Monthly Archives: August 2015

Legislators unhappy with UT’s gender neutral pronoun push

Some Republican state legislators are declaring dismay over a push by the University of Tennessee Office of Diversity and Inclusiveness for use of gender neutral pronouns, such as “ze” instead of “he” or “she.”

Excerpt from a News-Sentinel story:

State Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville, said he thought the suggestion was a joke.

“And then I found out it was true, at which point I thought, ‘Are we really paying somebody to come up with this stuff?’ ” he said.

Dunn, a graduate of UT, said he would rather see public money spent on other academic areas such as math or technology. The Pride Center is fiscally supported by the state school.

“I just think that when people pay their taxes, they would rather have it go to a university so that people can learn something,” Dunn said Friday. “Not be brainwashed into some gobbledygook.”

State Sen. Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains, posted on Facebook: “It seems to me the biggest lack of diversity we have at the University of Tennessee is people of common sense. Apparently, this is what happens when the decision is made that no one from Tennessee is smart enough to run our university.”

In a phone interview with the News Sentinel, Niceley said, “Maybe we ought to go back to ‘thee’ and ‘thou’ for everybody and that’ll take care of it.”

State Sen. Paul Bailey, R-Sparta, wrote on Facebook: “First it was eliminating the Lady Vols. Now this? I doubt if parents spending over $15,000 a year expect this kind of nonsense education from the University of Tennessee. My advice would be find something better and more productive to do.”

Excerpt from a Fox News commentary/story:

“It’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard,” Republican State Sen. Mae Beavers told me. “If you must interview a student before you greet the student, that’s not acceptance – that’s just absurd.”

Beavers represents a “very conservative” district and she said her constituents are enraged over how their tax money is being spent by the university.

“The idea a child would want to be called by a gender neutral term is absolutely ridiculous,” she said. “It’s getting so crazy in this country.”

Note: Previous post HERE. The UT Office of Diversity and Inclusiveness website posting on gender neutral pronouns is HERE.

O’Malley campaigns in TN, gets a donation from Bredesen

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley brought his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination to Tennessee and noted he got a campaign contribution from former Gov. Phil Bredesen, reports The Tennessean.

“In Tennessee … I think I can compete and win, and compete and win in the general election,” the former Maryland governor said to reporters Thursday night at a Nashville hotel.

…“I think the overarching issue in this race is that 70 percent of us are working harder than we ever have,” he said. “But we aren’t earning anything more than we did 12 years ago and some us are making less.

“That’s not the way the American dream is supposed to work.”

In Tennessee, he’s earned support from at least one notable Tennessean. Former Gov. Phil Bredesen has contributed to his campaign, O’Malley said.

“Right off the bat,” he said.

O’Malley said he is campaigning off of a number of key issues, including debt free college, immigration reform, clean energy, criminal justice reform and the expansion of Social Security.

He’s also campaigned for a decrease in nationwide gun violence, and his Maryland gun safety legislation targeted at combat assault weapons and smaller ammunition clips created plenty of political finger-pointing as to why Beretta USA moved its headquarters to Gallatin.

But Maryland lost the plant due to Tennessee’s corporate incentives, O’Malley said. The Beacon Center of Tennessee, a conservative think tank, has criticized the state for corporate handouts.

“Beretta was one of those, with the NRA, that lobbied hard against (the legislation),” he said. “It was their choice to take the very generous corporate welfare being offered in Tennessee.

“If I had to do it over again, I would do same thing.”

Holt laughs off Democrat’s call for resignation

By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — State Democratic Party Chairwoman Mary Mancini on Friday called on Republican state Rep. Andy Holt to resign over alleged environmental violations at his northwestern Tennessee hog farm.

The Environmental Protection Agency is seeking up to $177,500 in fines against Holt for discharging a total of more than 860,000 gallons of waste water from lagoons on the farm without the proper permits.

“This kind of blatant disregard for the rules disqualify him for being an effective legislator and he needs to step aside so that his constituents can have an effective and accountable voice at the Capitol,” Mancini said. (Note: The full statement is posted HERE.)

In a telephone interview, Holt laughed off Mancini’s suggestion, saying that he plans to keep his seat in the Legislature and remain an outspoken critic of the EPA and President Barack Obama.

“I imagine they would like me to quit,” said Holt, dismissing the Mancini’s press release as “propaganda.”
Continue reading

Haslam heads to Israel

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam is headed on a trade mission to Israel on Saturday.

The Republican governor will be joined by five state economic development officials and 18 representatives from research institutions and the private sector in Tennessee.

State Department of Economic and Community Development spokesman Clint Brewer said the trip is aimed at fostering relationships between entrepreneurs and researchers in Tennessee and Israel. A major focus will be on the biomedical and high tech fields.

Brewer called Israel a “natural fit” for the governor’s trip because the country attracts most venture capital investment per capita in the world. The governor returns to Tennessee on Thursday.

Haslam’s most recent foreign trade mission was a weeklong trade trip to Japan and South Korea in June 2014.

Alexander voting no on Iran nuke deal

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander said today he will vote against the Iran nuclear deal, contending that it would not stop Tehran from developing a nuclear weapon and could even touch off a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.

Further from Michael Collins:

The accord “does not sufficiently restrict Iran’s nuclear program and makes no effort to put a brake on its other conduct as the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism,” the Maryville Republican said in a statement.

“The agreement puts some limits on Iran’s nuclear program, but it also legitimizes it, thereby encouraging a nuclear arms race in the most unstable area of the world,” Alexander said. “The agreement takes the pressure off Iran at a time when pressure is likely to succeed.”

Alexander said he believes the United States should negotiate with Iran, “but should do so from a position of strength, as we did with the Soviet Union.”

“Disapproval of this deal would help make clear that Congress is willing to confront Iran’s non-nuclear illegal and inhumane activities,” he said.

Congress is in the middle of a 60-day review of the agreement, which was announced July 14 after two years of negotiations involving the United States and five other Western powers.

…Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, a Chattanooga Republican, also has said he would oppose the accord. Corker, whose committee has held a series of hearings on the agreement, has raised concerns that the deal will not stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon and would allow Iran to “industrialize” its nuclear program over time.

UT diversity office urges ‘ze’ as option to ‘he’ or ‘she’

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — University of Tennessee students have been asked to use gender-neutral pronouns such as “ze.”

The University of Tennessee Office for Diversity and Inclusion is asking students and faculty to use the pronouns in order to create a more inclusive campus, multiple media outlets report.

“Transgender people and people who do not identify within the gender binary may use a different name than their legal name and pronouns of their gender identity, rather than the pronouns of the sex they were assigned at birth,” the University of Tennessee’s Pride Center Director, Donna Braquet, wrote on the university’s website Wednesday. (Note: The Diversity Office website is HERE).

Braquet requested that teachers, rather than calling roll, will instead ask each student to provide the name and pronoun he or she — or ze — wishes to be referred by. She says it relieves a burden for people expressing different genders or identities.

“The name a student uses may not be the one on the official roster, and the roster name may not be the same gender as the one the student now uses,” Braquet wrote.

University spokeswoman Karen Ann Simsen said there is no mandate or official policy to use the language.

“The information provided in the newsletter was offered as a resource for our campus community on inclusive practices,” Simsen said.

Braquet said if students and faculty cannot use pronouns such as ze, hir, hirs, xe, xem or xyr, they can also politely ask.

“‘Oh, nice to meet you … What pronouns should I use?’ is a perfectly fine question to ask,” Braquet said.

EPA seeks $177K in pollution penalties from Rep. Andy Holt

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A state lawmaker is facing up to $177,500 in fines from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for discharging waste from his northwestern Tennessee hog farm without a permit.

WTVF-TV in Nashville (http://bit.ly/1LyT4kq ) first reported Thursday that the EPA has filed the complaint against state Rep. Andy Holt, a Dresden Republican and vice chairman of the House Agriculture Committee. According to the filing, Holt’s farm discharged a total of more than 860,000 gallons from lagoons on the farm raising nearly 1,500 swine without proper authorization.

Holt, who has been a vocal critic of the EPA, told WTVF that he “loves a good fight,” but that he has also been in discussions about a settlement. He said he self-reported the discharges to the state after heavy rainfall had caused the lagoons to overflow.

State records have showed that Holt ran his farm without a permit for nearly three years when he was finally ordered to turn in required permitting paperwork in 2012. While Holt submitted incomplete papers in 2012 and 2013, the state let him keep operating.

Holt said he ceased operations on his hog farm around December 2014.
Continue reading

TDOC responds to TSEA criticism of its operations and statistics

Note: Randy Stamps, Tennessee State Employees Association lobbyist and former Republican state legislature, made a slide show presentation to a state Senate committee Thursday questioning the validity of some statistics from the Department of Corrections as well as its policies. Within hours, TDOC came back with this rebuttal news release.

News release from Tennessee Department of Corrections:
During the hearing before the Corrections Subcommittee of the Senate State and Local Government Committee, TSEA called several of the Department’s practices into question. While we respect Mr. Stamps and the TSEA, we must continue to set the record straight to prevent any miscommunication about TDOC policies, procedures and statistics.

The first is the assertion by TSEA that the 28-day schedule has not helped with staffing or overtime issues. The 28-day schedule has been a positive change for many officers throughout the state. While we acknowledge that everyone may not like the new schedule, we are confident that it is a step in the right direction and is an asset to our recruitment and retention efforts. While the implementation of the new schedule was rolled-out over the course of several months, we’ve already seen nearly a 25% reduction in overtime spending. As stated in the memo provided as Exhibit B, “we will assess the overtime budget and make a determination on how we proceed” before January 2016.
Continue reading

TN prison system to get ‘independent outside review’

Department of Correction Commissioner Derrick Schofield told state senators Thursday that he asked the American Correctional Association to conduct an “independent outside review” of state prison operations and that the department will make any changes recommended as a result.

The commissioner’s appearance before a special Senate Subcommittee on Corrections followed some critical about current prison operations from corrections officers, an former prison warden and representatives of the Tennessee State Employees Association.

From The Tennessean:

The accrediting agency will review issues with how the state schedules officers, vacant positions and how it classifies incidents within prisons.

“There are concerns. We acknowledge that and try to address that,” Schofield said.

Thursday’s legislative hearing is the first time Schofield or the state mentioned the need for an independent review. In a different, recent hearing, Schofield defended the department’s actions and said problems were more perceived than a reality.

After hearing testimony from several correctional officers, state senators said they thought there were several issues within the prison system.

“A perfect storm has come upon the Department of Correction,” said Sen. Ken Yager, R-Kingston.

Yager joined Sen. Ed Jackson, R-Jackson; Sen. Thelma Harper, D-Nashville; and Sen. Jeff Yarbro, D-Nashville, at the hearing Thursday. Several officers testified about conditions within the prison system. Some said they thought the new 28-day schedule, a change from the traditional 40-hour work week, wasn’t a significant issue.

Others argue the schedules and staffing vacancies are making prisons unduly dangerous.

Lamar: Rich politicians and donors are a good thing

On a swing through Nashville, U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander said Wednesday that political candidates should not be limited on how much money they can raise and credited wealthy donors for giving some Republican presidential hopefuls a fighting chance, reports WPLN.

Alexander stuck to his mantra: Don’t limit fundraising, just make sure it’s transparent.

He didn’t say how to achieve that transparency but went on to praise the unlimited flow of cash into campaigns — saying it has made for a vibrant presidential field.

“I don’t think money’s the problem. I think disclosure is the problem,” he said. “And, in fact, the reason we have so much talent in the Republican primary this year is because a lot of these candidates are able to run because they have support from wealthy people who helped them get started.”

Limiting donations to quality candidates, he said, gives an advantage to the uber-rich. He pointed specifically to Donald Trump and Steve Forbes, who could fund their own campaigns. Alexander said he spoke from experience, having faced Forbes in his 1995 presidential run.

“You usually start off with a few large donors,” he said. “So I think as long as the public knows who they are, it’s fine to have the money.”

Alexander said the 2010 Citizens United ruling, which struck down spending limits for independent groups, has not changed his thinking.