Monthly Archives: January 2014

TN commenary on ‘State of the Union’ speech; UT prof says GOP response highlights party fractures

From the News Sentinel:
Perhaps the most telling part of an otherwise “pedestrian” State of the Union address Tuesday, has been the fractured reactions from the President Barack Obama’s opposition, according to a political scientist.

“This is the first time (following a major presidential speech) I can remember it being so obvious the opposing party is speaking not with one voice, but with several,” said Anthony Nownes, a political scientist at the University of Tennessee. “They are not able to work together to propose an alternative to the president other than to say ‘We don’t want what he wants.’”

The official, televised party response came from highest-ranking woman in the House, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, of Washington, who commentators largely agree succeeded in her measured, thoughtful reply to the president.

“Republicans have plans to close the gap, plans that focus on jobs first without more spending, government bailouts and red tape,” she said.

But there were a flurry of other replies from Sens. Rand Paul, of Kentucky, and Mike Lee, of Utah, along with Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, of Florida, who delivered a Spanish-language speech that echoed much of what McMorris Rodgers said.

The tone from Paul and Lee, both Tea Party members, was pointed and combative compared to the more even tone from McMorris Rodgers. Other Republicans issued news releases with reflections on the speech, including Sen. Lamar Alexander, of Maryville. Alexander’s statement pushed for the president to offer “a real answer to income inequality” by suggesting he “liberate the free enterprise system from Obama regulations so it can create more good new jobs.”

Some news releases from Tennessee politicians on the State of the Union are below.
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Beretta to build gun-making plant in TN; gun owner rights ‘first criteria’ in choice

By Lucas Johnson, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Italian gun maker Beretta said Wednesday that Tennessee’s support for gun rights was a major factor in its decision to build a manufacturing and research facility in the Nashville suburb of Gallatin.

The $45 million plant is projected to be complete this year and create 300 new jobs.

Gun rights were “the first criteria for deciding to even consider a state,” said Jeff Reh, a member of Beretta USA Corp.’s board of directors.

Reh spoke to reporters after a press conference that included Gov. Bill Haslam and Franco Gussalli Beretta, the company’s executive vice president and director, as well as lawmakers and city officials.

Reh, who led the site search, said there were some states considered that “respect Second Amendment rights,” but they “didn’t have the type of support that we saw in Tennessee.”

Several states began wooing Beretta from Maryland after the company raised objections to a wide-ranging gun control measure enacted there last year. Company officials said Wednesday that they have reached capacity in Maryland, requiring the expansion elsewhere.

“We look forward to building operations here and being part of your community for many years to come,” Beretta said.
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Senate panel approves bill to override gun bans in city, county parks

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A proposal that seeks to do away with local government’s power to decide whether to allow firearms in public parks advanced to a full Senate vote on Tuesday despite opposition from the governor.

The measure (SB1496) sponsored by Republican Sen. Stacey Campfield of Knoxville passed the Senate Judiciary Committee 6-2.

The Legislature in 2009 gave city and county governments the ability to opt out of a new law that allowed firearms in public parks, playgrounds and sports fields.

Under Campfield’s proposal, permit holders would be allowed to carry, unless there’s a school function.

“There have been multiple rapes in our parks,” Campfield said. “Someone should be able to defend themselves … no matter where they are.”

A representative from Bill Haslam’s office reiterated Tuesday that the Republican governor is against the legislation. Haslam told reporters last week that he has “major concerns” about the proposal.

When Haslam was Knoxville mayor, he supported a 2009 city council vote that kept in place a ban on handguns in some of the city’s parks.

“I have a concern about that in the sense of I think if that property belongs to local governments then their locally elected officials should be able to decide what happens to that property,” Haslam said last week.

Gates Foundation bankrolling Common Core support campaign in TN

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation made three significant donations in Tennessee near the end of 2013 to help the push implementation of the controversial Common Core education standards and related testing, according to The Tennessean.

One of those, a $400,000 grant in November to the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce for “improving college and career readiness,” came ahead of the chamber’s recent announcement of a group called Business for Tennessee Prosperity. The coalition, which consists of 400 businesses, already has kicked off a public relations push in support of Common Core that began last week with a statewide radio advertisement blitz.

The radio ad says it was paid for by the Tennessee Association of Business Foundation, a branch of the chamber that the Gates foundation lists as the grant recipient.

“We’re proud to call them a partner,” said Bradley Jackson, a Tennessee chamber lobbyist, who estimated that the first statewide ad buy cost between $50,000 and $100,000.

…Gates’ financial support in Tennessee is just a small fraction of the overall dollars the foundation has poured into organizations nationwide that support Common Core — more than $20 million last year, according to the Washington Post,on top of $170 million to support its development.

Fleischmann aide to become Hamilton County election administrator

A lifelong Chattanoogan and political veteran will serve as the county’s next election administrator, reports the Chattanooga TFP.

Kerry Steelman, a caseworker for U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn., will leave his job with the congressman and take the nonpartisan county office next month to replace Charlotte Mullis-Morgan, who is retiring after three decades with the election office.

The Hamilton County Election Commission voted Steelman in Monday after interviewing seven others for the post. Originally, 39 people applied for the position.

Steelman, 42, said Monday he looks forward to his new job and new challenges that come with it. The 2014 election will include more than 80 offices on ballots across Hamilton County.

Ramsey lauds vouchers to school choice activists; Haslam not so much

Gov. Bill Haslam took the podium in front of Tennessee’s most ardent “school choice” supporters but barely alluded to the item they covet most, reports The Tennessean. That would be a state voucher system that would allow public dollars to go toward private schooling.

Up next, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey called such a plan the single biggest area Tennessee must address after major education changes recently.

“The one thing that we’re lacking is that school choice,” Ramsey told a crowd gathered in Nashville to celebrate National School Choice week. He called parents at failing public schools “trapped,” adding, “The time has come for that to change.”

Their remarks reflect different paths into renewed Republican negotiations over vouchers, one year after a proposal died in the Senate.

…Haslam and Ramsey spoke Tuesday before nearly 1,000 private school children and parents bused into Nashville from across the state. Nine groups organized the event, including StudentsFirst, Tennessee Federation for Children and the Beacon Center of Tennessee.

…Haslam told the audience Tennessee needs more choice, reminding them of a bill he signed into law that opened charter schools to all Tennessee students. He then applauded the state’s private schools: “We want to give the opportunity for more students to have more opportunity.

Haslam appoints task force to study state’s education funding formula; Democrat protests lack of teachers

News release from the governor’s office:
NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced the creation of a task force to study the Basic Education Program (BEP), which is the state’s funding formula for K-12 schools.

The most recent revision to the BEP, known as BEP 2.0, was adopted in 2007. The formula takes factors such as local property and sales tax revenue into account when calculating how much money Tennessee school districts will receive from the state each year. A number of districts, both large and small, have raised questions and concerns about the formula and whether it distributes funds in a fair and equitable manner.

“The last significant revision of the BEP was seven years ago, and education in Tennessee has changed a lot since then,” Haslam said. “It is the appropriate time to take a fresh look at the formula, identify strengths and weaknesses and determine whether or not changes should be made.”

Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman will chair the task force, and members will include:
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Alexander proposes federally-funded school vouchers

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander has introduced legislation that would give 11 million children from low-income families federal money to spend on any kind of schooling their parents choose, as long as it is in an accredited institution.

From the New York Times:
Although the bill is likely to face strong opposition from the Democratic majority in the Senate, it is another sign that Republicans are staking out school choice as a significant rallying point in an election year and promoting it on the day President Obama delivers his State of the Union address. Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, the majority leader, has spoken out repeatedly about his support for vouchers and an expansion of charter schools.

“We have a problem with federal funds today that are supposed to be going to low-income families,” Mr. Alexander, Republican of Tennessee, said in a telephone interview. “The simplest way for them to get there is just to pin them to the blouse or shirt of a child and let it follow the child to the school they attend.”

Mr. Alexander’s bill would take about $24 billion — or about 41 percent — of current federal spending on elementary and secondary public schools, and allow states to decide whether to give the lowest-income families the money as individual scholarships to pay for private school tuition, or to attend a public school outside the child’s traditional neighborhood zone, or a charter school.

For each eligible child, based on family income, an average of about $2,100 in federal money would be allocated.

About a third of states have already taken steps to redefine public education with a network of vouchers and scholarships that allow families to use state taxpayer funds to educate their children however they want, whether it be in public, charter, private or religious schools, online or at home.

Under Mr. Alexander’s bill, states would be allowed to opt in to the voucher program. States could also continue to distribute federal funds to public schools rather than individual students.

Republicans have long favored voucherlike proposals. During the 2012 presidential campaign, the Republican nominee, Mitt Romney, proposed a program similar to Senator Alexander’s.

Note: The Alexander news release is below
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Wine in grocery stores split into two bills, clears two House committees

Proponents of legalizing wine sales in grocery stores unveiled a new compromise with the liquor store lobby Tuesday, then deployed a new strategy to bypass a potentially hostile House committee.

At least on its debut day, the somewhat convoluted plan worked.

After years of failure for similar legislation, both the House and Senate are now positioned for final approval of permitting retail wine sales outside of liquor stores within a week.

The proposed compromise, negotiated by lobbyists for the opposing sides with prodding from House Speaker Beth Harwell and Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, was packaged into a bill sponsored by Rep. Ryan Haynes, R-Knoxville, then approved by the House State Government Committee that he chairs.

Meanwhile, last year’s wine-in-grocery-stores bill was whittled down to do nothing except allow city and county governments in areas that now permit liquor sales to hold referendums on grocery store wine sales within their jurisdictions. In that form, it passed the House Local Government Committee which had killed broader bill last year.

Among key provisions of the compromise proposal:

–Wine sales would be allowed in stores with at least 2,000 square feet of floor space, provided at least 20 percent of the facility’s gross sales is in food products, defined as items treated as food for state sales tax purposes.
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WIGS compromise unveiled; House now taking a two-bill approach

By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Any store deriving at least 20 percent of its sales from groceries could qualify to sell wine under the latest proposal introduced to Tennessee lawmakers on Tuesday.

The proposal would also require stores to have a retail space of at least 2,000 square feet and set July 1, 2016, as the earliest date that supermarkets and convenience stores could sell wine. Existing package stores would also be allowed to sell non-liquor items like beer, cigarettes, snacks and ice.

The House State Government Committee adopted the 29-page amendment outlining the measure sponsored by Republican Reps. Ryan Haynes of Knoxville, Jon Lundberg of Bristol and House Speaker Beth Harwell of Nashville. But the panel put off a full vote until later Tuesday.

“The public’s desire to have wine in grocery stores has been listened to, and we’re trying to make that happen,” Haynes said after the meeting.

A separate bill would set up a mechanism for holding a local referendum on whether to allow supermarket wine sales.

The latest version of the bill rebuffs attempts by lobbyists for package stores and liquor wholesalers to exclude convenience stores and big box retailers like Wal-Mart and Target. But it would give a nod to existing liquor store owners by banning any store located within 500 feet from being able to sell wine until July 2017.

Many liquor stores are located close to supermarkets because of the current law that prevents the markets from selling any drinks stronger than beer with an alcohol content of 6.5 percent by volume.
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