Tennessee is plunging ahead with a plan to drug-test some welfare applicants even though a Florida judge stopped a similar program over constitutional issues and Arizona authorities caught only one welfare-receiving drug abuser in three years, according to The Tennessean. Reports from the Tennessee agency charged with implementing the drug-testing law show the state may try to catch drug-using applicants with a diagnostic quiz that includes questions such as “Have you abused more than one drug at a time?” and “Do you ever feel bad about your drug abuse?” If they failed the questionnaire, they would face urine screenings.
Tennessee passed its law last year and gave the Department of Human Services until July 1, 2014, to implement it. It’s taking cues from Arizona’s program, which went into effect in 2009.
“I don’t rule out the possibility that we’ve captured two idiots,” said Arizona state Rep. John Kavanagh, a former police detective who sponsored the legislation there. “If I was going to do it again, I would attempt to do a cross-check of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families rolls and records of drug arrests, but based on our budget, I don’t want to create that expense.
“I wish the Tennessee legislature all the luck. If they are able to crack through the judicial barriers, we will benefit from their experience.”
Tennessee’s sponsor for the drug law, Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, said he’s not discouraged by what’s happening in other states, and he would consider the law successful if it drove down the number of applicants simply because they knew they would be tested.
Groups who support drug-testing laws nationwide argue that the Fourth Amendment prohibition on searches without reasonable cause shouldn’t apply in the case of welfare applicants. Rachel Sheffield, a policy analyst for The Heritage Foundation, a right-leaning think tank in Washington, said it’s fair to require certain behavior from people who receive taxpayer assistance.
…About 51,000 Tennessee families receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, a cash payment that averages about $164 a month, according to the most recent Department of Human Services report. Adults are required to keep their children in school and participate in a work-training program. They can’t receive benefits for more than 60 months in their lifetimes, although the clock on benefits can stop and start depending on their circumstances.
State Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey said Thursday that if Tennessee expands its Medicaid program to cover more uninsured working poor, it should follow Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s example and put stipulations into law requiring cuts if federal funding is reduced.
Further from Richard Locker: Ramsey, R-Blountville, said he expects Gov. Bill Haslam to announce his decision on whether to seek expansion of Medicaid/TennCare in Tennessee — and for the state legislature to act on Haslam’s request — before the General Assembly adjourns this spring. But he said he’s not sure whether lawmakers would go along with an expansion or not.
I’ve not polled members but it won’t be easy and that’s why I’ve told him (Haslam) that you need to be able to convince legislators it’s the right thing to do. And we need to be able to see that we, quote, got something for it or that there are statutory requirements that come into place if the federal funding changes and things of that nature,” Ramsey told reporters in his weekly media briefing.
Ramsey said he was surprised that Scott — a conservative elected with Tea Party backing — announced Wednesday that he will ask the Florida legislature to expand its Medicaid program, a key provision of President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act that Scott had vowed to oppose. Scott is the latest Republican governor to propose his state expand Medicaid and is seen as the most conservative on the list to do so.
Under “Obamacare,” the federal government will pay 100 percent of the costs of expanding Medicaid to people with incomes up to 138 percent of the poverty level for three years, then drop to 90 percent over the following two years, with the state paying the rest.
Ramsey appears to have softened his stance on the issue. Last summer when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld key provisions of the Affordable Care Act — but made it optional for states to expand Medicaid — the Senate speaker and lieutenant governor called Obamacare “a disaster” and a “usurpation of our liberty … that must be resisted.”
Former Gov. Winfield Dunn recalls his first Republican convention and introducing himself to a famous fellow that everybody else was ignoring at the time, namely 1968, in a Tennessean setup story on the GOP convention. “It was Thomas Dewey,” said Dunn, now 85. “So I had an opportunity to meet and visit with him. That was very exciting for me.”
Brushes with history make up some of the appeal for more than 200 Tennesseans who will attend either this week’s GOP conclave in Tampa, Fla., or next week’s Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C.
Add to those the opportunities to lobby, socialize and party with some of the nation’s top political leaders, and the conventions become more than just quadrennial pep rallies before the November presidential election.
“High energy,” said state Rep. Ryan Haynes. “If you’re not in politics, a lot of people say, ‘Political convention? Turn on CSPAN and put me to sleep.’ But it really is high energy.” Tennessee Delegation Plans
From the News Sentinel: The Tennessee delegation will hold a breakfast each morning. U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, a Chattanooga Republican who is running for a second six-year term, will hold a pre-convention fundraiser Sunday night at the St. Petersburg Yacht Club. The cost to attend the Corker event is $1,000 for political-action committees or $500 for individuals.
Other extracurricular activities — many of which are invitation-only — are open to delegates and include a gun show in nearby Plant City, with concealed weapons training courses; a tribute to the South, featuring a performance by the rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd; several documentary screenings; panel discussions on everything from energy policy to financial “literacy”; and enough briefings, brunches, receptions and parties to wear out even the most energetic convention-goer.
“I was looking at the schedule, and I was, ‘Oh, my goodness! I’m going to be very tired at the end of the week,'” said Susan Mills, a delegate from Maryville. “I’m going to need a vacation after that.” A Florida Perspective on TN Delegation
From the Tampa Bay Times: During the convention in Tampa next week, nearly 250 delegates from Tennessee will be staying at the historic Safety Harbor Resort & Spa.
So the city will temporarily give Main Street a new name: Tennessee Street.
A proclamation in honor of the Volunteer State will be read. Welcome banners will be hoisted. And there will be live music at the downtown gazebo from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.
But part of their focus is on what happens once the delegation leaves the Tampa Bay area.
“There are going to be some 250 Tennessee delegates who may have never stepped foot in Safety Harbor,” City Manager Matthew Spoor said. “When they get back to Tennessee, we want them to tell all their friends and family about our city. We want repeat customers. We want the city to shine. We are the jewel of Tampa Bay and we want to show that off.”
The mayor plans to hand the delegation a symbolic key to the city. In welcome bags waiting in delegates’ hotel rooms, the Safety Harbor Chamber of Commerce will include a pin in the shape of a key. Delegates sporting the pin will receive specials from about 25 participating Main Street merchants, said chamber board chair Marie Padavich.
When it came to matching up state delegations to hotel locations, Padavich said, Safety Harbor came out a winner.
“We are thrilled to have Tennessee,” Padavich said, in part because they hail from the eastern half of the United States, so “it would be a natural for them to come back and visit us once the convention is over.”
Some businesses are looking for ways to capitalize on the delegates’ presence. For example, during the convention week, wine bar and beer garden Tapping the Vine will open Sunday and Monday — days when the business is usually closed, said owner Howard Latham.
The Sen. at the Conven
In his first blog post from the Republican National Convention, Sen. Stacey Campfield reports that hurricane Isaac wasn’t that bad and wonders if a Ron Paul rally could inspire an overreaction from party powers.
By Bill Barrow, Associated Press
ATLANTA — The “Solid South” was a political fact, benefiting Democrats for generations and then Republicans, with Bible Belt and racial politics ruling the day.
But demographic changes and recent election results reveal a more nuanced landscape now as the two major parties prepare for their national conventions. Republicans will convene Aug. 27 in Florida, well established as a melting-pot battleground state, to nominate Mitt Romney of Massachusetts. Democrats will toast President Barack Obama the following week in North Carolina, the perfect example of a Southern electorate not so easily pigeon-holed.
Obama won both states and Virginia four years ago, propelled by young voters, nonwhites and suburban independents. Virginia, long a two-party state in down-ballot races, had not sided with Democrats on the presidency since Lyndon Johnson in 1964. Jimmy Carter in 1976 had been the last Democratic nominee to win North Carolina. Each state is in play again, with Romney needing to reclaim Florida and at least one of the others to reach the White House.
Southern strategists and politicians say results will turn again this year on which party and candidates understand changing demographics and voter priorities.
“The transformation of the South seems to never end,” said Mo Elleithee, a Democratic campaign consultant with deep experience in Virginia and federal elections. “Now it’s beginning to emerge, at least parts of it, as solidly purple.”
New citizens, birth rates, and migration patterns of native-born Americans make high-growth areas less white, less conservative or both. There is increasing urban concentration in many areas. African-American families are moving back to the South after generations in Chicago, New York or other northern cities.
Young religious voters are less likely than their parents to align with Republicans on abortion and same-sex unions. Younger voters generally are up for grabs on fundamental questions like the role of the federal government in the marketplace.
“I wouldn’t say the South is any more ideologically rigid than anywhere else in the country. Certainly, it’s complicated,” said former Gov. Phil Bredesen of Tennessee. Bredesen, a Democrat, won twice while Republican George W. Bush occupied the White House. Before that, Bredesen was a two-term mayor of Nashville.
From Georgiana Vines’ political notebook:
A fundraising reception for former Ruth’s Chris Steak House Chief Executive Craig Miller, one of five candidates in the Republican primary for the U.S. Senate in Florida, will be held Thursday in Knoxville and co-hosted by restaurateurs Bill Regas and Sandy Beall.
A $100-minimum donation is requested by the 27-member host committee at the 5:30-7:30 p.m. event at Ruth’s Chris Steak House at Volunteer Landing. Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey will be a headliner, Regas said. A private dinner will be held afterward with Ramsey, Miller and Regas for $1,000.
“Why would anyone in Tennessee want to support someone in Florida?” Regas asked rhetorically. “Congress is having a hard time agreeing on the time of day. It’s important to our country to have people with extensive business experience in the Senate.”
Georgianna Vines, who has been visiting in Florida, devotes a column to a comparison between politics in the Sunshine State with the politics and legislating in Tennessee. An excerpt: Like Tennessee, the governor is Republican and the Legislature mostly Republican. There appears to be a major difference between (Gov. Rick) Scott and Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam: A new Quinnipiac University poll of Florida voters showed Scott is one of the country’s most unpopular governors after only four months in office.
Some topics should sound familiar to Tennesseans – reforming election laws, controlling substances that give an amphetamine-like high and requiring drug testing of welfare recipients. At this point, Florida’s legislature has gone farther than Tennessee on some issues.
Scott signed a bill Tuesday that forces welfare recipients to undergo random drug testing; the American Civil Liberties Union has threatened to go to court.
(Note: A similar bill for Tennessee, SB48, sponsored by Sen. Stacey Campfield and Rep. Bill Dunn, was introduced but never pushed. The Legislature did approve SB96 by Sen. Jim Tracy and Rep. Joe Carr, which says those convicted of drug-related felonies can’t get welfare benefits — unless they enroll in a rehab program. Bill summary page HERE.) …On changing election laws, some see it as a way to make it harder for Floridians to cast a valid ballot in the presidential election in 2012. Scott said he wanted to make sure fraud wasn’t involved in elections.
President Barack Obama benefited from early voting in Florida, which proved popular among minorities, college students and retirees. The new law will reduce the number of early voting days from 13 to eight. The law also throws out a 40-year-old rule allowing Floridians to update their addresses when they vote. Under the new law, it can be done only if a person has moved within the county.
One new rule hinders groups that register first-time voters. Volunteers would register with the state and face fines of up to $1,000 for not submitting voting forms within 48 hours.
The Florida League of Women Voters has said it will suspend voter registration campaigns as a result of the law. Most of the state’s election supervisors opposed the measure. Democrats among the state’s congressional delegation have asked the U.S. Justice Department to intervene.
(Note: The Tennessee Legislature approved SB923, which in final form knocks two days off early voting for next year’s presidential primary, and a photo ID voting requirment… but nothing like the other Florida stuff here. See Dick Williams roundup of election related legislation at post HERE.)