By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Leaders in the Tennessee Statehouse are hoping for what they call a reasonable solution to a legislative fight over a bill seeking to guarantee employees the right to store firearms in cars parked at work.
But not everyone is convinced that cooler heads will prevail over the issue that has Republicans torn between their loyalties to gun rights advocates and the business community.
The Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Industry “doesn’t have any hope” that there will be an obvious way to bridge competing interests between gun and property rights advocates, said Bill Ozier, the group’s chairman.
“We’re preparing for the fight again,” he said. “We’re not very optimistic.”
The measure introduced this spring would have allowed anyone to store a firearm in their vehicle at work. The proposal was later whittled down to apply to the state’s 376,000 handgun carry permit holders. But large employers like FedEx and Volkswagen balked at giving up control over whether guns were kept in their lots.
News release from Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Industry:
NASHVILLE, TN., October 23, 2012–The Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Industry announced today the appointment of Catherine Glover of Albany, GA, as its president and chief executive officer.
Ms. Glover, executive vice president for global affairs of Equinox Chemicals with 20 years of experience leading chambers of commerce in Maine, New York and Georgia, will begin work for the Tennessee Chamber next month, according to chamber chairman Bill Ozier, a partner in the Bass, Berry & Sims law firm in Nashville.
“Catherine Glover is a strong advocate for business, and has international and domestic experience on the corporate side as well as in chamber work,” Ozier said. “She has a successful track record in legislative coalition-building, growing membership and marketing chamber programs.”
Ozier said the Chamber search committee believes Ms. Glover “is the perfect fit to continue the Tennessee Chamber’s 100-year history of being the voice of business in our state.”
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Institute for Legal Reform has rated Tennessee as the 26th best state information in ‘legal climate for business.’
That’s down from 19th in 2010, the year before Gov. Bill Haslam’s tort reform law was enacted. That law has multiple provisions, including new limits on damages that can be awarded to plaintiffs bringing lawsuits against businesses, and was promoted by the governor as making Tennessee more business-friendly.
The Chamber group rates Delaware as the best state for businesses in dealing with the civil justice system,, West Virginia the worst.
The group’s national news release, which focuses on what the Chamber considers the “worst” states, is HERE. The state-by-state ratings map is HERE.
The Tennessee “detailed” page is HERE.
Fresh off a bruising battle over education spending, the Knoxville Chamber is gearing up to form a Political Action Committee, reports the News Sentinel. Mike Edwards, president and CEO of the business organization, said Friday that the primary purpose of the PAC would be advocacy for public policy, which he said is different from support for a particular candidate.
A political action committee raises money from private donors to finance its activities. Edwards said a PAC is needed because it’s not enough for the Chamber to simply take a position for or against a certain issue. “We have to be able to independently analyze in order to make knowledgeable decisions and to be able to share that information with others, to explain why we’re taking the position we’re taking,” he said. “And that takes money.”
While Edwards acknowledged the PAC would be able to endorse or contribute to candidates, he said the Chamber needs to be able to work with whoever is elected. “Getting involved in a (political) race is not the goal,” he added. “But it is our inherent responsibility to take positions for or against any policy … or ordinance or whatever that’s being considered that we would feel to be onerous to the business community and to the growth of the area.”
Last month, the Knox County Commission approved a county spending plan that included an additional $7 million for education initiatives, far less
than the $35 million boost that had been requested by Knox County school Superintendent Jim McIntyre. The Chamber had supported McIntyre’s proposal, although Edwards said Friday that he considered the eventual outcome to be a victory.
The question now, he added, is whether backers of the larger budget increase can “make a powerful enough case to the public that would compel the county government to fund what … they were unwilling to fund last year. And that (advocacy) does require more resources, that would be raised through a PAC.”
Knox County leaders say they want Knoxville Chamber officials to ensure taxpayers that no public dollars were spent on two so-called political campaigns that the organization helped carry out during the past year or so, reports the News Sentinel. Commissioners and county Mayor Tim Burchett say they want the chamber to account for its handling of county contributions. Officials say they are not accusing the chamber of wrongdoing, but they want the organization to provide documents that show government funding wasn’t used when the chamber fought against a hillside protection plan last year and more recently touted a $35 million school plan that would have led to a tax increase.
“The chamber has waged two politically significant campaigns in the last few years but their mission is supposed to be about economic development and business development,” said Commissioner Tony Norman, who first publicly broached the subject during last month’s commission meeting. “But it seems to me that they spend most of their time on politics. I want some accounting because it’s not OK to use public funding to support their political agenda, so I’m just asking: ‘Where did you get the money?’ ”
Mike Edwards, president and CEO of the chamber, referred questions to Anthony Welsch, who helps handle communications for the organization.
“When we get something from Tony Norman that tells us what it is he’s looking for, then we’ll be happy to look at it as an organization,” Welsch said. “At this point we haven’t received anything from him.”
Norman, though, said he was pretty clear during the meeting about what he wanted and that under the terms of a memorandum of understanding that the chamber has with the county, the organization has to provide the information. The commissioner said his interest lies in how public money — not private money — was spent, so that should ease any concerns the chamber has about disclosing information.
The county in this year’s budget and in the one from last year set aside $80,000 for the chamber and $125,000 for Innovation Valley.
Welsch said no public dollars were used on either political campaign that Norman questioned.
Tennessee university and college systems got a mixed report card from a business organization, reports the Commercial Appeal, with grades ranging from an ‘A’ in fostering online learning but ‘F’ in another category. Tennessee was graded an F in one area because of “burdensome” state regulations for the accreditation of schools.
“One of the reasons Tennessee legislators have made it more difficult for Tennessee schools to get approved is the default rate for student loans at for-profit schools is significantly high,” University of Memphis President Shirley Raines said.
The U of M is a public, not-for-profit school with all of its degrees nationally accredited and some internationally.
Tennessee leads the country, however, in policies promoting outcomes-based funding and a common course numbering system that allows students to transfer credits from one campus to another. It was also applauded for its “robust” endorsement of online learning.
The state-by-state report, “Leaders & Laggards,” prepared by a division of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, doesn’t break down data by institution, but the U of M may have helped Tennessee get a B in online learning innovation.
The university provides more online courses than any other public or private institution in the state, according to the report.
Raines said the U of M is focused on “keeping students on track,” an area the report shows needs some attention statewide.
Tennessee’s four-year universities received a D for student access and success. The state is doing well in getting students enrolled in college, with a high percentage of students receiving Pell Grants, but not so well on keeping them there.
News release from Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Industry:
The Tennessee Chamber of Commerce & Industry, the voice of business in the state and Tennessee’s largest trade association representing employers and their employees, has launched a search for a new President and CEO.
The new executive will replace Deb Woolley, who left the Chamber effective May 31 under terms of her employment agreement.
Wayne Scharber, the Chamber’s Vice President for Environment and Taxation has been named interim president, according to Bill Ozier, Chairman of the Chamber’s Board of Directors. Scharber has been with the Chamber for 13 years and was employed for 36 years in state government.
“We are fortunate to have someone as trusted and experienced as Wayne to help us steer the Chamber forward during this interim period,” Ozier said. All Chamber programs and services will continue as usual while the executive search is under way.
“We are going to build on the Tennessee Chamber’s 100-year track record of success, with new programs and fresh ideas on how better to serve Tennessee businesses and industries,” Ozier continued.
He added that a key part of the Chamber’s mission is a strong and cooperative relationship with the Governor and General Assembly. Ozier said the Chamber plans to have a new CEO in place later this year, “so that individual and the entire Chamber can work with the Administration and legislators to uphold Tennessee’s well-deserved reputation as a prosperous and business-friendly state.”
Ozier said the Chamber believes the outlook for business in Tennessee is “excellent and filled with opportunities. Our goal is to help our member businesses succeed in every possible way.”
A group of people opposing a Metro property tax increase said the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce should refuse to accept a $300,000 Metro subsidy after endorsing the tax plan, reports The Tennessean. Talk radio host Ralph Bristol, Nashville Tea Party founder Ben Cunningham, businessman Lee Beaman and Justin Owen of the Beacon Center of Tennessee, a conservative think tank, said the chamber should live without the city subsidy “to avoid a perceived conflict of interest.”
“In its statement, the Chamber pointed to the need to raise government employee salaries and fund our schools as justification for the tax increase,” the group said in a news release. “Refusing its $300,000 subsidy will help ensure that every dollar of the proposed tax hike goes to fund those programs the Chamber claims warrant the tax hike in the first place, rather than to boost its own bottom line.”
Bert Mathews, chairman of the chamber’s board of directors, dismissed the opponents’ comments in a phone interview.
“The money the chamber receives is for a contract for services rendered,” he said. “We’re providing economic development support to the city. It’s just like any vendor fixing your air conditioner or changing light bulbs. That’s our sense of it.”
By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey chided the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday for focusing their lobbying efforts on opposing a bill to guarantee workers the right to store firearms in vehicles parked on company lots.
The Blountville Republican said in a speech to the group that there are far more important business issues pending in the Legislature, like making it easier to deny unemployment insurance to fired employees.
“I realize you put G-U-N in a sentence and the subject becomes emotional,” he said. “But let me assure you there are issues that affect us more every day than this that we could use your help on.”
Following a groundswell of Metro-led opposition, the City Paper reports that the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce has retracted its support of controversial state development bills that critics fear would undermine local planning and zoning authority. Previously lobbying for the Republican-backed legislation, the chamber is now “neutral,” Marc Hill, the Nashville chamber’s chief policy officer, told The City Paper Tuesday.
“We’re now re-focusing our efforts to solve as many of these challenges as we can at the local level over the remainder of the year,” Hill said. “The legislative environment is a dynamic one,” Hill said when asked to explain the new stance.
“There’s constant changes — not only every day but every hour. The important thing is to address the problems that businesses face. You can do that in a variety of ways.”
At issue are three Rep. Jim Gotto-sponsored bills that the Republican lawmaker from the Hermitage area says are designed to remove the layers of “bureaucracy” that planning and zoning regulations place on private business. “They’re all about job creation,” he said in a City Paper story that first reported the proposed bills.