Tag Archives: chamber

Chamber and Kelsey differ on Insure TN, collaborate otherwise

Before a Senate committee killed Insure Tennessee, Greater Memphis Chamber CEO Phil Trenary raised the possibility of the group criticizing legislators opposing Gov. Bill Haslam’s plan, says Kyle Veazey. Now that it’s dead Sen. Brian Kelsey, a leading opponent, would be an obvious target, but…

There’s the Greater Memphis Chamber, with a more active political orientation of late and a relatively new political action committee. And there’s Kelsey, the Germantown Republican who’s the local face of the opposition to Insure Tennessee, the only one of the seven senators who voted ‘no’ who is from Shelby County. Would the chamber target Kelsey, engaging in some sort of political payback?

…I asked Trenary that Wednesday in his office, and here’s where he went:

“The first step is to understand why. We’ll reach out to Senator Kelsey and find out specifically, what is the path to success on this. Is there no circumstance under which this could be supported? We don’t know the answer to that, so we have to get that answer.

“And when it comes to accountability, we don’t do that, the voters do that. To the extent that there’s a tax increase, if there’s a cut in services because of those actions, then yes, there will be accountability. That comes at the ballot box.”

…“I have a positive ongoing relationship with the Memphis Chamber of Commerce,” Kelsey wrote in an email Thursday. “In fact, I am sponsoring two pieces of legislation on their behalf this year. I have always enjoyed working with the Memphis Chamber of Commerce, and I look forward to working with them in the future.”

…So, I asked, you and Kelsey aren’t enemies?

“No, no,” Trenary said.

And then, he just couldn’t help himself.

“Not yet,” he said.

13 state legislators voted perfectly last session in TN Chamber’s view

Note: Seven senators and six representatives — House Speaker Beth Harwell and Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey among them — get perfect ratings from the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Industry in its “scorecard” for state legislator voting in the 108th General Assembly. Skimming the scorecard, it appears that several others would have made the chamber’s perfection list had they not voted for a bill delaying testing based on Common Core standards for a year — an idea the chamber opposed.

News release from Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Industry:
Nashville, TENN. – The Tennessee Chamber of Commerce & Industry today released its legislative vote results for the 108th General Assembly. The comprehensive analysis is based on a number of important legislative initiatives focused on by the Tennessee Chamber. The vote analysis is Tennessee’s most comprehensive business issue vote guide for the business community and is released state-wide at the conclusion of each 2 year general assembly session. The Tennessee Chamber Board of Directors would like to recognize our legislature and the significant wins the Tennessee Chamber had on a number of important issues that were passed into law and other proposed legislation defeated that would have harmed our business climate.

“The Tennessee Chamber of Commerce acknowledges and greatly appreciates the commitment this collection of legislators have taken towards encouraging the growth of businesses and free enterprise throughout the state of Tennessee,” said Catherine Glover, president of the Tennessee Chamber.

The Tennessee Chamber takes exceptional pride in recognizing members of the House and Senate with 100% voter scores during the 108th General Assembly, as featured below:

Senate

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey (R-District 4)

Janice Bowling (R-District 16)

Steven Dickerson (R-District 20)

Ferrell Haile (R-District 18)

Bill Ketron (R-District 13)

Randy McNally (R-District 5)

John Stephens (R-District 24)

House

Speaker Beth Harwell (R-District 56)

John Forgety (R-District 23)

Ryan A. Haynes (R-District 14)

Curtis G. Johnson (R-District 68)

Ron Travis (R-District 31)

Mark White (R-District 83)

“We are proud to recognize our General Assembly and share with the business community our Tennessee Chamber key issue vote results. This is one of or key functions as we advocate for pro-business policy at the State Capitol showing the business community how legislators perform on a number of important issues,” said Bradley Jackson, vice president for the Tennessee Chamber Government affairs program.

For 2013-14, the Chamber focused on a number of important issues. Attached are the 108th House and Senate Final Vote Charts as well a descriptions for key votes. A full report can be viewed at http://tnchamber.org/legislative-agenda/ and will also be released in the upcoming Tennessee Chamber publication, Business Insider.

Note: A spreadsheet of House scorecard can be viewed by clicking on this link: chamberhousescorecard

A spreadsheet of the Senate scorecard can be viewed by clicking on this link: chamberSenatescorecard

TN Chamber laments ‘dirty, dirty deed’ in falsely-labeled ‘push poll’

Nashville voters living in a district with a hot school board race underway got what are described as “push poll” calls from the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce, reports Andrea Zelinski. But they weren’t … and the Chamber thinks the Legislature should do something about it.

Questions in the roughly five-minute poll using the chamber’s name included asking whether endorsements from the School Employees International Union (SEIU) and the Metropolitan Education Association (MNEA) would help earn their vote.

“We’ve never seen anything as dirty as this that’s been done,” said Bradley Jackson, a lobbyist and vice president of government relations for the state chamber who said he does not know who is behind the poll. “This was a dirty, dirty deed.”

The calls apparently began after employees from the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce, headquartered in Nashville, left for the weekend. Bradley said people contacted by the pollsters said their caller ID indicated the call was from the Tennessee chamber and listed the chamber’s office phone number. The calls appear limited to Friday evening, he said.

The SEIU had nothing to do with the poll, said Freda Player, political director for the union’s Local 205 which had endorsed candidate Becky Sharpe on Friday. The endorsement a day after the Nashville Chamber endorsed candidate Mary Pierce citing “her careful skepticism of labor agreements that tie the hands of the director of schools.”

Player said she heard about the calls. She said she was told the pollster asked residents whether they would vote for Sharpe or Pierce; how knowing that Sharpe has children in public schools and Pierce has children in private schools would affect their vote; asking whether they favor charter schools given as public schools they distance teachers from unions; and whether endorsements from the Chamber, SEIU, MNEA, the Tennessean and Mayor Karl Dean would effect their vote.

Jackson said he learned about the poll after receiving calls Friday night from people familiar with the chamber and confused why it would conduct a pro-union poll. He said the chamber is investigating the situation, and is willing to go to state lawmakers next year to see if there is a way to stop the practice from happening.

“Now we’re going to play in the legislature to work to fix his,” said Jackson.

House Speaker Beth Harwell, who hails from that school district, said she received calls of concern about the poll and would work with the chamber to see if there is something that can be done at the state level.

“This I think was more of a push poll, in other words trying to push people toward a candidate or away from a candidate and I think that’s what had people a little concerned,” Harwell said. “I would be more than happy to sit with the chamber and work through it with a staff attorney to see if there’s something we could possibly do. Off hand, I don’t know what it would be.”

Legislature-approved bill to expedite criminal trespass prosecution draws fire

A little-noticed bill that passed the General Assembly last week is seen by detractors as an attack on free speech. But proponents, including business interest groups, say it’ll help bolster criminal trespassing prosecutions, reports WPLN.

(Note: It’s HB2030, previous post HERE)

Starting next year, businesses can pay a fee to register protests with a database, controlled by the Tennessee Secretary of State.

What does this mean?

Here’s a hypothetical: Let’s say PETA protests at Wal-Mart, which joins the state database by paying a fee. If PETA protests again, the police response will be quicker, swifter and will be conducted with less fuss.

At least that’s what the bill’s backer, Rep. Andy Holt, hopes. Though trespassing on private property is already a crime, Holt says, under this measure, police will give protesters less leeway.

“The purpose of this act is to protect private property owners,” he said.

A nearly identical bill was passed by the Arizona State Legislature in 2011. Last year, a federal judge struck it down for curtailing free speech.

…Among the opponents to the bill is attorney and lobbyist Jason Holleman, who says the soon-to-be law is a “solution in search of a problem.”

“I think that we get into dangerous territory, as we saw with this debate, when we try to file bills to limit First Amendment speech, particularly when it’s not addressing a problem that we have in Tennessee,” Holleman said.

It now awaits Governor Bill Haslam’s signature.

Chamber of Commerce executive charged with credit card theft

News release from Tennessee Bureau of Investigation:
KNOXVILLE-A Tennessee Bureau of Investigation inquiry into the misuse of a credit card has led to a felony charge for the former leader of the Fentress County Chamber of Commerce.

At the request of District Attorney General W. Paul Phillips, the TBI began investigating Walter A. Page, Jr. on March 14, 2014. Special agents determined Page, as Executive Director, had been misusing his Chamber of Commerce credit card to make personal purchases dating back to 2012. The Chamber has since terminated Page’s employment.

The investigation further revealed the Clarkrange man used the card to purchase a washing machine for his residence, jewelry for his wife, Christmas decorations and gifts, wine, online movie accounts, and several other personal items.

On April 17th, the Fentress County Grand Jury returned an indictment for Page, charging him with one count of Theft over $1,000.

This morning, the 69-year-old turned himself into the Fentress County Jail, where at the time of this release, he was being held on a $2,500 bond.

Legislators approve U.S. Chamber of Commerce agenda bills — one aimed at ‘flash mobs,’ the other at trespassing protesters

The House sent the governor Wednesday two bills pushed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce – one intended to curb “flash mobs” in Tennessee and the other to expedite prosecution of union activists for criminal trespass on a business property.

Both bills were sponsored in the House by Rep. Andy Holt, R-Dresden, and both were actively opposed in floor debate by Democrats. Both had previously passed the Senate with little discussion, each winning 29 yes votes.

One of the bills (HB2029) would create the crime of “retail vandalism” in Tennessee, which Holt hopefully deter “flash mob” activities in retail businesses or other business establishments when they involve destructive or disruptive behavior. Flash mobbing involves a group of people – often teenagers – suddenly converging in one place, generally for entertainment or celebration of some event.

Democrats questioned the need for the bill, noting vandalism is already a crime. Holt said the bill is needed because organizers of flash mobs, if they are not actually present at the event, cannot be charged with vandalism under current law.

One Republican, Rep. Vince Dean of Chattanooga, said the bill was so broadly drafted that it may be “overreaching.” He suggested the the pastor of his church could face prosecution for organizing a recent event at a shopping mall if some businessman thought the church members were disruptive because the “inhibited traffic at the mall.”

Holt said he did not believe a judge and jury would convict church members in such a situation. Dean said that was true, but the pastor should not be required to go through the time and expense of a trial.

The bill was approved 63-31.

The other bill (HB2030), Holt said, would “expedite” prosecutions for criminal trespass. As amended, it calls for the Tennessee secretary of state to set up a database providing law enforcement officers with quick assess to information about businesses concerned about union organizers or others trespassing on their property. Businesses wishing to be included would pay a fee and the listing would include exact boundaries of the company’s property so it would be clear when a trespass occurs.

Rep. G.A. Hardaway, D-Memphis, contended the bill sets up “a pay to play justice system,” wherein businesses with the money to pay the required fee will get preferential treatment in enforcing laws. House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner said the bill is “very vague” and will likely lead to litigation in court that will “muck up the whole thing.”

One Republican, Rep. Curry Todd of Collierville, joined the Democratic criticism, saying there is “a little bit of a hidden message” in the bill for easing prosecution of union activists or others targeted by a business and recalling a similar bill had been rejected three years ago.

The bill was approved 58-37.

‘Reaching out to Republicans’ on Immigration Reform

By Travis Loller, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Prominent business leaders and Republicans held a forum in Nashville on Wednesday to build support for immigration reform among the public and members of Congress.

The Senate passed a far-reaching immigration measure in June that includes border security, workplace enforcement and a path to citizenship. But the majority of House Republicans remain opposed to any path to citizenship, creating concerns that legislators will be unable to craft a compromise bill.

Part of the idea of the Wednesday forum was to keep momentum for reform going during the congressional recess.

Speaking to an audience that included representatives from the offices of U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn and U.S. Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, all Republicans, U.S. Chamber of Commerce Senior Vice President Randy Johnson rejected the idea that immigration reform is destined to fail once again.

Johnson said there has been a “seismic shift” on the issue in recent years, with many people now agreeing that immigrants need some sort of legal status.
Continue reading

Bill Lets New Car Owners Avoid Emission Tests, Worries Business

Legislation that would exclude newer cars and trucks from annual emissions testing sounds good to vehicle owners and to state lawmakers, who whisked it through a Senate committee and House subcommittee last week, reports Andy Sher.
But state regulators and the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Industry are nearly choking over the potential impact on existing and future businesses in six affected counties including Hamilton County, home to Volkswagen’s assembly plant.
In addition to Hamilton, Davidson, Rutherford, Sumner, Williamson and Wilson counties, and Memphis, require vehicles to pass annual emissions tests to get tags.
The county and city governments adopted the tests and other measures to comply with 2009 federal ozone standards aimed at improving air quality and health.
Receiving a “non-attainment” designation from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency can impact existing businesses or scare off new companies that might have to install costly pollution control equipment.
“We are opposed to the bill,” Wayne Scharber, the Tennessee Chamber’s vice president for environment and taxation, said last week.
The bill to exempt vehicles in the three most recent model years raised a dust storm in the House Subcommittee on Agriculture and Natural Resources and the Senate Transportation Committee last week.
“I understand that Volkswagen is under very stringent restrictions to stay within a certain [level] that EPA has put on them,” said Rep. Curtis Halford, R-Dyer.
“If we stop doing this, is that going to put that particular facility in danger of being over the level that the EPA has given them … and consequently will that cause them large expenditures to get back underneath their limit there?”
Officials with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation outlined a chain of circumstances they said could affect Volkswagen and other companies in the six counties and Memphis.
Barry Stephens, director of the state’s Air Pollution Control Division, said the state runs a complex model on sources of ozone emissions. The EPA awards credits for certain actions to keep down the emissions.
“If you remove certain model years [of vehicles], then they reduce the amount of credits you get for the reduction,” Stephens said. “So if you remove three years, then we’ve got to find those tons [of emissions] somewhere else.”
That could come by requiring heavier vehicles now exempt from emissions testing, he said, or from requiring “stationary” source of emissions — power plants, heavy industry and petrochemical manufacturers — to cut back.

Bill Curbing TSEA Activities Clears House Panel, Delayed in Senate

A bill putting new restrictions on the Tennessee State Employees Union – enough to disable or eliminate many of the organization’s functions, according to a TSEA official – won approval of the House State Government Committee on Wednesday.
The bill (HB913) is being pushed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and is sponsored by House Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada, who said it is intended to assure that state employee dues “do not go into political areas.”
But Sarah Adair, director of government affairs for TSEA, said the bill actually forbids TSEA from using dues money for anything but collective bargaining, enforcing a bargaining contract or helping members with grievance procedures. The bill permits lobbying only to the extent of contacting the group’s own members.
Since Tennessee prohibits state employee collective bargaining and there are no contracts, the organization would effectively be left to do nothing to handle grievances, she said. And even that may be in doubt because a state law enacted last year eliminates the term “grievance” in state law and instead sets up an appeals system for a state work who believes he or she has been wrongly disciplined or discharged, Adair said.
The bill is a case of a “national organization bringing a bill to a state that does not have a problem” with public employee labor unions “that may be a problem in other states,” she told the subcommittee in remarks limited to one minute by the panel’s chairman.
In the Senate, where the bill is sponsored by Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, the measure was discussed at length in the Commerce Committee and a vote and Campfield agreed to a week’s delay to consider amendments.
The bill declares that union dues cannot be used for political activities unless voluntarily donated. Adair said TSEA already requires members to check off whether or not a portion of dues can be sent to the group’s political action committee and the organization would not object to that provision.
Current law also allows a TSEA member to take a two-year, unpaid leave of absence to serve as president of TSEA. The bill reduces that to one year and Campfield said that is not an area where he thinks there can be a compromise, though Adair said the president – as now the case – is typically retired because active employees cannot afford to take unpaid leave

Nashville Chamber Backs Medicaid Expansion

The Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce came out Wednesday in support of expanding TennCare, the state’s Medicaid program, reports Michael Cass.
Marc Hill, the chamber’s chief policy officer, said the business group looked closely at the controversial issue over the past month before deciding to advocate for the expansion — which would be fully funded by the federal government for the first three years — in its 2013 legislative agenda.
Hill cited four main reasons:
• Job creation and increased consumer spending. A University of Memphis analysis found expansion would support more than 20,000 new jobs in Tennessee by 2019.
• Increasing the insured population would replace the money lost in cuts to hospitals and other health care providers, thereby reducing uncompensated care, which would help keep insurance premium increases in check.
• Avoiding a scenario that would allow many people who are below the poverty line to buy insurance from a health exchange created by the federal government, which would “drive up premiums for everybody else, including businesses that provide health insurance to employees.”
“That’s a bottom-line cost to businesses across industries,” Hill said.
• Finally, having health insurance would increase the likelihood that people would get access to preventive and early-stage care.