Tag Archives: doug

State Opens First ‘Recovery Court’ for Prisoners

Next month, in the quiet Morgan County city of Wartburg, the state Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, along with the Tennessee Department of Correction, will open what the state says is the nation’s first statewide residential Recovery Court, reports the News Sentinel.
The 24-hour, 100-bed facility, which opens its doors Aug. 1, will allow the state to divert people with substance abuse or mental health issues from prison beds, with the hope of halting the cycle of hospitalization, incarceration and homelessness that plagues many.
In a November budget hearing meeting with Gov. Bill Haslam, Mental Health Commissioner Doug Varney laid out such a plan as being a humane and cost-effective way to deal with what he sees as one of the state’s biggest problems. In 2011, he told Haslam, for the first time ever, the state saw more people seeking treatment for narcotics addiction than for alcoholism — and the state’s system was sorely taxed.
“A large number of people in jails … their core problem is really drug abuse,” he said. Such an intensive program could “change their (lives) before they ever get that far.”
TDOC estimates the average daily cost to house a prison inmate at just more than $67. The Recovery Court residential program, even being more service-intensive than existing programs, will cost an average of $35 per person per day, the state said. But it also will, in theory, save money by reducing recidivism — “repeat offenders” — by using “evidence-based” programs “proven to have a larger impact on reducing recidivism.”
The state said studies have shown the recidivism rate for people who participate in such programs is one-third that of those who don’t.
However, it should not been taken as the state going “soft on crime,” TDOC Commissioner Derek Schofield said.
“What it says is that we’re going to place people in the best option to ensure they don’t re-offend. But also, we’re going to make sure we have a prison bed available for people who commit violent offenses that harm our communities,” he said.

Senate Panel Kills Hotel-Motel Tax Bill

A Senate committee killed Wednesday a proposed change in the state’s hotel-motel tax statute that was depicted by opponents as tax increase and by proponents as closing a loophole.
Seven members of the Senate State and Local Government Committee voted against SB212, sponsored by Sen. Doug Overbey, R-Maryville. Only one, Committee Chairman Ken Yager, R-Harriman, voted for it.
The bill would apply hotel-motel taxes, collected by many city and county governments, to the price paid by the customer for a room. As things stand now, the tax is applied to the amount of money the motel owner receives for the room.
The difference between those two amounts is typically the fee charged by an online booking company, which, for example, may charge the customer $100 and remit $90 to the motel owner. A federal court decision last year interpreted the wording of current law to exempt the online booking companies’ fee from the tax.
Motels operators and local governments that benefit from the revenue – legislative staff estimates they would receive about $1.5 million in new revenue if the bill passed – support the measure. Online travel companies opposed it.

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Former Lawmaker Recalls Bribe Offer on Landfill Legislation

Excerpt from Stephen Hale’s thorough report on a lawsuit, legislation and the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation as they relate to a landfill near Camden.
If the Jackson Law didn’t deliver the protection Camden residents hoped, maybe other legislation will. State Rep. Tim Wirgau, whose district includes Camden, is actively trying to slow the landfill permitting process. He’s filed a bill (HB952) that would amend the Jackson Law by adding a requirement for public notice and a public hearing prior to an increase in a landfill’s classification, or an expansion of the type of waste the landfill is authorized to accept.
Last year, Wirgau sponsored a bill that would have effectively shut down the EWS site. The bill made only one proper appearance in a subcommittee — which was not attended by EWS representatives — and was eventually deferred without ever getting a vote.
His new bill is yet to appear for the first time at the legislature. Wirgau says he’s optimistic, but that his guard is up after support he thought he had in his camp last year vanished. And he’s already heard from the opposition.
“We have heard from some of the larger landfill people with concerns, like, ‘Oh, we’ve already got enough problems so I don’t think we’re going to be on your side on this one,’ ” Wirgau tells the Scene. “My take is on it, look — if you’re a landfill operator and you are doing a good job, and you are working within your communities and all the boundaries, I don’t think any of the locals are going to have a problem with the operation that you’re running right now. But if you’re a bad actor, and not doing things properly, then you’re going to have a tough time getting an expansion or a new permit, especially from the locals.”
One former legislator would no doubt sympathize with Wirgau’s uphill battle. In 1989, Doug Jackson learned about the dirty politics of trash. Then a Tennessee state representative, he proposed the legislation nicknamed for him in response to a large landfill that had been proposed in his Dickson County district.
Suddenly, Jackson remembers, he was a popular man on Capitol Hill — or at least his office was crowded.
“It had lobbyists lined up 20 deep, and all the landfill companies obviously mobilized in opposition,” says Jackson, who left office after his defeat in 2010 and now serves as executive director of The Renaissance Center in Dickson. “And then the Tennessee Municipal League opposed it. The County Governments Association opposed it. It just seemed to have no friends.”
It was the toughest piece of legislation he ever sponsored, he says. He adds that it was notable for another reason: the first and only time in office he was ever offered a bribe.
The day after the bill passed out of the House environment committee, Jackson recalls, a man from South Carolina showed up at his law office without an appointment. He said he was involved with several landfills, Jackson says, including what was then the largest hazardous waste landfill in the country along with the landfill proposed for Jackson’s district. And he had a proposition.
“He said, ‘I’ve made all the money that I could ever hope to spend in my life, this landfill up here is going to be another good one, and I know you’re under pressure. And we’re used to addressing that, the pressures of local officials,’ ” Jackson remembers. “He said, ‘I think we can make this worth your while.’ ”
At that point, Jackson stepped outside and asked his secretary to come into the office and have a seat.
“Now do you want to go ahead and continue this conversation, or do you want to change the subject?” Jackson recalls telling the man.
The man just laughed, Jackson says, and got up to leave saying that he could see they weren’t going to get anywhere. Several years later, after the bill had passed into law, the two crossed paths again. Jackson says the man flagged him down, reminded Jackson who he was, and told him he’d done a “very stupid thing.”
“You would’ve made enough money out of that, you would’ve never had to work another day in your life,” Jackson recalls him saying.

Smooth Sailing for ‘Assessment’ Bills

Legislation to renew three special state “assessments,” all used to collect more money for health care facilities from the federal government and sometimes called taxes, are moving quickly through the committee system with very little discussion.
All are slated to expire on June 30 unless renewed. All involve facilities paying the “coverage assessment” with the resulting revenue then being used to trigger federal government payments of about $2 for every state dollar. Gov. Bill Haslam’s budget plan anticipates all of them being renewed.
The bill imposing a $2,225 levy on each bed in a nursing home (SB430) had been previously known as a “bed tax.” This year’s bill, sponsored by Republican Sen. Doug Overbey of Maryville, changes the terminology to “assessment.” It is otherwise unchanged from current law and is projected to bring in $235 million for TennCare payments to nursing homes.
The hospital assessment (SB441) imposes a 4.52 percent levy on net patient revenues of hospitals, producing $450 million in state revenue that brings in federal matching funds of about $843 million. It is the newest of the assessments, launched in 2010 at the urging of the Tennessee Hospital Association. U.S. Sen. Bob Corker has called it a “gimmick” and has filed legislation in Congress that would phase out such programs over a 10-year period.
The bill imposing a 5.5 percent levy on gross receipts of institutions serving the mentally disabled (HB157) brings in $11.4 million in state revenue, according to legislative staff, including $5.1 million paid by the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities.
The latter two bills got no discussion at all in winning voice vote approval of the House Health Subcommittee last week with Rep. Mike Harrison, R-Rogersville, as sponsor. The Senate Health Committee had only brief discussion on Overbey’s bills dealing with nursing homes and hospitals before they were unanimously approved.
The nursing home levy has, in the past, been renewed for longer periods. Asked why this year’s bill only gives a one-year extension, Overbey said the idea is to put all the levies on an annual renewal basis so they can be discussed regularly as developments unfold at the federal level on health care.
“I think if you took a poll (of legislators), most of us would like to take the hospital assessment fee and vote on it every 10 years,” quipped Sen. Lowe Finney, D-Jackson.
Several incumbent legislators — including Overbey — last year faced opponents who accused them of supporting a tax increase by voting for the assessment.

TN Mental Health Commissioner: Evil Does Exist

From Hank Hayes in Kingsport:
Tennessee Mental Health Commissioner Doug Varney says there are no quick and simple solutions to prevent a repeat of mass murderer Adam Lanza’s actions.
“The vast, vast majority of mentally ill people are not dangerous,” Varney, former president and CEO of Gray, Tenn.-based Frontier Health, said when asked for his take on the Connecticut school shootings.
Killers, Varney pointed out, have more complicated mental health issues.
“Mostly what we do is try to protect vulnerable people as opposed to being concerned about them being dangerous,” Varney explained. “Obviously someone (like Lanza) who does something like this would have to be a disturbed individual. … This isn’t scientific, but evil does exist. People do evil things. There is really no explanation to it other than it is really wrong.
“I would say that the real key is recognizing when someone is displaying odd or aggressive behavior, and approach them whether it is a teacher or counselor or pastor or family member to just go ahead and confront the person and try to get them in to get professional help. … We need to take personal responsibility to deal with people we are concerned about. … We need interventions with individuals as opposed to a broad sweep of things.”

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Overbey’s Bipartisanship a Liability?

State Sen. Doug Overbey, a Maryville lawyer, has pocketed a passel of endorsements in the 2nd District Senate Republican primary, observes Greg Johnson.
Newspapers, the National Federation of Independent Business and the Tennessee Education Association endorsed Overbey, along with Republican heavyweights Gov. Bill Haslam and, a bit surprisingly, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, a tea party favorite.
Given his opponent, Overbey needs all the help he can get.
Scott Hughes, chief financial officer for a Knoxville church and former pro-life executive, is challenging Overbey at every turn, in every way. Though Overbey maintains an enormous financial advantage, Hughes has loquaciously roughed up Overbey in debates.
At a June debate in Sevierville — the 2nd District includes all of Blount County and much of Sevier — Hughes had Overbey back on his heels, out-arguing the lawyer with a withering, well-researched attack on Overbey’s record. Hughes’ verbal pugilism aims to make Overbey the moderate, a characterization sure to stick with some voters.
In fact, TEA’s lead lobbyist, Jerry Winters, said when endorsing Overbey and a few other Republicans, “The people we endorsed in Republican primaries are moderate Republicans who have voted pro-public education.” TEA’s political action committee donated to Overbey, though the group historically gives more than 90 percent of its contributions to Democrats.
Overbey isn’t backing away from the TEA endorsement, citing it on his website under the headline, “Teachers Endorse Doug Overbey.” Education is, no doubt, an important issue for Overbey. In 2008, he ousted incumbent Sen. Raymond Finney, R-Maryville, after Finney voted for changes to school funding formulas that led to both Sevier and Blount counties receiving much less money from the state.
Hughes, a Seymour resident, is supported by the Tennessee Conservative Fund, a tea party PAC, which wrote in its endorsement, “Hughes is a full-fledged conservative who has vowed to protect life and Tennessee’s sovereignty under the Constitution.” Significantly, Hughes is backed by Peggy Lambert, a longtime Blount County GOP activist and Republican National Committee member.
At the June debate, Overbey said, “I will work with anybody willing to reach out a hand of goodwill to do what’s right for the state of Tennessee.” Could such bi-partisanship burn him?

Overbey Poll Shows Senator Way Ahead of Challenger Hughes

Here’s a memo on a poll commissioned by Sen. Doug Overbey, R-Maryville, by North Star Opinion Research, who is seeking reelection in Senate District 2 against Republican primary challenger Scott Hughes. It was provided by the Overbey campaign in response to a request for poll information to the senator during an interview last week.
To: Interested Parties
From: Dan Judy
Date: June 22, 2012
Re: Senator Doug Overbey’s Standing Among Senate District 2 Republican Primary
Voters
Our firm conducted a survey of 300 likely Republican primary voters in Tennessee’s 2nd State Senate District May 15-17, 2012, with a margin of error of ±5.66 percent. The results show that Senator Overbey is very popular among these voters, and enjoys a wide lead on the primary ballot. The key findings are:
• Senator Overbey enjoys a favorable-to-unfavorable rating of better than ten-to-one.
Overbey’s favorable-unfavorable rating among these Republican primary voters is 70 to
6 percent.
• Senator Overbey is strong among his conservative base. Overbey has a 66 to 7
percent favorable-unfavorable rating among voters who consider themselves “very
conservative” (over half of the electorate), as well as a 68 to 6 percent rating among
voters who support the Tea Party movement (over two-thirds of the electorate).
• Voters overwhelmingly approve of the job Doug Overbey has done as state senator.
Seventy percent of these voters approve of the job Senator Overbey has done, while just 8
percent disapprove.
• Senator Overbey currently enjoys a wide lead on the primary ballot. Overbey leads
challenger Scott Hughes by a 69 to 9 percent margin, with 22 percent of voters
undecided.

Senator Overbey’s ratings are impressive, particularly during a time of unprecedented voter cynicism about elected officials. He begins his reelection campaign in a strong position.

On Senate District 2: Overbey Versus Hughes

Perhaps more than any Tennessee campaign this summer, the contest between Scott Hughes and Doug Overbey poses the question of whether Tennessee’s ruling Republican majority in the Legislature has achieved an appropriate balance in governing on proclaimed conservative principles.
Answering the question on Aug. 2 will be voters in state Senate District 2. Composed of Blount and Sevier counties, it is one of the most staunchly Republican regions of the state and has a history of unseating incumbent senators. With no Democrat running, the GOP primary decides the election.
Hughes, 35, a married father of four and chief financial officer for a Knoxville chuch, declares that Overbey, 57, a married father of three and attorney with a Knoxville law firm, is “the least conservative Republican legislator in the state.”
He has produced a long list of votes cast by Overbey to advance the claim, which is echoed by some local political figures – notably including Peggy Lambert, who serves as Tennessee’s national committeewoman on the Republican National Committee and chairman of Hughes’ campaign. A tea party-oriented political action committee has also endorsed Hughes.
Overbey adamantly rejects Hughes’ contentions, instead saying he continues “to represent conservative values and bring commonsense solutions to the issues facing our state.” He says the critique of his voting record is “chock full of untruths, half-truths and misleading statements.”

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Hughes Launches Website on Overbey Voting Record

News release from Scott Hughes campaign:
SEYMOUR, TN- Today, the Scott Hughes for State Senate campaign launched an informational website aimed at shedding some light on the voting record of Hughes’ opponent, State Sen. Doug Overbey. The website, HowDougVotes.com, details some areas of Sen. Overbey’s voting record that he has, so far, been reluctant to discuss with voters and includes topics ranging from taxes and spending to illegal immigration and ethics laws.
In launching HowDougVotes.com, Hughes had this to say:
“Unfortunately, truth and fact are usually the first casualties of political campaigns. All too often in election years, politicians spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on political advertising and direct mail campaigns aimed at reframing the record and injecting uncertainty and ambiguity into their voting histories. As campaigns exchange poll-tested rhetoric and one-liner accusations, voters are often left unsure about who to believe and the debate becomes less and less about where the candidates actually stand on the issues.”
“Hence, I do not feel that my opponent has been entirely forthcoming about his voting record. While he has been quick to assert that he has ‘a conservative voting record,’ after looking at his voting history for myself, I feel that his votes tell a very different tale.”
“My intention in launching HowDougVotes.com is not to personally attack my opponent. It simply reflects my efforts to ensure that voters have access to all of the relevant information needed to make an informed voting decision. Every vote discussed in the website is documented and linked back to the official voting records on the Tennessee General Assembly’s website. I would encourage voters to visit HowDougVotes.com and read over the legislative records for themselves. From taxes and spending to government bailouts and ethics laws, I believe the truth about where my opponent really stands on the issues can be found in his voting record.”

Note: The website is easy to use and well-researched and cleverly (but, of course, not very objectively) written. An example, stemming from Overbey’s vote this year against a proposed constitutional amendment to change the state system for selecting Supreme Court judges to something along the lines of the federal judicial selection system:
Voted against legislative confirmations for state judges, effectively siding with liberal billionaire George Soros in keeping judicial selection insulated from both the voters and their popularly-elected representatives (SJR 710, 2012; SB 3576, 2012)

Three DUI Bills Enacted in 2012; More Coming Next Year

As part of an in-depth look at drunken driving in Tennessee, Natalie Alund has a review of DUI legislation that passed the General Assembly earlier this year….and more to come next year.
This past session, lawmakers continued their efforts to keep serial drunken
drivers from climbing behind the wheel.
Prosecutors say many repeat DUI offenders are such pros, they know that if they violate the implied consent law they can still apply for a restricted license.
So lawmakers passed a bill (HB2749) that empowers judges to order an ignition interlock device on vehicles of people who violate the implied consent law as a condition for issuance of a restricted license.
“Research shows that ignition interlock devices are one of the most effective ways to keep drunken drivers from continuing to drive drunk,” said Sen. Doug Overbey, R-Maryville, who sponsored the bill in the Senate. “Unfortunately, they’re underused across the state.”
Lawmakers also beefed up a current DUI law that requires people to serve a mandatory 30 days in jail if they drive drunk with a passenger under age 18 in the vehicle. Under HB 2751, the 30 days will be consecutively tacked on to any sentence received for an alcohol-related offense. A judge can’t make the sentences run at the same time.
Another bill, HB2752, authorizes a police officer to get a court order or a search warrant to force a person who has refused to submit to a blood alcohol test.
…And lawmakers say they are the start of many more to come.
“We’re getting the launching pad set for next year,” said Rep. Tony Shipley, R-Kingsport, who sponsored HB2749, HB2751 and HB2752.
Shipley said that in the next legislative session lawmakers will address HB942, which if approved, would make it a DUI for those caught driving with a nonprescription schedule 1 or schedule 2 substance in their blood, regardless of the amount in their system.
“We ran into a few philosophical issues with it this session,” Shipley said. “I took it off notice until we can spend time researching it a little more. It’s better to fold that one up and work on it over the next year to see if we can make it work. Some defense attorneys in the Legislature were concerned the presence of a controlled substance or its metabolites in the blood could not be proven to be the proximate cause of an offense.”
…Another bill Shipley plans to push for next session is HB139. Currently, DUI defendants with a BAC of 0.15 percent or higher who apply for a restricted license must have an ignition interlock installed on their vehicle if they want a restricted license. Under HB139, Shipley wants to reduce the 0.15 BAC to 0.08 percent.
“You’re going to grab a whole lot more people because more defendants get caught driving with a 0.08 to 0.15 BAC than with a 0.15 and higher,” Shipley said.
Although he has high hopes for the bill, he decided not push for it this past session because of funding.
Shipley, backed by Overbey, also said he’d like Tennessee to join the other 16 states in mandating ignition interlocks on vehicles for all convicted first-time DUI offenders
.

Note: The bill numbers are those for the 107th General Assembly. If re-introduced next year, of course, they’ll likely have different numbers.