Outnumbered Democratic legislators say their ideas are being ignored — or sometimes stolen — by majority Republicans who are “rubber-stamping” questionable GOP-generated legislation in a rush toward adjournment of the 107th General Assembly.
Republican leaders say the Democrats are being treated fairly, though some politically-motivated proposals are scrapped quickly. Democrats did the same thing, Republicans say, in the days when they were in power.
Democratic discontent reached a session high point last week when the party’s entire legislative leadership boycotted the traditional weekly bipartisan breakfast hosted by Gov. Bill Haslam for lawmakers of both parties.
The move revolved around what Democrats saw as gubernatorial aides reneging on an agreement with House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh in his efforts to negotiate modest compromises to Haslam’s civil-service reform bill (HB2384).
The Legislature’s top Democrats today boycotted Gov. Bill Haslam’s traditional Wednesday morning breakfast after a breakdown in negotiations over proposed amendments to the governor’s civil service reform bill.
“I was just afraid I’d say something I’d regret and thought I’d take a little vacation,” said House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley. “My colleagues decided to go with me.”
Fitzhugh felt he had negotiated “good faith” amendments to the civil service bill (HB2384) with Mark Cate, senior advisor to the governor, that sought were by the Tennessee State Employees Association and were acceptable to the administration. But apparently they were not acceptable to Herbert Slatery, the governor’s legal counsel, and Deputy Governor Claude Ramsey, Fitzhugh said.
“I’ve got to figure out who I can negotiate with,” Fitzhugh said.
Fitzhugh withdrew 14 amendments to the bill at a Tuesday meeting of the House Finance Committee, saying he did so as part of the negotiating process, believing that some could be dropped and others would be acceptable to the administration with minor modifications of language.
Slatery at the meeting said he had not seen one of the amendments in question and would not committ to going along with it.
At the committee meeting, Fitzhugh said there were basically just three proposals outstanding – one dealing with so-called “compression pay,” another assuring that a proposed across-the-board pay raise later this would apply to all employees and a third declaring that TSEA would be consulted on future employee policy decisions.
Haslam has followed the practice of past governors in hosting a private weekly breakfast meeting for both Republican and Democratic legislative leaders as an informal means of discussing issues and, at times, resolving them.
Asked if the governor had any comment on the breakfast boycott, Haslam spokesman David Smith sent this email:
Leadership breakfasts are a long-standing tradition that bring the leadership of both parties together on Wednesday mornings during the legislative session to discuss current issues. The governor looks forward each week to spending the time with leaders from both parties and values hearing their views and perspectives on various issues.
As more Williamson County schools begin to serve breakfast to students, the county’s Republican Party chairman, Kevin Kookogey, says it is not the role of the government to feed people, reports The Tennessean.
School officials announced in January the goal to offer breakfast at all schools as a part of the National School Breakfast program, which reimburses the district through the U.S. Department of Agriculture for each meal served.
Whether students qualify for free and reduced prices for the meal or they pay full price, the district essentially receives money back from the government. Kookogey took aim at schools providing students with breakfast via a letter posted on the county Republican Party website.
“I am sure you have heard about this happening in other areas, but ladies and gentlemen, Williamson County, one of the wealthiest counties in the nation by any measure, is now operating under a perverse incentive to increase the number of students taking government hand-outs,” Kookogey wrote. “Of course, those handouts are courtesy of you and me, the federal taxpayers.”