News release from Sen. Lamar Alexander’s office:
WASHINGTON, May 8 – U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) told a top U.S. Army Corps of Engineers official at a budget hearing today that he would restrict the Corps’ ability to transfer new funds to projects if it doesn’t abandon “unreasonable” fishing restrictions that amount to “thumbing your nose at elected officials,” saying, “It sounds to me like we have a life jacket problem – not a water problem.” (Video HERE.)
Senator Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.), the subcommittee chairman whose approval the Corps would also need, called Alexander reasonable “99.9 percent of the time” and told the Corps officials, “My strong advice would be to try to work something out with him.”
“We don’t need Big Brother in Washington holding our hands while we’re fishing down in Tennessee or Kentucky or any other place,” Alexander said to Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works Jo-Ellen Darcy. “If you’re not going to pay attention to the elected representatives of Tennessee and Kentucky and other states, I’m not going to pay attention to your judgment. You have nine major accounts, 918 project accounts, and in order to move that, you need the permission of the chairman and me to [transfer new funds to projects]. … You’re going to find it very hard to get my approval for any reprogramming request – anywhere in the country – until I get the Corps’ attention, and if that doesn’t get your attention, I’m going to work with my colleagues to reduce the reprogramming requests to $1,000 so that any reprogramming you want to do, you’ll have to come back to me and Senator Feinstein and the chairman and ranking member in the House.”
Referring to the order in which the legislative and executive branch duties are laid out in the Constitution – Article I and Article II, respectively – Alexander said, “We’re Article I, you’re Article II – you ought to be paying attention to our judgment on this, especially when so many members of Congress from both sides of the aisle have made themselves clear on this. We don’t need a government that’s big enough to interfere with us when we have enough sense to … get out of the water the 20 percent of the time when it’s spilling through the dam.”
Alexander, the lead Republican or Ranking Member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development that was holding the hearing, has introduced the “Freedom to Fish Act” to prohibit the Corps from restricting fishing beneath 10 dams on the Cumberland River. On March 23, the U.S. Senate unanimously supported his amendment to the Senate budget resolution allowing Congress to pass legislation prohibiting the Corps plans.
On April 30, the Corps announced that it would move forward with full-time, permanently restricted access to tailwaters areas below the dams, through buoys and signage. Today, Alexander said the Corps would “find it very hard” to get the approval it needs from him as Ranking Member of the subcommittee for “reprogramming” required to move money among the Corps’ more than 900 project accounts.
Alexander pointed to the Corps’ own statistics showing that water only spills through the dams 20 percent of the time, on average. Alexander said, “Closing off the tailwaters 100 percent of the time would be like putting the gate down over the railroad crossing 100 percent of the time – the tracks aren’t dangerous when the train’s not coming, and the water isn’t dangerous when the water isn’t spilling through the dam.”
Former U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee Jerry Martin, an appointee of President Obama who until stepping down recently would have been responsible for defending the Corps in court, has said the Corps’ restrictions are unreasonable “in light of the tremendous protection from liability enjoyed by the Corps.” The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency has also said it will not enforce the Corps’ restrictions, and Alexander has repeatedly encouraged the Corps to work out a compromise with state agencies to address safety concerns.
The state’s attorney general says a Senate-approved bill that would prohibit non-U.S. citizens, regardless of their immigration status, from working at or even entering polling places is “constitutionally suspect,” reports The Tennessean. In an opinion released Wednesday, Tennessee Attorney General Robert Cooper says House Bill 985, sponsored by Rep. Judd Matheny, R-Tullahoma, and Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, would probably violate the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment despite the arguments of some backers.
“It is not apparent that protection of the integrity of the polling place is a rationale for this citizenship requirement, particularly when state law does not otherwise require a person to be a registered voter to perform any of these functions in the polling place,” the opinion reads.
The bill would require that poll watchers be U.S. citizens and bar non-citizens from admission to voting sites.
An amended version — which gives a special exemption authorizing non-U.S. citizens who are assisting physically disabled voters to enter polls — cleared the upper chamber earlier this month. On the heels of the new attorney general’s opinion, however, the House on Thursday opted to delay voting on the bill for one week.
— Note: The full opinion is HERE.
A proposed ban on using cellphones and cameras at polling places, approved quickly and unanimously in the Senate, has stalled in the House amid suggestions it could block efforts to record wrongdoing.
Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver, R-Lancaster, said she proposed HB921 at the urging of a county election administrator who believes cellphones and picture-taking devices are an inappropriate “distraction.” And state Election Coordinator Mark Goins said he has asked for a criminal investigation into reports of a person who sold his vote, then took a photo of the voting screen to prove how he voted and collect payment.
But members of the House Local Government Committee questioned Goins and Weaver at length on what they see as problems with the legislation.
Rep. Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby, said he has taken each of his five children with him into a voting booth and snapped a picture. That was “a neat thing for us,” he said, adding that “we’re getting into some muddy water here” with the bill.
Rep. Antonio Parkinson, D-Memphis, noted Shelby County voters last year were assigned to vote in the wrong legislative district. With a cellphone picture, he said, they could show the screen as assigned and establish that the ballot was incorrect.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A proposal to bar local governments from renaming parks or monuments honoring Tennessee’s military figures is headed to the governor for his consideration.
The measure sponsored by Republican Sen. Bill Ketron of Murfreesboro was approved 26-3 by the Senate on Thursday. The companion bill passed the house 69-22 last month.
Sponsors say the legislation is aimed at preventing shifting views and changing “demographics” from erasing memorials to historical figures from the Civil War and other conflicts.
The bill would allow local governments seeking to change the names of parks to seek permission from the Tennessee Historical Commission.
Critics say it should be left to local governments to decide the naming of parks.
Republican Gov. Bill Haslam is expected to review the legislation once it reaches his desk.
Tennessee state Rep. Timothy Hill remains committed to his legislation banning Bluff City’s speed enforcement cameras despite criticism from the town’s Board of Mayor and Aldermen, reports Hank Hayes. “I’m disappointed with the name calling,” Hill, R-Blountville, said when asked for a response to that criticism occurring at a board meeting Thursday night. “That doesn’t advance any discussion. … I’m surprised that if the city is that concerned with my legislation — I figured they would be — I’m surprised they have not reached out to me at this point. I’ve never been invited to a BMA meeting. I have yet to have one of their aldermen reach out to me in any form or fashion to have a discussion on this.”
Bluff City aldermen warned that losing revenue from those speed cameras will hurt funding for various projects, including a Sullivan County-supported library in town.
The speed cameras, located on Highway 11-E are not in Bluff City’s downtown area and also catch motorists moving through business areas of the Piney Flats community.
In filing two bills in the legislature, freshman state Rep. James “Micah” Van Huss, R-Jonesboro, is fulfilling a 2012 campaign promise to protect Tennessee from the United Nations if elected to the state House, reports Hank Hayes. Van Huss made that pledge at a tea party event in Kingsport last October and specifically spoke out against Agenda 21, a 20-year- old United Nations initiative advocating sustainable development.
The 34-year-old military veteran, who now serves House District 6 in Washington County, has filed two bills with intentions of keeping the United Nations out of the state.
Van Huss, in an e-mail, said he authored the bills “out of a desire to reinforce our eroding national sovereignty.”
He added: “I feel, as a lot of my constituents do, that the United Nations continues to put forth agendas that would infringe on our personal liberties; that’s not the freedom that I fought for, and not the freedom that my buddies gave their lives for.”
He cited a news story noting that the United Nations and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe sent a 44-member multinational delegation to the United States to monitor and observe America’s election process for human rights violations, voter suppression and election fraud.
Tennessee Democratic Party spokesman Brandon Puttbrese, however, said Van Huss’ bills are a prime example of the GOP-controlled legislature not working to create jobs.
“They are concentrating on bad ideas that distract our legislature from doing the important work of putting Tennesseans back on the job,” Puttbrese said.
…When asked for a response to Van Huss’ bills, United Nations spokesman Farahn Haq emphasized his organization does not get involved in domestic legislation.
“In any country we try to follow a policy of noninterference with domestic legislative affairs,” Haq pointed out. “At the same time, we do work with the government of the United States, the federal government. … Since its founding in the 1940s, the United Nations has had a strong and productive relationship with the government of the United States and we hope to continue to do so.”
News release from Senate Republican Caucus:
(NASHVILLE, TN), January 31, 2013 -Senator Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) and 15 State Senate co-sponsors today filed the TennCare Fiscal Responsibility Act. Senate Bill 804 will prevent expansion of the Tennessee Medicaid program under provisions of the Affordable Care Act, also known as “Obamacare.” The bill is an updated version of Senate Bill 1, filed by Sen. Kelsey in November.
“I am pleased to have the support so far of 16 of the 33 state Senators in Tennessee, and I hope to have other members sign on as co-sponsors,” said Sen. Kelsey.
Last week, a similar version of the bill, House Bill 82, was filed in the House of Representatives with 22 co-sponsors by Rep. Jeremy Durham (R-Franklin).
In June 2012 the United States Supreme Court ruled in National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius that states have the right to opt out of Medicaid expansion without losing pre-existing federal Medicaid funding.
The City Commission in Etowah, Tenn., approved an ordinance banning pit bulls by a 3-2 vote at its meeting Monday night, despite a campaign by pit bull owners against the measure, according to the Chattanooga TFP. The ordinance, which the City Commission already approved once in a first reading, singles out pit bulls as a particularly dangerous breed with a strong fighting and chase instinct. Some of the characteristics that make them dangerous, according to the ordinance, include a diminished tendency to warn they’re going to attack, a tendency to “fight to the death” and to tear flesh “which has resulted in grotesque injuries to human victims.”
…Under the ordinance, City Code Enforcement Officer Dave Mason said, “Any new dogs coming in are banned.”
The ordinance grandfathers-in existing pit bulls. But owners would have to take a variety of steps, including registering animals with identifying photos, posting “beware of dog” signs, obtaining $100,000 in liability insurance, keeping the dogs muzzled on short leashes when outside of the home and keeping them confined indoors or in a locked pen or kennel at home.
Under the ban, any puppies born to registered dogs would have to be removed from city limits within six weeks.
U.S. Rep. John J. Duncan Jr. made no secret about what he was trying to accomplish when he inserted language into a federal highway bill that takes aim at red-light traffic cameras at busy intersections in Knoxville and other cities across the country. But Mike Collins reports it may have little impact. The little-noticed provision, part of a $100 billion highway spending package that received final approval in Congress on Friday, bars the use of federal funds to buy, operate or maintain red-light cameras or other automated traffic enforcement systems.
“Since most highway money, even at the state level, comes from the federal government, and most of the work that is being done locally involves federal money, what hopefully it will mean — and should mean — is that there will be many, many fewer red-light cameras all over the country,” the Knoxville Republican said.
But highway safety advocates and others say the ban is unlikely to have any impact at all.
“There really isn’t any federal funding that goes into any of these programs,” said David Kelly, president and executive director of the Washington-based National Coalition for Safer Roads.
In Knoxville, red-light cameras are operated and maintained at 15 intersections by American Traffic Solutions Inc., a Tempe, Ariz.-based contractor that has 3,000 of the devices nationwide. No federal money is used to operate any of the cameras, said Charles Territo, a company spokesman.
Lapdogs in cars could mean trips to court under legislation that appears headed for passage after gaining approval of a committee that killed a similar bill last year.
Sen. Ken Yager, R-Harriman, won approval of SB3110 in the Senate Transportation Committee on a 5-2 vote.
Last year, the committee killed a bill by Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, that had the same goal, though slightly different language.
This year’s bill creates a new misdemeanor offense for having an animal in the lap while driving. It also covers an animal being between the driver and the driver’s door.
Yager won the committee’s approval after reading a letter from a constituent in Oliver Springs who said he has twice barely avoided a serious accident because of other drivers with dogs in their laps.
Both the and the House sponsor, Republican Rep. Jim Cobb, said passage of the bill should make highways safer. Cobb said statistics show about 30,000 accidents per year nationwide caused by drivers distracted by dogs or cats in their vehicles.
The House version of the bill is scheduled for a floor vote tonight.