The Tennessee Republican Party and state Rep. Nathan Vaughn are at odds over Vaughn’s House committee vote involving legislation to end state health benefits for General Assembly lawmakers convicted of a felony.
In a news release, the TRP claimed the Kingsport Democrat “put the financial interests of criminal ex-lawmakers above the interests of taxpayers” by voting to “kill the bill” in the Democrat-controlled House Calendar and Rules Committee.
“Nathan Vaughn claims to be a fiscal conservative, but all he voted to conserve ... was the right of corrupt lawmakers to continue to pull money out of the taxpayers’ pockets,” said Bill Hobbs, TRP communications director.
But Vaughn said he supported the bill and insisted he voted against sending it back to the House Judiciary Committee, which has closed for this legislative session.
A motion to re-refer the bill, sponsored by state Rep. Charles Curtiss, D-Sparta, to House Judiciary passed on a voice vote. Five committee members, including Curtiss and House GOP Leader Jason Mumpower of Bristol, requested to be recorded as voting “no.” Vaughn’s “no” vote was not recorded, according to the legislature’s Web site.
Vaughn said he told Curtiss that he would support an amendment to delete the state’s contribution into the convicted lawmaker’s health plan when the bill came to the House floor.
“I told him I would support his bill either way even if he did not put the amendment on it. ... I voted no ... to not send that bill back to Judiciary,” said Vaughn, who faces opposition in his re-election bid this year from Republican Tony Shipley of Colonial Heights.
The bill, which had unanimously passed in the Senate, emerged after arrests and convictions of a handful of lawmakers involved in the “Tennessee Waltz” federal bribery sting.
Under the bill, neither the surviving spouse nor the dependent children of a convicted lawmaker would be eligible to continue health care coverage. The bill was amended to include any governor convicted of a felony.
The benefits would be stopped on the date of conviction or plea, and the person would not be eligible for any refund of premiums, co-payments or other costs previously paid. In the event that a conviction was later overturned and the person was acquitted, or was granted a full pardon, then the person would be restored all rights in regard to continuation of health care coverage, according to the bill.
The state’s Fiscal Review Office concluded that if one current or former lawmaker was convicted of a felony during 2008-09, total state expenditures could decrease by more than $700,000 over a 25-year period.
But Democratic committee members expressed reservations about the bill.
State Rep. Larry Miller, D-Memphis, the committee’s chairman, produced a handout that showed families of convicted lawmakers would be faced with paying more than $1,000 in monthly premiums to stay on the state’s insurance plan.
“This is after an individual has paid into the system. ... This could very well mean a death sentence for an individual who has paid into this plan for a number of years and all of a sudden it is taken away from them,” Miller said.
State Rep. Mike Kernell, D-Memphis, said he had a problem “using health insurance as a matter of a criminal penalty.”
Curtiss argued in support of the bill and said he would amend it to leave lawmakers’ family members in the state’s health insurance plan at a discounted rate.
“In my mind we ought to be held to a higher standard,” he stressed.
For more information, go to www.legislature.state.tn.us and click on “Legislation.” The bill’s number is HB 2568.