Monthly Archives: February 2014

Corker worries that NRLB will ‘muzzle’ anti-union governors, congressmen

U.S. Sen. Bob Corker fired back at his union critics Tuesday, reports the Times-Free Press, accusing the United Auto Workers of trying to unfairly limit what state and federal lawmakers said about organized labor during the recent unionization election at Volkswagen.

The UAW has accused Corker and other Republican politicians of creating a climate of fear and intimidation in their anti-union comments before the election in which hourly employees at the VW plant in Chattanooga voted 712-626 against representation by the UAW.

On Friday, the union asked the National Labor Relations Board to order a new election because Corker, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and other Republicans warned before the vote that the union might hurt the plant and limit state incentives for Volkswagen to add a sports utility vehicle line at its Chattanooga plant.

“Now this is going to the NLRB, something that the president controls,” Corker said in an interview with CNBC on Tuesday. “The question will be whether they will try to muzzle or keep a United States senator, a governor or a state legislator from being able to express their views.”

Anti-union workers at VW worry that the NLRB will side with the union and order a new election since Volkswagen has signed a neutrality agreement with the union and isn’t opposing the organizing effort.

…Corker said he and the governor, along with GOP legislative leaders in Nashville, were simply trying to tell workers their concerns about union representation to counter the UAW representatives who were allowed to make public presentations within the VW plant before the vote.

Bill would create registry of TN animal abusers

Proposed legislation would make Tennessee the first state to keep a database for people who’ve committed crimes against household pets, reports WSMV-TV.

“People that abuse animals, it’s a gateway crime to eventually abusing humans. So we’re trying to catch this on the front end,” said state Rep. Darren Jernigan, D-Old Hickory.

House Bill 2007 and its companion, Senate Bill 2162, would launch an online database showing the faces of people convicted of crimes against animals.

“Maybe you’re on Craigslist and you want to give an animal away, and you want to see who you’re giving your animal away to,” Jernigan said.

Like the state sex offender registry, the animal abuse database would be operated through the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation’s website.

“They would upload a photo and upload the crime and allow an individual to go there to see,” Jernigan said.

…The site would show misdemeanor and felony offenders, their name and crime but not their address.

First-time offenders’ profiles would stay up for two years. For repeat offenders, it would be posted for five years.

Anti-Common Core bills sinking in House sub; Womick blames pressure from Haslam, GOP leadership

Eight bills to derail Common Core standards to one degree or another were pushed to the back of the House Education Subcommittee’s calendar Tuesday, the Tennessean reports, and that raises doubts their prospects for passage.

Some lawmakers critical of Common Core failed to show up Tuesday. Others requested the delay in advance. Rep. Rick Womick, R-Rockvale, among the latter group, later accused Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration, which has staunchly defended Common Core, of pressuring dissenters.

“We had certain people lined up to vote in favor of it today, and then all of a sudden, they’re caving,” Womick said. “They’re being pressured by the administration and by leadership in the House not to vote for these bills.”

…Bills delayed include four introduced by Womick: HB2323, which would totally discontinue Common Core in Tennessee; HB1825, which would postpone further implementation; HB1828, which would delay the move to PARCC testing; and HB1826, which would let the General Assembly vote on funding future state assessments.

Among other measures pushed back from consideration was one from Rep. Billy Spivey, R-Lewisburg, that would reimburse local districts for the costs of buying technology for PARCC. It has a few dozen co-sponsors, but carries a fiscal note of more than $50 million a year. Other bills had similar fiscal demands.

“With today’s budget, if you move a bill like this out, they will have to get their fiscal note in order first,” said Rep. Mark White, R-Memphis, who chairs the subcommittee.

House Education Committee Chairman Harry Brooks, R-Knoxville, a Common Core supporter, said it was the choice of lawmakers to not present or to ask for the delay. “It was their request.”

Meanwhile, the subcommittee advanced a bill sponsored by Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville, that would prohibit the use of student data for purposes other than tracking academic progress. It, too, is targeted at Common Core, but it’s not the full-on assault many critics want to see.

See also Post Politics, where there’s this observation on the process:
“We’re weeding through this slowly but surely to make sure that we’re still picking our own textbooks, to make sure we’re not sharing data with the federal government, to make sure that, again, we’re setting the curriculum,” said Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey Tuesday. “I do believe that most cases that is the case, but if we have to make sure of that by putting in the code, that’s what we’ll do.”

Shelby board votes to close nine schools, merge two others

After hearing emotional pleas from communities hoping to keep their schools open, the Shelby County Schools board on Tuesday voted to shutter nine schools and to merge two, reports The Commercial Appeal.

Originally, 13 schools were slated for closure.

School supporters turned out in droves, packing the Frances E. Coe Auditorium on South Hollywood, with school supporters lining the perimeter of the room and spilling into overflow spaces in the hallways.

Supporters from Gordon Elementary, Northside High School, Westhaven Elementary and other schools took the board to task for uprooting thousands of students and in some cases transferring students to schools with lower overall student academic achievement than the schools that will be closed.

Supt. Dorsey Hopson said he was encouraged because there has been so much community support.

“I hope that people continue to carry that passion and excitement about educationregardless of the decisions made this evening,” he said.

The vote came after Hopson made his final recommendations.

Hopson recommended merging Riverview Elementary and Riverview Middle School, removing Alcy Elementary and Northside High from the closure list and requesting funding from the Shelby County Commission to build a new school for Westhaven, Fairley and Raineshaven elementary students.

The board approved those recommendations.

The school board voted to close Corry Middle, Cypress Middle, Shannon Elementary, Klondike Elementary, Vance Middle School, Lanier Middle, Westhaven Elementary, Gordon Elementary and Graves Elementary.

Riverview Elementary will merge with Riverview Middle to create a K-8 school.

Bible quoted to back bill warning lottery players ‘you’ll probably lose’

Sen. Jim Summerville, R-Dickson, has taken the first step toward passage of a bill that would require all advertising for the state lottery to include this warning: “You will probably lose money playing the lottery.”

A special Senate lottery subcommittee gave its blessing to the bill (SB1592) after hearing Summerville declare the warning is needed to protect people who spend money they shouldn’t on lottery tickets in the hopes of winning big.

Further from Richard Locker’s ‘post card from Nashville::

“Maybe you, like I, have seen people in convenience stores, liquor stores — which even I patronize — watching some poor son-of-a-gun line up his Social Security numbers, birthdays, marriages, death days in order to select the best possible combination of numbers to lift them out of the economic calamity of their lives — all for nothing,” he told his colleagues.

The current warning, “Play responsibly,” and inclusion of odds of winning on some lottery material isn’t enough, he said. “Just tell the truth: you’re probably not going to win this game. It may help some people hesitate before they spend that last dollar on a ticket.”

He drove his point home paraphrasing scripture, Isaiah 58. “Central to Isaiah’s comments in that chapter, and repeated probably more than any thesis in the Bible, Old Testament or New, is that the worst possible corruption of God’s people is not murder or robbery, idolatry or false witness but it’s the flagrant contempt of the poor among the community. Over and over again, the scriptures condemn exploitation of the poor by those of us who are not poor — the haves like us over the have-nots. To insist that the poor among us fund tuition supplements is just downright evil.

“This is a matter of conscience to me. I hate this game like an Old Testament prophet, and I admit that. I think it’s a blight on our beautiful state. … It is an abomination. Yes, the people approved it but the people can’t repeal the law of God.”

On Campfield, Carr and exchanging campaign contributions

State Sen. Stacey Campfield and Rep. Joe Carr a candidate for the U.S. Senate, said Tuesday they had agreed to exchange campaign contributions but a misunderstanding has left Campfield on the short end of the arrangement – at least temporarily.

Carr’s latest Senate campaign disclosure shows $6,200 in contributions from Campfield – $5,200 in a personal donation and another $1,000 from the senator’s reelection campaign, both dated Dec. 28. Campfield said Carr had told him the senator’s re-campaign would be receiving donations from Carr’s political action committee, Joe PAC. Campfield, in turn, said he agreed to contribute to Carr’s campaign.

Later, however, the senator said he decided – “in the last days before the filing deadline” for disclosure reports – that he would instead “just stay out” of Carr’s Republican primary campaign against U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander. Campfield faces Knox County Commissioner Richard Briggs in the GOP primary.

Believing Carr had already sent him the money, Campfield said, he sent money to Carr thinking it would be treated as a refund.

On his own state campaign disclosure, filed in January, Campfield lists the $1,000 sent to Carr’s campaign as a “returned donation.” He said in an interview that he thought of the $5,200 the same way.

As it turned out, however, Carr has not sent any funds to Campfield.

Carr said Tuesday that he still planned to send Campfield $1,000 through Joe PAC but had assumed the $5,200 from Campfield was a straight donation of personal funds. If Campfield wants a refund, however, Carr said it will be sent.
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Sinkhole insurance bill bashed as anti-consumer; still wins approval

Despite some bipartisan objections, the House has narrowly approved legislation that intended to reduce or prevent homeowner claims against insurance companies damages caused by sinkholes.

Sponsor Rep. Roger Kane, R-Knoxville, contended the bill (SB880) is needed to replace a 2006 statute modeled after Florida’s law on insurance coverage for sinkholes that led to a 1,200 percent increase in claims and “millions of dollars in unnecessary costs.” Florida revised its law in 2011, he said.

But the measure was roundly condemned as anti-consumer by other legislators in debate Monday night before it was approved on a 53-33 vote with more than a dozen perhaps confused lawmakers declining to vote either way. It has already passed the Senate on a 30-0 vote, but must now return to that chamber for concurrence on a minor amendment.

“This is a horrible bill,” said Rep. Curry Todd, R-Collierville, who said the measure allows insurance companies to cancel policies “in mid-term on anyone” if they feel a claim may develop. He also disputed Kane’s contention that the bill had been vetted thoroughly in committees of the House and Senate, saying he had reviewed tapes of the meetings and there was hardly any discussion at all.

“This is one of the most blatant bills I’ve seen to benefit one particular industry at the expense of the consumer,” said House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner of Nashville.

Rep. Ron Travis, R-Dayton, said the bill is a case of inappropriate government involvement in insurance and sets a bad precedent.

“Today’s it’s sinkholes. The next day it’s going to be earthquakes and the day after, it’s going to be hail,” Travis said.

Kane said the bill had been reviewed by the state Department of Commerce and Insurance and found “not consumer unfriendly.” He said most insurance companies also support the proposal. Both Kane and the Senate sponsor, Republican Sen. Jim Tracy of Shelbyville, are insurance agents by profession.

Responding to Turner’s claim that bill was unfair to consumers, he declared: “That’s not true, sir!”

Kane said most, but not all, policies now include sinkhole coverage. Critics said that, after passage, companies are likely to insure only homes at no risk of damage.

At one point in debate, Kane remarked, “This doesn’t change anything.”

Declared Todd in response: “Why are you putting this into statute if it doesn’t change anything?”

A legislative staff review of the bill says it “specifies that sinkhole loss coverage is not mandated to be included in homeowner property insurance policies” but must be offered by companies. Companies will also have a right to inspect property for potential sinkhole problems before agreeing to coverage or setting a rate.

It also puts in place an array of provisions governing the sinkhole loss damage for which an insurer is liable and rules for both insurers and policy holders in dealing with claims.

TN health care exchange computers rated ‘high risk’

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee was among the more than two-thirds of states rated as “high risk” for security problems related to its computers tapping into the federal health insurance exchange system.

Federal cybersecurity experts worried in advance of the Oct. 1 deadline for new insurance exchanges that state computer systems could become a backdoor for hackers and identity thieves. But the Obama administration says the issues have been resolved or addressed, and no successful cyberattacks have occurred.

The federal data hub is used to check Social Security, Internal Revenue Service and Homeland Security records to verify key personal information for determining coverage eligibility under the Affordable Care Act.

“Tennessee is taking all necessary safeguards to protect applicant and enrollee data,” Kelly Gunderson, a spokeswoman for TennCare, said in an email.

Gunderson said that “while there may have been a possible concern” raised in November about needing an outside security assessment, the state was ultimately granted access to the federal system.

Still, Tennessee is the only state of the 46 with authority to connect to the federal hub that is operating under a 60-day access agreement. The others operate under three-year arrangements.

The state is expected to transition to a three-year agreement once a new eligibility and enrollment system goes live, according to Jim Esquea, an assistant secretary at HHS.

TEA wants to block new tests coming with Common Core

News release from Tennessee Education Association:
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Tennessee Education Association issued a statement today calling for the state to put the brakes on its plans to use the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) assessment in conjunction with the Common Core State Standards.

“TEA believes Tennessee needs to reconsider the use of the PARCC assessment,” said Gera Summerford, TEA president and Sevier County math teacher. “First and foremost, we object to our students being set up to fail. Any assessments aligned with the Common Core standards should ensure no harm is done to Tennessee students, schools or educators. Though PARCC supporters speak of an apples-to-apples comparison of student achievement, Tennessee students will be measured against states that invest thousands of dollars more per pupil.”

“TEA supports the more rigorous standards that are included in Common Core, but the implementation must provide adequate time and resources to be effective. Tennessee teacher involvement in standards development and implementation is critical to ensure the standards are developmentally appropriate for all students,” added Summerford.

“While thousands of teachers and administrators have received training, more support and resources are needed,” the TEA president said. “Many school districts lack the necessary technology for student access to the PARCC.”

“Teachers do not oppose testing and accountability. Teachers do oppose an over-reliance on summative standardized test results above all other indicators of student learning, particularly on a test that has not been properly vetted,” emphasized Summerford.

Rep. Williams pays $100 to replace House floor microphone broken in angry moment

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Former House Speaker Kent Williams said Tuesday he paid $100 to replace a microphone that he tossed aside when his comments were cut off last week.

An offer to prepay another $100 to cover any future damage was turned down, he said.

Williams, an independent from Elizabethton, threw the microphone in anger when he wasn’t allowed to explain his reasons for opposing a bill to allow supermarket wine sales in Tennessee after the chamber passed the bill Thursday.

House Clerk Joe McCord announced at the end of Monday night’s floor session that the chamber’s policies require members to replace or repair any damaged property. For example, former Rep. Julia Hurley was required to pay for her desk to be refinished in 2011 after she carved her initials into it.

Williams was House speaker from 2009 to 2011. He is retiring from the Legislature this year and running for Carter County mayor.

He said Tuesday that he was surprised the microphone broke. The House said there were several options for replacing the microphone, ranging from $89 to $135.

“I said, ‘Let me pay you for two,’ and they wouldn’t let me,” he said.

McCord laughed off Williams’ offer to “keep one in reserve.”

“We operated strictly on a pay-as-you-go basis,” McCord said.

Note: From TNReport, a video of Williams tossing the microphone: