Sen. Frank Niceley has postponed a Senate floor vote on a bill that would let state legislators pick party nominees for the U.S. Senate after harsh criticism of the measure Monday from Tennessee’s Democratic chairman and a Republican colleague.
Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains, requested the vote be rescheduled for the last day of the 2013 legislative session. As a practical matter, given the hectic nature of proceeding on a session’s last day, that likely means it will wind up being put off until next year.
The bill (SB471) calls for the Republican state legislators to meet in caucus to choose the Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate and Democratic legislators to do the same for choosing a Democratic nominee. It would take effect on Nov. 30, 2014, meaning Sen. Lamar Alexander would be selected under the present system of contested primary elections.
State Democratic Chairman Roy Herron characterized the bill Monday as an effort by “reactionary and radical Republicans” to “steal the people’s right to vote to nominate our United States senators.” He called on legislators to amend the bill so it would not apply to Democrats, leaving the party to select its nominees by election.
When the bill came up on the floor Monday night, Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, denounced the measure as “entirely self-interested” for legislators.
“This bill is anti-democratic. This bill smells of elitism and cronyism. It would open a system that could in the future be ripe for corruption,” said Kelsey.
Two other Republicans, Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris and Sen. Janice Bowling of Tullahoma, urged Niceley to delay a vote so Tennesseans could become more familiar with the proposal and let their views be known.
Norris also questioned whether the measure could achieve Niceley’s stated goal — prodding the federal government, through the Senate, to show more respect for states’ rights — if Tennessee is the only state to pick Senate nominees via the Legislature. Niceley said three other states — Arizona, Louisiana and Wyoming — are considering the idea and Tennessee can be a leader.
He said the bill has already accomplished good by getting the attention of Alexander and Sen. Bob Corker.
“Our senators have called and talked to more House and Senate members in the last two weeks than they have in the last 20 years,” Niceley said.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A proposal to eliminate hotel allowances for some Tennessee lawmakers was put on hold Tuesday after a state Senate committee member said the reimbursement rules should be tightened for the entire Legislature.
The original bill filed by Sen. Ferrell Haile of Gallatin would eliminate a $107-per-night hotel payment for the 33 legislators who live within 50 miles of the state Capitol.
The proposal was on the verge of a swift vote in the Senate State and Local Government Committee before fellow Republican Sen. Bill Ketron of Murfreesboro proposed adding a requirement for lawmakers who live outside the Nashville area to submit hotel receipts.
“If we’re doing it for those under 50 miles, we should address those over 50 miles who are milking the system,” Ketron said.
Ketron said the change would alter the current practice of automatically paying each lawmaker the full daily allowance, no matter what they actually spend on their accommodations.
“There was a member who is no longer here who took the per diem and slept in his office and showered downstairs. That’s not quite fair,” Ketron said. “Or those who double up and triple up in to a motel room or an apartment.”
Lawmakers receive the hotel allowance for four days a week while the Legislature is in session, though most only stay in Nashville for three nights.
Ketron said he supports Haile’s bill, even though he is among the Nashville-area lawmakers who would lose the daily hotel allowance. The measure would continue to provide a $66 daily meals allowance for all lawmakers.
The original measure applying to just those living close to Nashville would cut an estimated $253,616 in lawmaker expenses per year.
Sen. Ken Yager, R-Harriman and the committee’s chairman, called for a vote to be delayed so staff could flesh out the language and estimated costs of Ketron’s proposal.
The companion bill sponsored by Rep. Rick Womick, R-Murfreesboro, was scheduled for a House subcommittee hearing on Wednesday.
(Note: Coincidentally, the $107 reduction in per diem payments is SB107. The daily per diem total is $173. The remaining $66 would continue to be paid to Nashville area lawmakers.)
The University of Tennessee on Thursday asked a state panel to delay taking up the school’s fracking research proposal for 30 days to allow more time to meet with concerned residents and environmental groups, reports the News-Sentinel. A caravan of at least half-dozen university officials made the trip to Nashville, but decided before the meeting to request a deferral from a subcommittee of the State Building Commission, UT Agriculture Chancellor Larry Arrington said.
“I’d have rather gotten it done (Thursday), and I believe we could have done it. But it feels right to wait 30 days and let people have their say,” Arrington said. “But we were here and we felt like we needed to be in that room in case somebody wanted to say something.”
The standing room only meeting of the executive subcommittee was to approve documents that would allow UT to start the bidding process with companies interested in drilling wells on university land on the Cumberland Plateau.
Once UT enters talks with the winning bidder, the lease would have to come back before the full State Building Commission for approval.
UT is seeking approval to conduct research on the environmental effects of hydraulic fracturing, a newly popular and controversial natural gas extraction method.
A coalition of a about a dozen environmentalists, including staff from the Southern Environmental Law Center and members of the newly formed Frack-Free Tennessee group, a newly formed group, also attended Thursday’s meeting.
“I think our presence here may have made a small difference,” said Eric Lewis, who formed the Frack-Free Tennessee group last fall. “I don’t think UT would have deferred unless they thought they were going to lose.”
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A delay in state Rep. Curry Todd’s court case on drunken driving and gun charges will move proceedings until next month.
The Collierville Republican was arrested in October 2011 after failing a roadside sobriety test. A loaded .38-caliber gun was found stuffed between the driver’s seat and center console.
Todd is best known for sponsoring a law that allows people with handgun carry permits to be armed in bars and restaurants that serve alcohol. He has pleaded not guilty to charges of drunken driving, possession of a firearm while under the influence and refusing a breath alcohol test.
Todd had been scheduled to appear in court on Friday, but the hearing was moved to Jan. 11. His attorney said he was still in talks with prosecutors.
By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Republican Gov. Bill Haslam said Monday that a lack of information from the White House is delaying a decision about whether the state should run its own health insurance exchange under the new federal health care law.
Haslam told reporters that President Barack Obama’s administration has refused to address a series of questions about the health insurance marketplaces raised by Republican governors, including whether states would be able to create wellness-based incentives to encourage healthy behavior.
“I think that’s a key to healthcare in the country, people taking more responsibility,” he said.
Other unresolved questions include whether family members participating in different plans will be covered by the same provider; how the state will be able to avoid being double-charged when seniors transition to Medicare; and if the state will be able to access information stored in the federal database.
“You literally have us saying we want to come sit down and talk about this to ask some of our questions, and get answers,” Haslam said. “And their response coming back has been ‘there’s no need in doing that.’ And I don’t find that an appropriate response.”
News release from Senate Democratic Caucus:
NASHVILLE – Democratic legislative leaders requested in a letter that state election officials delay plans to certify August primary results after alarming reports of voting machines that defaulted to the Republican primary ballot.
“Voting apparatus should never default to one party or another,” the letter states. “We join citizens around the state who now doubt the outcome of the August elections in Davidson County, and we demand a full investigation. We also demand that plans to certify the election tomorrow be suspended.”
Senate Democratic Leader Jim Kyle, Senate Democratic Caucus Chair Lowe Finney, House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh and House Democratic Caucus Chair Mike Turner sent the letter to Secretary of State Tre Hargett Wednesday. An analysis of August turnout showed a 27 percent increase in Democratic turnout, compared to a 350 percent increase in Republican turnout.
“Frankly, it doesn’t even pass the laugh test,” the letter states.
The complete letter can be found here.
GREENEVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — An East Tennessee state legislator has been granted a continuance in a domestic assault case filed by his wife.
The Greeneville Sun (http://bit.ly/K7X4ZP ) reported Greene County General Sessions court moved back a scheduled appearance by Rep. David Hawk to July 16. The Greeneville Republican lawmaker had been scheduled to appear Monday afternoon.
The five-term representative pleaded not guilty a day after the charge was filed March 18.
Crystal Goan Hawk told deputies her husband struck her in the face with his hand, knocking her down.
There was no immediate word why the legislator requested the continuance.
Authors of the state law that helped set the process of merging Memphis and Shelby County schools expressed support Friday for a proposed one-year delay in the consolidation, reports the Commercial Appeal. During two Transition Planning Commission committee meetings Thursday, TPC member David Pickler argued that a productive conversation could be held if the merger and implementation of new municipal school districts were delayed from the fall of 2013 to the fall of 2014.
State Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris of Collierville, primary author of the “Norris-Todd” law dealing with the school merger, said Friday he doesn’t believe current law allows a one-year delay and he hasn’t been asked yet to sponsor legislation for a delay. But he said there are several education bills pending that could be amended to allow a delay of both the merger and lifting the ban on new school districts.
State Rep. Curry Todd, the Collierville Republican who co-sponsored the “Norris-Todd” act, said he would likely support a one-year delay.
“I think it’s a good idea, so we don’t rush through this and that whatever is done is done in a very smooth and effective manner,” Todd said. “I know the municipalities are interested in having their own school districts, and pushing everything back a year gives them time to find out what’s needed and what’s best for the school children and parents in the county and in the municipalities.”
…But Memphis Mayor A C Wharton took a less favorable view.
“I’ll keep an open mind, but based on what I’ve heard, and what I know so far, we would oppose that,” Wharton said, citing last summer’s consent order signed by U.S. Dist. Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays, which prescribed the consolidation process and lifted the city’s obligation to provide supplemental funding to Memphis City Schools beyond 2013.
By Lucas Johnson, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The House sponsor of a proposal to ban the teaching of gay issues to elementary and middle school students delayed the measure on Tuesday to allow lawmakers to consider a more comprehensive bill.
The legislation, known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, was up in the House Education Committee. It seeks to limit all sexually related instruction to “natural human reproduction science” in kindergarten through eighth grade.
Republican Rep. Joey Hensley of Hohenwald acknowledged there are problems with the measure and once again delayed it so lawmakers can review another proposal (HB3621) that would place restrictions on “family life education” curricula taught in schools.
(Inserted Note: ‘Don’t Say Gay’ was rolled to the last calendar of the Education Committee, often a signal that a bill is all but dead. HB3621, in fact, repeals the section of current state law that would be only amended by DSG. And HB3621, which emphasizes abstinence in sex education, does not mention the word homosexual.)
Under that proposal, a family life education curriculum would “encourage students to communicate with a parent, guardian, or other trusted adult about sex or other risk behaviors.”
A parent or guardian can file a complaint with the director of schools if there’s speculation that “a teacher, instructor, or representative of an organization has not complied with the requirements of this bill,” according to the legislation.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Senate has voted to delay for three weeks a vote on a proposal to halt mountaintop removal coal mining in Tennessee.
The decision came despite the objections of the bill’s sponsor, Democratic Sen. Eric Stewart of Winchester, who called for a vote Monday evening.
Republican Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris of Collierville said the delay is aimed at finding a compromise on the measure, and not an effort to kill the bill by holding it until relevant committees finish their business for the year.
The measure seeks to deny permits that would alter any ridgeline more than 2,000 above sea level. Stewart said he opposes a Republican amendment attached that would continue to permit current practices.
— Note: The vote to defer the bill over Stewart’s protest was along party lines, Republicans wanting to delay it; Democrats against. The bill (SB577) is up Tuesday in a House subcommittee where it has died in years past.