Monthly Archives: February 2013

Alexander, Corker Join KY Senators to Block Fishing Restrictions

News release from Sen. Lamar Alexander’s office:
WASHINGTON, Feb. 28 – U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), along with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Senators Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.), today introduced legislation that would stop the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from restricting fishing in the tailwaters below the Cumberland River dams.
Alexander’s legislation would prevent the Corps from enacting its plan, rather than simply delay it, as previously intended, because of the Corps’ continued commitment to move forward.
In addition to introducing the legislation, Alexander spoke by phone today with Secretary of the Army John McHugh, and announced that he will meet Monday with Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works Jo-Ellen Darcy to discuss the Corps’ planned restrictions.
Alexander said the Corps is pushing an “unreasonable plan to restrict fishing below Cumberland River dams that will destroy remarkably good recreational opportunities and many jobs.” The Corps plan would restrict public access to the fishing waters below 10 dams on the Cumberland River.
Alexander continued, “Water spills through the Cumberland River dams less than 20 percent of the time on average. To close off the tailwaters to fishing 100 percent of the time would be like keeping the gate down at the railroad crossing 100 percent of the time: The track isn’t dangerous when the train isn’t coming, and the tailwaters aren’t dangerous when the water isn’t spilling through the dam.”
The senator, who is the senior Republican on the Senate committee overseeing Corps funding, also said that he “wanted to know exactly where the $2.6 million that the Corps plans to use to erect physical barriers is coming from during these tight budget times.” Alexander said Congress may also need to consider whether the funding required for the barrier system is in the best interest of the American taxpayer.
State officials have said safety concerns can be addressed by anglers adhering to current requirements, and by making changes to policy that would be far less restrictive than the Corps’ plan. Alexander has called on the Corps to reconsider its position, in the hopes that a compromise could find a way to better address safety concerns only when the waters are dangerous.

House Sends ‘Guns in Parking Lots’ Bill to Governor

By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The House on Thursday voted to send to the governor a contentious bill that would allow the state’s nearly 400,000 handgun carry permit holders to store firearms in their vehicles no matter where they are parked.
Before the vote, Speaker Beth Harwell assured Republican colleagues that the measure is endorsed by the National Rifle Association and that members of the business community are “holding their noses” about its passage.
The chamber voted 72-22 to pass the measure, sponsored by Republican Rep. Jeremy Faison of Cosby, after rejecting a series of Democratic proposals to maintain business owners’ rights to ban weapons on their property and to create exceptions for schools and colleges.
“We have just under 400,000 law abiding citizens who have gone through the necessary process to obtain a handgun carry permit and have proved their worth to carry a gun,” Faison said. “The least we can do is allow them to keep this gun locked in their car as they go to work and carry in their daily lives.”

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Democrats Plan House Floor Fight Over ‘Guns in Cars’ Amendments

News release from House Democratic Caucus
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh was joined today by members of the House Democratic Caucus at a press conference to discuss upcoming amendments to HB118, the ‘Guns in Parking Lots’ bill sponsored by Rep. Faison in the House and Speaker Ramsey in the Senate.
“We know the majority wants to pass this bill and pass it quickly,” said Leader Fitzhugh. “It’s made a mad dash through the Senate and the House, in some cases coming out of committee in less than six minutes. That’s why we’re here today previewing the amendments and laying out our concerns.”
Leader Fitzhugh has introduced seven amendments to the bill. These amendments would protect private property rights and promote public safety while still preserving the rights of handgun permit holders to carry their firearms with them.

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‘Higher Education Equality Act’ Fails in Senate Committee

A proposed “Higher Education Equality Act,” designed to end most affirmative action programs at state colleges and universities, fell one vote short of passage in the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday.
The bill by Sen. Jim Summerville, R-Dickson, (SB8) had been debated at length over two previous weekly meetings of the panel with officials of the University of Tennessee and Board of Regents systems saying it could have unintended consequences hurting various college endeavors.
Before the final vote, the committee adopted an amendment proposed by Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, that he described as addressing “every single objection” raised by higher education officials.
Still, only Campfield and three other senators voted for the bill on final vote. Two voted no and three abstained. A bill requires five yes votes to move out of the committee.

AP: Guns in Parking Lots Have Led to Gun Violence

By Eric Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — It was after 2 a.m. when David Aller was thrown out of the Klub Cirok Nightclub & VIP Lounge for fighting. That’s when police say the 26-year-old man retrieved a loaded handgun from his car in the club parking lot and returned to threaten patrons.
Aller, who was charged with aggravated assault for the Nov. 11 incident, was also a handgun carry permit holder.
Ever since lawmakers opened serious consideration of a bill to allow permit holders to store firearms in their vehicles — no matter where they are parked — backers have maintained security won’t be threatened because gun permit holders are law-abiding citizens and unlikely to commit crimes.
Public records reviewed by AP show, however, that some incidents, like the one at Klub Cirok, have the potential to become violent when guns are drawn by permit holders in parking lots. And club promoter Joe Savage said the bill is misguided.
“If it’s at the Waffle House it’s one thing, but if it’s Cirok’s it’s another,” Savage told AP in the club’s parking lot. “You can’t just say across the board it’s going to be all right — because it’s not all right.
“If this was a church and they were all nuns and priests, then fine,” he said. “But that’s not what this is.”

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Nullification Bill Fails on 4-4 Tie Vote in Senate Judiciary

After an hour of impassioned debate over whether state legislatures can overrule federal statutes or U.S. Supreme Court decisions, legislation calling for Tennessee nullification of federal firearms laws failed on a 4-4 tie vote Wednesday in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
State Attorney General Bob Cooper had issued a formal legal opinion declaring the bill (SB250) was unconstitutional because of the U.S. Constitution’s Supremacy Clause. But sponsor Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mount Juliet, brought in witnesses to counter Cooper’s opinion.
Most notable was a woman calling herself “Publius Huldah,” who refused to give her real name. She operates a blog under that name that promotes nullification as a valid constitutional principle.
“When the federal government makes a clearly ursurpatious law, such as restricting firearms, it is the duty of the state” to nullify that law, she said.
The committee chairman, Republican Sen. Brian Kelsey of Germantown, said the bill is unconstitutional and could lead to Tennessee sheriffs and their deputies “going out and using deadly force, potentially to shoot and kill federal authorities, for enforcing the federal laws.”
The bill, as filed declares the federal agents trying to enforce a law deemed void by the Legislature would be subject to felony prosecution. An amendment added Wednesday at Beavers’ request dropped the crime rating to a misdemeanor, which she said would mean federal agents could be issued a citation rather than being arrested and taken into custody by state law enforcement officers.
A legislative liaison for Gov. Bill Haslam was asked the governor’s view on the bill. Samuel Arnold told the committee the administration has “significant concerns about the constitutionality” of the bill and there is “a good chance he (Haslam) is not going to sign it.” Without an actual veto, however, the bill would become law without the governor’s signature.
The final 4-4 vote came with one member of the panel, Sen. Ophelia Ford, D-Memphis, absent. Those voting for the bill were Sens. Mike Bell, R-Riceville; Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville; Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga; and Mark Green, R-Clarksville. Voting no were Sens. Lowe Finney, D-Jackson; Kelsey; Doug Overbey, R-Maryville; and John Stevens, R-Huntingdon.

Audit: Rockwood Man Bought $32,726 in Guns, Cameras and Clothes With City Credit Card

News release from comptroller’s office:
Investigators from the Comptroller’s office have discovered that a former Rockwood city coordinator used a city credit card and a city store charge card to purchase at least $32,725 in property and services for his personal benefit over a period of about three years.
These personal purchases included nearly $12,000 in guns, ammunition and firearm accessories, more than $7,000 in clothing, nearly $6,000 for camera equipment, more than $4,000 in online college tuition and nearly $4,000 for other miscellaneous personal items.
An investigative audit released today details how the former coordinator, Tom Pierce, used the city credit card to purchase at least 11 guns, including a tactical shot gun, a .308 rifle, a .44 caliber revolver, and two 9 mm pistols. These guns were registered to Pierce personally, not on behalf of the city. He also used the city credit card to purchase holsters, rifle scopes, tactical sights and ammunition.
Additionally, Pierce used the city credit card to also purchase clothing for his personal benefit at a total cost of $7,263. The clothing purchased includes polo shirts, cargo shorts, underwear, socks, women’s jeans, suit separates and running shoes. Additionally, the report details how Pierce used the city credit card to purchase premium cameras and photography equipment costing at least $5,697, including two Olympus cameras priced at more than $1,200 each. Although the city owned various inexpensive digital cameras used by employees, both the current mayor and the former mayor told the Comptroller’s investigators that they had no knowledge Pierce had purchased premium camera equipment at the city’s expense.
According to the Comptroller’s report, Pierce used the city credit card to charge business management courses totaling $4,190 from an online college and also used the city credit card to purchase other personal items with a total value of $3,675, which included protein powder, testosterone booster, digital music, books and movies.
Investigators determined that all of these charges were paid for with city funds. Both the current mayor and the former mayor told investigators that they had no knowledge Pierce had purchased the personal items at the city’s expense, either. They also indicated that they would not have given permission for the city to pay for such expenses.
“It is unacceptable for people in positions of public trust to abuse that trust at the expense of local taxpayers,” Comptroller Justin P. Wilson said. “I commend our investigators for helping to bring these issues to light. I also want to thank the district attorney and his staff for the work they have done on this case.”
This month, the Roane County Grand Jury returned a seven-count indictment against Pierce for theft, fraudulent use of a credit card and official misconduct.
To view the Comptroller’s report online, go to: http://www.comptroller.tn.gov/ia/
To view photos of some of the personal items purchased with city funds, go to: http://www.comptroller.tn.gov/repository/NR/20130227RockwoodReleasePictures.pdf

TN Hospital Association Poll: 60 Percent Favor Medicaid Expansion

The Tennessee Hospital Association released a poll showing a majority of residents want expansion, reports WPLN.
Nearly 60 percent of respondents to the hospital association’s poll said the state should accept federal dollars to expand it’s health insurance program for the poor as envisioned in the Affordable Care Act.
THA president Craig Becker says he’s also seen a softening among state lawmakers.
“We started with many of our legislators back in the summertime with basically a ‘hell no.’ Now we’ve moved ourselves much closer I think where they’re willing to be open to hear what we have to say.”
Becker claims some rural facilities could close. Because of cuts, he says hospitals need the hundreds of thousands of paying customers Medicaid expansion would provide.
Democrats are also now pushing for an up or down vote. They say they’re tired of waiting for Governor Bill Haslam to make a decision


Note: News release below.

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TN Child Deaths Down; Still Higher Than Most States

A total of 802 children died in Tennessee in 2011, with a third of those deaths a result of abuse, murder, drowning, suicide, suffocation or other preventable causes, according to Department of Health data reported by The Tennessean.
State health officials note it is the fewest number of child deaths they have had to report in the past five years. Still, the new data are unlikely to shake Tennessee’s grim foothold on the top 10 list for states in the country with the highest child death rates.
Children are more likely to die in Tennessee before they reach their 18th birthday than in most other states, surpassing the national average of 52 deaths for every 100,000 children.
In Tennessee, the average was closer to 66 deaths per 100,000 children, according to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data for 2010, the most recent year that national comparison data are available. By 2011, child deaths claimed 60 of every 100,000 Tennessee children.

Gov Concerned About Sequester

Gov. Bill Haslam warns federal spending cuts looming at the end of this week would affect not just the state’s budget, but also Tennessee’s economy as a whole, reports WPLN.
The sequester would furlough some federal workers in places like Fort Campbell and Oak Ridge National Laboratory, potentially setting back local economies.
Haslam is careful to say he believes the federal government should spend less money, but he sees the sequester as the wrong approach, pointing to across-the-board cuts in places like Oak Ridge. They would do equal harm to projects that are needed, Haslam says, as to those he called a nice-to, but not a have-to.
“Take a workforce development program or training program – that would be cut 8 percent, just like cleaning up mercury out of the water and land that they’re in the middle of a process. And you’re gonna call the project off; the contractor who we’ve hired to do that, I guarantee you it’ll cost more to pull them off and send them back than the money you save there.”