Tag Archives: Beacon

New coalition set up to push ‘criminal justice reform’

Press release from Tennessee Coalition for Sensible Justice
NASHVILLE – Leaders from advocacy, business and social service groups with constituents across the state came together today to launch the Tennessee Coalition for Sensible Justice. The nonpartisan coalition is committed to advancing criminal justice reform. Founding organizations include the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee, the Beacon Center of Tennessee, the Tennessee Association of Goodwills, and the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce.

“These diverse organizations from across the political spectrum came together because we all agree that criminal justice reform is both necessary and urgent,” said Hedy Weinberg, ACLU-TN executive director. “Our current criminal justice system is functioning like a revolving door. We as a state can and must do better to ensure public safety, fair treatment and equality in the justice system. This coalition will be a powerful advocate for smart-on-crime policies at the legislature.”

The coalition will promote reforms that enhance public safety, promote rehabilitation and re-entry, and save taxpayer dollars in order to create a just and fair criminal justice system that offers every Tennessean the opportunity to become a productive member of society. Continue reading

UT diversity tops Beacon TN ‘pork’ for 2016

News release from Beacon Center of Tennessee
In the organization’s 11th annual Tennessee Pork Report, the Beacon Center reveals that state and local government officials squandered $480 million of taxpayers’ hard-earned money this past year.

For the second consecutive year, the Beacon Center allowed the people of Tennessee to pick the infamous “Pork of the Year” award. After hundreds of votes, the “winner” of the award was the University of Tennessee’s Office for Diversity and Inclusion. This taxpayer-funded office “encouraged” students and faculty to use gender neutral pronouns such as “ze” and “zir” in lieu of “he” and “she” and tried to ensure that holiday parties on the campus were not “Christmas parties in disguise.”

The report highlights this mismanagement of taxpayer funds and includes the following examples:

•Nearly $56 million taxpayer dollars to fund the canceled-then-revived-on-cable television series Nashville
•$1.5 million paid to out of state artists to litter music city with tacky art
•$900,000 in Washington-style earmarks for Hamilton County commissioners to squander on their pet political projects

After more than a decade of exposing government waste, the Beacon Center remains committed to holding government officials accountable and keeping taxpayers informed. We hope the Pork Report will create a more responsible and transparent government that prioritizes taxpayers.

You can read the full Tennessee Pork Report by clicking here.

Beacon Center sues state over shampoo licensing

News release from Beacon Center of Tennessee
In its first statewide legal challenge, the Beacon Center Legal Foundation filed a civil rights lawsuit on behalf of Memphis resident Tammy Pritchard. The lawsuit is in response to Tennessee’s unfair and unconstitutional occupational licensing regulation on shampooing.

The state of Tennessee forces hair washers to get a license before they are legally allowed to shampoo hair. Due to the state’s licensing requirement, residents must spend hundreds of hours in educational programs that cost thousands of dollars before they are able to carry out this simple task in return for money.

Even worse, no one can currently acquire a license to shampoo hair in Tennessee. This is due to the fact that there is currently no school in the entire state that offers the course that is a mandated component of the hair washing license. That means that unless you already have a hair washing license from years ago or from another state, you are unable to wash hair in Tennessee without obtaining a full cosmetology license, something that requires 1,500 hours of schooling and costs as much as $35,000 in tuition.

Beacon Director of Litigation and former U.S. Justice Department Attorney Braden Boucek stated, “The idea that a person needs to have a license to do something as simple as washing hair is not just foolish, it is unconstitutional. These laws are designed by people already in the business who are attempting to unfairly shield themselves from competition at the expense of hard working Tennesseans. That’s not what laws are for. People want to work, and this regulation hurts the very people who need a job the most. The government is preventing low-income Tennesseans from getting a good a job, and we at the Beacon Center are ready to put a stop to that.”

Boucek went on to note, “The worst part of this regulation is that the state requires you to go to a school to get a license but is unaware of any school that actually offers the program.”

For more details about the case and to read the full story of Tammy Pritchard, click here
Continue reading

Beacon sets up ‘litigation arm,’ files lawsuit against Nashville

The Beacon Center of Tennessee has set up a legal foundation and filed its first lawsuit – a challenge to a Nashville city ordinance regulating home rentals through the website Airbnb.

The Beacon news release:
In a major development, the Beacon Center today announced the formation of a brand new litigation arm, the Beacon Center Legal Foundation, and filed its first lawsuit. The Beacon Center is suing the city of Nashville on behalf of P.J. and Rachel Anderson. They are challenging unconstitutional regulations the city has placed on their ability to rent their home on Airbnb, a website that connects homeowners like them with guests visiting Nashville.

At the heart of the issue is an arbitrary 3% cap on short term rental properties in each Nashville census tract. P.J and Rachel are seeking a ruling that will force Nashville government to cease enforcing the arbitrary cap, the outright bans on advertising and signage, and the requirement that they turn over their guests’ records to the government.

The news release was accompanied by a lengthy Beacon review of the plaintiffs and their cause, HERE.

From The Tennessean:

Particularly at issue is part of the ordinance that places a 3 percent cap on non-owner-occupied rentals in any single neighborhood, which is determined by census tract.

P.J. Anderson is a musician, who travels often, and Rachel Anderson is a graphic designer, who has a job opportunity in Chicago. The Andersons, who have two children, now rent their three-bedroom home nine to 10 days a month, Rachel Anderson said, for $425 a night. Because they live there the rest of the time, they say the city has no problem.

But the Andersons want to return to Chicago for the job opportunity and rent their Salemtown home. They said a short-term rental is ideal so P.J. Anderson can return to Nashville about one week a month to work.

But they said Metro Nashville government told them they couldn’t get a short-term rental permit because the maximum number of non-owner- occupied rentals in their neighborhood had already been met.

…The regulations have received overwhelming support in Metro government. In February the Metro Council voted 30-2 to approve the ordinance that set the permit requirements.

Metro Director of Law Saul Solomon confirmed the city had received the lawsuit Wednesday, but had not reviewed the issues it raises.

Beacon Center of Tennessee striving to reach across ideological lines

Robert Houk writes about the Beacon Center of Tennessee after a conversation with Mark Cunningham, director of marketing and communications for the group:

It evolved from what had been the Tennessee Center for Policy Research, a creation of a 1997 Science Hill High School graduate, Drew Johnson, who now writes for the Washington Times.

I’ve read reports that the Koch brothers are benefactors of the Beacon Center. Officials with the think tank will not disclose its donors, except to say 90 percent of the center’s funding come from Tennessee. When I put the question directly to Cunningham last week, he declined to confirm or deny that the Koch brothers have anything to do with the Beacon Center.

Cunningham did tell me, however, that the Beacon Center strives to reach across partisan and ideological lines to push it’s agenda in the state General Assembly. In that regard, he said his conservative organization has joined hands with the American Civil Liberties Union to oppose “policing for profit,” a term given to the practice of law enforcement agencies seizing cash or property without due process.

The think tank expects both Republicans and Democrats to support a “school choice” voucher bill that it says will actually result in an increase to the state’s per pupil funding for local schools. Cunningham also believes his organization will receive the greatest bipartisan support for legislation the Beacon Center has dubbed the “right to try” bill that would allow terminally ill patients to try experimental drugs prior to their full Federal Drug Administration approval.

One issue where the Beacon Center is not likely to see a great deal of support from Democrats, or Republican Gov. Bill Haslam is its opposition to Medicaid expansion. A special session of the General Assembly will be held next month a to consider the governor’s call for an expansion of TennCare under the Affordable Care Act.

Most Republicans lawmakers are fiercely opposed to the idea, even though the University of Tennessee’s Center for Business and Economic Research said last week expanding the health care program would create 15,000 jobs and bring $1.14 billion in new spending to the state. Even so, the Beacon Center argues that it would make it “more difficult for Tennessee’s most vulnerable” to receive health care. I guess the think tank believes poor people using emergency rooms as their primary care givers is a better system.

Cunningham also called Medicaid expansion “immoral.” Personally, I think sending our share of these federal dollars to other states while talking about raising Tennessee’s gas tax is immoral.

ACLU, Beacon Center to jointly lobby for reform of ‘policing for profit’ laws

The American Civil Liberties Union, usually depicted as left-wing in politics, and the Beacon Center of Tennessee, usually depicted as right-wing, are jointly backing reform of state police forfeiture laws – known as “policing for profit” by critics.

From TNReport’s report:

One issue critics have taken with the operation of the state’s drug task forces is that they’re funded through asset seizures, which they say creates an incentive to seize cash and property, rather than focusing on drug seizures.

Beacon’s “top priority will be to send all forfeited property to the state’s general fund,” according to a statement from Lindsay Boyd, the center’s policy director. Taking this step would “remove the perverse incentives associated with the current system” by stopping officers from lining “agency budgets with the proceeds confiscated from search and seizures,” she said.

Hedy Weinberg, executive director Tennessee ACLU, said a step in the right direction would be to remove the appearance of the profit-seeking incentive. She added that they would also like to see a requirement for arrest and conviction before property can be seized, as well as shifting from the individual to the government the burden of proof to justify a seizure. Law enforcement agencies should also provide better data in instances where property or cash is seized from individuals, in order for the state to discover the true “extent and prevalence” of the practice, Weinberg said.

Both organizations said they’re still in discussions with lawmakers to work out the specifics of the legislative action.

State Sen. Mike Bell, a Riceville Republican and lest session’s chairman of the Senate Government Operations Committee, has said he is working on a bill to address the matter, but the particulars aren’t mailed down. “I’m still trying to figure out exactly how I’m going to approach this,” said Bell, who chaired a Senate hearing last year that took a look at the oversight of the state’s Judicial Drug Task Forces. He added that he expects several bills dealing with the issue this year.

Anti-tax advocates get early start hammering Hall

Maneuvering has already begun for a renewed effort toward repeal during the 2015 legislative session of Tennessee’s Hall income tax, which this year produced an unexpected $4.3 million surplus in revenue for the city of Knoxville, reports the News Sentinel.

Here’s Charlie Daniel’s take and, below that, an excerpt:

092414charlie_1411525291202_8359203_ver1_0_640_480

A bill to repeal the Hall tax — a 6 percent levy on dividend and interest income with resulting revenue split between state and local governments — failed in the 2014 session despite backing from national organizations that included Americans for Prosperity and Americans for Tax reform, depicted as part of the “Koch brothers advocacy machine” in a March Politico article on the effort.

This month, the Beacon Center of Tennessee presented what it describes as “a brand new reform package to make Tennessee income tax-free once and for all.”

Basically, the revised proposal would cut the tax by 1 percent per year, completing repeal over a six-year period, and require that the state absorb all the revenue loss. Local governments would be “held harmless” with state government sending payments from other revenue sources to local governments.

…Actually, the new Beacon Center proposal is similar to the final version of twice-amended legislation that failed last session in the Senate Finance Committee (SB1427) after Finance Commissioner Larry Martin, representing Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration, and state Comptroller Justin Wilson both said that, while they like the idea, it was not fiscally responsible given the state’s tight budget picture.

…The tax generated $264 million last year, the state receiving five-eighths of that amount under the current statute. The remaining three-eighths goes to local governments, with distribution among them based on the residence of those paying the tax. Some towns with a high population of people receiving substantial income from dividends and interest — the Nashville suburb of Belle Meade being a leading example — thus rely heavily on Hall income for government functions, while those in rural areas with few investors get very little.

Knoxville is somewhat in between, but has been doing better than expected in the last couple of years. The city had anticipated $4.9 million in Hall revenue in the 2013-14 fiscal year, but actually received $9.2 million. City Council members recently approved Mayor Madeline Rogero’s plans for spending the surplus on a variety of projects.

Beacon Center’s annual “pork” roundup for 2014 issued

Every year, the Beacon Center’ reviews comptroller audits and media reports on Tennessee state and local government foulups in the past year and spending that Beacon doesn’t like, declaring the result a “pork report.” The 2014 version is now available.

News release from Beacon Center of Tennessee
NASHVILLE—The Beacon Center of Tennessee today released its ninth annual Tennessee Pork Report, which exposed an astonishing $609 million in state and local government waste. The $609 million is the highest amount of government waste uncovered in a single year since Beacon started publishing the report.

Examples of wasteful spending outlined in the 2014 Pork Report include:

•More than $180 million in wrongfully paid unemployment benefits by the Tennessee Department of Labor & Workforce Development, which includes benefits to felons and dead people. This blunder takes the prize of “Pork of the Year” in the report. (Note: Previous post HERE.)

•A school district with a $48.4 million blunder, where equipment—including computers and even cars—somehow came up missing. (Note: It’s Shelby County. Commercial Appeal report HERE)

•$42.2 million on a swanky jetport in Cleveland to service high-end fliers. (Note: This disapproved spending item echoes a ‘Tennessee Watchdog’ report HERE.)

•$33 million towards a riverboat dock in Memphis that has been an unmitigated disaster so far. (Note: A WREG-TV report in May put the figure at $43 million.)

•A record-breaking $1.9 million wasted on state-owned golf courses.

“With more government waste, fraud, and abuse this past year than any before, the 2014 Pork Report will leave taxpayers seeing red,” said Beacon CEO Justin Owen. “It’s time for Tennesseans to start holding their elected officials accountable for the rampant misuse of their hard-earned money.”

The waste of taxpayer money found in the 2014 Pork Report comes from state and local government budgets, media reports, state audits, and independent research conducted by Beacon Center staff and scholars. (Note: PDF version of the full report is HERE.)

… “The Pork Report is an important tool for any taxpayer wishing to rein in wasteful government spending,” said Ben Cunningham of Tennessee Tax Revolt. “There is an especially troubling amount of fraud taking place at the local levels of government, and as a taxpayer advocate, I understand the importance of exposing that for taxpayers across our state.”

The Beacon Center of Tennessee is an independent, nonprofit, and nonpartisan organization dedicated to providing concerned citizens and public leaders with expert empirical research and timely free market solutions to public policy issues in Tennessee. The Center’s mission is to change lives through public policy by advancing the principles of free markets, individual liberty, and limited government.

Report: Beacon Center of TN ‘funded by right-wing special interest groups’

The Center for Media and Democracy, which calls itself “a non-partisan progressive watchdog group,” has issued a report highly critical of the nationally-organized State Policy Network (SPN) and its 63 state affiliates. In Tennessee, that’s the Beacon Center of Tennessee, formerly known as the Tennessee Center for Policy Research.

Excerpt from the snippet on Beacon Center of Tennessee (Link HERE):

While the Beacon Institute is not required to disclose its donors to the public, and does not publish a list voluntarily, the identities of its few known donors reveal the institute is largely funded by out-of-state right-wing special interest groups. Most notably, the Beacon Center has received over $1.1 million from two Koch-funded groups, Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund, known as the “dark money ATM of the conservative movement.” Funding from the Donors groups in 2010 made up over 38% of the institute’s total revenue. All of the Beacon Center’s known funders are based outside of Tennessee.

Included in the Tennessee snippet is a link to the Beacon Center’s 108th General Assembly Legislator’s Guide to the Issues, HERE.
Continue reading