Monthly Archives: March 2009

Cost of Baggy Pants? Why, $483,400, Of Course!

While the so-called “baggy pants” bill has generated much discussion on morals and legislator wisdom (or lack thereof), the Legislature’s Fiscal Review staff has been following the money.
The calculation: a cost of $483,400 for state government. That, of course, means the bill (HB2099) must go through the Finance Committees and, very likely, will die there in this tight budget year even if it clears other hurdles.
The bill specifies that offenders would be subject to a fine only with no jail time. But the “fiscal note” assumes that juveniles on probation already would be violating probation if caught with baggy pants and convicted of a misdemeanor.
There are 2,512 juveniles on probation, the fiscal note says, and probably 1.5 percent – or 38 – would be caught with their pants down.
On average, continues the calculation, these youngsters would wind up spending 180 days in custody as a result, and that costs the state about $108 per day. There’s a lot more calculating involved, but that’s the foundation.
For the full fiscal note, click HERE.

Freeman Quits as Democratic Treasurer

William H. “Bill” Freeman has resigned as treasurer of the state Democratic party amid controversy over his past donations to Republicans, according to state Democratic Chairman Chip Forrester.
Quoting from the party press release:
The decision comes as a result of several factors, Freeman said, including opposition to his appointment from some of the Democratic establishment.
“As I’ve made fund-raising calls in the last month, several long-time donors have expressed their concern to me that Governor Bredesen was not as supportive of me as I had hoped,” Freeman said.
“By resigning now, I hope I can take away some of the criticism the Party has faced recently and give Chip Forrester a better shot at rebuilding a relationship with the Governor and taking the Party in the direction that it needs to go.”
Since his February 19th appointment, Freeman has been criticized for his past contributions to a few Republican candidates. Other commentators and Democratic activists have cited Freeman’s support of FONCE (Family Owned Non-Commercial Entity) as a source of contention with the Governor, who is pushing legislation to close a tax loophole benefiting FONCEs.
Forrester, while reluctantly accepting his resignation, said he respected Freeman’s decision.
“I think this has been a tough environment for Bill and a tough decision for him to make,” said Forrester. “I appreciate him thinking about what is best for the Tennessee Democratic Party, and I sincerely hope to build a productive relationship with Governor Bredesen going forward.”
Freeman is chairman of Freeman Webb, Inc., a real estate investment management and brokerage firm he founded with James A. Webb, III in 1979.
“Bill has done an outstanding job during his tenure with us,” said Forrester. “Serving as a treasurer and raising money is a demanding role at any time, much less during a recession. Regardless, Bill proved himself to be a successful fundraiser. With his help, the TNDP has raised over $60,000 in March alone.”
“My goal here at the TNDP remains the same: to build a strong organization that can help Democrats compete and win in 2010,” Forrester continued. “The problems facing Tennessee are too great for me to lose focus that goal.”
A replacement for Freeman has not yet been named. Forrester said he is beginning the search for a new treasurer immediately.

A petition calling for Freeman’s ouster has been circulating among members of the Democratic Party Executive Committee. Among those Republicans that Freeman has financially backed were Van Hilleary and Jim Bryson, the GOP nominees against Bredesen in 2002 and 2006, respective.

Worthy Reads Elsewhere

Bonds That Don’t Tie

Gov. Phil Bredesen and Republican legislators are at odds over plans to issue bonds for bridges as part of next year’s budget, HERE.


Ethical Changes

House Ethics Committee may change rules over who can complain. HERE.


Saggy Pants Saga Continues

AP story on Rep. Joe Towns’ “anti-crack bill” goes national, HERE.


 Anti-Environment McCord?

Nashville Scene blogger’s take on House Environment and Conservation Committee Chairman Joe McCord, R-Maryville, HERE.

AG: No New Judges After July 1 If Commissions Die

There will be no legal way to fill vacancies on Tennessee Supreme Court or appeals courts after July 1 if the Legislature allows two commissions to expire, according to a state attorney general’s opinion released today.
Attorney General Bob Cooper’s formal opinion, requested by four Republican legislators, contrasts with contentions by others that termination of the Judicial Selection Commission and the Judicial Evaluation Commission would mean a return to contested elections for the state’s top judges.
“Vacancies occurring in the appellate courts on or after July 1, 2009, could not be filled because there would be no operative statutory procedure for the filling of vacancies,” says the opinion.
The two commissions are scheduled to “sunset,” or cease to exist, on July 1 unless the Legislature votes to renew their existence. There has been a long-running battle in the Legislature over whether to do so and, if the commissions are continued, how they should operate.
The Selection Commission, described in the Cooper opinion as “the linchpin” of the current judge selection system, has 17 members appointed by the speakers of the House and Senate from a list of names submitted by various lawyer groups, such as the Tennessee Bar Association and the District Attorneys General Conference.
Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey said Thursday he is supporting proposals to extend the commission, but change the way members are selected to end domination of the process by lawyer interest groups. Others say the commission should be allowed to die, but that has been based on the arguments that termination would translate into contested popular elections for judges.
The full attorney general’s opinion is available HERE.

Gibbons Adds to Campaign Staff

Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Gibbons, now Shelby County district attorney general, has new additions to his campaign.
The list — tilted to West Tennessee — from a press release:
Gary Shorb, president and chief executive officer of Methodist Healthcare Corp., will serve as West Tennessee finance chairman. Shorb serves as chairman of Memphis Tomorrow, and has served previously as chairman of the Memphis Regional Chamber of Commerce.
Bill Rhodes, CEO, president and chairman of AutoZone, Inc., a Memphis-based Fortune 500 company, will serve as Shelby County finance chairman. He is the incoming chairman of Memphis Tomorrow.
Josh Thomas, Memphis area field representative for U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, will serve as campaign manager.
Dr. John Bakke, a professor emeritus of the University of Memphis, is senior consultant to the Gibbons campaign. Bakke has served as communications consultant to more than 100 political campaigns, and is recognized across Tennessee as a premier campaign consultant.
Layne Provine will serve as a consultant to the campaign. Provine was a consultant to the Tennessee House GOP in 2008 and credited with playing a leading role in the effort that led to the Republican’s historic victory to gain control of the House.
Wendy Carter will serve as finance director. Carter worked with U.S. Sen. Bob Corker on the Victory field staff, and has congressional campaign experience.
“We are not finished building our team,” Gibbons said. “It’s still very early, and as this race moves forward we will add even more strong support across the state.”
Gibbons earlier named David Kustoff, who managed former President Bush’s Tennessee campaigns, as his campaign manager.

Ambassador Ashe Returns to Senate

Victor Ashe returned to the state Senate as ambassador to Poland on Thursday and declared that, though things have changed for him, there does not seem to be a change in some issues.
“Little did I think when I resigned from the Senate I would be back 25 years later as a diplomat,” he said in a speech to the Senate. “No one else in the Senate would have thought that either, I can assure you.”
On issues, Ashe recalled that, when he was first elected to the state House in 1968, legislators “were discussing wine in grocery stores, beer in package stores and how the attorney general ought to be selected.
“Here we are 41 years later and these issues are still there,” he said.
The Senate has approved a resolution hailing Ashe’s public service, including his years in the Legislature, 16 years as mayor of Knoxville and four as ambassador to Poland.
Text of the the resolution, HERE.

Former Sen. Mike Williams Gets a TDOT Job

Former state Sen. Mike Williams of Maynardville has been hired at a project manager in the Knoxville office of the state Department of Transportation, according to a department spokeswoman.
Williams, a political independent who lost a close race to Republican Sen. Mike Faulk in last November’s elections, went to work on March 26 and will be paid $55,200 per year, according to Julie Oaks of the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT).
He was one of four recently-hired project managers, described by Oaks as “the point of accountability for the construction projects under their oversight.”
State government has a general hiring freeze in place currently, but exceptions are granted in areas of need. Oaks said the project managers will be needed to oversee road and bridge construction efforts funded through federal stimulus funds recently approved.
“The department had a number of vacancies in our project management office and has chosen to fill several of those in light of the increase in construction activity with the (stimulus funding),” she said. “I would emphasize that these are previously budgeted positions and are not newly created.”
Williams served as chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee at one point in his Senate career, before becoming Senate Speaker Pro Tempore. He was endorsed by Gov. Phil Bredesen in last year’s election.
In response to a question, Bredesen spokeswoman Lydia Lenker said the governor was aware of the hiring and approved.
“Commissioner (Gerald) Nicely and he had a conversation about this. The governor said if the position was open and former Sen. Williams was qualified, he had no problem with the hire,” Lenker said in an email.
State Republican Party spokesman Bill Hobbs said the GOP has no objection to the hiring of Williams, a former Republican who declared himself independent in 2007.
“We always thought Mike Williams needed to be in a different job than that of state Senator, and wish him well,” Hobbs said in an emailed statement.
Williams, 54, is a former teacher who more recently listed his occupation as restoring antique cars. He is a graduate of Lincoln Memorial University with a degree in health and physical education.

Legislature Daily Doings, 3/26

Sagging Pants Expanded
The AP’ reports that Louisiana is ahead of Tennessee in the bare buttocks bill, which may be unconstitutional. Click HERE
The Land of Milk and Agate
Milk is now Tennessee’s official state beverage. Agate is the official state mineral. Both designations received final approval today on the Senate consent calendar. The AP did a brief on the milk matter. The agate status escaped most media notice.
Political Website Wrangle
From the AP (mostly): House Republicans have rejected an attempt by Democrats to add a rider concerning political Web sites to a largely unrelated bill.
House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner of Old Hickory proposed the amendment to create a legal recourse against people who operate Web sites that falsely represent others.
The proposal follows the no-contest plea earlier this month by a House GOP staffer who operated fake political Web sites in the name of a Democratic candidate.
The measure was voted down on a 49-48 vote, with all but one Republican voting to throw out Turner’s proposal.
The bill (HB054) sponsored by Rep. Eric Swafford, a Pikeville Republican, concerns penalties for intellectual property violations.
Critics say it would allow more people to dodge punishment for selling counterfeit CDs, videos and the like. After the squabbling, Swafford postponed a final vote on the measure.
Colorful Bus Ads
From the AP: The House has voted 81-16 to allow school districts to sell color advertising on school buses.
Under current law, school busses can carry only black and white advertising on their back panels.
Rep. Jimmy Eldridge, a Jackson Republican and the bill’s main House sponsor, said allowing those advertisements to be made in color could raise an estimated $150,000 for his home county.
The Senate previously passed the measure on a 30-0 vote, but would have to agree to a House change that prohibits advertising food items that aren’t allowed to be sold in schools before the bill could head for the governor’s consideration.
Rep. John Litz, a Morristown Democrat who voted against the bills, said he worries that color advertisements could lead to more accidents.
The bill is HB921.

Panel OK on Old Buses

School buses would be allowed to operate another two years, so long as they do not pass the 200,000-mile mark, under legislation that cleared a key state House hurdle on Wednesday.
The bill touched off extended debate in the House K-12 Subcommittee as supporters argued the move will allow financially-strapped school systems to hold down expenses while critics contended the safety of children could be jeopardized.
Current law puts a 15-year, 150,000 mile limit on use of buses by public school systems.
As initially drafted, HB092 by Rep. Jim Cobb, R-Spring City, would have allowed some buses to operate as long as 20 years with no mileage restriction. As a compromise, Cobb agreed to an amendment that would set the maximum at 17 years, with no mileage limit for some buses.
Over Cobb’s objections, the subcommittee voted 7-6 to add a 200,000-mile limit. The overall bill (HB092) was then approved on a 9-3 vote.
In all cases, buses over 15 years of age will have to be inspected twice per year and be granted a waiver by the state Department of Education. Only one inspection is required for buses used less than 13 years.
Cobb said the 200,000-mile restriction was unwarranted and will reduce the number of buses that can continue to operate under the new law. But the bill is still an improvement over current law, he said.