Monthly Archives: May 2009

Recommended Reading Roundup

More Media on Guns & Bars
The Chattanooga Times Free Press quotes a Baptist preacher backing the governor on his veto: “When you put a gun in the hand of someone who is under the influence of alcohol, you’re really mixing a bloody cocktail”… Gail Kerr finds a waitress opining that, “The guv grew a pair”…And even Newsweek did a write up on the flap.
Note: So far, however, I’ve seen no report on a legislator who voted for guns and bars changing his/her mind and declaring support for the veto.
The Curious Case of Kent
A.C. Kleinheider meditates on the matter, HERE.
Bredesen’s Blame-me Budget
In an interview with AP Erik, Govl Phil Bredesen responds to a question on legislator reaction to his package of budget cuts: “I hope they’ll just sort of say, ‘There’s lots of stuff not to like here, but we’ll blame it all on Bredesen’.”
The governor also said he finds budget-cutting emotionally trying, which makes for an interesting contrast to statements a while back that he found a “perverse” pleasure in the challenge.
Caption Bills 101
If you can’t figure how things can suddenly and amazingly appear in Legislatorland late in the session, yours truly provides a lecture of sorts HERE.

Bredesen: Mental Health Cuts May Mean Lawsuit

Gov. Phil Bredesen expects a lawsuit over his proposed cuts to mental health services, if the Legislature enacts them, but says they don’t hurt patient care, the AP reports.
The governor laid out plans for $214 million in budget cuts last week, including elimination of about 717 filled job positions, a majority in the Mental Retardation Services Division and the Department of Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities.
More from the AP story, by Lucas Johnson:
Many of the positions being eliminated are at two mental health facilities in West Tennessee, one in Middle Tennessee, and two in East Tennessee. Officials say the cuts reflect fewer patients at those institutions.
“In mental health, obviously there’s a significant number of those layoffs … but what they’re doing is healthy,” Bredesen said. “I was very respectful of those commissioners in terms of how they wanted to go about layoffs.”
Jill Hudson, spokeswoman for the Department of Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities, said the state is funded for 832 beds statewide, but there are currently only 633 people occupying them. She said the state plans to reduce the number of beds to 676, which means a reduction in staff.
“When you have a certain number of beds, you have to have a certain amount of staffing requirements,” Hudson said. “So, when you get rid of the beds, automatically your staffing ratio will go down. I don’t think any layoff is good, but if we don’t have the bed numbers, we don’t need the additional staff.”
Despite the reduction in workers, Hudson said “it won’t hurt patient care at all.”
Melissa Marshall, director of public affairs for the Mental Retardation Services Division, said the same applies for her agency.
With the layoffs, however, Bredesen said he realizes he risks lawsuits from health care advocates.
“We’ve been fighting these things and taking our positions, and generally winning on them, and certainly intend to keep doing that,” he said.
Bredesen last year warned that up to 2,000 state workers could face layoffs, but later said those employees would be spared because of the influx of $4.5 billion in federal stimulus money.
But only a small portion of the federal money can be used to plug general budget holes, and the worse-than-expected economic performance this spring has caused layoffs to once again come into the picture.
Tony Garr, director of the Tennessee Health Care Campaign, said the state should consider tapping reserves for the rainy day fund and TennCare, the state’s expanded Medicaid program.
Currently, there’s $750 million in the rainy day fund and $576 million in TennCare reserves, but the state plans to take about $250 million from each of them to close out this fiscal year. Still, Garr believes they should be used to prevent the mental health cuts.
“Even after the moving around of money out of TennCare, we’re still talking about over $300 million in reserves,” he said.
But TennCare spokeswoman Kelly Gunderson said further siphoning of reserves would be hurtful.
“It’s never a good idea to take reserve funds, that are one-time funds, to use for recurring costs,” she said. “We are already dipping heavily into the reserves just to help the state stabilize itself in general. Once you dip into that, there’s no money left to sustain it.”

On Trigger Burgers and Flicka Fries

While advancing in the House, legislation laying the legal groundwork for horse meat processing in Tennessee has been left in a Senate committee stall.
The bill (HB1428) has been the source of both serious debate and no small amount of joking this session.
“I just want to make sure that, in this financial crisis… that this bill in no way is going to influence the price of Trigger burgers or Flicka fries,” Rep. G.A. Hardaway, D-Memphis, told House sponsor Rep. Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains, during a House Government Operations Committee hearing.
Niceley’s bill won=2 0unanimous approval of that committee and got only one negative vote in clearing House Agriculture Committee. But Sen. Mike Faulk, R-Kingsport, acknowledges the bill lacks the votes to clear the Senate Commerce Committee, which has closed for the session – subject to reopening if the chairman decides to do so.
Similarly, a resolution Nicely sponsored (HJR245) opposing pending federal legislation to ban export of horse meat from the United States has cleared the full House, 65-15 with seven members abstaining. But Faulk has put it on hold in the Senate Finance Committee, again acknowledging there is not enough support from members.
A separate move is afoot in Congress to open the door for states to begin operating slaughter houses for horses, Niceley says. His bill, patterned after a measure already enacted in Montana, is designed to position Tennessee to proceed with a processing plant quickly if the federal ban is lifted.
Basically, the current ban is based on a requirement that the U.S. Department of Agriculture oversee inspections of horse processing plants while Congress has prohibited the use of federal funds for the inspections. The proposed change would allow states to do the inspections and the bill begins the process.
Faulk said the federal ban on horse slaughter, though well intentioned, had “horrendous unintended consequences.”
The sponsors say the state and nation is flooded with abandoned horses, many facing starvation and others packed inhumanely into trucks and driven long distances to slaughterhouses in Canada and Mexico, where they are processed for human consumption in Europe and Asia or for use in feeding carnivores in American zoos.
Niceley says various associations of horse owners, the Farm Bureau and others support the legislation while “the only ones against it are PETA and the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS).”
Leighann McCollum, state director for HSUS, said the bill is indeed a “hot issue” to members of the group, but more than 100 other groups are also opposed.
“We have a situation now where slaughter is being driven by profit, not by an overwhelming number of unwanted horses,” she said, adding that horse meat can be worth $25 or $30 a pound in other nations where it is viewed as a delicacy.
“It’s not like it would help feed starving children somewhere,” McCollum said. “Slaughter is not the only option for unwanted horses. There are extensive equine rescure operations.”
Faulk said the American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has generated “hundreds” of emails to legislators opposing the bill.
“Other organizations that are more horse-specific to not have that network,” he said. “Legislators have not had the opportunity to hear from the grass roots (of those active in the horse industry). It’s going to take a while for that to happen.”

Is GOP Selection of Chris Devaney a Step Toward the Center?

The election of Chris Devaney as Tennessee Republican chairman arguably indicates a tentative step back from a drift to the right that some detected under the leadership of Robin Smith.
Devaney, after all, has been serving as state director for Sen. Bob Corker, long suspected of moderate leanings on many matters.
Before that, Devaney was executive director of the state party under former chairman Bob Davis, known as more of a professional political operative and less aligned with the grass roots conservative camp than Smith.
In addition to the Bobs in his background, Devaney’s credentials may otherwise be seen as more professional than ideological.
In the three-way race for party chair, state Rep. Eric Swafford of Pikeville was clearly farther to the right than either Devaney or Oscar Brock. And Swafford lost on the first ballot in Republican Executive Committee voting on Saturday.
As Andy Sher reports, Van Hilleary, the former congressman and 2002 gubernatorial nominee still beloved by many state party conservatives, joined with National Committeeman John Ryder (who ousted Hilleary as committeeman in a vote last year) in urging executive committee members to vote for Brock. That didn’t help. Or at least not enough.
The vote on the second ballot: Devaney 28, Brock 25. (Fifty-four of the 66 committee members were present, so 28 was the bare minimum needed for a majority. One member present apparently didn’t vote.)
The Hilleary-Ryder statement said the Brock would be “an honest, unbiased broker” in the GOP gubernatorial race next year, reasonably seen as a suggestion Devaney (or Swafford) would not be honest and unbiased.
A suggestion there that Devaney would tilt toward the candidate of what Hilleary once called “the kingmakers,” a reference to big contributors more oriented toward business issues than social causes? Such folks (i.e., Jim Haslam, Ted Welch, etc.) seem to be lining up behind Bill Haslam for 2010.
Devaney, of course, says he’s neutral:
“My only agenda is to win state legislative races and help the governor’s candidate where we can,” he told the Chattanooga Times Free Press on Saturday.
Brock, as a veteran member of the Executive Committee, would presumably have some advantage among other members. And he probably did, making the race close. Note that Brock declared he had the support of 25 members on the day that Smith departed. It’s just that he didn’t gain any more.
Another squabble in the campaigning centered on an email that faulted Smith for her handling of party finances — unfairly so, according to party Executive Director Mark Winslow and Frank Colvett, chairman the finance committee. Colvett blamed “supporters of Chris Devaney” for the email. Devaney denied any involvement.
Still, one could see the flap as indicating that some Smith loyalists were against Devaney and vice versa.
After the election, of course, Brock was a gracious loser, congratulating Devaney on an “excellent campaign” and pledging cooperation in uniting the party for the 2010 campaign effort.
Some Democrats, having watched their own party go through an upheaval after the most recent state chairman election, may be hoping the Republicans have gone through a similar split that will need patching.
Such speculation is probably premature. Likewise on the suggested step toward the center, which would perhaps cause a split in need of patching – unless done very carefully by a professional and pragmatic political operative.

Haslam Schedules Post-Midnight Announcement, Too

With an interesting bit of timing, Knoxville Mayor and gubernatorial candidate Bill Haslam has sent out a news release to media embargoed for 12:01 a.m. Monday, June 1.
Coincidentally, that happens to be the same time Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey has set for the official kickoff of Ramsey’s campaign for governor at an event in Franklin.
The Ramsey announcement time, also coincidentally we’re sure, is the very moment that the lieutentant governor can legally began accepting campaign contributions.
Legislators are banned from taking donations until June 1, which, of course, begins at 12:01 a.m. Monday.
Haslam’s press secretary, Jeremy Harrell, did not return a late Friday afternoon phone call asking if he was serious about the embargo. But, interestingly, The Tennessee Journal reports in its email edition Friday that Haslam has plans to announce Sunday a finance team of more than 70 members.
Hmm. What could the announcement be?
OK, the embargo may have been broken. But we’ll just program this blog thing (I think I know how to do that) to post the news release from the man with $3 million in the bank at the designated time. So check back at 12:01 a.m. Monday.

This Year’s Legislative Plate Special

Seventeen new specialty license plates would be authorized under this year’s “omnibus license plate” legislation, which is prepared for passage in the waning weeks of the 2009 session.
Here’s the list, in order provided within the omnibus amendment to HB1335:
-Music City Inc. Foundation
-Municipal Court Judges
-United Way
-The University of Illinois
-Cherohala Skyway Foundation
-A “Tennessee Solar Power” plate to benefit the Tennessee Energy Education Network.
-The Lord’s Child, a charitable organization working with children.
-Tennessee Nurses Foundation
-A “I Recycle” plate to benefit Project 2000 Inc.
-Tennessee Off-Highway Vehicle Association
-National Fraternal Order of Police
-Colon Cancer Awareness
-An “In God We Trust” plate to benefit the Tennessee State Museum Association.
-Support Our Troops Inc.
-Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity
-Niswonger Children’s Hospital
-A “teachers” plate, helping fund a scholarship for teachers seeking additional higher education.
The bill would also give five organizations extra time to collect the 1,000 purchase promise signatures needed before a specialty plate is issued.

Haslam Backs Williams’ Republican Status

Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam, a candidate for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, says that House Speaker Kent Williams should be able to run for re-election as a Republican.
“While I didn’t like the whole process involved in his selection, I don’t think throwing someone out of the party is the answer,” Haslam said in a brief interview Thursday at the Legislative Plaza.
“I just don’t think it’s wise to throw somebody out of the party who wants to run as a Republican,” he said, adding that Republican voters can make such decisions.
State Republican Chairman Robin Smith earlier this year declared that Williams is no longer a “bonafide” Republican, meaning he cannot qualify to run for re-election next year as a member of the party.
Haslam is apparently the second GOP gubernatorial candidate to indicate support for Williams. U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp visited Williams at his Elizabethton restaurant last weekend in a show of support, according to a Tri-Cities TV station.
On the other hand, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, also a candidate, was highly critical of Williams for joining with Democrats to have himself elected and indicated support for Smith’s decision earlier this year.

Sen. Jackson Files Veto Override Notice

Sen. Doug Jackson, sponsor of the so-called “guns in bars” bill vetoed by Gov. Phil Bredesen on Thursday, filed a motion to override the veto on Friday.
On Thursday, Jackson had said he wanted to review the governor’s comments on the veto before making a final decision on seeking an override.
Here is the statement he released Friday:
“Today I filed a motion with the Clerk of the Senate to override the Governor’s veto of HB 962. I do so while acknowledging my respect for the Governor and his outstanding leadership of the state. His veto represents a fundamental difference of opinion between the two branches of state government.
“I gave close attention to the Governor’s press conference. I discerned no new facts or information which the General Assembly has not previously considered during long hours of discussion and debate.
“The House and Senate passed HB 962/SB 1127 by an overwhelming, bipartisan majority. The vote was based on irrefutable facts rather than emotion. Law abiding citizens with handgun permits have established a clear record of safety and responsibility which will continue after HB 962 becomes law.”

The House sponsor, Rep. Curry Todd, R-Collierville, has already declared he will seek an override vote as soon as possible next week and predicted it will succeed.
The National Rifle Association, meanwhile, declares that Bredesen betrayed the trust of firearms owners through his veto. For the news release, click HERE.
The NRA new

Bredesen’s Past Vetoes

Here is a list of Gov. Phil Bredesen’s past five vetoes, all of which have been upheld:
HB3019, vetoed on June 13, 2008, would have exempted two church-operated schools in Henry County from building and fire safety codes.
HB3658, vetoed on May 22, 2008, would have also exempted certain church-operated schools from fire safety codes.
HB1727, vetoed on July 6, 2007, would have limited a governor’s choices in appointing members of the Board of Licensing Contractors.
HB1797, vetoed June 27, 2007, would have provided a state subsidy for production of ethanol-blended gasoline.
SB2002, vetoed June 20, 2005, would imposed a special tax on cigarettes made by companies not making payments to the state under the “master settlement agreement.” (An attorney general’s opinion said the bill could jeopardize payments being made to the state.)

Override Advocates React, Quickly

While Gov. Phil Bredesen had obviously orchestrated his veto of the “guns in bars” bill to arrange the news conference backdrop of an applauding assembly of police and prosecutors, the override advocates were quick to respond on the email news release circuit.
Here’s a statement from Rep. Curry Todd of Collierville, sponsor of the bill in the House, as distributed through the House Republican Caucus:
“The Governor has the right to veto any measure that comes across his desk. Similarly, the legislature has the right to override any veto by a simple majority vote. This bill passed by two-thirds in both bodies, indicating that there is strong support for this measure.
“I intend to proceed with this bill, and override the veto. I’m disappointed that the Governor would use his veto power to abridge the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding Tennesseans.
“I’m also disappointed that the Governor would perpetuate the myth that this is a ‘guns in bars’ bill. This bill allows law-abiding Tennesseans with a handgun carry permit to carry in a restaurant in order to protect and defend themselves in the unfortunate event that they would need to do so.
“Ninety-five percent of the citizens who have contacted me regarding this bill want to see it pass. I intend to move forward to ensure that the wishes of the citizens of this state are carried out.
“I want to thank everyone who has shown support for this bill, and look forward to the continued support of my colleagues.”

And here’s an excerpt from the state Republican party’s instant attack:
“Gov. Bredesen’s veto is a rejection of the desires of most Tennesseans and an overwhelming and bipartisan majority of legislators. It is a slap in the face to law-abiding citizens across the Volunteer State who have carry permits and the wrong decision especially in light of Tennessee’s rising violent crime rate,” said Robin Smith, Chairman of the Tennessee Republican Party.
Tennessee has one of the highest rates of violent crime of any state in the nation and its two largest cities are ranked in the top 10 for violent crime. Allowing certified, trained citizens with carry permits to carry their weapons more places in public would add a measure of protection and defense against violent crime and criminals, Smith said. That’s what Gov. Bredesen vetoed today – and we urge the legislature to immediately overturn his veto.”
Tennessee had the second highest violent crime rate among all states in 2006, according to federal government data.
Among all cities, Memphis is ranked second for violent crime, behind only Detroit, according to the latest FBI uniform crime report