Tag Archives: federal funding

Feds OK revised TN DUI law for juveniles

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The National Highway Traffic Administration has confirmed that Tennessee is back in compliance with federal zero-tolerance standards for drunken drivers under the legal drinking age.

Republican Gov. Bill Haslam hastily called a special legislative session last week to repeal a new state law that threatened to cost the state 8 percent, or $60 million, in federal road money.

The repeal of the law means that the state no longer stands to lose the money starting on Oct. 1.

Sponsors of the original legislation said it aimed to give tougher penalties to all drivers over age 18. But the law also sought to set the maximum allowable blood alcohol content at 0.08 percent for those drivers. The federal standard for drivers under age 21 is 0.02 percent.

Legislators repeal DUI foul-up to save federal funding

By Eric Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee lawmakers on Wednesday repealed an underage drunken driving law that threatened to cost the state $60 million in road money by running afoul of federal zero-tolerance standards.

The Senate passed the measure 31-1, and the House later followed suit on an 85-2 vote despite several complaints among Republican lawmakers about the federal government interfering in state business.

“Our own federal government is blackmailing us,” said Republican Rep. David Alexander of Winchester. Continue reading

Sunday column: On the foul-up blame game

The special legislative session that convenes Monday to fix a $60 million mistake has inspired a political blame game that will likely continue with speeches to be made while giving rubber-stamp approval to the required fix.

There is, indeed, fault to be found in the situation. But the game participants seem to be ignoring a lot of it, maybe including the fundamental problem.

Democrats have taken the lead in finger pointing, starting when the U.S. Department of Transportation pointed out last month that a bill approved in April lowered the legal presumption for drunken driving from .08 blood alcohol content to .02 for people aged 18 to 21. Continue reading

Fleischmann: Let states reduce federal deficit

News release from U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann
Washington, D.C.— Congressman Chuck Fleischmann (R – TN) introduced H.R. 5933—the Returned Exclusively For Unpaid National Debt Act or the REFUND Act. This bill will allow states to identify unwanted federal funds and send that money back to the federal government to pay down the national debt.

“With our nation almost $20 trillion dollars in debt, it’s time to find innovative solutions to help balance our budget. We must tackle the fiscal challenges facing our country on every level in order to give future generations a chance for economic prosperity,” said Fleischmann. “I introduced the REFUND Act so Washington could see firsthand budgetary responsibility and debt reduction can begin at the state level.”

The opposite of a federal mandate, Fleischmann’s legislation gives states a voluntary avenue to designate returned federal funds solely for debt reduction. In doing so, the REFUND Act prevents those funds from going back to federal agencies simply to be redistributed, as is currently the case.

In a previous Congress the National Taxpayers Union named the REFUND Act its number one ‘“No-Brainer’ bill Congress should pass for taxpayers.” In addition, they called the bill “a common-sense measure toward short-circuiting the ‘use-it-or-lose-it’ approach to accepting and spending federal grant money that has been a major contributor to Washington’s overspending problem.”

Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) has also introduced an identical bill in the Senate, S. 744.

Procedure set for special DUI fix session

The special session called by Gov. Bill Haslam to fix a $60 million foulup in the state’s drunken driving law will begin with state House and Senate floor sessions starting at 2 pm Monday and end at some point on Wednesday, according to officials.

Haslam, in his proclamation calling the session, limits action to revision a bill passed earlier in the year that changed the punishment for persons aged 18-21 for drunken driving and any related matters.

Federal officials have determined that the revision effectively raises the legal presumption of DUI for such persons from .02 blood alcohol content to .08 – meaning Tennessee is not in compliance with federal law mandating a .02 threshold and thus making subject to a $60 million reduction in federal highway funding starting Oct. 1.

Still, the fix bill – expected to be approved without opposition (though perhaps with a lot of speeches) must pass on three separate readings on different days to comply with the state constitution. Kara Owen, spokeswoman for House Speaker Beth Harwell, says plans call for the fix bill to be introduced and approved on first reading Monday and on second reading Tuesday in a session that will begin – at least in the House – at 10 am.
Committees will meet later in the day Tuesday to approve the measure. Presuming the procedure will follow the same path as the original bill causing the problem, that in the House will mean the Criminal Justice Subcommittee and then the full committee, followed by the Budget Subcommittee of the House Finance Committee and then the full Finance committee plus the Calendar Committee.

In the Senate, the original bill (SB1317) went only through the Judiciary Committee, but likely will go to Finance as well in the special session since money is obviously involved. (The original fiscal note estimated a loss of just $16,500 in state revenue – well below the Senate’s $100,000 ‘sweeper’ standard for Finance referral; contrasting with the House’s “zero sweeper,” requiring all spending bills go through Finance.)

In regular session, rules call for delays after a bill clears committee before a floor vote is scheduled that could put the final vote off until Thursday. But if those rules are suspended as expected – requiring a two-thirds majority vote – the final vote can be scheduled for Wednesday.

Haslam calls Sept. 12 special session on DUI foulup

News release from the governor’s office
NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced he will call an “extraordinary session” of the 109th General Assembly to consider legislation preventing the loss of $60 million in federal highway funds after the U.S. Department of Transportation deemed the state out of compliance with a federal “zero tolerance” drunk driving statute.

“We are disappointed in the U.S. Department of Transportation’s decision. The state made clear to federal officials that while it disagrees with the interpretation that Tennessee is out of compliance, any such perceived impact of the law was inadvertent and could be fixed in January 2017,” Haslam said. “To avoid any negative impact to the state, I will ask the General Assembly to convene in a special session and clarify state law in this matter.”

Last month the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) notified the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) that 2016 Tennessee Public Chapter No. 1030, which passed overwhelmingly during the 2016 legislative session, signed by the governor, and actually strengthened penalties for DUI offenders aged 18 to 20, puts the state out of compliance with a federal “zero tolerance” drunk driving statute that conditions certain federal highway funding on compliance with its provisions.

The NHTSA indicated Tennessee would permanently lose $60 million if it remained out of compliance as of October 1. In separate letters to NHTSA, TDOT Commissioner John Schroer and Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery agreed that Tennessee continues to meet the requirements of federal “zero tolerance” drunk driving statute.

All 11 members of the bipartisan Tennessee congressional delegation urged U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx to work with Haslam and state officials to find a solution. To avoid a special session of the General Assembly, the state told federal officials it would take up a remedy in January 2017, but the state was notified today it needs to be in compliance by October 1 or face the loss of these federal highway funds.

Haslam will issue an official proclamation calling for a special session in September in the coming days to clarify Tennessee Code to remove any question of compliance with the federal requirements relating to federal-aid highway apportionment.

UPDATE/Note: Subsequent to the press release, Haslam issued a proclamation declaring the special session will begin Sept. 12. Copy of Haslam’s letter to legislators is available by clicking on this link: Extraordinary Session Proclamation. The proclamation itself is HERE.

Further, from The Tennessean:
Haslam said discussion over whether to expel embattled Rep. Jeremy Durham would not be part of the call for a special session.

“We’re meeting because this issue has come up and we need to address this,” Haslam said.

When pressed on the decision to not include Durham’s expulsion in the special session call, Haslam said, “That’s not our role.”

Haslam said if members of the legislature wanted to add Durham to the call, he would not get in the way. “If they want to do that, that’s their decision,” he said.

Haslam said the length of the session is unknown but any legislation would need three readings. When lawmakers introduce bills they typically allow one day for each reading. “We’re looking to see if there’s any flexibility,” he said.

Former development district director pleads guilty to stealing fed funds

Wendy Askins, the former director of the Upper Cumberland Development District, pleaded guilty Tuesday afternoon in a federal courtroom to two counts of theft from the federally-funded agency, reports WTVF-TV.

The U.S. Attorney’s office says Askins admits that she used funding from the Upper Cumberland Development District to buy property that she claimed would serve as a senior living facility called “Living the Dream.”

Instead, she made tens of thousands of dollars of upgrades to the residence — like converting a bedroom into a tanning bed and installing a double-winding staircase. At that point in 2012, News Channel 5 started an investigation, which led law enforcement to get involved.

Prosecutors say Askins tried to hide where some $233,000 came from by telling an employee to falsify minutes of a board meeting.

The 55-year-old from Red Boiling Springs is scheduled to be sentenced in federal court at the end of October by Judge Aleta Trauger. The maximum penalty is 10 years in prison.

Askins’ assistant — Larry Webb — already pleaded guilty to bank fraud this month and should be sentenced in September.

TN congressmen plead for $60M fed funding

All 11 members of Tennessee’s congressional delegation have signed a letter asking U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx to help the state keep $60 million in highway funds that are in jeopardy because of a new state DUI law, reports Michael Collins.

“Based upon our review of both the state and federal laws and the purpose behind both laws, it seems that both the State of Tennessee and the federal government have the same objective of penalizing impaired driving and that the common sense thing to do is to resolve this matter promptly,” the lawmakers wrote. “We are available to assist in any way that would be helpful.”

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration informed the state last week it’s in danger of losing the highway money because of the DUI law passed earlier this year.

The law, which took effect July 1, changed the impaired-driver threshold from a blood alcohol content of 0.02 to a blood alcohol content of 0.08 for drivers between 18 and 20.

The change means the state is no longer in compliance with the federal zero tolerance law, which requires states to set 0.02 as the blood-alcohol level allowed for drivers under age 21.

As a result, federal transportation officials say they must withhold 8 percent of federal highway funding from the state. If the state is not in compliance by Oct. 1, it will forfeit $60 million in highway funding.

Tennessee argues it can enforce the 0.08 standard because another state law makes it illegal for anyone under age 21 to possess or consume any alcoholic beverage. Federal officials are expected to decide by Friday if that qualifies as compliance with the federal zero tolerance law.

If they decide it doesn’t, Gov. Bill Haslam would have to call the General Assembly into special session to repeal or modify the new DUI law or petition the federal government for a waiver until the Legislature begins its regular session next January.

“We hope you will work with Tennessee to find a solution that will allow our state to retain desperately needed highway funds,” the state’s congressional lawmakers said in their letter to Foxx.

Special session to avoid $60M fed funding loss?

By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee officials are scrambling to avoid losing $60 million in federal road funding because of a new state law that runs afoul of zero-tolerance standards for underage drivers who have been drinking.

Officials with the state Transportation Department in a teleconference Monday urged the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to hold off on a formal decision to cut the state’s road funding by 8 percent until after reviewing arguments that another state law should keep Tennessee in compliance.

The federal agency said it would rule on the state’s claim by the end of the week, TDOT spokeswoman B.J. Doughty said.

Federal guidelines require a strict 0.02 percent allowable blood alcohol content for drivers under the legal drinking age. The new Tennessee law raises that limit to 0.08 for 18- to 20-year-olds but also metes out the stronger penalties for offenders. Continue reading

Fed funding at risk under new DUI law for juveniles

By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Democratic U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper on Friday criticized Tennessee Republicans for changes to the state’s underage drunken driving law that could lead to a loss of $60 million in federal highway funding.

Under the new law, which took effect on July 1, the allowable blood alcohol content for 18- to 20-year-old drivers was raised to 0.08 percent, but offenders now face the same level penalties as adult drivers convicted of drunken driving.

Federal guidelines suggest a strict 0.02 percent allowable blood alcohol content for drivers under the legal drinking age. The new Tennessee law splits this group into two: 16- and 17-year-olds are still subject to the 0.02 limit, while those 18-20 now have a higher allowable limit, but with the tougher punishments.

Cooper said the change runs afoul of federal standards for underage drivers, meaning that the state could stand to lose 8 percent of its federal highway funding, or $60 million per year.

“This must be a mistake,” Cooper said. “No one wants more drunk drivers on the road. State leaders should act immediately and comply with a zero tolerance policy.” Continue reading