Tennessee law gives criminal court reporters pay increase

Tennessee Court Reporters Association members convinced state legislators to adopt a law to increase pay for criminal court reporters.
Tennessee Court Reporters Association members convinced state legislators to adopt a law to increase pay for criminal court reporters.

The Tennessee legislature passed a pay increase for criminal reporters in the state. The bills, SB 667 and HB 729, were passed through both state houses with the support of the Tennessee Court Reporters Association (TCRA) legislative committee, and the bills were fully funded in the state budget. The increase is expected to go into effect July 1.

Getting this bill through the houses and signed into law was quite the coup for Tennessee reporters, according to NCRA President-Elect Max Curry, RPR, CRI, who spearheaded the legislation. “A little more than 10 years ago, Tennessee did away with the employee status of criminal reporters in Tennessee and has moved to a contractual status for the criminal courts around Tennessee. Due to the substantially lower amount in per diem and page rate offered by the criminal courts, more and more stenographic reporters were refusing to cover the work in lieu of more lucrative private sector work. The situation was creating a shortage of coverage by stenographic reporters in the criminal court system, and the Administrative Office of the Court (AOC), which administers the criminal reporters in Tennessee, had begun training electronic recording reporters to cover the criminal courts. Of course, as an association we don’t want that, so we got to work on trying to find a solution,” Curry said. 

“The clearest solution was to increase the funds being paid to attract stenographic reporters,” explained Curry. “The AOC expressed a lack of willingness to move the rate up.  We were only asking for them to increase it to the same rate as that offered by other state entities that use stenographic reporters for their hearings, depositions, EUOs, arbitrations, etc., including the Department of Labor, Department of Health, Department of Transportation, and so on. All of these organizations offered higher rates. The AOC couldn’t even compete with the other State entities, much less on an open market. The situation was spiraling out of control quickly, with the AOC offering no solutions that kept the stenographic reporters involved.

“Since the new rate is competitive with other state entities, we feel this will effectively correct the issue and get the criminal courts back on an even keel with the other state entities,” Curry continued. “It will simply be up to the AOC to do rate increases to keep up with inflation and what the other State entities are offering.”

The legislation moved through the process quickly. Every other year, Tennessee’s legislature runs on a fast track, and 2019 was a fast-track year.  “Over three months, we managed to maneuver the bill through the committee/subcommittee system of both House and Senate, work with the legislature on balancing out the fiscal impact of the bill as a law, and get it passed,” said Curry. “It was passed on the final evening of the 111th Tennessee Legislature being in session this year. We literally did this just under the wire of one legislative session, which is next to impossible!

“I took the lead on lobbying to work the bills through the process in the Tennessee House and Senate. Various people from our committee would show up for some of the interviews with legislators, and I would be remiss not to mention them. They were: Dana Webb, TCRA president when the process started; Stephanie Falkner, CRI, CPE, TCRA’s state president as we finished up; Sheila Wilson, TCRA past president and legislative committee member; Sheryl Weatherford, RPR, another TCRA past president and legislative committee member; and Peggy Giles, another wonderful reporter who was part of the legislative team. Each of these people took turns to accompany me to meetings with legislators and advocated for and educated the legislators about our bill and about the court systems in Tennessee and how court reporters are used. In addition, criminal court reporters Lisa Moss, Lori Bice, Gloria Dillard, and Kim Davidson, and many others would show up for subcommittee or committee meetings to show their support of this legislation,” Curry said. “Many of TCRA’s members were involved in the grassroots portion, too, and they did a stellar job of emailing and calling legislators’ offices. I would often hear from the state senators and representatives that people were reaching out and how impressed they were with how organized it all was.”

When asked what he credits the success to, Curry said: “First, we had an excellent game plan. Sheila, Stephanie, and I had all been to NCRA’s Boot Camp in the past, so we had the training. Also, Sheila, Peggy, and I had been through the legislative efforts previously in Tennessee, so all three of us knew how the process worked, and we worked very hard to educate and train the others. In addition, our grassroots organization and ability to get info out to the membership via email blast at a moment’s notice was truly impactful as well…. and they then took action as a group!  Engagement meant everything!

“Most importantly, we had Judge Dee Gay, who is a criminal courts judge here in Tennessee, who worked with us closely, advocated for us, and got us in touch with key legislators to help us,” Curry continued. “One of the attorneys who practices in front of Judge Gay regularly is William Lamberth, who happens to be a State of Tennessee Representative, and who more importantly happens to be the Majority Leader in the House and was our House bill sponsor! This was impactful and quickly opened doors and conversations for us. We did the leg work, and he worked the power struggle in the back. He also worked very hard at making sure we found the money in the budget to address the fiscal impact of this bill as a law. Leader Lamberth also recruited as our senate sponsor a very powerful ally: Pro Tem Speaker of the House Sen. Ferrell Haile!

“That’s not to say that the process was free of problems. While the legislative committee was working to get the legislature to pass the bill to increase pay to the criminal court reporters, two competing bills were also working their way through the process. It took additional education and lobbying to make sure that the legislators understood the impact of these other bills,” explained Curry.

“One of the bills we called the ‘Free Copy Bill,’ which basically would allow litigants (or anyone for that matter) to get a free copy of the transcript once the original was purchased and filed with the court. The second bill was to install an audio recording system in every single courtroom in the state of Tennessee. Because of our involvement, the legislators just let these bills die in committee,” said Curry. “This has been an amazing legislative year in Tennessee and one I’m proud to have been a part of!”

New Legislative Boot Camp Experience inspires attendees to take action

Enlightening, enriching, insightful, and inspiring are just some of the adjectives representatives from 28 state court reporter associations used to describe their experiences at NCRA’s 2018 Legislative Boot Camp held March 11-13 in Reston, Va.

With a lineup of top speakers that addressed issues ranging from how to stop overthinking, why certification is important to state associations, how to support successful grassroots lobbying efforts, and how to implement effective programs at the state level, attendees of the NCRA 2018 Legislative Boot Camp were given access to an impressive learning opportunity. Attendees also participated in mock trials as they prepared to take new skills and insights they learned during the sessions to advocate for the court reporting and captioning professions during visits with lawmakers and their staff members on Capitol Hill.

Carolyn Coronado, RPR, and Keith Johnson, RDR, CRR, CRC, visit Rep. Pete Sessions office

“There was a lot of information shared during this event. It was enlightening, and I have some great ideas to take back to my state association, as well as some really good points I can use when I meet with my legislators,” said Carolyn Coronado, RPR, an official court reporter from Houston, Texas, and first-time boot camp attendee.

“For me personally, I can see how I can use the information I learned to address my judges as well on certain issues. I came here to learn, and now thinking ahead, I may become more involved with NCRA and committee work,” added Coronado, a past board member of the Texas Court Reporters Association.

Shelley Row, speaker, consultant, and author, led an insightful session laced with humor and personal stories in her presentation “Go with Your Gut: Effective Decision-Making in an Overthinking World.” The self-proclaimed recovering overthinker shared with attendees how she used infotuition – the combination of intuition and information – to learn to recognize the signs that made her an overthinker. She shared her cognition-intuition balance model that is based on understanding what constitutes a no-brainer decision versus a knee-jerk decision and how to leave room in our thinking to allow the “Aha!” moments. She also shared how important it is to remove yourself from heated situations before reacting, the positive impact of taking brain breaks, and recognizing body markers.

“Thinking and acting is not enough. You have to think, feel, and act. Taken together, the brain, gut, and the body’s neurological system create embodied intelligence that supports infotuitive decision-making. Understand in advance what triggers launch what reactions in you when faced with making good decisions. Learn ways that you can return to calm, and take brain breaks to allow all parts of the brain to work together to make decisions,” Row told attendees.

“Everything we talked about here are skills. They take practice. You are always practicing; every minute of every day is practice. It is likely that between today and tomorrow you will encounter a triggering event. You can make the decision to do what you’ve always done, or choose to slow it down and think about it differently. Either way is practice. Are you practicing the behavior that serves you best to make decisions from your gut?”

Row left attendees with one final thought: “A good message to take with you is that a lot of people go through life and don’t take a breath or don’t realize what affects them. You need to breathe. As court reporter you need to stop and do that.”

Attorney James Cool presented a session that discussed how to implement effective programs at the state level by understanding the moral philosophy framework for political persuasion. His presentation was focused on the five oral axes as explained in the book, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, written by Jonathan Haidt, which explains how moral underlining philosophies drive our decision-making. The five moral axes that trigger our morality he touched on included:

  • Care/harm
  • Fairness/cheating
  • Loyalty/betrayal
  • Authority/ subversion
  • Sanctity/ degradation

Other sessions presented during boot camp that armed attendees with more insight and skills before heading to Capitol Hill to meet with lawmakers and their staffs on the last day included:

  • “The State of Court Reporting” by NCRA President Chris Willette, RDR, CRR, CRC, and Matthew Barusch, NCRA State Government Relations Manager
  • “Grassroots Lobbying” by Jacqueline Sly, former state representative for South Dakota
  • “A Lesson on the Importance of Certification” with John Brandon, interim president of the Connecticut Court Reporters Association
  • “Certification: An Important Issue in the States” presented by Barusch and Cynthia Bruce Andrews, NCRA Senior Director of Certification and Education, about why certification is an important issue for the states.

Rob Jones interviewed by NCRA President Chris Willette as Tricia Rosate, RDR, CRR, transcribes and Joe Donahoe videos

Other highlights of the 2018 boot camp experience included traveling into Washington, D.C., to Capitol Hill via the Metro, lunch in the Dirksen Senate Dining Room, and a special wrap-up reception at the Library of Congress in honor of the Veterans History Project (VHP). The reception also included an interview for the VHP by Willette with retired U.S. Marine Sgt. Rob Jones, a double above-the-knee amputee who has been inspiring fellow veterans with his 31 marathons in 31 days in 31 different cities and bike trip across the United States. Jones also holds a Bronze medal in rowing from the U.S. Paralympics. Planet Depos provided their top-notch videography services for the event and captured the entire interview for the National Court Reporters Foundation.

“I really enjoyed the networking sessions. I learned a lot. I liked the in-depth discussions of critical issues. These conversations are important. My biggest takeaway from Boot Camp is that I see there are people in virtually every state that care deeply about our profession and are willing to work together to address these issues,” said Joshua Edwards, RDR, CRR, a captioner from New York, N.Y., and president-elect of the New York State Court Reporters Association.

“You can have a bigger impact working together than alone in many areas. Court reporting and captioning as a field depends on the passion of our members,” he added.

 








Protecting the rights of people with disabilities is not optional

JCR: Journal of Court Reporting, TheJCR.com, JCR WeeklyAn opinion piece posted Sept. 26 by the Washington Post takes issue with a bill recently advanced in Congress called the ADA Education and Reform Act, noting that it would make the ADA much harder to enforce.

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Michigan lawmakers introduce courthouse violence bill

JCR publications share buttonWSBT 22, Berrien County, Mich., reported on March 6 that three state lawmakers have introduced legislation that would increase the maximum penalties for people who commit or attempt to commit courtroom assaults on a courtroom employee, including judges, prosecutors, police, and court reporters.

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City of Portland, Ore., passes TV caption ordinance

In 2014, a coalition of concerned citizens called Portland: Turn on the Captions Now brought the issue of local businesses not turning the captions on their televisions to the attention of Portland, Ore., City Commissioner Amada Fritz. A year later, on Dec. 18, 2015, an ordinance took effect that requires captions be turned on all the time on televisions in public places throughout the city. The expectation of the coalition: Businesses in Portland will turn on the captions once, and leave them on.

“The members of this coalition found that most often when they would ask for captions to be turned on at places that had televisions, the employees of the business would say they didn’t know how to turn them on, or they could not find the remote control, or it was too hard to do when they were busy,” said NCRA member Carol Studenmund, RDR, CRC, CRC, a broadcast captioner and member of the Portland: Turn on the Captions Now coalition.

“Comcast is the major cable provider in Portland. And turning the captions on through a Comcast box is not always easy to do, even if you know how to work with TV equipment. Some businesses turn on the captions all the time and enjoy having them on. But those businesses are in the minority,” added Studenmund, who also serves on NCRA’s Broadcast and CART Captioning Committee.

Joining Studenmund on the coalition were also Portland residents Jim House and Steve Brown, both deaf and long-time advocates for the deaf community on city, state, and nationals levels, as well as David Viers, a long-time advocate for people with hearing loss who wears two cochlear implants.

According to Studenmund, prior to the ordinance, many businesses with televisions would have them turned on sometimes with the sound on and only sometimes with captions on, 99 percent of the time for entertainment purposes only. However, when emergency coverage goes on the air, the captions need to be visible so that everyone can understand what is being said. “The bottom line of this effort was to make sure all citizens in Portland have access to important information during times of emergency,” she said.

Studenmund said that captions can also help people learn to read and learn the English language. In Multnomah, Ore., for example, County Sheriff Dan Staton ordered that captions be turned on the televisions located in the county jail over two years ago as a way to teach inmates how to read. In addition, when the National Captioning Institute sold caption decoders before televisions were required to have caption decoders built in, more than 40 percent of the people who purchased a decoder reported that it was to help them learn English as a second – or third or fourth – language.

“During the process of getting this ordinance written and passed, the U.S. Department of Transportation implemented a rule requiring all televisions in U.S. airports have the captions turned on all the time. That U.S. DOT rule helped the City Council come to its decision about this local ordinance. The vote of the Council was 5-0,” said Studenmund.

According to Studenmund, businesses should not have to spend any money to accomplish providing captioning on their television sets. Comcast, she noted, is ready to help its business customers turn on the captions. In addition, Portland has created a website with more information and may fine a business up to $500 per day for not turning on captions.

“But it is not the city’s goal to need to impose that fee on any business,” said Studenmund. “The goal is to turn the captions on and leave them on. Any fine would be imposed only after many unsuccessful attempts are made to get the captions turned on.”

Portland: Turn on the Captions Now also created a Kansas: Open Caption Initiatives and Kansas: Turn On the TV Captions Now projects. The projects will help build statewide support for a mandate requiring captions on all TVs located in public places, as well as open captioning in movie theaters and at major public events.








Gear up for the NCRA Legislative Boot Camp

State affiliates gear up for 2016 NCRA Legislative Boot Camp

State affiliates from across the country are making plans to participate in the 2016 NCRA Legislative Boot Camp being held March 20-22 at the Hyatt Regency in Reston, Va. The event is sponsored by NCRA’s government relations department.

The schedule for this year’s event will include seminars on the political climate on a state and national level, as well as ways to promote the profession to external audiences and consumer groups. Attendees will also be trained how to testify before legislators, partake in rigorous roleplaying exercises, and receive an intensive overview of the current legislative and regulatory issues at hand. The two-day training culminates with a trip to Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., where attendees will have the opportunity to walk through the building, meet with their respective legislators and their professional staff members, and gain experience in lobbying. Attendees will also have the opportunity to attend a political fundraiser for one of NCRA’s major supporters.

“The NCRA Legislative Boot Camp is one of the most important benefits of membership in the Association because it provides training in the skills needed to successfully advocate and participate in the legislative and regulatory processes when issues in either of those arenas arise that could hinder or help the future of the court reporting and captioning professions,” said NCRA President Stephen A. Zinone, RPR, an official court reporter from Pittsford, N.Y.

“If you are in the business of making the record and preserving history or providing valuable captioning services to the deaf and hard-of-hearing community, then you are in the business of protecting our profession,” said Zinone.

Online registration is now open for the 2016 Legislative Boot Camp at NCRA.org/bootcamp. The cost is $175 per attendee. For more information, contact Adam Finkel, NCRA Director of Government Relations, at afinkel@ncra.org.








California Court Reporters Association fights electronic reporting

The California Court Reporters Association issued a call to action Jan. 8 asking members to help support AB 749 (Bloom), a two-year bill that mandates that a court reporter report all family proceedings. This came in response to the 2016 proposed budget released by the state’s governor that calls for the “development of electronic recordings in family courts.”

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John Zandonella Act of 2015 now law in California

Effective Jan. 1, legal professionals in California who prepare deposition notices have new disclosure obligations under the John Zandonella Act of 2015, signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown. The Deposition Reporters Association of California has launched an informative website to help educate court reporters, court reporting firms, and legal professionals about the law’s requirements and ramifications.

This new legislation should serve as a reminder that the practice of court reporting can vary significantly from one jurisdiction to the next. It is therefore incumbent on all reporters to be aware of the rules, regulations, and laws governing the proceedings they are reporting.

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New York governor signs bill to provide CART services in state courtrooms

Sponsor_StudentIn September 2015, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed bill S5533-B, referred to as the CART bill, which expands provisions to enable people who are deaf or hard of hearing with access to court proceedings.

NCRA member Adam H. Alweis, RPR, a senior court reporter from Syracuse, N.Y., and a board member for the New York State Court Reporters Association, provided the following information on what the CART bill was, the events leading up to its signing, and how the bill may be implemented in the New York courts.

The JCR first wrote about the CART bill in July.

***

The CART (Communication Access Realtime Translation) bill was created by the Association of Surrogates and Supreme Court Reporters union down in New York City, namely, President Brian DiGiovanna, RPR, CRR, CMRS, and Legislative Chairperson John Cardillo, as well as the NYSCRA Legislative Chairperson Myron Calderon. These individuals deserve high praise for their efforts in this regard.

The bill provides for having a realtime court reporter present in any situation within the court system where a juror, litigant, judge, family member, etc. who is deaf or hard of hearing is in need of realtime access in order to be more fully able to participate in the proceedings in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

New York State Senator John DeFrancisco was approached by DiGiovanna initially to put forward this bill in the New York state legislature. Both Sen. DeFrancisco and Assemblyperson Helene Weinstein sponsored the bill, which eventually passed through both houses.

In July, DiGiovanna had contacted me in Syracuse about doing a press conference to outline for the press and the public what this bill’s intentions were and its positive impact on the deaf and hard-of-hearing communities. After meeting with the senator’s staff, along with their assistance, we set up a wireless realtime demonstration for the press conference using two iPads for display to the audience.

The press conference occurred in late July in the Onondaga County Courthouse in Syracuse. Sen. DeFrancisco spoke to those who attended along with a representative from the hard-of-hearing community. A sign language interpreter was also present. At the end of the conference, I gave a brief outline as to how the realtime worked using a wireless Internet device.

Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the bill on Sept. 25.

The following would be my understanding on how this will work. Those working in the New York state courts should check with their individual supervisors for more information.

For a juror who is deaf or hard of hearing, a realtime court reporter will have to shadow that juror throughout his or her participation in the proceedings. What that means is that, most likely, you would need two court reporters in the courtroom at the same time: one who is recording the proceedings and the other who is shadowing the juror.

If none of the court reporters within the court system are available to do this shadowing, then the court system will be responsible for finding someone from outside to handle this.

As far as litigants in need for realtime, I would imagine that would be handled by the supervisors in each office as to how to implement that.

If you have any more questions, don’t hesitate to contact the officers and directors of NYSCRA and/or the officers of the ASSCR.








NCRA urges sponsorship of legislation critical to aiding courts in recovering funding

In a letter sent June 24, NCRA President Sarah E. Nageotte, RDR, CRR, CBC, urged Sen. John Thune to become an original sponsor of the Crime Victim Restitution and Court Fee Intercept Act. The legislation would allow for interception of individuals’ federal income tax returns to pay for existing court fees that the individual may owe.

In the letter, Nageotte notes that the concept already exists in federal law as related to child support, state tax, and other federal debts. She said the legislation would have a tremendous and immediate impact on court budgets nationwide and would help to alleviate many of the stresses that have accumulated within the court systems since the late-2000s.

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