneys, and developing fetus."

"Effects on brain functioning may result in irritability, shyness, tremors, changes in vision or hearing, and memory problems."

"Very young children are more sensitive to mercury than adults."

"Mercury in the mother's body passes to the fetus and may accumulate there."

"Mercury's harmful effects that may be passed from the mother to the fetus include brain damage, mental retardation, incoordination, blindness, seizures, and inability to speak."

"Children poisoned by mercury may develop problems of their nervous and digestive systems, and kidney damage."

"Properly dispose of older medicines that contain mercury.""Keep all mercury-containing medicines away from children."

Q. Is the ethyl mercury in thimerosal a safer form of mercury?

As to whether the ethyl mercury in thimerosal is a safe form of mercury, there are many peer-reviewed studies that address Thimerosal, also known as merthiolate, specifically. Here are just a few highlights:

The comparative toxicology of ethyl and methyl mercury by Magos, Brown, Sparrow, Bailey, et al published in the Archives of Toxicology (1985) 57: 260-267., has stated:

"There was little difference in the neurotoxicities of methylmercury and ethylmercury when effects on the dorsal root ganglia or coordination disorders were compared."
and further:

"The neurological signs and symptoms of methyl- and ethyl mercury intoxication are identical..."

David S. Baskin, M.D., and his colleagues at Baylor College of Medicine, Department of Neurosurgery published their findings regarding the Toxicity of Thimerosal in Toxicological Sciences, 2003 74 : 361-368. They concluded:

"We found that thimerosal in micromolar concentrations rapidly decreased cellular viability."
In the year 2000, FDA scientist William Slikker states in the journal Neurotoxicolcogy:

“Thimerosal crosses the blood-brain and placental barriers and results in appreciable mercury content in tissues including brain.”

Dr. Slikker was by no means the first to make such an assessment about ethyl mercury.

Perhaps the most recognized reference book found in many emergency rooms and poison control centers is The Clinical Toxicology of Commercial Products by Gosselin, Smith and Hodge:

“...ethyl mercury derivatives are virulent neurotoxins on either acute or chronic exposure." "They are especially hazardous because of their volatility, their ability to penetrate epithelial & blood-brain barriers & their persistence in vivo."

In April 1986, Dr. Kravchenko, et al published Use of a diploid cell line for detecting the toxic components in medical immunobiological preparations attesting to the acute toxicity of Thimerosal (merthiolate).

"Merthiolate had the strongest irreversible lethal effect"

In March 1983, Kravchenko, et al again published about the toxic effects of Thimerosal in a Russian Epidemiology journal. This one is titled The detection of toxic properties in medical biological preparations by the degree of cell damage and states:

“…thimerosal….has been found not only to render its primary toxic effect, but also capable of changing the properties of cells.

This fact suggests that the use of thimerosal for the preservation of medical biological preparations, especially those intended for children, is inadmissible.”

In a 1977 study titled Organ mercury levels in infants with omphaloceles treated with organic mercurial antiseptic by Drs. Fagan, Pritchard, Clarkson and Greenwood refers to 10 deaths among 13 infants in which thimerosal was used as a topical treatment for umbilical hernias and states that:

"The results showed that thiomersal can induce blood and organ levels of organic mercury which are well in excess of the minimum toxic level in adults and fetuses."

Q. What has the government found?

Seven states have banned thimerosal:
California
Deleware
Illinois
Iowa
Missouri
New York
Washington


California:

In February 2004, the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment in a response to Bayer Corp's request not to list mercury and mercury compounds as chemicals known to cause reproductive toxicity stated firly that thimerosal was both a reproductive and developmental toxin.

“…there is clear and substantial evidence that both PMA and thimerosal cause reproductive toxicity, as discussed above in section IV A of this response."

A report to the United States Congress recorded in the Congressional Record, on May 20, 2003 was quite explicit on the dangers of mercury. Congressman Dan Burton’s committee (R - Indiana) was charged with examining mercury in medicines.

The report states in part:

“The FDA acted too slowly to remove ethylmercury from over-the-couner products like topical ointments and skin creams. Although an advisory committee determined that ethylmercury was unsafe in these products in 1980, a rule requiring its removal was not finalized until 1998.”

“The FDA and the CDC failed in their duty to be vigilant as new vaccines containing thimerosal were approved and added to the immunization schedule. When the Hepatitis B and Haemophilus Influenzae Type b vaccines were added to the recommended schedule of childhood immunizations, the cumulative amount of ethylmercury to which children were exposed nearly tripled.

“The amount of ethylmercury to which children were exposed through vaccines prior to the 1999 announcement exceeded two safety thresholds established by the Federal government for a closely related substance— methylmercury. While the Federal Government has established no safety threshold for ethylmercury, experts agree that the methylmercury guidelines are a good substitute. Federal health officials have conceded that the amount of thimerosal in vaccines exceeded the EPA threshold of 0.1 micrograms per kilogram of bodyweight. In fact, the amount of mercury in one dose of DTaP or Hepatitis B vaccines (25 micrograms each) exceeded this threshold many times over. Federal health officials have not conceded that this amount of thimerosal in vaccines exceeded the FDA’s more relaxed threshold of 0.4 micrograms per kilogram of body weight. In most cases, however, it clearly did.”

“The CDC’s failure to state a preference for thimerosal-free vaccines in 2000 and again in 2001 was an abdication of their responsibility. As a result, many children received vaccines containing thimerosal when thimerosal- free alternatives were available.”

“The Influenza vaccine appears to be the sole remaining vaccine given to children in the United States on a regular basis that contains thimerosal. Two formulations recommended for children six months of age or older continue to contain trace amounts of thimerosal. Thimerosal should be removed from these vaccines. No amount of mercury is appropriate in any childhood vaccine.”

You may have noted that I have not mentioned autism. However, Rep. Dan Burton’s report does mention studies that the AAP and others usually use to discredit linkages between thimerosal and autism. I will note that the symptoms of mercury poisoning and autism match symptom for symptom. The report states in part:

“To date, studies conducted or funded by the CDC that purportedly dispute any correlation between autism and vaccine injury have been of poor design, under-powered, and fatally flawed. The CDC’s rush to support and promote such research is reflective of a philosophical conflict in looking fairly at emerging theories and clinical data related to adverse reactions from vaccinations.”


“Autism in the United States has grown at epidemic proportions during the last decade. By some estimates the number of autistic children in the United States is growing between 10 and 17 percent per year. The medical community has been unable to determine the underlying cause(s) of this explosive growth.”

“At the same time that the incidence of autism was growing, the number of childhood vaccines containing thimerosal was growing, increasing the amount of ethylmercury to which infants were exposed threefold.”


Conclusion

The Industry is changing
Manufacturers are voluntarily removing or have removed thimerosal from vaccine

No federal law protecting us
They can add it again at any time without notice

Do they want to keep using it?
In December, a Nashville news station interviewed me and showed me some tape from an interview with a doctor from Vanderbilt. The doctor said that not only is thimerosal perfectly safe, we need to continue to use it.

There is thimerosal free flu vaccine available
We should ensure that this vaccine is given to our children and pregnant women first

We can ensure availability
If supplies run short the Commissioner of Health can wave the restrictions

We can ensure public confidence by passing this bill

Parents won’t have to wonder if vaccine contains a substance that is toxic and could harm their child


The amendment for the bill states:

· No vaccine on the childhood immunization schedule may contain thimerosal except in trace amounts.

· Flu vaccine given to children and women who are known to be pregnant may not contain thimerosal except in trace amounts.

· No vaccine given to women who are known to be pregnant may contain thimerosal except that the woman waves her right to receive mercury-free vaccine and is informed of the potential danger to her fetus.

· In case of a health emergency, the commissioner of Health may wave the standard.

· If the standard is waved, and vaccine containing thimerosal is used, parents are to be informed that the vaccine contains mercury, a toxic substance, and there is a risk of mercury toxicity associated with exposure to mercury.


However, because this bill will not be enacted until mid 2007 and a vote today will not affect the implementation of this bill, I am withdrawing this bill from committee. I can understand how very difficult a decision is for my colleagues. I want to thank my colleagues who worked so hard on the study committee. I owe you my respect and gratitude.

I have an abundance of information available. Please see my assistant after the committee meeting.

Eminent Domain

March 2006

This Session the Tennessee General Assembly is at work trying to guarantee and reassure the citizens of their private property rights where eminent domain is concerned. More than 60 bills seeking to protect the public were filed in February. Some of the ideas attempt to change the process; some attempt to amend definitions. Very quickly, one bill known as the Farm Bureau bill rose to the top and passage seems imminent. My great respect for the Farm Bureau is second to none. Like all of us, farmers in particular want protection from seizure of their private property for private economic development.

However, after being worked through committee, this bill essentially guarantees very little protection for Tennesseans when it comes to eminent domain. To quote Sandra Day O'Connor in her dissent of the Kelo decision, the "specter of condemnation hangs over all property. Nothing is to prevent the State from replacing any Motel 6 with a Ritz-Carlton, any home with a shopping mall, or any farm with a factory."

The bill states that 'public use' shall not include either private use or direct public benefits deriving from private economic development or private commercial enterprise, including the benefit of increased tax revenue and increased employment opportunities - except in the case where eminent domain is used for; roads, public utilities, private utilities, housing authorities, community development agencies for urban renewal or redevelopment plans; or for industrial parks. Looking at that list, I really can't think of any exception for private economic development by eminent domain that the bill leaves out.

The bill also sets up a mechanism for taking land for industrial development. One merely makes an offer that is declined and then heads to Nashville to the Department of Economic Development for a certificate of need. Tennesseans with family farms reading this article who hope to hand their land down to their offspring may wonder how well the Department of Economic Development will protect their property from a seizure for private industrial development. One may ask why the certificate shouldn’t come from the Department of Agriculture.

The opening clause of the bill purports to quote Article 1, Section 21 of the Tennessee Constitution by stating there should be no use of eminent domain "unless the taking is for public use and accompanied by just compensation" but this restatement omits one other very important criterion "the consent of his representatives." You see the Tennessee Constitution includes an accountability clause. Elected representatives must guard their constituent’s interests and protect their rights while at the same time balancing the "common good." Faced with such a decision, most representatives would very soberly consider the rights of their voter verses the benefit to the public from such a seizure and therefore vote accordingly.

Another aspect of the bill that remains suspect is a clause that allows for the disposal of previously seized property by resale to a private person or corporation. Certainly fairness would dictate that any land acquired by eminent domain that the government wishes to dispose of should be offered to the previous owner, if living, for the right of first refusal.

Several other areas of the bill cause me to pause and wonder just what this bill is trying to secure or protect for the public. The Kelo decision shocked many of us and shattered our traditional understanding of the government’s eminent-domain powers and the rights of private property owners. Traditionally, public use includes a public highway, public school, or a military base. Public use has also included firms and government entities that offer government regulated services to the public and need property for right of way such as for water, railroads, and power companies.

The legislature must protect the citizens of Tennessee against the potential for abuse at the hand of our own government. Tennesseans should insist that the law require developers purchase private property on the open market. With the process this bill sets up can the use of eminent domain for things such as political favors or for imparting some sort of social justice be far behind?

Ethics Reform is Needed in Tennessee

February 2005

For the last eight weeks I have had the privilege of serving on the House Republican Caucus Ethics and Lobbying Task Force. Our task force is charged with examining the law in regard to ethics and lobbying legislation and comparing that law to that of other states and to the standards espoused by such groups as The Center for Public Integrity.

Rumors about the General Assembly abound. Thankfully, only a very small number of legislators actually behave badly. However, ethics laws are not passed for the good but to punish the bad apples that taint all of the rest. The basis of self government is public confidence. Even the slightest hint of impropriety or dishonesty is enough to place doubt in any citizen’s mind when it comes to a question of ethics and their elected officials. And rightly so, the recent news reports of the disgraceful conduct of certain elected officials point out various loopholes, secrecy, and perks of privilege.

Adding to the frustration of the average citizen is the fact that year after year little appears to be done about the misdeeds of which we read. Recently, when a frustrated citizen rightly and bravely leveled a complaint he was told that he had no right to do so because he does not live in said legislator’s district. The cry, “outrageous!” could be heard across the state.

Among the items our task force has looked at are current definitions and if they are adequate. For instance the legal definition of a lobbyist is someone who receives pay or other consideration to communicate with legislative or executive branch officials to influence legislative or administrative action. From this definition we have determined that a loophole exists when it comes to government lobbyists and we have made a proposal to fix this loophole.

In addition the task force has proposed the following:

Prohibit Lobbyist Appointments: We want to prohibit lobbyists from being appointed to state commissions, state boards, select committees, and state councils. These entities propose and opine on legislation. No person who is being paid to represent the interests of a client should be serving on a state commission or board pretending to be looking out for the interests of the taxpayer. Such positions should be reserved for citizens who are able to offer a more objective analysis of the issues.

The Reimbursed Expenses: The reimbursed expenses of Members of the General Assembly who use state funds to attend conferences or fact finding trips should be more easily accessible to the public by posting them on-line. This can be a hidden area of abuse.

The Revolving Door: Legislators should not be permitted to lobby the General Assembly or the administration for one year after leaving the Legislature. This models the ethical standards in place for members of the United States Congress. Similar statutes are currently in place in 27 states.

Increased Reporting Requirements for Statements of Interest: Legislators should be required to disclose a specific company as place of employment, its address and the type of income received over $200, including salaried employment and professional services. Legislators should also be required to list positions, including non-paid, held outside of state government. Such stipulations, which are modeled after federal guidelines, allow citizens to rest assured that outside income is not unduly influencing legislators’ judgment on the issues.

Prohibition of Contingency Fees: Lobbyists should be prohibited from receiving fees and bonuses based upon the successful passage or failure of particular legislation. In addition to being a national standard, 37 states also prohibit contingency fees in order to assuage improper influence by a lobbyist on a public official. The proposal includes a requirement for a signed statement by each client indicating that no contingency fees are paid.

Legislators Must Live in their District: In order to qualify to run for office, a candidate must have legal residence in the district which he or she is seeking to represent. This mirrors a proposal brought before Georgia’s General Assembly to require that candidates may not list their place of residence as a structure or building primarily used for commercial and business purposes.

Additional Campaign Financial Disclosures: Candidates should be required to provide an additional financial disclosure due at the beginning of early voting. Political Action Committees should also be prohibited from contributing financially to a candidate during early voting. This allows voters to more confidently discern a candidate’s funding sources prior to voting.

Governmental Ethics Commission: A Governmental Ethics Commission would provide the citizens with a mechanism to redress their government regarding grievances and questions of ethics such as but not limited to undue influence, full disclosure, and truth in campaigning. Thirty-one states have some sort of ethics commission and they have proved to be a great asset toward protecting the public trust.

House Republican Caucus Task Force on Ethics will continue to meet and address additional items as well as make recommendations on an ongoing basis throughout Session. I want to state that I welcome all public comments regarding our work. Your observations are very important in identifying how our government can be a better steward of the public trust.

Lawmakers overstepping their bounds

November 2005

It’s been done before. Some in the newspaper business tell me that it happens all of the time; an individual attempting to financially damage their publication by urging their advertisers not to advertise for printing an article about them that they don’t like.

To go a step further, product boycotts have even been orchestrated to dissuade advertisers. That is fair and public freedom of speech.

Certainly any business is free to ignore such coercion and they may lose a few sales. However, is it somehow different when the coercion comes from a legislator?

Recently, a state legislator wrote a letter to the advertisers of a commercial publication informing them that the publication had printed a defamatory article about him. In his letter he does more than ask advertisers to cooperate with his idea that they punish the journal by withholding advertising dollars he actually attempts to intimidate the businesses into not advertising by stating “myself and many others are going to be watching in the next several weeks to identify and remember those in this community that wish to subsidize the destructive nature of this type of publication in our community.”

Businesses advertise in publications because they want to generate sales. They have expenses to meet; inventory, rent, utilities, insurance and payroll. They tend to advertise in the publications that their customers read. I don’t think a business really cares if a newspaper publishes an article about some elected official’s embarrassing conduct. They just want to get people in the door and make sales. For an elected official to even ask a business to forgo advertising is a huge imposition for that business. It may mean the difference between a great sales week or not meeting the payroll.

Therefore, I do think it is a different matter when a legislator uses this kind of coercion. After all, just what is such a warning supposed to imply? Legislators vote on the state budget which affects government contracts and grants. They review government contracts held with vendors and can permit or deny the contract. Legislators carry influence with government contract and grant decision makers. They also draft legislation and influence the passage of legislation that affects every business and industry in our state. That is a lot of power; power that can seriously hurt or damage businesses, employees, and their families - even entire communities.

The Tennessee Constitution states “The free communication of thoughts and opinions is one of the invaluable rights of man and every citizen may freely speak, write, and print on any subject, being responsible for the abuse of that liberty.”

Any act by an elected official of the State of Tennessee to abridge the free exercise thereof by act or acts of intimidation, threat, or coercion is a violation of Constitutional liberties, restrictive of the right of business to conduct free commerce, and in violation basic ethical standards.

We in the General Assembly are focusing on ethics. Good ethics legislation should protect the citizens from any such coercion in the future.

Public Policy & Raising the Minimum Wage

April 2006

Do you feel badly when you learn that some people don’t make a lot of money? I know I do; especially when I learn that many don’t earn enough to support themselves or their children. That is why legislation to create a state minimum wage in Tennessee has been of interest to me.

Apparently, it’s been interesting to the union lobbyists too as they stand in the back of the committee room anxious for the legislation to pass. Why the union interest? While few, if any, union workers make minimum wage many have pay increases for themselves tied to an increase in the minimum wage.

As a legislator the temptation to try and ‘solve’ the problems of the poor can be great. However, legislating that they be paid more money requires that money to come from someone else. I believe the best public policy would not simply give low income people more money but actually help them increase their earning power.

The old adage that giving a man a fish feeds him for a day but teaching him to fish feeds him for a lifetime is a truism that legislators must not forget. The temptation to meddle in the labor market must be resisted.

About 2.7% of US workers earn minimum wage but just who are they? About 51% are students in high school and college who have the benefit of additional support from family. Many are retired persons seeking to earn a supplemental income. Some are second income earners trying to enhance the family budget. Statistically, these workers have good skills and are educated or on their way towards completing that goal; after one year, 2/3rds of all minimum wage workers earn more money.

But there is yet another group. Those we would call the truly poor; single persons, often with small children, trying to support them selves; many of them poorly educated and low skilled. Sadly, they are unable to sell their labor for anything more than minimum wage.

As policy makers, legislators must determine what if anything we should do to help these workers and if we do help them how should we do it.

If we simply give all minimum wage workers a raise we do nothing to increase the low skilled workers real earning power beyond their current skill level. We do nothing to help them become more valuable workers so that an employer is willing to pay more for their labor.

In addition, the blanket approach of just raising the minimum wage for everyone raises the wage for many who are perfectly capable of earning their way to a higher wage anyway; even the middle class kids with the after school job living at home with mom and dad.

Raising the wage also increases the supply of labor by attracting more such better skilled workers to the labor market. Working suddenly becomes preferable to leisure. These workers increase the competition for jobs that the poorly educated, low skilled worker needs very much. Employers tend to prefer the better educated and better skilled workers and the truly poor suffer by losing job opportunities.

On the demand side of labor, employers, in response to an increase in the minimum wage, are suddenly faced with higher costs. This forces them to make though decisions. Typically they leave jobs vacant, reduce hours, forgo raises, and if possible raise prices in order to pay the higher wage. All of these results cause the low skilled worker to suffer even more.

Actually, the very fact that relatively so few workers do earn minimum wage is an indication that the law of supply and demand in the labor market is working very well. The fact that some make minimum wage doesn’t indicate that we need to raise their wage - most minimum wage workers make more money inside of a year. But it does help us identify the low skilled workers, without prospects, and determine what kind of public policy may best help them.

We do several things to help the truly poor and none of them ask any one individual employer to make the sacrifice. The earned income tax credit multiplies the earnings of the poor and alleviates poverty while providing an incentive to work. Food stamps allow the seller of food to get their price while increasing the buying power of the poor. We can’t forget about private charitable organizations that supply food and clothing to those in need. Homeownership is the number one way to build personal wealth. Groups like Habitat for Humanity help low income workers become home owners through sweat equity and by eliminating interest. The state too has low interest loans for persons who qualify. Medical helps like TennCare and county health departments also lend assistance.

However, above all other helps, teaching a man to fish is the very best way to ensure escape from a lifetime of poverty. GED programs, career colleges, technical schools and traditional colleges are the best way to ensure that the earning power of a poorly educated, low skilled worker is tangibly increased.

If the union representatives in the back of the committee room had any real concern for the poor they wouldn’t be crossing their fingers hoping that the legislature employs a technique that kills jobs and hurts low skilled workers but they would want us to allow them to work, temporarily enhance what they do earn, and want us to help them get more education to ensure that the American dream is real for everyone.

Ethics and Integrity

February 2006

Last week the people experienced some serious loss of ground on the ethics bill in the House. The Local Government Subcommittee weakened the bill by loosening restrictions for members of the ethics commission, undid some of the work of another committee, and removed certain requirements for lobbyists. What is needed is more public attention and scrutiny of the bill in order to produce meaningful legislation. Specifically, the bad amendments do the following;

1. Allow the spouse or immediate family member of a member of the Ethics Commission to be a lobbyist, officer of a political party or legislator. (This poses severe conflicts of interest.)

2. Shorten the “revolving door” door period from one year to six months. (This would allow members of the commission to make political contributions, register as a lobbyist and engage in other political activity just six months after leaving the commission. Tennessee is already has the weakest laws in the country – this would maintain our ranking.)

3. Remove the Registry of Election Finance from the Ethics Commission. (This creates more bureaucracy and duplicates services. It will undo the work of the House Government Operations Committee and cost taxpayers more money. It also creates the potential for agency shopping.)

4. Remove the requirement that lobbyists disclose the bills on which they are lobbying. (Special interest’s interests would still be in the dark where the citizens are concerned.)

Ethics is that source of guidance beyond enforceable law. Therefore it can be very difficult to define or state exactly what is ethical and what is not. Values differ from individual to individual. One person might object to a co-worker using a sick day when they are not truly sick and another would not. One might use the photo copier at work for personal reasons while another would report such activity.

The anger of the citizens and the apparent lack of understanding among some of the legislators has not been sorted out. In the rush to make new laws, and promptly weaken them, the legislators have not yet paused to speak to just what exactly ethics is and what should the standard be for legislators.

Perhaps an ethical agreement or code among legislators might help to uncover common ground for ethics reform. If we can reveal the bedrock, perhaps the laws that are built up from there would have more integrity.

Ethics Code

A legislator is a public servant working to protect the rights of the citizens and to clarify rights and laws for the common good. We hold that there is certain behavior that the legislative branch should not engage in. It is clear and uncontroversial that legislators should;

Uphold the Constitution’s of the state of Tennessee and the United States of America and make no law to the contrary of either.

Abide by all laws of the state of Tennessee and the United States of America.

Vote without affection, favor, partiality, or prejudice.

Vote for no law injurious to the people.

Not lessen or abridge the rights and privileges of the people.

Not seek to profit from their position.

Not employ intimidation, threat or coercion for personal, financial or political gain.

Report illegal behavior of other legislators or employees.

Not use the resources of the state for personal use.

Not accept gifts given due to their position or for the performance of their duties.

Contributions to campaigns should be accepted with the understanding between both parties that they procure no influence, nor promise of any vote, service or favor.

When involved in the important act of forging consensus, policy makers should commit to screen all information through their own values, convictions, and principles; employing the virtues of honesty and integrity, and should reject the influence of all conflicts of interest by using their core values as a template to place over the decisions that they face.

Legislators should not therefore perform any task or deed in direct conflict with conscience or contrary to the best interest of their constituency or the state.

This code is by no means all encompassing. Laws must be drafted that define illegal conduct, without loop holes, and with strict punishment.

I am hopeful that the citizens will continue to pay strict attention at this time when our state legislature is in special Extraordinary Session. In truth, we should always have a healthy skepticism of our government and public officials. However, I don’t want to end up looking back on ethics reform with utter disappointment.
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Representative Lynn serves House District 57, which consists of part of Sumner and Wilson Counties. Her email address is rep.susan.lynn@legislature.state.tn.us. She is serving in her second term in the Tennessee House of Representatives. Her work includes serving on the House Commerce Committee, House Government Operations Committee, as well the Republican House Ethics and Lobbying Task Force.

Susan Lynn
State Representative
57th District
215 War Memorial Building Nashville, Tennessee 37243

Tel - 615-741-7462
Rep.susan.lynn@legislature.state.tn.us

Water & Wastewater Authorities

April 2006

This Legislative Session Senator Beavers and I have been busy trying to pass meaningful reform for water & wastewater authorities. It is no secret that our local wastewater authority is no fan of our legislation. In fact, they’ve hired a prominent lobbyist to fight the bills which will make passage much more difficult; combined with the new political dimension of the attorney for the Wilson County Wastewater Authority challenging Senator Beavers in the election, it is perhaps impossible.

The problems between our local authority and the county government seem to boil down to two things; accountability and communication. We think we have written legislation to remedy both of these problems.

In conducting research for the bills, I thoroughly examined the Tennessee Code applicable to Utility Districts. There is very little difference in function between a utility district and a water & wastewater authority. Both are government entities that provide water and wastewater services to citizens in a given area.

However, the main difference in the law between the two entities comes down to accountability. Utility districts are under a state board that provides regulation for review of rates and financial audits. It also provides a mechanism for customers to seek resolution of complaints. An ethics law prevents personnel from financially benefiting from service agreements. Explicit purchasing procedures ensure ethical purchasing practices. Racial discrimination against customers and employees is expressly prohibited. Also, utility districts have extensive instructions on audits, accounting, books and records.

The law governing water & wastewater authorities does not provide for any of the functions listed above but each authority is left to their own initiative to enact some of these items. However, because no one is checking to make sure that each authority in the state does enact these items, it is possible that some may not.

Our two bills will have water & wastewater authorities come under the review of a state board; the Water & Wastewater Financing Board. It will allow for an annual review by the creating governmental entity where the elected officials, citizens and the media are present to ask questions and discuss the future needs of the area. A statement will prohibit authorities from discriminating against persons who work for the authority or receive services. It will devise a mechanism where “no bid” or “sole source” contracts are reviewed, and as in utility districts, an ethics clause will ensure that the employees of any authority are not otherwise profiting from the contracts or services of the authority.

I can see no reason to fight these measures. Each will help to create better accountability and greater communication between the water & wastewater authority and the elected officials of the county.

The ethics clauses are particularly important. The attorney for the wastewater authority told me himself that he is presently serving as the water & wastewater authority’s attorney, the attorney for the sole source contractor who installs their wastewater systems and very often the attorney for the developers who purchase the wastewater systems.

Based on my conversations with several local attorneys, most would avoid such competing interests. How can the water & wastewater authority, the customers, and the citizens of the county, be sure that their attorney is vigorously looking out for their best interests if he is representing all three ends of the deal?

Private entities can wave whatever conflicts they want to wave. However, a public entity should not have the right to wave ethical conflicts, and allow them to occur, because they are dealing with public money.

Such activity is already illegal, and for good reason, for most who work for government entities. One local government prohibits any employee from receiving money from, or being involved in, any company who has done business with the government in the past year. Each employee must annually sign a form attesting to such.

My only interest is to help our government ensure accountability and that the elected officials of the county are better able to oversight the entity that they created. I truly believe that the reforms in our legislation are in the best interest of everyone, including wastewater authorities.

Tennessee Driver's License Testing Centers May Get Better

February 2006

It is said that government offices in the former Soviet Union were crowded with long lines, had extensive wait times, confusing forms and requirements, and inefficient, unattractive, aged facilities. The workers had to use ancient computer terminals, gave out non-descript receipts for transactions and operated under procedures that defied explanation.

Unfortunately, that is not really a description of the former Soviet Union but somewhat of a description of the condition of our Tennessee driver’s license testing centers according to a study just completed for the state of Tennessee by FedEx Corporation.

Recently, I too required services from the local driver’s license testing center. Although I had completed a mail in form to change my address, I still had to go to the center to receive my new license. When I arrived, I took a number and joined the more than 30 others waiting for services. Conversations with my comrades revealed that many of them had been waiting for more than an hour. In the course of events I noticed a poster that seemed to indicate that I could have paid for my new license on-line and had it mailed to me. However, I had already waited 55 minutes when I discovered this bit of useful information. Rather than abandon my new friends, who were feeling quite hopeless by this time that they would ever get back to work or school that day, I decided to make a study of the situation and stayed to see how long this relatively simple transaction would take. Just over two hours after I arrived I received my new license. Upon leaving, my remaining new companions, still good humored, cheered for me, and I promised them that I would not forget their suffering but try to do something about it.

Please don’t think that I am criticizing the workers at the center. Once my number was called, it actually only took a few short minutes to process the transaction and receive my new license. It is not their fault that the technology, systems, and procedures in the driver’s license testing centers have been so long neglected by the state. In fact, state workers are our friends and neighbors and they deserve an advanced, up to date system to work under as much as we deserve speedy efficient service.

Due to this experience, I discovered the good news that a Fortune 100 corporation known for its efficiency, FedEx, has examined our problems and completed a report offering their best recommendations to alleviate our woes.

The report makes very smart suggestions for improvements to customer service that includes establishing more convenient times – open at 7 am and close at 7:30 pm; utilize self-service on site kiosks. Better promote and improve on-line use; list required documents, construct pre-visit practice tests, printable forms, or better yet, on-line forms integrated with the testing center so that when you arrive your information is already in the computer. Create a centralized call center to answer questions or complete transactions. Use a mix of part-time and full time employees to ensure more flexible hours and meet peak demand times. There are other recommendations for internal changes that improve technology, speed, accuracy, create consistency in the application of statutory requirements, and institute uniform processes across the division.

The Department of Safety is currently in the process of implementing 14 initiatives from the study and compiling the costs and evaluating the impact of the remaining 25 recommendations. Many of the suggestions in the report do not require any more money but simply changes the way we currently do business; like improvements to policies, procedures, schedules, utilization of unused capabilities of current computer software, reconfiguration of facilities, and publication suggestions.

Excited by these many fine ideas, I spoke to Commissioner Nicely about drafting a resolution to thank FedEx who completed this study and report free of charge to the citizen’s of the state of Tennessee.

Most of us work hard, pay our taxes, go home at the end of the day and take care of our families. We don’t really receive many direct services from the state. However, whether once a year, or every few years, when we do go to a driver’s license testing center we’re not being selfish to expect that our taxes will provide us with the same level of convenience, service and efficiency that we receive in the private sector.

When I run my resolution to thank FedEx, it will be in honor of the very good natured, new found friends that I met earlier last month at the driver’s license testing center. And hopefully, you will see some smart changes instituted very soon.

Pay Equity a Trial Lawyers Dream…

March 2006

Lawmakers creating new ways for trial lawyers to file lawsuits is not really something I hear the public demanding. Yet, a comparable worth bill disguised as “pay equity” purports to put teeth in the law. Trial lawyers are crossing their fingers and the citizens should be concerned, because “teeth” is code for punitive damages against employers; a trial lawyers bread and butter.

As American’s, we support equal pay for equal work because that is a moral concept. Men and women who work for the same firm, perform the same job and hold the same credentials deserve to start at the same pay.

Yet, that fair concept does not go far enough for some liberals as they seek to end what they see as continued discrimination against women. They assert that the average woman with a full-time job earns only 76 percent of a male's earnings, and that women’s lower participation in the labor market is reflective of discrimination. Their answer is “pay equity” or “comparable worth” legislation.

What they are asking for is not the same pay for equal work but to replace the free market system of setting wages with a government wage-setting mechanism that would define "fair wages” for jobs. However, not for equal jobs but for jobs of supposedly comparable worth; even if those jobs are in completely different fields and for totally different employers.

Any appeal to consider logical economic factors that affect firms such as the marginal product of labor, business cycles, market differences, changing market conditions, tastes, technology, or other economic conditions in such a “pay equity” system are meaningless and untenable.

Logic would dictate that if pay equity discrimination assertions were true, and employers did have a labor source (women), that was 24% cheaper to hire than another labor source (men), then they would surely hire all that they could until the source was exhausted because the ultimate goal of employers is to reduce expenses and make a profit. Thus, males would face a higher rate of unemployment however this is not what we see at all in the labor market.

In actuality, the average wage gap between men and women is falling. However, that average is a raw figure that doesn’t tell the whole story. It must be adjusted by other factors that affect income such as: age, education, occupation, number of years in the workforce, and experience.

When adjusted for these factors, women are actually paid 98 cents for every dollar earned by a man. Is it possible sex discrimination is responsible for the remaining 2-cent adjusted wage gap? Sure. But it could also be accounted for by a mix of calculation errors, unconsidered differences between workers and several other economic factors.

Used in the UK, pay equity is a trial lawyers dream. Lawsuits are heard by a tribunal assisted by an independent expert who compares both jobs and rates each on a point scale. The average time to litigate a case is 17.5 months. Average cost of a fully appealed case can exceed $155,000 U.S. dollars. Typical descriptions of the system are that it is “arbitrary and subjective,” “remarkably time consuming,” and “neither fair nor efficient.” In fact, thirty years of “pay equity” lawsuits has not narrowed the (unadjusted) wage gap any.

Under pay equity, litigation seeking punitive damages threatens any firm that is not paying wages according to government determined “guidelines.” Equity is arbitrarily determined by comparing the job functions of comparable jobs. A losing firm is thus forced to raise the pay of its employee to that of another employee; perhaps even to that of an employee from another firm.

If it is decided that a firm knew the “equitable rate” the firm may be liable for additional damages. It is not a defense for the firm that the employee agreed to work for a given wage. Actions may be considered class action. Any job applicant may also sue. It is a misdemeanor to fire an employee who has revealed information regarding the pay of any other employee.

Why don’t people file such lawsuits now? Because without this legislation there is no basis for such a suit and no large payout. This bill has nothing to do with discrimination but everything to do with enriching lawyers and government determination of wages.

Never mind real achievement, just scout out a job you think seems comparable to yours and sue. This legislation doesn’t reflect the values of proud, hard working Tennesseans. Nor does it make any sort of economic sense. In fact, it would force many firms out of business, costing jobs for everyone.

Safe Vaccines for Tennessee's Children

April 22, 2006

“Excuse me, you may not have heard of me but I’m kind of a big deal.” I’m kidding of course, but that’s close to the typical attitude displayed by representatives of the large research hospitals and associations as they show up in committee to fight a common sense bill to ban mercury from childhood vaccines.

The Safe Vaccines for Tennessee’s Children Act states that no vaccine given to a child 8 and under, or to a pregnant woman, may contain mercury – the second most poisonous element on the planet. Used for decades as a preservative in vaccine, it is commonly known that mercury should never be consumed, breathed, applied to the skin or injected into the human body.

Although armed with impressive credentials, their arguments against the bill are weak. They contend:

First, if the Tennessee Legislature passes this bill, parents won’t have a choice. A choice to inject their child with mercury? What parent would make that choice?

Second, if we pass this bill, parents will be afraid to vaccinate their children. I don’t know if they’ve read the morning paper but parents are already very concerned. Many choose not to vaccinate due to the uncertainty over mercury. This bill will reassure parents and provide public confidence that Tennessee vaccines ARE mercury free or trace only.

Third, if we pass this bill, we risk vaccine shortages. They make this statement even though the vaccine manufacturers are voluntarily removing the mercury compound from vaccines for children. Most vaccines are now considered mercury free or trace only.

This bill recognizes that the industry’s mercury removal is only voluntary. After passage, if the industry decides to produce vaccine with mercury they can’t send any to Tennessee. The federal government should have mandated this two decades ago. With large states like California and six others passing similar legislation this bill provides incentive to the industry to manufacture only mercury-free vaccine to sell nationally.

However, this bill is not unrealistic, if there is ever a TRUE shortage, perhaps due to a pandemic, and for some reason vaccine must be used that contains mercury, the commissioner of health can wave the restriction and parents will have informed consent. They will be told that the vaccine contains mercury, that mercury is a neurotoxin, and that children and the fetus of pregnant women are especially vulnerable to its dangers.
With this bill the legislature will assure the citizens of Tennessee that vaccines can be important to overall health, especially for the well-being of children. We support children and pregnant women being given the safest vaccines possible. And, it is our desire to reinforce the need for “safe vaccines.”

For more information on the Safe Vaccines for Tennessee's Children Act please go to https://owa.legislature.state.tn.us/exchweb/bin/redir.asp?URL=http://www.legislature.state.tn.us/. Click on legislation. Type in HB956.