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(File art of John Ford)
House panel kills bill revoking health benefits for convicted lawmakers
By John Rodgers, firstname.lastname@example.org
A House panel effectively killed a bill Tuesday that would have revoked the state’s health insurance benefits for current or former lawmakers convicted of felonies involving their office.
The bill had unanimously passed the state Senate.
The legislation’s demise comes nearly three years since the FBI’s Operation Tennessee Waltz sting convicted five now-former state lawmakers for taking bribes to influence legislation.
One of those lawmakers, former Sen. John Ford (D-Memphis), began his sentence in a federal prison in Louisiana Monday.
It also comes after many lawmakers say new ethics laws have cleaned up the culture on Capitol Hill.
Rep. Charles Curtiss (D-Sparta), the sponsor of the legislation, said he didn’t understand the opposition to the legislation, which he says was led by Rep. Larry Miller (D-Memphis), the panel’s chairman.
“They just look at health care benefits as a right that we’ve earned serving in this Legislature,” Curtiss said in an interview. “But I think you forego all rights when you’ve been convicted of a felony.
“We should be held to a higher standard, but there’s obviously some people down here who don’t think we should be held to a higher standard.”
Miller is the chairman of the Democrat-controlled House Calendar and Rules Committee, which was the panel that killed the bill.
Reached for comment, Miller said a number of members of the panel, including him, had problems with the legislation.
In a hypothetical explaining his opposition, Miller said what if a convicted lawmaker afflicted with cancer had to start paying for 100 percent of their health insurance?
“Some people consider that to be somewhat of a death sentence,” Miller said.
Miller said lawmakers shouldn’t be committing felonies.
When asked then about why not pass the bill if lawmakers shouldn’t commit felonies, Miller said legislators were being unfairly singled out.
“I think what you’re doing, your finger pointing at legislators only,” Miller said. “Why not pass the bill and apply it to all elected officials statewide and all appointed officials? Why not?”
Miller said he didn’t believe applying it statewide to all elected officials was necessary.
The legislation would have also applied to former or current governors.
In 2004, Miller accepted a $1,000 campaign contribution from convicted Tennessee Waltz bagman Charles Love, who pleaded guilty after being busted in the sting.
Miller’s 25-member Calendar and Rules Committee effectively killed the bill on a voice vote, sending it to the House Judiciary Committee. That panel is closed for the year.
Miller maintained that he didn’t send the bill to the Judiciary Committee to deliberately kill it, saying that committee can always be reopened if the chairman of the panel elects.
Five lawmakers asked to be recorded as voting no on the vote: Curtiss, House Minority Leader Jason Mumpower of Bristol, House Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada of College Grove, Reps. Steve McDaniel (R-Parkers Crossroads) and Doug Overbey (R-Maryville).
Mumpower called the bill being killed a “travesty.”
“There’s a simple way, a very, very, very simple way, for legislators to not have to worry about this bill — just don’t commit a felony,” Mumpower said in an interview. “It’s flabbergasting.”
The bill would not have applied retroactively to revoke the health benefits of convicted former lawmakers enrolled in the program.