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An Overview of the 2013 Legislative Session: Supermajority Split Decided Many Things

Commenting on one of several pieces of legislation to gain national attention during the 2013 session of the Tennessee General Assembly, Gov. Bill Haslam blamed the failure of his education reform priority of the year on “infighting among advocates.”
If you consider Republicans as advocates for a standard set of policy principles, the same might be said for many other bill failures in the debut performance of the 108th General Assembly, the first since Reconstruction with the GOP holding a “supermajority” — more than two-thirds of the seats in both the House and Senate.
As it turned out, intraparty infighting often derailed the Republican railroad that some had predicted would roll over all opposition as it moved down a track to new conservative rule of the state.
The railroading went quite well on some matters, mainly when bills could be portrayed as friendly to business — Haslam’s workers’ compensation overhaul legislation, for example. House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner called the measure “the worst attack on working people I’ve ever seen in the Legislature.”

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StudentsFirst on End of the Legislative Session

News release from StudentsFirst:
Nashville, Tennessee – On behalf of StudentsFirst’s more than 37,000 members in Tennessee, State Director Brent Easley today issued the following statement after the General Assembly placed on hold SB830/HB702, which would have strengthened the state’s current charter approval process.
“Tennessee missed a grand opportunity to pass common sense legislation to strengthen the state’s current charter approval process. Unfortunately, students will have to wait another year,” said Brent Easley, StudentsFirst Tennessee State Director. “We need this policy in place to help attract high-quality charter schools and we aim to help the sponsors see this through. As we move forward, I urge the leaders in the Tennessee General Assembly to consider and pass charter school authorization early in the next session.”
StudentsFirst has consistently called on states to strengthen charter accountability by creating clear, strong mechanisms for closing low-performing schools and holding authorizers accountable. For more information, please read StudentsFirst’s State Policy Report Card rubric on charter accountability.

Charter Schools Association on End of Legislative Session

News release from Tennessee Charter Schools Association:
Nashville, Tn. — The Tennessee Charter Schools Association (TCSA) released the following statement upon the Senate’s refusal to hear HB 702/SB 830, the charter school authorizer reform bill:
“Along with our partners in education reform, TCSA is disappointed that the Senate refused to vote on SB 830 (HB 702) today. Unfortunately, the concept of broadening educational options for Tennessee students has once again become the victim of politics, despite thoughtful consideration over the bill through ten committees and passage in the House yesterday with a vote of 62 to 30. This legislation, which earlier in April received funding in the Governor’s budget, has been championed throughout the legislative session by education reform stakeholders including the Tennessee Charter Schools Association, Students First – Tennessee, Stand for Children – Tennessee, and Democrats for Education Reform – Tennessee.
“Strong public charter schools are leading successful education reform in our state, with many delivering the best results of all Tennessee public schools. This bill sought to strengthen the charter school authorization process, drawing the focus of decisions toward merit and expanding the possibility of excellent public charter schools throughout the state.
“TCSA is grateful for the strong leadership of House Speaker Beth Harwell, Representative Mark White, Representative Harry Brooks and Nashville Mayor Karl Dean in supporting this bill and working tirelessly to improve educational options in Tennessee. We will continue to work with community and state leadership toward improvements in the law that will make great public charter schools a possibility for Tennessee families in need of options.”

Ron Ramsey on End of the Legislative Session

News release from Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey
(April 19, 2013, NASHVILLE) – The 108th General Assembly today adjourned for the year after completing one of the most efficient legislative sessions in recent history. The April 19 adjournment marks the earliest the legislature has adjourned since 1990 using the least amount of legislative days since 1976.
“I’m extremely proud of the work accomplished by the General Assembly this session,” said Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey (R-Blountville). “In contrast to the irresponsible spendthrifts who reside inside Washington’s beltway, Tennessee’s Republican Majority came together with members of the opposition to pass a balance budget that reduces taxes and returns much-needed dollars to the state’s rainy day fund.”
“Not only have we instituted job creating workers compensation and unemployment reforms, we also stood firm against a federal takeover of our health-care system,” Ramsey continued. “I’m proud to stand with Governor Haslam and Speaker Harwell at the helm of a state that consistently leads the nation in small government and low tax fiscal responsibility.”
“I’m especially pleased that we have restored the traditional pace of our legislative sessions. The longer a legislature is in session the longer the average taxpayer has to watch his wallet,” Ramsey concluded. “I have always maintained that an efficient and focused General Assembly can finish the people’s business on time and save taxpayer dollars in the process. This year we have firmly established that the days of legislative sessions creeping into late May and June are over.”
The 2013-2014 budget passed by the General Assembly includes $43 million in tax cuts comprised of reductions in the Hall, death and food taxes. In addition, the General Assembly placed $100 million additional dollars in the state rainy day fund for a total of 456 million.
Among the many highlights of the legislative session was the administration’s workers compensation reform which takes claims out of the court system creating fairness and predictability for job creators.
Also crucial to the General Assembly’s job creation agenda was the continuing reform of Tennessee’s unemployment system. This year, in addition to strengthening the definition of workplace misconduct, the General Assembly refused to fund Obama’s stimulus expansion of the system creating a saving of over $62 million for the unemployment trust fund.
Tennessee is currently ranked among the lowest states in the nation in per capita in debt and per capital tax burden. The General Assembly’s continued pro-jobs, fiscally responsible, small government agenda has resulted in a triple-A rated bond rating for the state.

Lowe Finney & Jim Kle on End of the Legislative Session

News release from Senate Democratic Caucus:
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Senate Democratic leaders released the following statement upon completion of the 2013 legislative session:
“The session was sometimes complicated by the administration sending mixed signals,” Democratic Caucus Chairman Lowe Finney said. “Be it with Medicaid expansion, teachers with guns, or withholding assistance from needy families based on a child’s grades, the administration’s contradictory positions often left our state at the mercy of his party’s most extreme elements.”
“We’ve left unfinished business by not saving our people from Washington’s gridlock and inaction, which will cause seniors to lose Meals on Wheels,” Senate Democratic leader Jim Kyle said. “We had the ability to do it, but Republicans here refused.”

Mike Turner on End of Legislative Session

News release from House Democratic Caucus:
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner released the following statement in response to the failure of HB702/SB830, the “state charter authorizer”:
“Earlier today the Tennessee State Senate refused to hear a bill that would have stripped away local control of charter school authorization for five counties in Tennessee.
“The Tennessee Charter Schools Association claimed in a release that “the concept of broadening educational options for Tennessee students has once again become the victim of politics, despite thoughtful consideration over the bill through ten committees and passage in the House yesterday with a vote of 62 to 30.”
“This is absolutely false.
“While hostage taking of legislation is not good governance, the result could not have been better for the people of Tennessee.
“HB702/SB830 was one of the most haphazard and poorly executed legislative packages in recent memory. The bill was significantly altered on at least five different occasions – not to make the bill ‘better’- but simply to gain the support of whatever particular committee was hearing it at the time.
“The House bill was passed on the floor after Republicans called the question and cut-off debate without a single person being allowed to speak on the bill. The legislation itself was brought in a last minute amendment that was not heard in a single House committee.
“House Democrats are grateful to Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey for killing this bill this year.
“The highest performing charter schools in this state have been authorized and supported by their local boards of education. This legislation was brought out of spite because one charter school operator was not given a blank check to operate in Nashville.
“We hope that legislators on both sides of the aisle will come back next year with clear heads and realize that this was an unnecessary and damaging proposal for our education system in Tennessee.”

Steve Gill Ending Radio Talk Show

Former congressional hopeful and vocal Tennessee income tax opponent Steve Gill is ending his nationally syndicated radio show after 15 years on the air, reports The Tennessean.
The Steve Gill Show will broadcast for a final time on Jan. 31 or Feb. 1, Gill said. Gill, a Brentwood attorney, said he is ending the show so he can focus on other business ventures, including speaking engagements and consulting, through his company Gill Media Inc.
He said he also wants to continue as a political analyst on News 2 WKRN.
“We’d been looking over the last several months at what we were going to do past the New Year,” Gill said. “We’ve got some other business ventures and opportunities to pursue and we thought this would be a good time.”
He said the growing corporate influence on radio also has made it more difficult for small broadcasters to thrive.
“When we started 15 years ago, radio was a different animal,” Gill said. “The way corporations work, it’s difficult to have a grassroots, listener-focused show right now.”

30,000 in TN to Lose Extended Unemployment Benefits

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development is warning that federal extended unemployment benefits are about to expire.
Congress created the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program in 2008 to provide unemployment benefits to workers who had exhausted their state benefits. The legislation has been amended 10 times since it became effective, but it is set to expire on Jan. 2.
About 30,000 Tennesseans currently receive the benefits.
Labor Commissioner Karla Davis said in a news release that claimants can get help finding jobs by using the Jobs4TN.gov website or visiting one of the department’s career centers.
After Jan. 2, Tennessee will return to a system in which new claimants receive a maximum of 26 weeks of Tennessee Unemployment Compensation benefits

Corker Bashes Hospital ‘Bed Tax’

Tennessee Senator Bob Corker, who is an increasingly central character in the fiscal cliff drama, wants to end what he calls a “massive bed tax,” reports WPLN. Hospitals say without it, some could be forced to close.
This “fee” has propped up the TennCare system since 2010, producing $450 million a year. In the face of dwindling state budgets, hospitals tax themselves and get the money right back. But the accounting maneuver allows the state to draw down federal matching funds.
Corker calls it a “gimmick” that is bilking the federal government, and he’s calling for the practice to be phased out. Tennessee Hospital Association president Craig Becker says the fee is less than ideal, but he disagrees with how it’s being characterized.
“I think the senator was a little harsh on his language when he called it a scam because it’s not a whole lot different than any other assessment or tax that’s out there.”
While Senator Corker has become a vocal critic of the bed taxes, he isn’t the first. The debt reduction commission known as Simpson-Bowles also recommended elimination of the financing scheme now used in 47 states.

News Sentinel Ends Endorsements in Presidential Race

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Knoxville News Sentinel has ended a decades-old tradition of endorsing presidential candidates, saying it no longer has any special access to the candidates.
Editor Jack McElroy said in a column (http://bit.ly/WpA2Ec) published Sunday it was a difficult decision.
“Citizens can find plenty of opinions about the presidential candidates to weigh against their own, and there is no shortage of community dialogue — far from it,” McElroy wrote. “The News Sentinel also has no special access to the candidates, and, in this age of global Internet and 24-hour news, we have no sources of information that every other citizen does not have as well.”
The tradition of endorsing a presidential candidate dates to the paper’s beginnings in the 1920s.
Until 2008, the newspaper’s presidential endorsement was decided by its parent company, E.W. Scripps Co. Most went to Republicans, including in 2000 when the paper backed George W. Bush over Tennessean Al Gore. In 2008, the newpaper’s editorial board endorsed John McCain.
McElroy said the editorial board sees strong reasons for endorsing candidates in local races, including sparking community dialogue and using a newspaper’s special access to candidates to help inform voters. That rationale no longer applies to the presidential contest, he said.
The paper will continue to endorse candidates in local races