Tag Archives: bill ketron

Ketron brings Dutch anti-Islam leader to GOP convention

From the Associated Press
Tennessee state Sen. Bill Ketron has invited controversial Dutch politician Geert Wilders to the Republican National Convention.

Wilders tweeted late Sunday that he had arrived in Cleveland. His tweet included a photo of a guest pass from the Tennessee Republican Party. Ketron, of Murfreesboro, told The Tennessean (http://tnne.ws/2a6RUkx ) the populist anti-Islam and Euro-skeptic lawmaker is his friend.

Wilders has supported a ban on immigrants from Islamic countries to the Netherlands, similar to the idea presumptive presidential nominee Donald Trump has floated of temporarily banning foreign Muslims from entering the U.S. Ketron has sponsored several Tennessee bills aimed at Islam.

The invitation was criticized by Council on American-Islamic Relations spokesman Ibrahim Hooper, who said, “The Republican Party should not be importing foreign anti-Muslim bigots.”

For more, see Nashville Post Politics. Excerpt:

“Mr. Wilders is my guest at the convention. He called me sometime ago and was interested in attending. Like myself, having never attended a Convention before [sic] and he wanted to experience the process!” Ketron said in a text message.

When reached by phone this morning, Ketron said he was surprised that Wilders was a controversial choice of guest.

“He’s well-known in Europe, not here. A lot of people don’t even know who he is here,” Ketron said. “The only reason he is controversial is that he speaks his mind … and I agree with his philosophy.”

That philosophy is, in part, is that Islam is not actually a religion and that it is not compatible with democracy, or as Ketron put it, that his country “is being destroyed by the state of Islam.” Does Ketron think the United States is also being destroyed by Islam? He does, he replied, saying that the flux of Syrian refugees who do not “want to assimilate” and who are bringing tuberculosis past the borders is a crisis.

Yet although Wilders is Ketron’s guest, it seems that he likely won’t be attending many of the delegation’s events. For one, Ketron says, he has his own Dutch secret service accompanying him, adding to the already complex security logistics at the RNC. For another, it seems unlikely that at least one event at which Wilders is a “featured guest” — an LGBT gathering entitled, “WAKE UP! (the most fab party at the RNC)” — would be of interest to most of the Tennessee GOP delegates.

Ketron eyes legislation to ease ouster of elected officials

Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Bill Ketron says he wants to make it easier to remove elected officals from office after they are accused of crimes, according to The Daily News Journal. His inspiration is the charges filed against Rutherford County Sheriff Robert Arnold.

“There should be some way to have that individual removed from office, so that’s something my office is going to be looking at,” the Murfreesboro Republican senator said during a Monday phone interview. “I think we need to review the law to see what is available to help protect the citizens. We are going to be looking at what could be done, but it would take a vote in both houses and have to be signed by the governor to change that.”

Arnold, his uncle John Vanderveer and Joe Russell, the sheriff’s office’s chief of accounting, face a 14-count federal indictment accusing them of illegally profiting off inmates through the sale of JailCigs, an electronic cigarettes business. Their trial is scheduled Aug. 2 in Nashville.

The Rutherford County Commission members have talked about pursuing an ouster suit with attorney John T. Bobo, but many are also worried that civil litigation involving depositions could interfere with the criminal case.

Although they are not pursuing an ouster suit at this time, the commissioners in a 21-0 vote on Thursday followed state Sens. Ketron and Jim Tracy in urging Arnold to resign.

“I understand why he’s not resigning,” Ketron said. “I’m sure he needs to make money, and he needs to plea bargain with a goal to get a lesser sentence.”

Bill to revise ABC appointments dies

A subcommittee has killed a bill to have the House and Senate speakers each appoint a member to the state Alcoholic Beverage Commission — a proposal that had described as a compromise with Gov. Bill Haslam by Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Bill Ketron.

The death of SB2095 in the House State Government Subcommittee on Wednesday was followed by the abrupt resignation of ABC Executive Director Keith Bell on Thursday, the day Ketron had scheduled a Senate floor vote on the measure.

Ketron canceled plans for the vote without comment on the Senate floor and could not be reached for comment over the weekend after speculation — and a declaration from a legislative staffer requesting anonymity — that the two events were related.

The Tennessean newspaper reported that Bell gave no reason for his resignation, announced in an email Thursday to legislators and alcoholic beverage industry lobbyists and lawyers. The resignation comes with the ABC gearing up to handle hundreds of new license applications for the sale of wine in grocery stores, as authorized by legislation enacted in 2014 that takes effect July 1 of this year.
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Road projects stripped from public-private partnership bill

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A proposal to allow public-private partnerships for transportation projects in Tennessee is advancing in the state Legislature after sponsors said it would no longer apply to highway or bridge construction.

Republican Sen. Bill Ketron of Murfreesboro said the measure would now only apply to mass transit projects like light rail. Ketron said that highways and bridges were removed from the legislation at the behest of the roadbuilders’ lobby.

Under the proposal, private operators would pay for the projects and then collect the fees needed to cover their costs over a period of several years before returning them to the public sector.

The Senate Transportation Committee advanced the bill (SB2093) on a 7-1 vote on Monday.

Note: See also Andrea Zelinski’s report, HERE.

Cancer survivor Ketron loses effort to help others

Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Bill Ketron, a cancer survivor, has lost an effort to reduce costs to patients for orally administered cancer drugs after two weeks of sometime emotional debate.

Only three members of the Senate Commerce Committee, one a Democrat, ultimately voted for the bill by the Murfreesboro lawmaker, who said he had vowed to help other cancer patients after his own yearlong bout with non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Six fellow Republicans voted no.

“As I lay in the hospital I told God that if he would help me survive I would do everything to help all other cancer patients in the state,” he told the panel at one point.

The bill (SB2091) requires medical insurance policies that cover cancer treatments to set co-pays, deductibles and coinsurance costs for oral drugs – including some that are “off label,” or officially designated for other purposes – at the same level as those that are injected. It was staunchly opposed by lobbyists for the insurance industry while supported by advocates for cancer patients, including the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of Tennessee.

Some lawmakers, including Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jack Johnson, R-Franklin, contended the measure would conflict with long-standing conservative sentiment against mandates for insurance coverage.

Johnson last month won Senate passage of a bill intended to make it more difficult to enact insurance mandates in the future. The measure (SB1619) requires that any mandated health benefit will apply equally to TennCare as well as to private insurance companies. In the past, some mandates have excluded TennCare so the bill would not have any cost to state government. Legislation that imposes a new cost on state government without the spending being specifically authorized in the state budget is far more difficult to pass.

The House version of that bill, sponsored by Rep. Roger Kane, R-Knoxville, is scheduled for a House vote Monday and considered likely to win approval.

Note: A press release thanking Ketron for his efforts is below. Continue reading

Ketron wants to pressure Haslam for refugee lawsuit

Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Bill Ketron is calling on citizens to pressure Gov. Bill Haslam into filing a lawsuit to block the federal government from sending refugees to Tennessee, according to the Daily News Journal.

“It’s costing the state” to provide TennCare funds for medical treatment to refugees coming to the state, the Republican senator from Murfreesboro told the Rutherford County Commission Steering Committee during a Tuesday night meeting in the County Courthouse.

…Ketron said a Michigan law firm has volunteered to represent Tennessee and other states.

“The governor has got to pull the trigger,” said Ketron, who urged that people pressure Gov. Bill Haslam to join the lawsuit. “It’s going to take some people to have some guts.”

The governor is not usually the one who leads lawsuit efforts for the state, said Jennifer Donnals, the press secretary for Haslam.

“Typically, it is the attorney general who brings a legal action on behalf of the state,” Donnals said.

Ketron said the Thomas Moore Law Center firm in Ann Arbor, Mich., is offering to take the case at no charge. The center’s website states that the firm is “Battle Ready To Defend America.”

A firm spokeswoman reached by phone confirmed what Ketron mentioned.

“We have approached several states about allowing us to represent them to challenge the federal refugee resettlement program,” the spokeswoman said.

Note: The idea of a lawsuit over refugees was proposed earlier by Sen. Kerry Roberts, who wrote a letter on the subject. Previous post HERE.

Legislators schedule hearings on refugee resettlement

News release from Senate Republican Caucus
NASVHILLE — Senate State and Local Government Committee Chairman Ken Yager (R-Kingston) and House State Government Committee Chairman Bob Ramsey (R-Maryville) said today that they are planning to conduct a joint hearing in early December to look at plans by the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) to bring Syrian refugees to Tennessee.

Reports indicate that Tennessee will likely receive some of the 10,000 Syrian refugees for resettlement under President Obama’s admissions plans.

Governor Bill Haslam on Monday asked federal officials to suspend placements in Tennessee until states can become more of a partner in the vetting process.

“We treat the placement by the federal government of Syrian refugees in Tennessee as a serious matter,” said Senator Yager. “The attack in Paris serves as another wake-up call that ISIS is serious about embedding the enemy in our communities. This comes on the heels of the terrorist attack in our state this summer. While we want to act humanely in our efforts to help those who legitimately need assistance, we owe it to our citizens to place their safety as our highest priority.”

Yager and Ramsey said their agenda is incomplete but they plan to ask the state’s Department of Safety and Homeland Security and Tennessee Office for Refugees to provide testimony at the meeting. In 2008, Governor Phil Bredesen’s administration withdrew the State of Tennessee as the point of contact for the federal refugee resettlement program, instead opting to allow the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement to select a non-governmental organization to operate the program. That program, the Tennessee Office for Refugees, is now operated by Catholic Charities of Tennessee, Inc.

“We just have a lot of questions as reports have indicated Tennessee is set to receive Syrian refugees,” added Ramsey. “We want to get to the facts about how these refugees are handled and what kind of say-so the state has in the matter. Most of all we want to know how best to protect our citizens.”

Note: Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Bill Ketron of Murfreesboro declared earlier that he’s already contemplating legislation on the issue. That news release is below.
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On climbing the political internship ladder

After previously serving as an intern for state Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Bill Ketron and two Tennessee Democratic congressmen, recent Middle Tennessee State University graduate Davis Thompson has just completed an internship at the White House, working in Michelle Obama’s office, reports The Jackson Sun.

Thompson, an Alamo native and graduate of Crockett County High School, was part of the White House Internship Program, a program that allows students across the country to gain experience working in the White House.

Thompson worked in the communications department of the office of first lady Michelle Obama. He said she passed by his desk every day.

“I did a lot of news monitoring and compiling news clips of the first lady’s coverage, and the articles that are relevant to her initiatives and subject areas,” Thompson said.

…Thompson said he learned a lot through the process. He said before the internship, he did not understand the level of detail that goes into planning things with a high-level person like the first lady. He said it takes a lot of work and preparation.

“I’ll never look at the first lady on the cover of a magazine again without thinking about that process,” Thompson said.

…Thompson said he did several internships leading up to the White House. His sophomore year, he interned with Sen. Bill Ketron in Nashville. He later worked for Congressmen Jim Cooper and Steve Cohen.

“I used them as recommendations for the White House internship,” Thompson said. “I would definitely recommend doing some internships first.”

…Thompson graduated from MTSU in May. At the end of August, he will leave for Slovakia, where he has a Fulbright scholarship to teach English.

Ten years after Waltz arrests, TN ethics efforts have faded

By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — In the typical fray of the legislative session, few paid close attention to a seemingly innocuous bill about recycling computer equipment. That was until federal agents started arresting lawmakers.

Tuesday marks the 10th anniversary of the arrest of five former lawmakers in the FBI’s bribery sting operation codenamed Tennessee Waltz. The case involved a scheme by lawmakers to collect money in exchange for shepherding through bills on behalf of the company called E-Cycle Management.

E-Cycle was an FBI front company that secretly recorded 2,000 hours of video and audio of lawmakers being wined and dined — and paid off in cash by undercover agents.

Following the corruption sting, lawmakers were spurred into trying to improve transparency and ethics in the Statehouse. A decade later, most of those efforts have faded.

In 2006, the state created its first ever stand-alone ethics commission and hired an aggressive executive director, Bruce Androphy, from out of state to set it up. Within three years, Androphy was fired amid hostility from lawmakers and some commissioners appointed by the House and Senate speakers. And the Legislature soon passed a law merging the ethics panel into the campaign finance registry.

“He was turning it more into a police state, and going and looking for violations just to justify his position,” said Republican Sen. Bill Ketron of Murfreesboro, who sponsored the merger law in 2009. “All I could see was just another layer of bureaucracy costing us an arm and a leg.”

Ketron, who recently had to repay the state more than $17,000 in reimbursements after WTVF-TV reported he had billed both his campaign and the state for the same travel, downplayed any benefit to himself for having a less aggressive ethics commission run by longtime Executive Director Drew Rawlins.

“As soon as I realized it, I paid it back the next morning,” Ketron said. “And Drew was fine with that.”

Androphy, who now administers a federal ethics program in North Carolina, said in a phone interview that he harbors no hard feelings about how his tenure ended in Tennessee.

“If you look at the ethics business, longevity is not great. They’re hard jobs to have,” he said. “Everybody loves you when you say yes, but when you say no to something and people get upset.”

The Tennessee Waltz scandal ushered in several new reporting requirements about spending by lobbyists and their employers, and for more detailed disclosures about where lawmakers and local elected officials earn their income. Androphy oversaw placing much of that information online.

Even though he had a rocky relationship with several board members, Androphy said he was proud that the panel issued 25 advisory opinions on ethics questions while he was the executive director.

“One of the better things a commission can do is just put out advice,” he said.

In the six years since Androphy’s departure, the commission has issued just two advisory opinions.

And when the National Rifle Association asked for an opinion this year whether the gun rights group could give free tickets to a country music and comedy show during its annual convention in Nashville, the ethics commission couldn’t agree and declined to issue an opinion either way.

Rawlins, the ethics commission’s current executive director, said the relative dearth of opinions can be traced to early uncertainty about the ethics law. There just haven’t been many advisory opinions requested since then, he said.

“Everyone is more comfortable with the statute now so we get less questions than in the beginning,” Rawlins said.

Sen. Doug Overbey, a Maryville Republican, was a member of the House when the arrests were made. He remembered arriving at the Legislative Office complex and being pulled into then-Speaker Jimmy Naifeh’s office.

“He said, ‘Some of your colleagues are being arrested right now,'” Overbey said. “It was just a dark and sad day.”

Overbey said the frustration with the state’s enhanced ethics standards may stem from that the remaining lawmakers hadn’t done anything wrong to deserve the extra scrutiny.

“If somebody’s going to violate them, they’re going to violate them regardless of how strict they are,” he said.

Democratic Rep. John Deberry of Memphis said the convictions cast a shadow over other lawmakers who don’t deserve the scrutiny.

“Tennessee Waltz opened Pandora’s Box to assuming that all politicians are dishonest, and that they’re all up to something, and that they’re all trying to get something for nothing,” Deberry said. “I think we have a lot of good people here now.”

Ketron reimburses state $17,553, Haynes $4,775 after ‘double-dipping’ on travel expense

Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, and Rep. Ryan Haynes, R-Knoxville, have both written reimbursement checks to state government after billing both taxpayers and their campaign accounts for out-of-state trips to legislative conferences.

Ketron, who chairs the Senate Republican Caucus and for years was chairman of the Fiscal Review Committee that oversees state government spending, wrote the state a check for $17,553 covering six trips over the past six years, according to Nashville’s WTVF-TV , which initially reported on the development.

Haynes, who recently became the Tennessee Republican Party chairman, said his check was for $4,775 and that is actually an “over-reimbursement” for virtually all of his state-paid travel as a legislator. WTVF reported finding three trips where Haynes had billed both taxpayers and his campaign account over a four-year period.

Reporter Phil Williams described the practice as “double-dipping.” Both legislators characterized the matter as an inadvertent error, promptly fixed after it came to their attention. The same held true for Rep. Antonio Parkinson, D-Memphis, who was found to have covered one motel stay by billing it to both the state and his campaign account.

In Ketron’s case, the station cited a trip to Anchorage, Alaska, for a meeting of the Council of State Governments last year as an example. His campaign paid the $1,300 hotel bill, then the state reimbursed Ketron personally for the very same room, the report said.

“His campaign paid the $673 airfare, then the state paid Ketron the exact same amount. His campaign also paid for food, while Ketron pocketed his daily expense allowance of $1,316 from the state.”

Ketron said the mistake was a “miscommunication” between his legislative assistant, who was filling out a form for payment of expenses by the state, and his campaign treasurer, who was paying him for credit card charges he ran up while on the trips.

“As a small-business owner and legislator, it’s probably my fault for not being more diligent keeping my eye on that ball,” he said.

In Haynes’ case, the report says “an anonymous letter began circulating accusing the Knoxville lawmaker of double-dipping on at least three trips” after he announced his campaign to become chairman of the state Republican Party in late March. He was elected to the position by the state GOP executive committee on April 11.

In an interview, Haynes said that he had discovered the error on his own while collecting materials to do his federal income tax returns, before the anonymous letter or an inquiry from WTVF reporter Phil Williams.

At that point, Haynes said, he asked Connie Ridley, director of the Office of Legislative Administration, to pull all his travel records and provide a figure for covering all his travel expenses.

That took some time with the hectic windup of the legislative session underway, he said, and the check was for the amount Ridley came up with — and it was written promptly after she did so.

“I over-reimbursed the state because I didn’t want taxpayers to finance my travels,” Haynes said.

Note: This expands, updates and replaces original post.

Note II: Mike Hart, a former Franklin County Republican chairman, advises via email that he sent an email reporting Haynes’ billing to both the state and his campaign finance account — and that it was non anonymous. His email cites two trips by Haynes, both American Legislative Exchange Council events — one in Washington, D.C. and the other in New Orleans.