Monthly Archives: April 2014

Veteran labor lobbyists named secretary-treasurer of TN AFL-CIO

News release from Tennessee AFL-CIO Labor Council:
NASHVILLE, TN – A.J. Starling was elected as the new Secretary-Treasurer of the Tennessee AFL-CIO Labor Council at yesterday’s meeting of the body’s Executive Board. His election was approved following the resignation of Secretary-Treasurer James Hale.

Prior to his current position, Starling served as the Executive Assistant to the President, a position he will continue to hold in addition to his new role. He’s also the TN AFL-CIO’s Chief Lobbyist and has spent many years building relationships with legislators at the Capitol.

“I have known A.J. for many years and know him to be a true, dedicated unionist and a very loyal and trustworthy individual,” said TN AFL-CIO President Gary Moore. “Those qualities are not only exhibited to his Labor family, but also to his wife, Marieta, sons Andrae and Jeffrey, and grandsons Imani, Ethan, and Bishop. I look forward to working with A.J. to continue moving the TN AFL-CIO in a positive direction that his predecessor, James Hale, provided,” said President Moore.

Hale is more than confident in the choice for his replacement.

“After spending a lifetime in the Labor Movement, it was an honor to serve as Secretary-Treasurer of the state fed. I couldn’t be more pleased that an individual like A.J. Starling, who has such a strong compassion for working people, has become the new Secretary-Treasurer,” said Hale.

Starling has worked at the TN AFL-CIO for 26 years and is looking forward to his new responsibilities.

“I’m looking forward to the responsibilities of Secretary-Treasurer and continuing to help the working men and women of this state,” said Starling.

In addition to Starling, the following Executive Board members were elected to new positions: Norm Jenks (Executive Vice President), Tracy Newman (1st Vice President), and Billy Dycus (2nd Vice President). Steve Trail, Paul Shaffer, Janice Hooker Chalmers, and Robert Lunsford were sworn in as new Executive Board members.

Senate confirms appointment of University of Memphis administrator as federal judge in West TN

Nine months after she was nominated, University of Memphis administrator Sheryl H. Lipman has been confirmed by the U.S. Senate as the newest federal judge for West Tennessee, reports the Commercial Appeal.

The Senate voted 95 to 0 on Wednesday to confirm Lipman, who President Obama nominated for the judgeship last August upon the recommendation of U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen. She replaces Jon McCalla, who announced last year that he was going on senior status.

“I’m humbled by the confidence of Congressman Cohen, of the community members he involved in the selection process, and of the president,” Lipman said. “I’m looking forward to really continuing in public service – going from my position here to a different sort of public service. I certainly view becoming a federal judge as continuing in public service.”

Lipman, 51, said she expects to be sworn in during a private ceremony at the end of May. A ceremonial, public swearing-in will be held sometime this summer.

Corker votes for debate on minimum wage increase; other Senate Republicans (including Alexander) vote no

U.S. Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee was the only Republican to vote for allowing debate on a Democrat-sponsored bill raising the federal minimum wage. The bill needed 60 votes to be cleared for debate. The vote was 54-42. (Note: Politico story is HERE.)

Here’s the brief news release on the vote from Corker’s office:

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) today released the following statement after voting to proceed to debate on a proposal to increase the federal minimum wage. In a 54 to 42 vote, the Senate failed to get the 60 votes required to proceed.

“While I think the underlying policy is problematic, I think we should always debate ways to help improve the standard of living of Americans,” Corker said.

Sen. Lamar Alexander joined other Republicans in voting no to debate. Here’s the considerably longer news release sent out by his office:
Continue reading

Eight apply for appointment to Court of Appeals vacancy (Holly Kirby seat)

News release from Administrative Office of the Courts:
Nashville, Tenn. – The Governor’s Commission for Judicial Appointments will consider eight applicants when it meets May 16 in Memphis to select nominees for the Court of Appeals vacancy created by Court of Appeals Judge Holly M. Kirby’s appointment to the Tennessee Supreme Court effective September 1.

The candidates are:

Kenny W. Armstrong
Chancellor
Shelby County

Frank S. Cantrell
Deputy Director/General Counsel
Shelby County

Oscar C. Carr, III
Attorney
Shelby County

Robert Lawson Childers
Presiding Circuit Court Judge
Shelby County

Stephen D. Crawley
Attorney
Shelby County

Steven Wayne Maroney
Attorney
Madison County

Brandy Suzanne Parrish
Attorney
Shelby County

Stacie S. Winkler
Associate General Counsel
Shelby County

The Governor’s Commission for Judicial Appointments will interview the applicants on May 16, 2014 at Hilton Memphis, Theater Chevron, 939 Ridge Lake Boulevard, Memphis. The meeting will include a public hearing at 9 a.m., during which anyone may express their opinions about the applicants. The interview and public hearing will be open to the public.

The commission is expected to make their selections immediately following the interviews and forward the names to Governor Bill Haslam for his consideration.

Completed applications of all the candidates can be found on TNCourts.gov.

An interview with John McKamey, Democratic candidate for governor

Knoxviews has a lengthy Q-and-A with John McKamey, a retired educator and former Sullivan County mayor who is seeking the Democratic gubernatorial nomination this year. He has also served as a county commissioner and unsuccessfully challenged Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey for the state Senate District 4 seat in 2004 (losing 43,560 to 22,867).

In the interview, McKamey takes issue positions in striking contrast to incumbnt Republican Gov. Bill Haslam on several matters. For example:

“No vouchers, no charter schools, no money to Teach for America, and no money for experimental educational programs. Money will instead go back into the public education budget and instead of putting the focus on weakening our public schools, my priority will be to strengthen our public schools with professional public school educators.”

He also throws out a few notions you don’t hear every day, such as “utilizing real estate brokers as industrial recruiters” and supporting enactment of a law to require gun safety classes in Tennessee schools.

Corker’s bill to kill Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac creating strange political bedfellows

Sen. Bob Corker’s ideas for remaking the housing finance system have upset some usual political alliances, reports The Tennessean.

For starters, a coalition of tea party groups, hedge fund investors and consumer advocate Ralph Nader, a trio not normally known for working together, fiercely opposes some of his housing proposals, which are now before the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs.

And the debate has laid bare, through emails, differences between Corker and a prominent Middle Tennessee Republican who also happens to be one of the senator’s past political donors as well as a past bundler of campaign contributions — Tim Pagliara.

The Banking Committee on Tuesday was supposed to consider amendments to the bill, as well as vote on the whole measure, but adjourned after opening statements. Lawmakers are trying to rally more bipartisan support.

The legislation is modeled on the Housing Finance Reform and Taxpayer Protection Act, which Corker, R-Tenn., and Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., co-authored in 2013.

It proposes to “wind down” or kill off the Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae) and the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp. (Freddie Mac) within five years and replace them with a new Federal Mortgage Insurance Corp. The FMIC would require private lenders to put up capital equal to 10 percent of their home-loan volume in order to get a government guarantee on the remaining 90 percent.

Pagliara, chairman of CapWealth Advisors in Franklin, contends the bill makes it unlikely investors in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac preferred and common stock will ever see dividends they should have been getting for several years. Since August 2012, the Treasury Department has kept all of the profits of the government-sponsored entities. Pagliara calls Corker’s legislation an unconstitutional taking of property.

He also contends the bill is largely unnecessary — “a solution in search of a problem” — and is being rushed.

Pagliara has donated $7,700 to Corker since 2009, part of the nearly $20,000 he has given to Tennessee Republican politicians in that time, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

But he said his outspokenness on Corker’s bill explains why he found himself invited and then uninvited to a breakfast the senator held with constituents at Le Peep restaurant in Nashville on April 17.

Haslam tours tornado damage in Lincoln County

Gov. Bill Haslam toured the heavily damaged area around South Lincoln Elementary School Wednesday and told those hit hardest that help was on the way, reports The Tennessean.

Across from the street from the school, he teetered in his cowboy boots as he surveyed Kaye Crowley’s home where a tree had crushed her rec room, the wind ripped the ceiling off her bedroom and her pool, where an RV had been tossed.

“We’ll do everything we can to help you guys,” Haslam told her.

She worried about the cost to replace the fence that surrounded 200 acres of her farmland, which wouldn’t be covered by insurance.

“It’s not something that your average family farm is going to be able to absorb,” she said.

Haslam’s on-the-ground visit in Lincoln County followed a helicopter tour of the area, two days after an EF-3 tornado destroyed dozens of homes and killed at least two people.

“It’s incredible, given the strength of the storm, that more people didn’t get hit,” Haslam said after the aerial tour.

Once on the ground, Lincoln County Sheriff Murray Blackwelder asked Haslam for continued aid from the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency and from state troopers, who helped keep the hardest-hit areas secure.

Before he left Lincoln County, Haslam spoke to the media in front of South Lincoln Elementary School. He peered into the building through shattered window panes.

“You literally see people whose lives were turned upside down,” he said of his tour of the area. “The main thing I wanted to do today is to make sure that we as a state are doing everything that we can to help.”

Note: This updates, expands and replaces earlier post.

Amazon sales down in states where taxes are collected

Amazon.com has seen its sales fall in state, including Tennessee, where it has begun collecting taxes on purchases, according to a study reported upon by the Chattanooga TFP.

Tennessee joined 19 other states this year in requiring Amazon to collect sales taxes on what it sells because the company operates distribution facilities in the state, including its giant warehouses in Chattanooga and Charleston, Tenn. Amazon will begin collecting sales taxes on items purchased by Florida residents on Thursday after the company expanded its facilities in the Sunshine State last year.

A new study suggests that requiring Amazon to collect the sales tax is likely to limit Amazon sales and push some buyers to other online merchants that don’t have a presence in Tennessee and aren’t required to collect sales taxes.

Researchers at Ohio State University looked at purchases by 245,000 people in five states that began permanent collection of taxes on Amazon purchases between 2012 and 2013 — California, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Texas and Virginia. The study found that the sales tax reduced Amazon sales overall by 9.5 percent. For purchases of $300 or more, Amazon sales plunged by 23.8 percent after the company began collecting the tax.

“Households substitute Amazon with other retailers, either online retailers who are exempt from collecting the sales tax or in-state retailers (online and brick-and-mortar),” doctoral student Brian Baugh wrote in the 39-page study.

While Amazon sales dropped, big-ticket sales of other online merchants who still don’t have to collect sales taxes on their sales jumped by more than 60 percent. The study found that sales at local brick-and-mortar stores rose 6.5 percent on items valued at $300 or more.

Desha Grubb Maples said Tuesday she has quit buying from Amazon since the new tax began in January, in favor of other online merchants not required to collect the tax because they don’t operate in Tennessee.

Despite such losses, however, Amazon.com still grew its sales by 20 percent in the first quarter of 2014. How did the online retailer do it?
Well, not everything Amazon peddles on the Amazon Marketplace website is covered by the new “Amazon tax.” Amazon.com’s program permits third-party sellers to advertise their goods on its website — and even to outsource the billing, warehousing and delivery to Amazon.

But because the items are not technically sold by Amazon, such items are not subject to requiring buyers to pay sales tax at the time of the purchase. As a result, Amazon still doesn’t have to collect tax on much, if not most, of the sales it makes through its website.

Governor signs bill allowing prosecution of pregnant women for drug abuse

Gov. Bill Haslam has signed into law HB1295, which authorizes prosecution of pregnant women for using illegal drugs on misdemeanor assault charges. There had been an organized effort to convince him to veto the bill.

Here’s the gubernatorial statement distributed to media:

In reviewing this bill, I have had extensive conversations with experts including substance abuse, mental health, health and law enforcement officials. The intent of this bill is to give law enforcement and district attorneys a tool to address illicit drug use among pregnant women through treatment programs.

The bill includes a provision to reassess the law in two years, which is important so that we have real data to assess the legislation’s impact on mothers and babies. The bill also makes the offense a misdemeanor instead of a felony and actually limits the discretion law enforcement has from the original law in Tennessee.

For all of these reasons, I have signed the bill into law.

I understand the concerns about this bill, and I will be monitoring the impact of the law through regular updates with the court system and health professionals.

Haslam doesn’ t know about raising or restructuring gas tax, as suggested by his transportation commissioner

Gov. Bill Haslam said Tuesday he doesn’t know yet whether he will propose changes to Tennessee’s fuel taxes in his second term, as suggested last week by Transportation Commissioner John Schroer, reports The Commercial Appeal.

In Knoxville last week, Schroer described the present gas and diesel fuel taxes as “archaic” and said Tennessee needs “some sort of usage fee” to replace them. State Democratic Chairman Roy Herron promptly denounced the idea. (Note: Previous post HERE.)

Asked about Schroer’s remarks and whether he will ask for a gas tax hike or a restructuring, Haslam told reporters, “We don’t know that. I think the commissioner’s point is, we’ve been funding on a per-gallon basis. That formula obviously is a lot more difficult than it used to be in the old days.

“It’s a challenge not just for us but for federal funds and you’re seeing that particularly in the federal funding for state transportation projects — where right now there’s no (federal) funding at all for next year. (That’s) is hard enough for states like Tennessee (but) states that have a bunch of road debt, they’ve got a major issue.

“So right now, we don’t have any plans to change Tennessee’s formula. We are listening and waiting to see what happens on the federal level, not just with our formula but obviously with the funding that’s implicated by that.”

Asked if he agrees with Schroer’s assessment that the current system is archaic and needs replacing, Haslam said, “I don’t know if I’d say archaic but … the situation around which that funding formula was set up has changed in this state and we’re living with the implications of that.”