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Regional & National

Tennessee lawmakers pass legislation to benefit one man

August 1st, 2011 1:26 pm by Staff Report

NASHVILLE (AP) — A new Tennessee law benefits an Oak Ridge man despite the state constitution's ban on enacting measures on behalf of just one person.

The Knoxville News Sentinel reported (http://bit.ly/nSF7jI) Monday that the legislation was introduced by two Oak Ridge Republicans to correct what Rep. John Ragan called an "injustice" toward 67-year-old James D. Harless, who retired from the state Department of Environment and Conservation.

The new law recognizes Harless' previous job with the Oak Ridge Public Health Department as qualifying for state retirement benefits. Harless told the paper that the law will result in a payment of about $31,000.

House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner of Nashville was the only member to vote against the measure in committee, citing concerns that the bill "might be opening a can of worms" and setting a precedent for future bills dealing with specific employees' problems.

Turner ultimately voted for the bill when it reached the House floor. The measure was signed into law by Republican Gov. Bill Haslam on July 6.

Harless isn't mentioned by name in the legislation, and neither is Oak Ridge. Instead, the law says it applies to "a municipality for which public health services were performed by the federal government before the municipality was incorporated."

Oak Ridge is the only city that meets that standard.

The law says it applies to employees of the Oak Ridge Public Health Department during a 13-year stretch starting in 1959.

Harless said the he and other employees were subject to state oversight at the time, so as a practical matter he should be considered a state employee dating back 37 years.

The law overrides previous state decisions by the state Department of Human Resources, and reimburses Harless for the pay he missed.

Legislative attorney Sally Swaney said the constitutional ban on laws applying to individual doesn't apply as long as there is a "rational basis" for limiting the scope that can be demonstrated.

Swaney said Ragan's description of the Harless case could pass muster in the courts.

"Sounds like a rational basis to me," she said.

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Information from: The Knoxville News Sentinel, http://www.knoxnews.com

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