- Associated Press - Monday, June 8, 2015

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - State Attorney General Herbert Slatery found in a legal opinion released Monday that the cost of lawmakers’ health insurance coverage falls under Tennessee’s open records laws.

Slatery said the amounts spent by the state are not confidential because they do not disclose any personal information about lawmakers.

The released records “pertain only to insurance coverage … that have nothing to do with treatment, diagnoses, or medications,” according to the opinion. “And especially not of any individually identifiable person.”

The issue of lawmaker health benefits became a subject of attention as the General Assembly rejected Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposal to extend coverage to 280,000 low-income Tennesseans.

Eighty-eight of 99 House members and 28 of the 33 senators are on the state employee health plan - including six of seven senators who voted to kill Haslam’s Insure Tennessee plan during a special legislative session in February.

Several state lawmakers expressed outrage that the state released a list of which legislators were on the state health plan. They became even more irate when the state released information to The Tennessean newspaper showing lawmakers had received nearly $6 million in taxpayer-subsidized coverage since 2002.

House Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada of Franklin suggested last month that fulfilling the records request was retribution for the governor’s signature proposal’s defeat.

“If this is the executive branch’s way of negotiating with the legislative branch about Insure Tennessee, I would encourage them to strongly and swiftly rethink their strategy,” Casada said at the time.

Since then, the Knoxville News Sentinel has reported that more former lawmakers - 148 - are enrolled in the health plan that current ones. They include public officials who have been elected to other positions like U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen of Memphis and Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett.

Also still on the rolls is former state Sen. Edgar Gillock of Memphis, who left the Legislature in 1982 after being convicted of taking $130,000 for his influence in awarding government contracts.

The paper also reported that that the state paid $13.6 million in health care claims for current and former lawmakers and their dependents between 2010 and 2014.

The opinion was requested by Republican Reps. Kevin Brooks of Cleveland and Rick Womick of Murfreesboro.

Womick in an email to colleagues last month called the release of the health coverage information “a blatant violation, by the Haslam Administration, of the privacy of every legislative member and staff member in the General Assembly, and it can no longer be tolerated.”

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