The Tennessee District Attorneys General Conference, which represents the state’s 31 DAs, has issued the organization’s 2013 legislative agenda, reports the Commercial Appeal. Shelby County District Attorney General Amy Weirich is quoted. “In 2013, we’re focused on continuing our push to protect our kids, strengthen sentencing guidelines and fight drugs,” Weirich said. “If the legislature approves these proposed changes, I’m confident we will be able to accomplish these goals and more.”
The district attorneys are asking lawmakers to require people convicted of aggravated child neglect to serve at least 85 percent of their sentences before they are eligible for parole — the same as for aggravated child-abuse cases — rather than the current 30 percent minimum.
“Right now, there are individuals who are convicted of extremely serious child neglect — cases in which children suffer as much as those who are victims of physical abuse — who end up serving very short sentences. We need to change that to send a message that the state takes all offenses against children seriously, even if they fall short of the legal definition of abuse,” said Guy Jones, deputy director of the conference and its chief lobbyist.
DAs also want changes in state law that would allow them to prosecute a serial child-sexual abuser with a single trial even if the abuses occurred in multiple judicial districts. Currently, a defendant charged with multiple counts of child-sexual abuse involving different victims in different Tennessee jurisdictions must be tried separately in each of those jurisdictions.
– Note: See also the Kingsport Times-News, quoting Sullivan County DA Barry Staubus.
State Rep. Joe Armstrong, D-Knoxville, already has taken the oath of office as president of the National Black Caucus of State Legislators although he doesn’t begin duties until Feb. 1, reports Georgiana Vines. The group had its annual conference the first week of December in Washington, D.C., when he was sworn in, Armstrong said.
“It was the same week we met with President (Barack) Obama,” he said on Friday. Caucus representatives, including Armstrong, met with the president on ramifications of the “fiscal cliff.”
Obama was a member of the caucus when he was a state senator in Illinois in 1997-2004 before being elected to the U.S. Senate.
Armstrong said there’s a delay in being president until the organization’s financial books close this month and the 401(c)(3) organization is audited in January.
Armstrong said he has been invited in his leadership role to Obama’s second inauguration on Jan. 21 and plans to attend. He also went in 2009.
House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick says he would like to see state law changed to prohibit lame-duck legislators from taking taxpayer-funded trips outside the state.
The comment came in response to a reporter’s questions about six legislators who signed up for a trip to the National Conference of State Legislators meeting in Chicago last week even though they won’t be in office after November.
“They’re on the way out. They’re not going to have much time to use their experience to benefit the taxpayers and their constituents,” he said. “I think the rules ought to be changed in the future.”
Why weren’t the rules changed earlier?
“I just wasn’t thinking,” he said.
Four of the legislators who signed up for the Chicago trip had announced their retirement plans earlier this year. One of them, Democratic Sen. Roy Herron, says he wound up not making the trip after all. The others were Sen. Mike Faulk, R-Church Hill, and Reps. Bill Harmon, D-Dunlap, and Jimmy Naifeh, D-Covington.
Also making the trip were Reps. Richard Montgomery, R-Sevierville, and Jeanne Richardson, D-Memphis, both of whom signed up before being defeated in the Aug. 2 primary.
Six Tennessee legislators leaving the General Assembly this year are in Chicago this week on what could amount to a taxpayer-funded junket, according to TNReport. Four retiring legislators and two state reps who lost their bids for re-election in last week’s primary have given the state notice they plan to get reimbursed for attending the National Conference of State Legislatures annual summit in the Windy City that began Monday, a trip that could cost as much as than $2,500 in registration, airfare, hotel stay, per diem and cab rides.
They are Rep. Richard Montgomery, R-Sevierville, and Rep. Jeanne Richardson, D-Memphis, who lost their primaries, and retiring lawmakers Sen. Mike Faulk, R-Church Hill; Rep. Don Harmon, D-Dunlap; Sen. Roy Herron, D-Dresden; and Rep. Jimmy Naifeh, D-Covington.
One of the General Assembly’s highest-ranking Republicans says he trusts that the departing lawmakers have good reasons behind their decisions to make the trip.
“I know it will be beneficial to the others who attend to get the benefit of their wisdom and their years of service,” said Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville. “I think discretion is the better part of valor with these things, and obviously they’ve exercised their discretion and think it’s fine to go. I’m not passing judgment on it.”
Legislators are permitted to let taxpayers foot the bill for out-of-state legislative trips, complete with a per diem, travel and lodging expenses. Even outgoing lawmakers are entitled, said Connie Ridley, director of Tennessee’s office of Legislative Affairs.
“Members of the General Assembly serve as a legislator until the general election in November,” Ridley said in an email. “They are no longer eligible for compensation of any form the evening before the November general election.”
— UPDATE NOTE: Herron, though authorized to make the trip, reports that he did not go.
House and Senate Republican leaders settled their differences over earmarks in a $31 billion state budget during a conference committee Friday night, leaving the two chambers to meet Monday and sign off on the deal would end the 107th General Assembly.
Democrats vowed to file an alternative plan to the Republican agreement that would provide more money to community colleges.
The House-Senate conference committee was set up late Friday after the Senate on Friday morning passed a budget plan in substantial conflict over earmarks with the House version adopted Thursday.
The House had cut about $1.8 million in special projects that had been approved by the Senate Finance Committee. In retaliation, the Senate voted to cut another $22 million in House-approved projects – the largest being $12 million to complete a West Tennessee Megasite. The Senate cuts also included $4 million for spending related Lambuth University in Jackson, a private school that has been made a branch of the University of Memphis.
“That was one of the slickest threats I ever heard in my life,” House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner told Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris at one point.
U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., made a speech on House floor Thursday to pitch the idea of University of Memphis joining the Big East Conference. The Commercial Appeal says Cohen had one minute — and no timeouts — to play the role of Rick Pitino. On Wednesday Pitino, the University of Louisville basketball coach, campaigned for the Big East Conference to consider inviting former Conference USA rival Memphis. Cohen, a Memphian and longtime fan of Tiger athletics, picked up the conference realignment ball Thursday and took his best shots.
During a brief plea on the House floor, Cohen said he wanted to encourage ”all the Big East presidents to consider the University of Memphis for membership.”
”Memphis is a major city, home of Federal Express and International Paper and other major companies. We don’t have a professional football team in Memphis so if we get in the Big East, in essence, you are our professional football team and the city would rally around it, unlike in Dallas and Houston where they have professional (football) teams.”
Cohen referenced Pitino’s suggestion to invite Memphis during his talk, the speech coming as the Big East considers adding Boise State, Central Florida, SMU, Houston, Air Force and Navy to offset the departures of Syracuse, Pittsburgh and TCU.
Mike Morrow visited the annual conference of Tennesseans for Fair Taxation, best known for advocating a state income tax despite widespread opposition from most of the state’s politicians.
According to the resulting TNReport, about 40 TFT members from across the state gathered at the Second Presbyterian Church in Nashville on Saturday for their annual meeting to discuss their agenda and ways to better communicate their message of “tax justice.” (Erica) Thomas (of Memphis) was asked if she had 30 seconds with Gov. Bill Haslam what she would say to him. She responded it would be more about what she would ask him.
“If not an income tax, tell me how with the sales tax going up are we going to generate revenues we need across the state?” she replied. “I need you point blank to tell me: What is your plan for us getting there? So maybe we can collaborate on that, but I haven’t heard what your plan is.”
Haslam has repeatedly said there is no chance of an income tax being implemented in Tennessee.
Anne Barnett of Knoxville said she first got involved with TFT as a student at the University of Tennessee. Her concerns were raised by rising tuition, budget cuts and the school letting professors go.
“The tax structure in Tennessee is regressive,” Barnett said. “We’re always going to be fighting for more funding for public services.”
She was asked, being from Knoxville, if she had ever met Haslam, the former Knoxville mayor. She hesitated before answering.
“Not personally, but my husband used to deliver pizza to him,” she said. “And he would never leave a tip.”
Excerpt from what reporter Richard Locker characterized as Gov. Bill Haslam’s “pep talk” to business and industry leaders at the Governor’s Conference on Economic Development Friday: He said it was a campaign theme to decentralize the state Department of Economic and Community Development by adopting a regional strategy that moved teams of ECD officials into different parts of the state and emphasized each area’s strengths.
“Somewhere in the middle of that campaign, we came up with this idea of, maybe we need to take ECD and decentralize it some and focus on each individual region so we can be a lot more granular in how we help existing businesses and how we reach out and help the folks that are already here in Tennessee to do things,” Haslam said.
“At the time, that kind of was a conceptual idea that made sense and it sounded good when we were campaigning, so we went with it. But now that we’re playing that out, I’m convinced it really is the right approach for Tennessee.”
News release from Sen. Alexander’s office:WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) told colleagues today that he will step down from the Senate Republican leadership in January when he completes four years as chairman of the Senate Republican Conference.
“Stepping down will liberate me to work for results on the issues I care the most about,” Alexander said. “That means stopping runaway regulations and spending. But it also means setting priorities — confronting the timidity that allows runaway health care spending to squeeze out research, scholarships, highways and other government functions that make it easier and cheaper to create jobs. I want to do more to make the Senate a more effective institution so that it can deal better with serious issues.”
“For four years my leadership job has been to help others succeed, to find a Republican consensus and to suggest a message,” Alexander said. “There are different ways to offer leadership. After nine years in the Senate, this is how I believe I can now make my greatest contribution.” Alexander said that for these same reasons he does not plan to be a candidate for a leadership position in the next Congress.
“I said to Tennesseans when I first ran for the Senate that I would serve with conservative principles and an independent attitude. I will continue to serve in that same way,” Alexander said. “I am a very Republican Republican. I intend to be more, not less, in the thick of resolving serious issues. And I plan to run for re-election in 2014.”
In December, 2007, Senate Republicans chose Alexander to succeed Conference Chairman Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) when Kyl succeeded Sen. Trent Lott, of Mississippi, as Whip. Alexander was re-elected without opposition in November, 2008, and again in November, 2010. In January, he will have served the equivalent of two full terms as Conference Chairman. * * *
(Alexander’s speech on video HERE.)
Following are Sen. Alexander’s remarks prepared for delivery this morning on the floor of the United States Senate:
They held an education summit in Nashville on Tuesday and Wednesday, and it turned into a jobs summit, according to Mike Morrow. And that’s pretty much what organizers of the event had in mind all along.
The State Collaborative on Reforming Education, the organization founded by former Sen. Bill Frist, hosted the Southeast Regional Rural Education Summit at Lipscomb University, pulling together various interests in education — from the classroom to the philanthropic realm. It was notable for its emphasis on rural areas, where issues ranging from education to unemployment can be difficult and complex
But it was clear the event was not simply about educating kids in rural communities. It was about preparing them for the workforce and, in turn, boosting the economy in those rural areas.
“It’s making real this close connection between education and jobs,” said Jamie Woodson, the former state senator and president of SCORE.
“They’re so interrelated. It’s not just something we talk about theoretically. It really is a matter of economic viability for these communities around our state and the families that support those communities.”