Plaintiffs contend that state restrictions for workers, volunteers violate free speech


Lawyers with the Tennessee Justice Center are asking a judge to strike down state emergency rules that restrict the activities of workers and volunteers in signing people up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

The suit contends that the rules violated the First Amendment, conflicted with the federal health law and breached state laws. Plaintiffs in the lawsuit include a disabled Tennessean who needs assistance, a physician and church pastors. The defendants are Commissioner of Commerce and Insurance Julie McPeak and Tennessee Attorney General Robert E. Cooper Jr.

The emergency rules handed down last week by McPeak limit the advice health law navigators and counselors can give to people. Penalties of up to $1,000 for each violation were set in the rules. The rules also required the workers and volunteers to be fingerprinted and undergo background checks.

The Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance said the agency is protecting consumers from fraud.

Chris Coleman, Michele Johnson and Kristin Ware, lawyers with the Tennessee Justice Center, filed the suit Friday in Davidson County Chancery Court.

"The emergency rules restrict freedom of speech by restricting any person, other than an insurance producer, from engaging in protected speech or educating or advising others — including even those with whom the individual has an existing professional, familial or social relationship — on matters regarding any affordability program or premium tax credits available through the Marketplace," according to the complaint, which gives only one side of a civil dispute.

The plaintiffs in the suit include:

• League of Women Voters of Tennessee, which has volunteer counselors who want to assist in signing people up for health coverage.

• Allison Cavopol, a manager seeking advice on coverage options for employees from someone other than an insurance salesperson.

• Carol Coppinger, the mother of a disabled adult child, who needs assistance getting insurance for him because she does not have access to the Internet.

• Samuel Shirley, who is Coppinger's son.

• The Rev. Jerry Crisp, the pastor of a rural church in Whiteville, where congregation members planned to help people sign up.

• Dr. Tom John, a physician who is concerned the rules prevent him from giving his patients advice.

• Terrell McDaniel, a Ph.D. psychologist, who was considering becoming a health law counselor.

• Brian Paddock, a lawyer whose practice includes advising clients about taxes and health subsidy programs.

• Randall Rice and Meryl Rice, retirees and community volunteers who sought to become federally certified counselors but could not receive the training because of concerns over the state emergency rules.

• The Rev. James Thomas, pastor of Jefferson Street Missionary Baptist Church, whose members have been planning to assist people in signing up for coverage and which plans to host a citywide kickoff toward that effort on Tuesday.

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