NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The sponsor of a proposal that seeks to change the way certain charter schools are authorized said Wednesday the measure is needed to continue education reform in Tennessee.
The legislation sponsored by Republican Sen. Dolores Gresham of Somerville passed the Senate Finance Committee 7-3 and was sent to the full Senate.
The advancing measure is one of at least three versions that have been proposed. The previous version sought to create a state panel to authorize charter schools for five counties where there are failing schools.
Those counties include more than 330,000 students in the state’s four largest cities: Davidson, Hamilton, Knox and Shelby. Hardeman County also would be affected.
Currently, local school boards decide whether to authorize a charter application. There are currently 48 charters operating in Tennessee.
Under the latest proposal, the state Board of Education would be able to overrule local school board decisions on charter applications in the lowest-performing school districts.
The bill also gives an applicant approved by the Board of Education 30 days to return to the school district if the two can reach an agreement.
“It’s a way to get there,” Gresham said. “And we’re going to get there: a world class system of education in Tennessee.”
Members of the committee who at one time opposed the proposal appeared to be comfortable with the latest version. For one, the cost to create the panel was close to $240,000, where the new proposal drops the amount to $199,000.
The advancing proposal also would provide a more detailed hearing process before a decision is made on an application, as well as require some oversight from the state Department of Education.
“While it’s not perfect, I think it’s a good piece of legislation,” said committee vice chairman Bo Watson, R-Chattanooga.
However, Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle didn’t seem too pleased with the measure, saying “this cake is not baked.”
The Memphis Democrat, whose city contains 69 failing schools, was unsuccessful in passing an amendment that sought to place a charter school within two miles of a failing school.
“We want them located where the people are who need them,” he said.
Statement from Dick Williams, Common Cause of Tennessee:
House Bill 643 by Casada / SB 787 by Watson & Ramsey contain several revisions to the current campaign finance laws in Tennessee.
This bill has received little discussion in the public and in committee, but is scheduled for floor votes in this, presumably, last week of the session. Many of the provisions, when explained in the context of current state & federal campaign law are relatively non controversial.
The exception, so far, is the increase in the limits on contributions from PACs controlled by political parties or caucuses. While Common Cause/TN has some concern about the amounts of the proposed increases in those limits, we are more concerned about the effect of a provision that has received little attention to date. Section 5 of the bill would delete the word “corporation” from the definition of a PAC.
While section 3 of the bill clarifies that corporate or insurance company contributions are held to the same limits as are PACs, the deletion from the definition of a PAC means that corporations, like individuals, would not have to report their contributions to the Registry of Election Finance.
PACs, unlike individuals, are required to report their political contributions to the Registry of Election Finance. Since the definition of a PAC includes a committee, club, association or other group of persons who receive or make political contributions, the effect of Section 5 of this bill would mean that a small group or club that made contributions would continue to report to the Registry, but corporations would not. Certainly, the public would see this as unfair and inappropriate.
One of the important tools for the Registry to assure the accuracy of the campaign disclosure information is the cross-checking of PAC reports with those of candidates. Frequently, discrepancies are found and corrected. In most cases, the figures are reconciled as a bookkeeping error on the part of either the PAC or the candidate or both.
Although we are concerned about possible amendments to this broad captioned bill contrary to the public interest, we believe that Section 5 should be deleted, if the bill is adopted.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — State finance chief Mark Emkes is retiring after presiding over three annual spending plans for Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration.
Emkes, formerly the CEO of Nashville-based tiremaker Bridgestone Americas, was one of Haslam’s highest-profile Cabinet choices following the 2010 election.
As Department of Finance and Administration commissioner, the 60-year-old Emkes has been responsible for budget matters and managing the state’s day-to-day finances.
Emkes’ retirement comes following Haslam’s decision to forgo — at least for the time being — $1.4 billion in federal money in the upcoming budget year for Medicaid expansion while pursuing a special arrangement with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Emkes will be the third Haslam Cabinet member to leave this year, after Children’s Services Commissioner Kate O’Day and Labor Commissioner Karla Davis.
— Note: News release below.
While one bold plan to enhance to the political power of the Legislature’s partisan caucuses sank into the 2013 session sunset last week amid considerable media clamor and political rhetoric, a subtle plan with the same general goal was quietly positioned for passage.
Sen. Frank Niceley was author of plan No. 1, which would have allowed Republican state legislators to pick the Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate while Democratic legislators chose the Democratic nominee.
The Strawberry Plains farmer pitched his proposal as a way to fix a broken Washington, delivering “a little history lesson” about how the Founding Fathers fashioned things so legislatures directly named a state’s U.S. senators until the 17th amendment to the U.S. Constitution was enacted in 1913.
Niceley’s critics focused on the simple fact that the his proposal would eliminate the right of average Republican and Democratic voters to choose their party standard bearers in a primary election. Another criticism was that the old pre-1913 system produced some real episodes of corruption in the legislative deal-cutting process — at least in other states.
Virtually ignored by both sides was the most intriguing aspect of Niceley’s plan: It would substantially reduce the impact of money in the political system.
PIGEON FORGE, Tenn. (AP) — Proponents of liquor by the drink in Pigeon Forge are vastly outspending a group trying to defeat the issue as it comes back for another vote.
The Mountain Press (http://bit.ly/13Vud7j ) reported proponent group Forging Ahead filed documents showing it had received nearly $27,000 between Jan. 1 and Feb. 26.
Concerned Churches and Citizens of Pigeon Forge reported it had about $3,400 in donations.
Voters narrowly approved a liquor referendum in November, but it was overturned after complaints that people who live outside the city were allowed to vote.
On Thursday, Pigeon Forge voters will again choose whether to allow restaurant liquor sales.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A proposal to allow local referendums on whether grocery stores should be able to sell wine has been delayed in its final Senate committee to consider several changes desired by groups newly interested in negotiating over the measure.
A special subcommittee was appointed on Tuesday to work out a final version of the bill sponsored by Republican Sen. Bill Ketron of Murfreesboro. A full Senate Finance Committee vote was rescheduled for next week.
Among the issues supporters want to hammer out is whether the bill should also allow liquor stores to sell beer, which hours wine would be available for sale and the exact start date of supermarket wine sales after it is approved by voters and w.
The bill has been opposed by liquor wholesalers and package store owners.
The leaders of the House and Senate collected substantial sums for their political action committees — much of money coming from special interest PACs — in the weeks preceding the opening of the 2013 legislative session, according to disclosure reports filed last week.
Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey collected $108,600 from October through Jan. 7, the day before the legislative session began, triggering a blackout on legislator fundraising until the session ends. He had a $178,703 cash-on-hand balance in the RAAMPAC account at that point, plus about $85,000 in his regular campaign account.
House Speaker Beth Harwell put just $23,000 into her PAC during the period, but has a bigger cash-on-hand balance, $444,257. She also has $307,475 in her own campaign account. The speakers traditionally use their money in both accounts to help fellow Republican candidates.
Harwell, then, has more than $750,000 in her two accounts as the year begins; Ramsey about $264,000.
For comparison, the full House Republican Caucus shows a cash-on-hand balance of $46,515 while the Senate Republican Caucus balance was $89,881. The House Democratic Caucus had $41,631 and the Senate Democratic Caucus had $30,959.
Thus the four caucuses combined begin the year holding less money than Ramsey.
The Campaign Finance Institute , which advocates some public financing of political campaigns, has done a state-by-state review of political contributions to races for governor and state legislature seats, ranking states in order of the percentage of population that made donations.
The review used the years 2006 and 2010, which CFI says were years in which most states had both gubernatorial elections and legislative campaigns. There were 33 such states in 2006 and 35 in 2010. (In Tennessee, where we have legislative elections every two years, 2006 was incumbent Gov. Phil Bredesen’s reelection year 2010 was the open-seat election won by Gov. Bill Haslam.)
The review shows Tennessee ranked 30th of the 33 states in 2006, with 0.67 percent of the state’s voting age population making donations to political campaigns. In 2010, Tennessee ranked 23rd out of the 35 surveyed states, with 0.89 percent of voting age population making donations.
The highest percentages were in Vermont and Rhode Island, which alternated as No. 1 in the two years surveyed. Both states have systems where public funding matches small donations from individuals. In 2010, Vermont was tops at 5.86 percent of adults donating to campaigns.
The lowest percentages were in states with higher populations – Florida, New York and California. In 2010, Florida had the lowest percentage, 0.22 percent.
Bills calling for some sort of public finances system have occasionally been introduced in Tennessee, though not in the last couple of legislative sessions. Those introduced previously all died in committee without a vote.
The CFI study, including the state-by-state table, can be seen by clicking on this link: 20121220_StateDonorParticipation-2006-V-2010.pdf
By Jack Gillum, Associated Press
WASHINGTON — Two election watchdog organizations on Thursday urged the Justice Department and Federal Election Commission to investigate more than $12 million in campaign contributions that were mysteriously funneled through two little-known companies in Tennessee to a prominent tea party group. The origin of the money, the largest anonymous political donations in a campaign year filled with them, remains a secret.
The watchdog groups said routing the $12 million through the Tennessee companies appeared to violate a U.S. law prohibiting the practice of laundering campaign contributions in the name of another person. They also said the lawyer in Tennessee who registered the companies, William S. Rose Jr. of Knoxville, may have violated three other laws by failing to organize each company as a political committee, register them as political committees and file financial statements for them with the government.
Rose did not return a telephone message, text message and email from The Associated Press and could not otherwise be reached immediately for comment. He previously told AP that his business was a “family secret” and he was not obligated to disclose the origin of the $12 million routed through Specialty Investments Group Inc. and Kingston Pike Development Corp. Business records indicate that Rose registered Kingston Pike one day after he created Specialty Group, in the final weeks before Election Day. Rose previously complained that phone calls and emails from reporters were irritating.
The watchdog organizations, the Campaign Legal Center and Democracy 21, said a criminal investigation by the Justice Department was necessary “because the integrity of U.S. elections depends on the effective enforcement of the nation’s campaign finance laws.” They noted that, although the FEC traditionally enforces campaign finance laws and imposes civil fines for violations, the Justice Department can conduct criminal investigations of “knowing and willful” violations under the 1971 Federal Election Campaign Act. Violations could carry up to 5 years in prison. The groups separately urged the FEC to investigate.
Post-election disclosures filed with the Federal Election Commission have pushed total spending in campaigns for Tennessee’s nine U.S. House elections — all won by incumbents — to about $15.3 million, though the congressmen collectively still have more than $6.8 million cash on hand.
Embattled 4th Congressional District Rep. Scott DesJarlais, a doctor who has dealt with controversy during and after the election over his involvement in abortions and sexual relations with patients, had the lowest cash-on-hand balance of any incumbent: $15,661.
DesJarlais spent $1,257,651 during the campaign, including $439,369 disclosed on his final report covering the last days of his race against Democrat Eric Stewart, who spent a total of $700,575.
Here’s a list by district of total expenditures and remaining balance for the other incumbent Tennessee congressmen as reported on the FEC website: