Tennessee employers, public and private, are declaring that the state’s “guns in parking lots” law, which took effect July 1, does nothing to change policies prohibiting their employees from bringing weapons onto their property, even if they have a handgun carry permit.
That has prompted Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, a leading supporter of the new law, to declare that he will “probably” support an anticipated push to change the law next year to clarify that permit holders cannot be fired solely for having their gun in a locked car in their employers’ parking lots.
That runs counter to the declared wish of Gov. Bill Haslam that gun laws in Tennessee remain at the “status quo” in the 2014 session with no new gunfights.
“I hate that the attorney general has muddied the waters on this,” said Ramsey, who said he has been receiving complaints from employees of Eastman Chemical Co. this summer who were upset that the company’s prohibition on guns in parking lots is unchanged.
He referred a formal legal opinion from Attorney General Bob Cooper in May that says the new law — while forbidding any criminal prosecution of permit holders complying with its provisions — will have no impact on Tennessee law that otherwise generally allows a company to fire an employee “at will,” for any reason or no reason.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — State lawmakers are speaking out against a proposal by the state Department of Education they believe would eventually hurt teacher salaries in Tennessee.
Democratic leaders held a press conference on Thursday to oppose the measure that seeks to change the minimum teacher salary schedule.
They note the proposal would reduce steps in salary increases from 21 to four and eliminate incentives for doctorate degrees and post-master’s training.
House Minority Leader Crag Fitzhugh said the proposal could deter individuals looking to teach in Tennessee.
“I don’t know that we can get career teachers anymore,” said the Ripley Democrat.
Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman is scheduled to present the proposal to the State Board of Education on Friday.
Hyffman said in an email that it’s against the law for any Tennessee school district to cut a teacher’s salary, and that Republican Gov. Bill Haslam has added more than $130 million in state money for teacher salaries over the past three years.
State officials say the proposed schedule provides school districts with more latitude to create compensation plans that meet their local needs.
“We will continue to look for ways to increase teacher pay, decrease state mandates and increase local control of school decisions,” Huffman said.
And here’s an excerpt from Rick Locker’s report:
The current schedule lists minimum pay levels for teachers statewide for each year of teaching up to year 21 and for five different levels of degrees attained. The 135 school districts are free to pay above the minimums. Clay, Hancock and Pickett counties pay at the minimum; 20 districts pay within 2 percent of the minimum and about half pay within 10 percent.
But all districts use the schedule’s basic framework of 21 annual step increases and five different levels of education: bachelor’s degree, master’s, master’s plus at least 30 hours of additional college credit, education specialist and doctoral degrees.
The Huffman plan would compress the schedule to four steps — $30,876 base for a first-year teacher with a bachelor’s degree, get base plus $570 in year two, base plus $3,190 in year six and base plus $6,585 in year 11. Teachers with any level of advanced degree would start at a base $34,291, get base plus $7,030 raise in year six and base plus $10,890 in year 11.
Under the current schedule, minimum teacher pay tops out at 21 years (they may still receive pay raises locally but they’re not mandated by the state). The Huffman plan would top out at 11 years.
— Note: News release below.
A poll sponsored by an organization promoting expanded background checks for gun purchases found that 67 percent of Tennessee voters surveyed support the idea while 26 percent oppose it.
The survey of 500 Tennessee registered voters, taken May 22-23, was conducted by Public Policy Polling on behalf of Americans United for Change. Similar results were found in surveys of Arkansas and Georgia voters, a news release says, indicating “even in dark red states there’s strong, bipartisan support for expanded background checks.”
A Vanderbilt University poll, conducted earlier in the month, asked Tennessee voters if they supported criminal background checks for gun purchasers and 90 percent said they do.
— Note: The PPP poll news release is below.
The House has approved and sent to the governor for his signature a bill that changes the pension system for state employees and teachers hired after July 1, 2014.
Drafted by state Treasurer David Lillard, SB1005 would create what is described as a “hybrid” between the present defined-benefits plan, which guarantees retirees a fixed pension based on years of service and earnings, and a defined-contribution plan, which has no guaranteed benefit level.
The bill passed the Senate 32-0 and won 71-16 approval in the House. All no votes came from Democrats.
Explaining his no vote, House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh praised the proposal as well designed, but said it is simply not needed in Tennessee because the state retirement system has adequate funding — unlike those in many other states.
But Lillard and sponsors of the bill — Sen. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, and Steve McManus, R-Cordova — said long-range projections show the Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System could face problems and the legislation will head them off, without affecting current state workers and teachers.
— Andrea Zelinski has details on the legislation:
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The beer industry has swung its support behind a bill to allow Tennessee supermarkets and convenience stores to sell wine as long as the measure also allows places to sell strong beer.
Tennessee Malt Beverage Association President Rich Foge confirmed to The Associated Press on Monday that his board decided to drop its long opposition to changing the law. In return, the beer makers want a provision allowing grocery stores to sell high-gravity beer, which has higher alcohol content and is currently only allowed to be sold in liquor stores.
“If the marketplace is going to change where regular beer and wine are sold side-by-side on a grocery store shelf, high-gravity beer should be, too,” Foge said.
Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, and House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, have made it a priority to pass the bill seeking to allow cities and counties that already allow liquor sales to hold referendums on whether to allow supermarket wine sales.
Foge said the speakers’ strong support for the measure played into his association’s decision to change course on the bill.
“We had a long discussion about it and one of things that got serious consideration is that the speakers of both chambers urged the parties to come to the table,” he said. “And we’re heeding that advice.”
The bill opposed by liquor wholesalers and the association representing package store owners has cleared its first legislative committees in both chambers. The Senate Finance Committee was scheduled to take up the measure on Tuesday.
Tennessee may be contributing much less to state employee retirement accounts in the future based on a state plan to convert to a defined contribution plan, reports the Commercial Appeal. State Treasurer David Lillard will unveil details of his proposed revisions to the state pension plan Monday, and the state legislature will consider the changes with bills sponsored by Rep. Steve McManus, R-Memphis, and Sen. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge.
Lillard’s proposal will change — for future hires only — the pension plan from a defined-benefits plan to a hybrid plan that includes elements of defined-benefits and defined-contribution programs.
Defined-benefits plans guarantee retirees a fixed pension benefit based on their years of service and earnings, while defined-contribution plans do not have guaranteed payment levels but rather specified contribution levels by the employer. The benefit payments may rise and fall with their underlying investments.
The state’s pension plan is part of the Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System, established in 1972 and which today covers state government workers, employees of the state’s public higher education system, local public school teachers statewide and employees of about 485 towns, cities, counties, utility districts and other local entities that choose to participate in the state-run plan. All nonstate entities pay their own costs.
(Note: This is a column appearing in the Knoxville Business Journal.)
Jeb Bush, appearing with Bill Haslam at a two-man January education forum in Nashville, offered the opinion that “bigger is better” in a gubernatorial reform agenda.
“If it isn’t controversial or hard to do, you probably needed to add a few more bales of hay on the truck,” Bush said. “If you’re focused on pleasing the people who are there all the time (in state government or the Legislature), you’re going to be tweaking workers’ compensation.”
Haslam promptly quipped in reply: “Careful … Now you’ve gone from preaching to meddling.”
Unbeknownst to the former Florida governor, the present Tennessee governor had been hatching – some folks call the Haslam approach “task forcing” – a plan for workers’ compensation reform for the past year or so.
Haslam formally announced the gist of his proposal in his “state-of-the-state” speech on Jan. 28 to the the 108th General Assembly.
The proposal is pretty big, insofar as workers’ compensation goes in Tennessee. Far more reaching than the last reform effort, presided over and pushed through a Democrat-dominated Legislature by Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen almost a decade ago.
A recent Tennessee Supreme Court rule change that will make oral arguments from all of the state’s appeals courts available online has delivered a shock to some appeals court judges and family law attorneys, reports The Tennessean. Under current rules, oral arguments from the Court of Appeals, the Court of Criminal Appeals and the Supreme Court are available by request and for a nominal fee — usually about $20.
But in a little-noticed policy change in the name of “transparency and openness of the courts” expected to take effect this spring, digital recordings of all oral arguments in appeals courts will be available online at no cost.
The action has led some, including Appeals Court Judge Frank Clement, to voice concern that it could complicate the lives of children whose parents are going through messy divorces, not to mention “cast a dark cloud” over the parents themselves, according to a letter Clement recently wrote to the high court.
“I’m very concerned about Internet bullying, harassing and abuse,” Clement said in a telephone interview. “This is not about the courts keeping secrets. It’s about preventing children from being abused and bullied.”
Michele Wojciechowski, a Tennessee Supreme Court spokeswoman, said giving the public open access to the courts is important. That said, she noted that the court is now devising a way to “mitigate possible abuse.” The court will catalog complaints over the program’s one-year trial period.
Needy families accustomed to getting supplemental food benefits from the government may face delays in getting help this month because the state is shifting to a new distribution model, says The Tennessean.. The state is staggering distribution of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) across the first 20 days of the month, rather than the first 10 days. Many agree that the shift could ultimately be helpful as it levels out the demand for popular foods, but this transitional month is leaving a large chunk of recipients waiting as long as 10 extra days for much-needed October assistance.
Numbers from Oct. 1 show 600,172 households are receiving monthly food benefits, according to Tennessee Department of Human Services spokeswoman Devin Stone. While the amount they receive varies, the average is $260.
The state estimates 541,910 of those households are seeing their benefits delayed between one and 10 days during this transitional month only.
“(As of Thursday), more than half of SNAP recipients have been through the transition and received their benefits,” Stone said in an email. “Moving forward, recipients will receive benefits every 30 days as normal.”
Tennessee is being ignored, as usual, in the presidential campaign this year – except, of course, for fundraising – and that is prompting a new round of talk about abolishing the electoral college system. Andy Sher rounds up some commentary on the topic. You can count former Democratic Vice President Al Gore of Tennessee and former U.S. Sen. Fred Thompson, a Tennessee Republican, among the critics.
Both say the situation should end in which campaigns are forced to follow Electoral College strategies where the outcome trumps the national popular vote.
…But defenders of the Electoral College say no changes are needed. They argue mega-states like California and New York would dominate the popular vote and leave states like Tennessee an afterthought.
“The presidential election would basically be concentrated in the coastal cities, Los Angeles and New York,” Tennessee Republican Party Chairman Chris Devaney said. “And everyone else would be left behind. It would open it up more to fraud and electoral abuse.”
…Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, the Republican state Senate speaker, likewise voiced support for the current system.
“We have a long-standing, time-tested mechanism for choosing our president,” Ramsey said. “This process in rooted in a tradition that protects the interests of both small as well as large states. A National Popular Vote process that would either abolish or neuter the electoral college would eviscerate that delicate balance our founders strove to achieve.”