Monthly Archives: January 2014

Rep. Butt details ‘a day in the life of a TN legislator’

State Rep. Shelia Butt, R-Columbia, provides an interesting and informative column under the headline, “A day in the life of a Tennessee legislator.” A couple of excerpts from the Columbia Daily Herald:

At 11 a.m., I had a meeting with Lauren Plunk and Deborah Loveless from the Comptroller’s Office, trying to find ways for Tennessee to be financially ready if and when the 45 percent of our State Budget that is sent to us by the federal government dries up. I believe that eventually the federal government will quit sending money back to Tennessee for many of our programs, because they are already borrowing 40 cents of every dollar they send back to us. I am also trying to find out how much it costs our programs to take the federal dollars. Many times, I believe, it costs us more in mandates than we receive.

…At 1:30 p.m., I met with David Thurman from the Budget Office to discuss with him our contingency plan for Tennessee to remain fiscally sound when the federal money disappears. I am finding great resources and people who understand my concern. I know we can get prepared. As I have told them, I am concerned only for the stability of the great State of Tennessee when the “house of cards” crumbles.

Bills seek state takeover of coal mining regulation, reversing Gov. Alexander decision 30 years ago

Almost 30 years after Tennessee state government turned oversight of coal mining within its borders to the federal government, two bills have been filed in the Legislature to reverse a decision made by Lamar Alexander as governor.

Apparently by coincidence, there are actually two new legislative efforts to authorize the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) to oversee issuance of permits for coal mining and followup inspections of operations rather than the federal Office of Surface Mining (OSM).
One has been initiated by the Tennessee Mining Association, which represents the coal industry in Tennessee.

Chuck Laine, lobbyist for the association, says OSM takes three to four years to process a permit application, a lag time that that is stifling coal production in Tennessee and sending mining jobs to other states such as Kentucky, where the state-run coal oversight operation takes no more than a year – typically less — to act.

The other was initiated by state Rep. Joe Carr, R-Lascassas, who is running against Alexander in the U.S. Senate primary. Carr says he first learned about the state’s delegation of coal-mining oversight to the federal government while traveling in East Tennessee’s coal-mining counties as a candidate.
Carr says he believes Alexander’s action in 1984 is an example of the then-governor’s willingness to surrender state rights to the federal government and an “attack on coal” that continues today in his U.S. Senate service. Carr said he introduced his bill (HB1832) to rectify a situation wherein “Lamar was acting more like an Obama Democrat than a conservative Republican.”

Alexander spokesmen declined to directly address Carr’s comments or Alexander’s current position on moving oversight of the coal industry from federal to state authorities. As a senator, Alexander has consistently avoided taking a position on most state-level issues in the past, saying the state “can have only one governor at a time.”
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Miscellaneous TN political news and opinions

On DesJarlais, Tracy and a Muslim cemetery
U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais is taking a swipe at the decision to allow a cemetery at a Rutherford County mosque — and perhaps also his opponent in this August’s Republican primary, observes In Session:

DesJarlais drew fire from Muslim activists and others for a post Friday on his official Facebook page in which he seemed to lament a recent vote to let the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro build a cemetery.

“Although this is a state issue, I am deeply concerned over the impact it might have on our community,” he wrote. “Unfortunately the Tennessee Religious Freedom Act, passed by the TN General Assembly, may have played a key role in allowing this cemetery to be approved.”

…DesJarlais appears to be referring to a 2009 law, the Tennessee Religious Freedom Restoration Act, that was meant to protect religious groups from burdensome regulations. The mosque, arguably, has benefited from that law, as activists in Rutherford County have tried unsuccessfully to stop, first, the building’s construction and, then, the cemetery.

DesJarlais has said little about the mosque until now, but he has an incentive to take a shot at the law. His main opponent in August, state Sen. Jim Tracy of Shelbyville, was one of its co-sponsors.

Well, we’re not at the bottom
Politico has done a “best states/worst states” rating based on 14 criteria all averaged together, more less. Mississippi comes out at the bottom; New Hampshire at the top. Tennessee is 48th.

Former Rep. seeks GOP SEC slot
Former state Rep. Julia Hurley, who represented the Legislature when she lived in Lenoir City, is seeking to become a member of the Tennessee Republican Party’s State Executive Committee in the 5th Senate District, which includes Loudon and Anderson counties and a portion of Knox County.

Since being defeated in the GOP primary two years ago by state Rep. Kent Calfee of Kingston, Hurley now lists 119 Lee Drive in Knoxville as her address. As of Friday, no other candidate had picked up a petition for this position in any of the three counties.

Georgiana Vines full column, with more on party executive committee races, is HERE.
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Devaney on Huckabee abortion commentary: ‘I wouldn’t have phrased it that way’

Mike Huckabee drew some attention – and some Democratic criticism – for remarks at a Republican National Committee meeting… and Tennessee GOP Chairman Chris Devaney is quoted in a report on the gathering.

But those who hailed the party’s unity, and even the RNC’s impressive $80.6 million haul for 2013, were somewhat overshadowed by comments made by Huckabee criticizing Democrats for, as he put it, making women believe “they cannot control their libido … without the help of the government” providing free birth control as part of ObamaCare.

Democrats seized on the comments as representative of what EMILY’s List, a progressive group working to elect pro-abortion rights Democratic women to office, called the GOP’s “offensive, anti-women beliefs.” The Democratic campaigns were all too gleeful to tie Huckabee to GOP candidates and call for them to return donations from the former Arkansas governor.

…“I think our biggest problem is we’ve allowed ourselves to be perceived as the party of intolerance. And I think that is our biggest single obstacle,” said Kaufman. “I think when we address that, it makes it a lot easier to solve problems.”

Tennessee GOP Chairman Chris Devaney agreed with Kaufman that the GOP focus should be on the economy, but said the party shouldn’t “shy away” from its opposition to abortion. He suggested Huckabee should’ve chosen better words.

“I wouldn’t have framed my speech that way. We as a party should certainly not shy away from our pro-life position but I think we need to be more inclusive, and I think we, are of people who have other viewpoints. I just wouldn’t have phrased it in that way.”

Note: Tennessee will have a statewide vote this November on amendment to the state constitution that has been pushed by anti-abortion activists for several years.

Columnists bash Beavers, Campfield on health care, guns

Apparently trending in critical commentary from newspaper columnists are state Sens. Mae Beavers and Stacey Campfield, judging by this sampler from the weekend:

From Gail Kerr in The Tennessean:
If Sen. Stacey Campfield is king of the unnecessary legislation, Beavers is queen. Beavers, like Campfield, is prone to fly off the handle and file stuff that makes little sense and, in some cases, would be illegal. That’s the case here.

Beavers has filed a new bill that would bar state and local governments, and possibly the companies with which they do business, from buying health insurance through the federal website,

We get it. Beavers is constantly running for re-election. Trying to prove she is the rightest of the right is the outcome she seeks, not good legislation.

…Beavers copied the bill from South Carolina and Georgia. She calls her version the Health Care Freedom and ACA Noncompliance Act.

A more accurate title would be “The Mae Beavers is Running for Re-election Act and Wanted Some Attila the Hun-style Publicity.”

In which case, thanks to statewide media coverage, she has succeeded beautifully.

From Otis Sanford in the Commercial Appeal, focusing on Campfield’s sponsorship of a bill that would require city and county governments to allow handgun carry permit holders to take their weapons into local parks (which, incidentally does have a House sponsor, too):

State Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville (it would be him, wouldn’t it?), introduced the bill that would fundamentally change a state law enacted in 2009 allowing handgun-carry permit holders to take their weapons into state and local parks.

To quell opposition, the 2009 law included an opt-out clause for cities and counties that don’t want to turn over their parks to gun-toters who don’t wear badges.

Naturally, Memphis chose to opt out of this silly law. The last thing this city needs is more people running around willy-nilly carrying guns.
Lest you think this was an example of a city mostly controlled by Democrats controverting the wishes of the Republican-controlled legislature, Memphis wasn’t the only local government to opt out. Germantown, which is as Republican as it gets, chose to continue banning guns in its parks. So did Shelby County government, where Mayor Mark Luttrell, the most popular Republican in these parts, holds forth.

…No one from Knoxville — who wouldn’t know Riverside and Audubon parks from Rosa Parks — should be telling local governments what to do.
If state lawmakers don’t want federal government interference on decisions involving health care and the minimum wage, they should keep their noses out of local affairs.

It’s just that simple.

Meanwhile, Scott McNutt in a News Sentinel column envisions a talking pistol advocating people’s rights in a satirical shot at gun-loving legislators. Before he gets to that part, there’s this:

For guns’ rights, state Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Guns Are People Too, wants to prohibit prohibitions on handgun permit holders taking their sidearms into city and county parks; Rep. Judd Matheny, R-Have You Hugged Your Guns Today?, wants to prohibit cities and counties from enacting any ordinances whatsoever on ordnance; and state Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Nullification Fantasy Land, wants to make enforcing federal gun laws in Tennessee a felony.

Will Popakapeneu, spokesman for Gunners United to Advance the Rights, Divinely Decreed, of Our Guns (GUARDDOG) praised the proposed measures as “a good start toward ensuring guns in Tennessee are treated with the loving care and esteem they deserve, as useful members of society.” However, he told an audience outside the State Capitol Building in Nashville that GUARDDOG would continue to push its agenda of wider gun freedoms in Tennessee.

“These bills are a good start, but they are not enough,” he said. “We will not rest until there are guns in the streets, guns in cars, guns in bars, guns in schools, guns in businesses where businesses don’t want them, guns in day cares, guns in hospitals, guns in neonatal wards, and guns in the hands of embryos, so they can protect themselves from reckless mothers-to-be.”

And, there’s a Chattanooga Times editorial bashing both Beavers and Campfield, bringing in legislation mentioned in the pieces above and some other stuff – Campfield’s “Merry Christmas” bill, for example, and Beavers’ “redneck advocacy” for continued over-the-counter sales of medications containing pseudoephedrine.

The editorial opens with this line:

The Tennessee General Assembly apparently is doing its best to audition for the next redneck reality television show.

Ragan to handle veterans gambling constitutional amendment; anticipates vote ‘soon’

Rep. John Ragan, an Air Force veteran, says he expects to move “soon” for House approval of a proposed amendment to the Tennessee constitution that would allow veterans groups to hold charity gambling events.

If approved by the House as expected, the measure (SJR60) will become the fourth proposed amendment to the state constitution appearing on the November ballot. The state Senate last year gave its final approval and only the House vote remains.

Ragan, R-Oak Ridge, took over handling of the resolution in the House from former Rep. Charles Curtiss, D-Sparta, who resigned from his seat last month. Sen. Rusty Crowe, R-Johnson City, was sponsor in the Senate.

A constitutional amendment legalizing lotteries in Tennessee, approved by voters in 2002, included a provision allowing charities organized under section “501 C 3” of the federal Internal Revenue Service law to hold annual gambling events for fundraising. By citing that specific section, veterans organizations — the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion and Disabled American Veterans, for example — are effectively excluded because they are organized under a separate section, 501 C 19.

The proposal won unanimous approval of the House in the 107th General Assembly and Ragan says he anticipates no difficulty in winning approval of the 108th General Assembly this year by the necessary two-thirds majority.

Previously approved for statewide votes on Nov. 4 are proposed constitutional amendments that allow the Legislature to enact more stringent restrictions on abortion, to revise the state’s system for appointment of appellate court judges and to forever prohibit a tax on personal income in Tennessee.

Groups are already organizing campaigns to promote or oppose passage of the abortion and judicial selection amendment. Ragan said he anticipates there will also be an effort to push for a positive vote on the veterans amendment, probably led by veterans groups.

Sunday column: Slow start to a speedy session, etc.

Scribblings in a notebook while lost in Legislatorland:

Given that legislative leaders seem dedicated to making the 2014 session a model of speed, efficiency and rapid adjournment, it might be noteworthy that legislators did nothing much at all last week that was open to the public arena — except, of course, filing a few hundred bills.

Part of the apparent inaction may be attributed to the need to go through various procedural formalities too boring recount here… Well, OK, maybe one example:

The state constitution officially requires that every bill, before becoming law, must be considered on three occasions by the House and Senate. To dodge that burdensome constitutional mandate, the long-standing practice is to approve all bills twice without anyone even looking at them — presumably excepting the sponsors.

So, at the outset of every official House and Senate meeting, the majority leader makes a motion to approve — for example, House bills 1,401 through House bills 1,763 — on “first consideration,” and everybody votes yes. Then there’s a motion to approve bills numbered 1,101 through 1,400 on “second consideration,” and everybody votes yes.

Having thus taken care of two constitutional considerations, the bills are sent to the “appropriate standing committee” for further consideration. And the real consideration begins when a sponsor puts the bill on notice in a committee.

Ergo, while seemingly doing nothing of consequence in last week’s floor session, the House and Senate were actually giving constitutional approval to anything and everything newly introduced as legislation. Except that approval didn’t really mean anything beyond a wink and nod at the state constitution.
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Obama to visit Nashville (Democrats cheer; Republicans jeer)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — President Obama will visit Nashville as part of a national tour after Tuesday’s State of the Union address.

According to a White House news release, other stops include Prince George’s County Maryland, Pittsburgh and Milwaukee. (The Nashville stop is expected to be on Thursday.)

The tour will take place in the week following the speech. Afterward, Obama will return to the White House to outline new efforts to help the long-term unemployed.

U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper issued a statement welcoming the president and hoping “we will all treat him with Southern hospitality.”

U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn seemed not to take that advice when she issued a statement telling Obama to take a look around at Nashville’s thriving economy and advising him that “our success is not a result of your failed policies.”

Note: Democrats distributed news releases declaring the president welcome in Tennessee following the announcement. U.S. Rep. Marsha Blacng kburn was the first Republican to use the occasion to issue an Obama=bashing release. Some are collected below.
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Huffman signs letter promising Common Core score privacy

As Tennessee schools move to a new nationally shared test under Common Core standards, the state’s Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman has taken a formal pledge that personal student information won’t be shared with the federal government as part of that transition.

Further from The Tennessean:

Huffman and 33 other school commissioners issued a letter sent to U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan on Thursday to “confirm” that states taking one of two common assessments next year would not be sharing personally identifiable information with the U.S. Education Department or other federal agencies.

Common Core critics have raised privacy concerns over the new computer-based Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers test, which Tennessee plans to use when it moves to Common Core standards in the fall.

In the letter, however, the state education leaders say that sharing data hasn’t been been a practice — nor will it be.

“Our states have not submitted student-level assessment data in the past,” it reads. “The transition to the new assessments should not cause anyone to worry that federal reporting requirements will change when, in fact, the federal government is prohibited from establishing a student-level database that would contain assessment data for every student.”

On Rep. Matthew Hill and wine bill ressurection

State Rep. Matthew Hill announced Friday, reports Hank Hayes, that pending an agreement he will resurrect a committee vote on legislation that would allow localities to hold referendums on whether wine should be sold in grocery stores and other retail establishments.

Hill, R-Jonesborough, made the announcement before 200 business leaders and elected officials at a regional chamber legislative breakfast held at the MeadowView Marriott.

He cast the deciding “no” vote as chair of the House Local Government Committee to kill the wine-in-grocery-stores legislation in the last legislative session.

A motion to reconsider the bill is expected to happen when the committee meets on Tuesday, according to Hill.

(Note: Under the relevant House rules, a motion to reconsider must be made by a person who voted with the “prevailing side” in the previous vote on legislation. Ergo, the motion must be made by Hill or someone else on the committee who voted no.)

…Hill said he met Thursday with House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, to talk about the upcoming committee vote.

…Hill said he doesn’t know if there are enough votes to advance the bill and have a further debate on possible legislative amendments or other bills to change the state’s liquor laws.

“I’ve already been told by one legislator who sits on the committee that he is going to spend the weekend on parliamentary procedure to kill the bill,” Hill said. “People are waiting to see if the groups come together and what the final product will look like.”