Some of the Legislature’s top leaders were among more than 50 candidates who failed to report 181 political contributions totaling $145,875 when the Registry of Election Finance conducted an annual “crosscheck” review mandated by a current state law.
House Republican Chairman Glen Casada, sponsor of a bill that critics say would undermine the present law, was found to have two unreported $1,000 contributions from political action committees. House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner, who staunchly opposed the bill, had more unreported donations than anyone on the list — 18 totaling $19,875.
Both men expressed surprise when contacted last week after Drew Rawlins, executive director of the Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance, provided a list of the 2012 “crosscheck” results on request. Neither changed his position on the bill (HB643), which fell two votes short of passage on the House floor during the legislative session and which Casada plans to bring back for another try next year.
(Note: For the Registry’s list, click on this link: CrossIndexInfo.ods
State House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh says Republicans showed an inclination to “put petty politics above the safety of our students” during the legislative session by killing one of his bills.
House Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada says that’s not so and Fitzhugh is “seeing a ghost behind every tree.”
The bill in issue (HB494) passed the Senate unanimously and cleared House committees system until it reached the Calendar Committee at the end of the session, where Casada declared it unneeded and “duplicative” of present law. He made a motion that, in effect, killed it for the year. The panel’s Republican majority backed him, scuttling the bill.
As amended, the bill declares that the Police Officers Standards and Training (POST) Commission and the Tennessee Law Enforcement Training Academy, upon request of any school system, will provide advice on school security systems.
Fitzhugh said the move was retaliation for his vote against the state budget bill.
“This was a good bill that had bipartisan support throughout the legislative session. Had I known they would take it out on our students and teachers, I would have voted for their budget,” Fitzhugh said in a news release distributed by the House Democratic Caucus.
“Republicans leaders warned us about voting against the budget, but I never thought that in the wake of the horrors at Sandy Hook that they’d risk the safety and security of our children and grandchildren just to prove a point,” he said.
Casada said, when asked last week, that was “absolutely not” the case. Current law already allows the POST Commission to give advice to schools and the bill was “just playing politics” by Democrats seeking to claim credit for enhancing school security.
Current law apparently contains nothing that would prohibit the POST Commission from offering security advice to school systems, but nothing that explicitly authorizes it either.
News release from House Democratic Caucus:
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – In an unusual and highly political move, House Republicans led by Chairman Glen Casada (R-Franklin) voted last Thursday to kill HB494 by Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh (D-Ripley); this despite the bill having already passed the State Government, Education, and Finance Ways & Means Committees with a majority of support. The legislation would have helped local law enforcement increase security around school by working with the Tennessee peace officer standards and training commission.
“Republican leadership has put petty politics above the safety of our students,” said Leader Fitzhugh. “This was a good bill that had bi-partisan support throughout the legislative session. Had I known they would take it out on our students and teachers, I would have voted for their budget.”
Under the proposed legislation by Leader Fitzhugh, local schools could have requested that the POST commission initiate a security assessment of each school. Once completed, local governments and LEAs would have had the option to adopt security recommendations. This legislation was introduced in light of Governor Haslam’s declaration that Tennessee couldn’t afford to put a safety resource officer in every school. This bill was a common sense way to increase school safety, without dramatically increasing state or local expenditures.
The House Republicans voted to send this bill back to the Civil Justice Committee, which effectively killed the bill this year, after Leader Fitzhugh and 13 other Democrats voted against the budget. The intent of Republicans to kill the bill became even more clear when three House committees opened up Friday morning to hear bills, but Civil Justice was not one of them. The Senate version passed 32-0 on April 11.
“Republicans leaders warned us about voting against the budget, but I never thought that in the wake of the horrors at Sandy Hook that they’d risk the safety and security of our children and grandchildren just to prove a point,” said Leader Fitzhugh.
Video of the Calendar & Rules Committee hearing on HB494 can be found here: : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wKySr0HBDUA
Representatives voting to kill the bill: Rep. Glen Casada (R-Franklin), Rep. Jimmy Eldridge (R-Jackson), Rep. Curtis Halford (R-Dyer), Rep. Ryan Haynes (R-Knoxville), Rep. Timothy Hill (R-Blountville), Rep. Jon Lundberg (R-Bristol), Leader Gerald McCormick (R-Chattanooga), Rep. Steve McManus (R-Cordova), Rep. Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville), Rep. Eric Watson (R-Cleveland), Speaker Pro Tem Curtis Johnson (R-Clarksville), Speaker Beth Harwell (R-Nashville).
A bill repealing the need for corporations to disclose political contributions and more than doubling the amount of money partisan caucuses can put directly into legislative campaigns fell two votes short of passage Wednesday on the House floor.
The bill (HB643) by House Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada would also repeal a law prohibiting direct political contributions to legislators by insurance companies, which now must form political action committees to make donations.
The vote was 48-41 with 50 votes required for passage. Thirteen of Casada’s fellow Republicans voted no on his bill, two others abstained and eight simply refused to vote at all – including House Speaker Beth Harwell, who was presiding over the chamber. Democrats unanimously opposed it.
House Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada sponsored the bill, calling for passage as a means of bringing more political contributions into the state political system.
“Limiting money is limiting free speech,” declared Casada.
But critics faulted the bill for putting more money into state politics with less transparency. Perhaps the most impassioned protest came from Rep. JoAnne Favors, D-Chattanooga, who said the flow of new money under the bill could be “perceived as unethical.”
“If you have received thousands and thousands of dollars, you may feel like your vote has been purchased,” she said.
“We are not bribeable,” replied Casada.
Other criticism came from Rep. Kent Williams of Elizabethton, the Legislature’s only independent, who said insurance companies would make political donations and pass the cost on to customers paying premiums, and several Democrats who objected to repealing the disclosure requirement for corporations.
Casada said the corporate reporting of donations is unnecessary because candidates receiving the money would still have to disclose receipt of the money.
Critics pointed out that the Registry of Election Finance now matches corporate and PAC contribution reports of donations made with candidate reports of donations received – occasionally finding cases where a candidate failed to report a donation. The bill would have removed the ability to make such a check with corporate money.
Andrea Zelinski has a thoughtful article on the Republican Legislature’s focus Nashville. An excerpt: Some say the conflict is political, the product of Republican majorities trying to dismantle one of the state’s last institutions of Democratic power. Others say it’s the result of a shift in values reflected in a legislature that is more conservative than the city it does business in. Some go further, saying the city has developed so much power and influence that a clearer focus is needed to ensure the success of the state as a whole.
The one thing everybody agrees on? Don’t expect the attention on Nashville to let up.
…”I think they view it as the last bastion they have to beat down,” said Rep. Mike Turner, an Old Hickory Democrat and the party’s caucus chairman, who characterized the situation as “open season on Nashville.
“Basically all the things they don’t like with America, they see it in Nashville,” he said. “And I think all the things that’s good about America is represented in Nashville. I think they have some issues with it.”
…(W)hen lawmakers sent a bill to the governor that would undo the city’s rules ensuring prevailing wage standards for contractors doing city business…Gov. Bill Haslam said he’s prepared to sign, although added it’s a tricky issue.
“That’s a very fine line for me,” said Haslam, a former Knoxville mayor who adds that he’s sensitive to preserving local authority. The difference here, he said, is lawmakers have made the case to him that Metro’s current practice has effects beyond Davidson County.
That bill came at the hands of Rep. Glen Casada, a high-ranking House Republican leader from Franklin. The point of the bill was to standardize laws across the state, he said, and Metro Nashville mandating a standard wage in Davidson County could force unaffordable costs on companies doing business across the Tennessee.
“They are expanding their reach in areas they don’t belong,” said Casada about Metro’s government. “So a lot of legislators say, ‘city of Nashville, you can’t tell business that they have to pay a certain wage to do business with you in your town. We want all laws to be the same all across the state.’
“We look at it from a macro sense, the whole state, all 95 counties. The city of Nashville and the city of Memphis are looking at it from their perspective only. But their actions have ripple effects across the state, and so I think you’re seeing a butting of wills on direction.”
It amounts to a turf war, he said, and it seems to be more intense this year.
“The cities are just becoming very influential nationwide,” he said, “and so, Nashville is doing what they think is best. The problem is what they think is best, it flexes and comes up upon what state business is.”
“They’re expanding. They’re reaching areas they don’t belong,” he added.
While one bold plan to enhance to the political power of the Legislature’s partisan caucuses sank into the 2013 session sunset last week amid considerable media clamor and political rhetoric, a subtle plan with the same general goal was quietly positioned for passage.
Sen. Frank Niceley was author of plan No. 1, which would have allowed Republican state legislators to pick the Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate while Democratic legislators chose the Democratic nominee.
The Strawberry Plains farmer pitched his proposal as a way to fix a broken Washington, delivering “a little history lesson” about how the Founding Fathers fashioned things so legislatures directly named a state’s U.S. senators until the 17th amendment to the U.S. Constitution was enacted in 1913.
Niceley’s critics focused on the simple fact that the his proposal would eliminate the right of average Republican and Democratic voters to choose their party standard bearers in a primary election. Another criticism was that the old pre-1913 system produced some real episodes of corruption in the legislative deal-cutting process — at least in other states.
Virtually ignored by both sides was the most intriguing aspect of Niceley’s plan: It would substantially reduce the impact of money in the political system.
A bill approved by a House committee on Tuesday will allow political parties and the Legislature’s partisan caucuses to more than double their contributions to state legislator campaigns.
The bill (HB643) by House Republican Caucus Leader Glen Casada would raise the current maximum donation from $40,000 to $150,000 in state Senate campaigns. For House campaigns, the maximum donation would increase from $30,000 to $75,000.
Casada earlier this year had previously planned to push legislation to completely repeal all campaign finance limits this year. But he said his thinking had changed after talking to others – including House Speaker Beth Harwell, who opposed a complete repeal – and the bill presented Tuesday is the replacement plan.
In practical effect, it would substantially increase the clout of the Democratic and Republican caucuses of the General Assembly, along with the state’s two party headquarters in funding legislative races. Current law already allows the caucuses and parties to accept unlimited amounts of cash from corporations, political action committees and individuals. The bill broadens there ability to spend such monies when collected.
The bill contains other provisions as well. One of them repeals an old law that prohibits insurance companies from directly donating to legislators’ political campaigns. Since state law, after a 2011 revision, allows other corporations to donate directly to legislative candidates, Casada said the measure simply puts insurance companies on equal footing with other businesses.
Legislation headed to Gov. Bill Haslam’s desk would prohibit local municipalities from requiring private employers to adopt prevailing wages for employers — thus nullifying a 16-year-old Nashville law that guarantees these rates for contracted workers on city construction projects, reports The Tennessean. The Republican-backed bill (HB501), sponsored by Rep. Glen Casada, R-Franklin, and Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, cleared the Senate by a 24-6 vote Thursday, largely along party lines, with all nay votes coming from the chamber’s handful of Democrats.
Conservative Sen. Douglas Henry of Nashville was the lone Democratic senator to vote for the Republican-backed legislation, while newly elected Sen. Steve Dickerson, R-Nashville, voted present.
A spokesman for the Republican governor said Haslam would review the legislation like he does all bills. Past statements from Haslam have indicated skepticism of so-called “living wage” ordinances but also deference to local governments on whether to adopt them.
…”Living wages are about fairness and stability,” Metro Councilwoman Megan Barry said, adding: “By taking away yet another tool that Metro government has, the legislature is making it more difficult for the building and construction trades to earn a living.”
In addition to targeting wages, the bill would prevent local governments from requiring companies to ensure health insurance benefits and leave policies that are different from state policy. Metro’s ordinance does not require that.
See also the Commercial Appeal story. An excerpt: City officials and Memphis Democratic legislators said the bill is another example of Republicans, from the suburbs and elsewhere, targeting Memphis and to a lesser degree Nashville. The legislature last year overturned a Nashville local ordinance that forbade city contractors from discriminating against employees who are gay, despite the business community’s support for the local law.
“This is another pre-emption bill. If you think a community is smart enough to decide whether they want wine in grocery stores then I think you ought to consider them smart enough to set their wages and contracts,” said Senate Democratic Leader Jim Kyle of Memphis, alluding to a separate bill to allow wine sales in grocery stores if approved by local referendums.
By Lucas Johnson, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A Republican lawmaker who last year backed off a bill that would have allowed local officials to hold more closed-door meetings has renewed the effort, saying he’s asked county commissioners to bring him a proposal that has a chance of passing a key subcommittee.
Rep. Glen Casada of Franklin has a bill scheduled before the House State Government Subcommittee on Tuesday that could be amended to address local government officials’ call for a bill to allow them to meet privately as long as a quorum isn’t present.
Williamson County Commissioner Bob Barnwell, who also spearheaded a similar attempt last year, has written to local government colleagues around the state urging them to encourage state lawmakers to pass such a measure.
Casada told The Associated Press on Thursday that he advised commissioners a bill in that form won’t pass the subcommittee. He didn’t specify what changes should be made, but said he’s “still negotiating.”
News release from Senate Republican Caucus:
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The State Senate approved legislation today requiring newspapers that print public notices to post them on the Internet. Senate Bill 461, sponsored by Senator Ken Yager (R-Harriman), is supported by the Tennessee Press Association.
Action on the bill was taken during “Sunshine Week,” an annual time to highlight the importance of maintaining open government nationwide. Yager said the legislation recognizes the growing use of the Internet as a source of information, while preserving the integrity of using an independent agency for public notice by newspapers of general circulation.
Current law requires public notices be given on a variety of matters of importance to the public, including government meetings, bid announcements, notice of parental termination, foreclosure notices, public sale of private property, back tax notices, estate notices and zoning changes, to name a few. Local governments, looking for ways to reduce expenditures have suggested they can save money by posting notices on their websites rather than posting them in a local newspaper.
“My experience in local government gives me a greater appreciation of the importance of this issue,” said Yager, who served as Roane County Executive for 24 years before being elected to the State Senate. “Using an independent agency, the local newspaper, builds integrity in the process. To give even the appearance of manipulating mandatory public notices, tarnishes the reputation of government because it undermines the concept of independence and transparency.”
In addition, the legislation calls for the newspapers to post public notices on a central statewide website. Every newspaper that publishes public notices must post on their website homepage a link to the public notice section and another link to the Tennessee Press Association’s statewide repository website.
“This bill combines the best of both worlds. It keeps public notices in places where more people can find them by ensuring the widest distribution,” said Senator Yager. “This measure comes with no extra costs to taxpayers, and promotes government transparency, efficiency and public trust. I am pleased that it has been approved by the full Senate and honored for its passage during a week that embraces openness in government.”