By Lucas Johnson, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee’s treasurer said Monday that he wants to overhaul the state’s public retirement system to cut costs and ensure it can pay out benefits for years to come.
David Lillard said he will propose legislation laying out the overhaul, even though Tennessee’s public pension system is faring better than those in most other states. Changes to the Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System will only apply to state employees, higher education officials and teachers hired after July 1, 2014, Lillard said at a news conference. The retirement benefits of those currently in the system won’t be affected.
The state is doing better than its peers with similar plans, but earnings of the Tennessee plan have fallen short of expectations over the past several years, he said. The changes are needed because it’s uncertain how much money the retirement system’s investments will yield in the future, Lillard said.
He said that in 2003, taxpayers spent about $264 million a year to support the system. As of last year, that number had grown to $731 million, he said.
“Based on projections we have seen, the cost could go up by one-third or more over the next 10 years if changes aren’t made, which would push the taxpayers’ total annual expense above $1 billion,” said Lillard, adding that at least 45 states have enacted some type of pension reform in the past few years.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The state lawyers group is recommending changes in state law governing conservatorships.
Courts can appoint conservators to handle affairs of people a judge deems incapable of making their own decisions. Under a conservatorship, a person’s right to make health care, financial and other personal decisions can be stripped away.
The Tennessean (http://tnne.ws/Uhuw6H) reported the Tennessee Bar Association met during the weekend and approved recommendations to the legislature. Among them is a provision for placing a person in a conservatorship on an emergency basis. The period of an emergency conservatorship would be no more than 60 days and a hearing would be held within five days.
The emergency plan is one of 16 recommendations approved by the bar.
The recommendations come after a series of hearings conducted by a panel of the bar association. At a Sept. 20 hearing in Nashville, several people testified all of their assets disappeared after conservatorships were established for them.
The bar group decided to make recommendations after the Legislature considered a series of changes to the law last session. Lawmakers passed two changes. One requires that a proposed conservator reveal whether he or she was a criminal record. The other requires disclosure of any relationship with the person being conserved.
The bar panel concluded there needs to be more public education about the conservatorship process.
Jackson attorney Pam Wright said the proposed changed would bring Tennessee statute into closer conformity with a national model law and include protecting rights of those being conserved.
“The existing law does not have enough specificity,” Wright said.
Among recommended changes are making it easier for a person being placed in a conservatorship to appeal the process and get separate legal representation.
Nashville resident Jewell Tinnon lost her home, her car and all her belongings in a contested conservatorship case.
She said she had not heard about the proposed changes, but had only one question about them.
“If they change it (the law), when will I get my stuff back?” she asked.
Tinnon lives in public housing not far from the house that was auctioned off to pay bills.
House Speaker Beth Harwell’s move to limit the amount of legislation that can be filed by state representatives was softened Wednesday in the face of criticism – some from fellow Republicans – while Gov. Bill Haslam agreed to limit administration bill filings as well.
Harwell originally proposed a general 10-bill limit for individual House members with some exceptions. The compromise on Tuesday calls for a 15-bill limit, with some more exceptions.
The proposal, which is an amendment to House rules, was also revised to put a 75-bill limit on legislation introduced at the governor’s behest.
Haslam, who proposed 55 administration bills last year, agreed to the limit. He began calling for a reduction in bill filings in 2011.
The bill limit plan will now go before the full House for approval, probably on Thursday. Democrats said they may seek further revisions on the floor, though they are virtually certain to rejected by the Republican majority.
House Speaker Beth Harwell says she’s ready to “fight for” rule changes she’s proposed to modify how the chamber does business, reports WPLN. Considering those rules will be job number one as the General Assembly convenes this week. Speaker Harwell will first name a special rules committee, and within hours they could take up her suggestions. At least one has resulted in grumbling among lawmakers and lobbyists alike. It limits each member to sponsoring just 10 bills.
Except for Mississippi, Tennessee legislators introduce more bills than any other state in the region, according to the Council of State Governments. Harwell says reducing the number of bills will make the House more efficient.
“I think I hear loud and clear from the public that they don’t want more government; they want less government. And I think it behooves us to prioritize. Why are we down here? And how many additional laws do you really need regulating your life? Let’s be honest about that.”
Harwell has also proposed banning a long-held practice of voting in place of another lawmaker when he or she is away from their desk.
— Note: The speaker also says she doesn’t favor a suggestion of state Rep. Bill Dunn that, when a legislator passes one of his bills, he or she gets to introduce another one. Harwell said that struck her as “convoluted” and that it would be hard for staff to keep track of things.
News release from House Speaker’s office:
NASHVILLE – Speaker Beth Harwell (R-Nashville) today announced she is recommending changes to the Tennessee House of Representatives internal rules that will make the governmental process more efficient and save taxpayer money. The changes follow an effort two years ago to streamline operations.
“Tennessee taxpayers have entrusted us with the task of governing–something I take very seriously,” Harwell stated. “These changes reflect the will of Tennesseans: that state government operates efficiently and effectively while saving money. These changes also reflect the will of the body. After surveying the members of the last General Assembly, we have incorporated some of their suggestions as well. While Congress remains mired in partisan gridlock and continues to waste time, the state legislature is working toward better government.”
The changes include:
•Restructuring the committee system to balance the workload of each;
•Adopting the annual ethics resolution into the House Rules which will ensure the body is abiding by an ethics policy from the first day;
•Limiting the number of bills filed to 10 per member annually which will encourage members to prioritize;
•Reaffirming that each member vote for only him or herself;
•And deleting the requirement that every document be printed to reduce the amount of paper used in committee and for floor sessions.
Harwell noted the committee restructuring, bill limits, and paperless measures are among those that will, in the long run, save the Tennessee taxpayer money.
“The new committee system will balance the workloads of each committee, ensuring that they are as efficient as possible. Bill limits will reduce duplication and ensure each member prioritizes their issues. I am seeking to eliminate the requirement that every document we produce as a body be printed in effort for us to adapt to the technology available and reduce the enormous amount of paper used each year. Each of these measures together ensure a more efficient, effective, and accessible government. This will also give us more time for thoughtful, deliberate analysis on each piece of legislation–which is something Tennesseans expect and deserve.”
— Note: Some details below.
The proposed recommendations will be taken up by the House Rules Committee, which will be appointed by the Speaker in January.
By Lucas Johnson, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee education officials are considering changes around some of the same areas identified in a recent study requested by the governor, the education commissioner said Thursday.
Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman spoke to reporters before speaking at a summit for elementary school teachers at the Legislative Plaza.
Earlier this week, the State Collaborative on Reforming Education, or SCORE, released its study, which addressed educators’ concerns about student testing data.
The report said about two-thirds of the state’s teachers should be allowed to opt for a smaller portion of their evaluations to be based on such data.
Fifty percent of teachers’ evaluations are based on student testing data, but only about one-third teach subjects where value-added testing data is collected. The SCORE report recommends that teachers in subjects or grades without specific testing data be allowed to reduce that component to 25 percent of their evaluation.
House Speaker Beth Harwell has ordered a review of House rules after a Nashville television station reported on “ghost voting,” wherein several members were shown routinely pushing the desktop vote buttons for others just before the legislature adjourned May 1, according to the Commercial Appeal. One veteran Memphis member, Rep. Lois DeBerry, a Democrat, turned back the $174 daily expense payment for a day in which she was absent but listed as voting “present” on the House floor.
DeBerry said colleagues erroneously assumed she was running late because her office failed to file an absence letter that would have shown her as “excused” on the chamber’s roll-call board.
Rep. Mark White, R-Memphis, acknowledged punching the electronic desktop vote buttons of seat mates when they are out for restroom breaks or meetings with constituents outside the chamber.
Officials agree that while voting for colleagues momentarily away from desks on the House and Senate floors is a longstanding tradition, a Nashville television station’s recent report may lead to a crackdown on abuses. The WTVF report included two East Tennessee Republicans trading out parts of long days on the floor and voting for each other for extended periods.
…Chief Clerk Joe McCord said Harwell “has directed me to come up with some proposals to take to the Rules Committee to see if they want to address it and adopt them.”
…In Nashville, House Rule 29 declares, in part, that “All members casting votes by the electronic roll-call machine shall be at their proper desks at the time for voting with the exception of the Speaker and sponsor moving passage of the bill under consideration.” (The speaker presides at the podium and the bill sponsor is usually there explaining the bill.)
But by long-running practice, the rule is in force only when the speaker declares it’s in effect — “going under the rule.” That usually applies on a contentious bill where the outcome is uncertain. Most routine bills that reach the floor pass by heavy majorities, often unanimously, and the outcome is rarely in doubt.
McCord and lawmakers distinguish between casting votes for colleagues away from their desks temporarily and voting for members who are not present at all, which is not supposed to occur.
Sen. Eric Stewart, who has announced as a candidate for the Democratic nomination in the 4th Congressional District, has offered an amendment to the Republican-drafted congressional redistricting bill that the Senate is scheduled to vote on Friday.
Offhandedly, it appears from Stewart’s description in the news release below to make the district more Democat-friendly by putting Coffee County, which tends to be Democratic and is part of Stewart’s state Senate district, back into the 4th while removing the Republican-oriented portion of Bradley County that becomes part of the 4th under the GOP plan.
Of course, it may be safely predicted that the Senate’s Republican majority will vote down the idea. But Stewart might get one GOP vote. Republican Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, who now represents Bradley County in the Senate, has voiced opposition to splitting the county.
Also, Andy Sher notes: .Bradley County Republican Party and majority Republicans on the Bradley County Commission have gone on record saying they don’t want the county split in congressional and state Senate redistricting. Here’s Stewart’s news release:
NASHVILLE – State Senator Eric Stewart sponsored an amendment Thursday to restore counties within a Congressional redistricting proposal that will go before the Senate on Friday.
“We can make this plan both legal and fair to counties so that they might stay whole and within their current districts,” Stewart said. “I would hope such a plan would receive a fair look in what has been an otherwise hurried process.”
A state House redistricting plan was revised Thursday to eliminate two incumbent-versus-incumbent races that would have been mandated by the original version and to make minor changes in the Knox County district now held by Rep. Harry Tindell.
After the last-minute revisions, the House redistricting bill (HB1555) was approved on a somewhat bipartisan 66-25 voted with four abstentions. A congressional redistricting bill (HB1558) was similarly approved 68-25.
(Note: The revised state House map is HERE.)
The House and Senate both plan to meet today to complete work on redistricting. Plans call for the Senate to act first on its own redistricting bill (SB1514), which will then go to the House for approval. The Senate will then act on the House and congressional redistricting plans already approved by the House.
The Republican-drafted House redistricting plan, as written when unveiled last week, would have paired 12 incumbent representatives in six districts, forcing six races of incumbents running against one another.
The new version eliminates two pairings – Democratic Reps. Mike Stewart and Sherry Jones in Nashville and Republican Rep. Vance Dennis of Savannah with Democratic Rep. Eddie Bass of Prospect in southern Middle Tennessee The other four pairings – three of Democrat-versus-Democrat matchups in Shelby County – remain.
(Note: This is a Sunday column, written for the News Sentinel.)
The photo ID flap has gone off on an interesting tangent in Mississippi, while in Tennessee Democrats are denouncing the idea as a voter suppression plot and Republicans are striving to justify it as a defense against election thieves.
Mississippi is putting the issue to a statewide vote this November. An Associated Press report says Republican strategists think this will boost conservative turnout, helping their guys win big in the gubernatorial race and otherwise.
But bear in mind that no photo ID will be required for the election and, if they’re right about the rampant voter fraud afoot, the thieves could carry the day. A guess is that they’re right about arousing conservative rage with fraud fears but wrong about any rampant voter fraud.
In Tennessee, where the issue has already been decided by the Republican Legislature, the GOP has no fear of vote thievery to boost turnout. Indeed, some of the claims of concern about voter fraud are, well, at least debatable.
Last week, for example, Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Bill Ketron held a news conference to declare he had found a convicted felon to be voting in Rutherford County — and a declared Democrat at that. This proves the law is needed, he said.
But it doesn’t. The fellow in question, it seems, was convicted of robbing a convenience store in 1984 and was still on probation when he registered to vote in 1992, though he apparently checked “yes” on the form where it asks if you have ever been convicted of a felony.