Tag Archives: House

White House: Obama Plan Would Mean $63M for Pre-K in TN

Tennessee would receive $64.3 million in federal funds – to be matched with $6.4 million in state dollars – to provide pre-kindergarten classes to another 7,861 children under President Obama’s “Preschool for All” program, according to a White House estimate released Wednesday.
A spokesman for Gov. Bill Haslam says the governor will review the proposal, but is waiting for a Vanderbilt University study of pre-k effectiveness before making a final decision. The study, launched in 2009, will not complete its first stage until next year.
Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville, a leading critic of pre-k programs in the state Legislature, said Wednesday the state should ignore the federal offer. He also voiced skepticism about the Vanderbilt study.
Tennessee now has a voluntary pre-kindergarten for 4-year-olds who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch because of low-family income. It will provide $85 million in funding for the current year to fund 935 pre-k classes enrolling about 18,000 students statewide, according to state Department of Education figures.
Obama’s proposal calls for providing $75 billion nationwide over a 10-year period to expand pre-k enrollment with new funding to come from an increase in federal cigarette taxes.

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Former House Speaker Dick Barry Dies, Age 89

William Logan “Dick” Barry, who served as speaker of the state House of Representatives in the 1960s and then executive assistant to Gov. Buford Ellington, has died in a Lexington nursing home at age 89, according to friends.
“Dick Barry’s death marks the end of an era,” said former Knoxville Mayor Victor Ashe, who served in the state House while Barry was top aide to Ellington.
“He was a solid rock of integrity and a real historian,” said Ashe Thursday “State government was made better by his participation and leadership.”
State Rep. Steve McDaniel, R-Parkers Crossroads, said Barry died Wednesday evening at a Lexington nursing home, where he had resided in recent weeks after hospital treatment for an illness.
Barry, a lawyer who once served as publisher of the Lexington Progress newspaper, was elected to the state House in 1954 and became floor leader in 1958 and then in 1963 and with the support of Gov. Frank Clement was elected speaker. He served as speaker until 1967, when joined the Ellington administration and served until Democrat Ellington left office in January, 1971, with the inauguration of Republican Gov. Winfield Dunn.

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Ramsey: Campaign Finance Bill ‘Straw that Broke Camel’s Back’

Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey acknowledges the failure of his campaign finance bill in the GOP-run House this year is part of the reason he decided to stop joint fundraising with the other chamber, reports the Chattanooga TFP.
Speaking after the legislative session ended April 19, the Blountville lawmaker said while the split had “been in the works for a long time, I’d be less than honest if I didn’t say that was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
“But,” Ramsey added, “I think it would have happened anyway.”
Among other things, the bill would have eliminated a requirement that corporations report political contributions to candidates as well as political parties and legislative caucuses.
Proponents of lifting the reporting requirement argued it wasn’t needed because candidates report their contributions.
Democratic critics charged that canceling the requirement would eliminate an important accounting cross-check and could lead to candidates simply pocketing corporate cash.
Despite the GOP’s 70-member supermajority in the House, the bill received just 48 votes, all from Republicans. That was short of the 50 votes necessary for passage.
Twenty-two Republicans voted no, abstained or didn’t vote. (Harwell didn’t vote.
…”I just, philosophically, just didn’t feel supportive of that measure,” Harwell told reporters last week. “But I have given everyone fair notice that that was my stand.”
Asked to elaborate, Harwell said, “I have trouble with a company being able to give me money and only I am the reporter. So I think there needed to be a proper check that the company would have to report to. … [If] XYZ Company gave me $10,000, I only reported $5,000, where would the [cross] check be?”
She said the bill’s House sponsor, Republican Glen Casada, of Franklin, has indicated he intends to bring it up again next year.
Proponents shrug off concerns about contributions being reported.
But the state’s Registry of Election Finance found legislative candidates failed to report about 2.5 percent of contributions made by political action committees and corporations in 2012.
Candidates are required to correct omissions, on pain of fines. If the correction is timely, and if the omissions don’t exceed two per year and are less than $2,000 collectively, the registry takes no action.
Drew Rawlins, executive director of the state’s Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance, called the 2.5 percent figure for nonreporting low. He attributed discrepancies to honest mistakes by candidates.
“Sometimes candidates make a list of all contributions and one may get left off. Sometimes what happens is that a candidate has lost a deposit slip or something like that so anything that’s on that deposit slip may not have gotten reported,” Rawlins said.


Note: For related Harwell-Ramsey stuff, see the News Sentinel HERE, and the City Paper’ HERE.

Sunday Column: Counseling on the Speaker Spat?

House-Senate hostility is nothing new in Legislatorland, but the basis of tensions that led to the flare-up in the waning days of the first Republican supermajority session just might be more fundamental — and thus more enduring — than the squabbles in bygone days among Democratic leaders.
For one big thing, both House Speaker Beth Harwell and Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey would like to be governor.
Ramsey, who already has the title of lieutenant governor, tried to scratch the “lieutenant” part in 2010 but lost in the Republican primary to Bill Haslam. Today he says he “can’t imagine” putting himself through that “grueling” experience again and suspects a successful candidate would have to be rich enough to self-finance. But he doesn’t rule it out.
Harwell hasn’t tried before and is quite coy in talking publicly about it, but friends say that her long-term goal is to follow up on becoming Tennessee’s first woman speaker by becoming Tennessee’s first woman governor.

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Congressmen Back Alexander on Campaign Trail, Not on Internet Tax Trail

Known as an elder statesman among Tennessee politicians, U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander easily snatched up all the House members he wanted to support his 2014 re-election campaign. But Chris Carroll reports that many of those same conservative allies are ambivalent or even critical of the former governor’s top legislative priority.
Alexander is shepherding an unusual bill for a keep-taxes-low Volunteer State Republican. The Marketplace Fairness Act would allow states to force Internet retailers to do what brick-and-mortar businesses have done for ages: Collect sales taxes on every transaction and give the money to state and local governments.
Or, in Alexander’s words, give states the option to get “a tax that is already owed.”
But leading fiscal conservatives, including U.S. Reps. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee and Tom Graves of Georgia, describe it as the scourge of small-government advocates: a new tax.
“The last thing we should do is raise new taxes on hard-working Americans who are already struggling in the Obama economy,” Graves said last week. Meanwhile, Blackburn put it bluntly: “There’s nothing fair about the Marketplace Fairness Act.”
As the 72-year-old Alexander attempts to dissuade potential tea party challengers in his bid for re-election, in-state opposition to his pet bill may undermine claims that he can still get things done and satisfy an increasingly conservative Tennessee electorate.
“Is it a liability for Alexander? It’s not clear what the public thinks on this,” Vanderbilt University political science professor Joshua Clinton said. “As a challenger, you may get some traction in the Republican primary.”
Alexander has no challengers to date. To help keep it that way, he added every Tennessee Republican House member (except scandal-plagued U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais) to his campaign team late last year. So far they aren’t helping him on this one.
“We have no formal position on the legislation at this time,” said Tiffany McGuffie, a spokeswoman for U.S. Rep. Phil Roe.
The bill is expected to pass the Senate this week; earlier this year, a test vote garnered 75 supporters. But in the House, where a tea party philosophy reigns, the Marketplace Fairness Act faces an uphill battle if Alexander’s own delegation is any indication.
“We don’t need the federal government mandating additional taxes on Tennessee families and businesses,” Blackburn said. “The American people have been taxed enough.”

Speaker Spat Terminates Joint House-Senate GOP Fundraising?

In the aftermath of House-Senate hostility at an end of the legislative session, the Senate Republican Caucus has decided to terminate a joint fundraising operation with the House Republican Caucus.
For years, the two GOP legislative caucuses have combined for fundraising to form the Tennessee Republican Caucus, which would solicit contributions and host events. The joint caucus then paid the fundraising costs and split the remaining money between the House Republican Caucus and the Senate Republican Caucus.
In the past two years, reports filed with the Registry of Election finance show the House Republican Caucus has received checks totaling $460,465 from the arrangement; the Senate Republican Caucus $425,590.
The Tennessee Republican Caucus still had a balance of $123,000 in the last report it filed, dated Jan. 25. That will now apparently be split between the House and Senate.Republicans as the arrangement ends.

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Democrats Bash Casada For Killing School Security Bill

News release from House Democratic Caucus:
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – In an unusual and highly political move, House Republicans led by Chairman Glen Casada (R-Franklin) voted last Thursday to kill HB494 by Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh (D-Ripley); this despite the bill having already passed the State Government, Education, and Finance Ways & Means Committees with a majority of support. The legislation would have helped local law enforcement increase security around school by working with the Tennessee peace officer standards and training commission.
“Republican leadership has put petty politics above the safety of our students,” said Leader Fitzhugh. “This was a good bill that had bi-partisan support throughout the legislative session. Had I known they would take it out on our students and teachers, I would have voted for their budget.”
Under the proposed legislation by Leader Fitzhugh, local schools could have requested that the POST commission initiate a security assessment of each school. Once completed, local governments and LEAs would have had the option to adopt security recommendations. This legislation was introduced in light of Governor Haslam’s declaration that Tennessee couldn’t afford to put a safety resource officer in every school. This bill was a common sense way to increase school safety, without dramatically increasing state or local expenditures.
The House Republicans voted to send this bill back to the Civil Justice Committee, which effectively killed the bill this year, after Leader Fitzhugh and 13 other Democrats voted against the budget. The intent of Republicans to kill the bill became even more clear when three House committees opened up Friday morning to hear bills, but Civil Justice was not one of them. The Senate version passed 32-0 on April 11.
“Republicans leaders warned us about voting against the budget, but I never thought that in the wake of the horrors at Sandy Hook that they’d risk the safety and security of our children and grandchildren just to prove a point,” said Leader Fitzhugh.
Video of the Calendar & Rules Committee hearing on HB494 can be found here: : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wKySr0HBDUA
Representatives voting to kill the bill: Rep. Glen Casada (R-Franklin), Rep. Jimmy Eldridge (R-Jackson), Rep. Curtis Halford (R-Dyer), Rep. Ryan Haynes (R-Knoxville), Rep. Timothy Hill (R-Blountville), Rep. Jon Lundberg (R-Bristol), Leader Gerald McCormick (R-Chattanooga), Rep. Steve McManus (R-Cordova), Rep. Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville), Rep. Eric Watson (R-Cleveland), Speaker Pro Tem Curtis Johnson (R-Clarksville), Speaker Beth Harwell (R-Nashville).

House Kills Judicial Redistricting Bill

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A proposal to redraw Tennessee’s judicial districts for the first time since 1984 was killed on Friday when House members voted against it.
The lower chamber voted 66-28 to defeat the measure sponsored by Republican Rep. Jon Lundberg of Bristol. The companion bill was approved 27-4 earlier this month.
The plan from Republican Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey of Blountville would affect 22 counties in eight districts. The number of judicial districts has been reduced from 31 to 29.
Most of the House members against the measure said they felt if they were being dictated to by the Senate, particularly Ramsey.
“This bill came from the Senate, plain and simple,” said Rep. Bill Sanderson, R-Kenton. “They have been dictating from the get go how this session should run. Let’s draw a line in the sand. Vote no on the bill, because it’s not our bill.”
The proposal included input from the public and stakeholder groups and would have created separate judicial districts for Rutherford and Williamson counties because of population growth in the Nashville suburbs over the last three decades.
Two judicial districts in northeastern Tennessee made up of Lake, Dyer, Obion and Weakley county would be merged into a single district. Meanwhile, Coffee County would cease to have its own district and instead be folded into one with Cannon, Warren and Van Buren counties.
Ramsey has said the changes were not expected to affect the positions of existing judges, but that the elimination of two judicial districts will reduce the positions of two prosecutors and public defenders.
He estimated the cost savings of eliminating those four positions would be more than $600,000.
Rep. Tim Wirgau said before Friday’s vote that he’d like to see the measure held off for at least a year and lawmakers consider a plan where redistricting is done every two years or longer.
“Let’s put something in place so there’s a standard,” said the Buchanan Republican

Compromise Guns-in-Schools Bill Goes to Governor

At least a few teachers and other school personnel could take their guns to class under legislation approved Wednesday by the state Senate, but their identifies will be kept secret.
The bill touched off lengthy debate before being approved 27-6 with an amendment declaring that only the school principal, the school superintendent and local law enforcement authorities will know those authorized to carry weapons.
The House, which had approved the measure earlier, approved the Senate revisions on a 75-15 vote without debate. That sends the bill to Gov. Bill Haslam, who negotiated with legislators in drafting the overall bill.
“If I’m a parent, don’t I have a right to know if a teacher is carrying a gun or not?,” asked Sen. Jim Kyle, D-Memphis, in the Senate debate.
Sens. Mark Green, R-Clarksville, and Janice Bowling, R-Tullahoma, said keeping the names confidential would be a deterrent to anyone planning an attack.
“For a person who is intent on assaulting a school, one of the best pieces of information that person could have is who has a gun in that school,” said Green. “Secrecy protects the safety of students.”

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House Gives Final OK to Haslam’s Virtual Schools Bill

The House approved 66-29 on Tuesday a bill that revises rules for operating for-profit virtual schools and sent it to the governor, whose administration drafted the measure as part of the Haslam administration legislative package this year.
The bill (SB157) was approved after about half hour of debate, mostly devoted to the Republican majority killing amendments proposed by Democrats. One of them, offered by Rep. Mike Stewart of Nashville, would have repealed the 2010 law that authorized operation of for-profit virtual schools in Tennessee, leading to establishment of Tennessee Virtual Academy in Union County by K12, Inc.
Another Stewart amendment would have prohibited operation within the state of a for-profit virtual school that is partly owned by a convicted felon. Stewart said that was aimed at Michael Milken, who owns an interest in K12 according to some media accounts.
The Democrat-sponsored revision attempts were all defeated on party-line votes.
The bill itself, sponsored for Haslam by Rep. Harry Brooks, R-Knoxville, imposes a 1,500-student cap on enrollment on new virtual schools launched in the state. But the limit would not apply to Tennessee Virtual Academy, the only for-profit virtual school already in operation.
The bill also declares that a virtual school that has below standard student performance for three consecutive years, can be closed by the state commissioner of education. The commissioner would also have the option of imposing an enrollment cap on such a school. The existing academy had poor performance results in its first year of operation.
Brooks said the bill gives the commissioner options in pushing to improve schools and gives students and their parents options as well.