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.”
NASHVILLE – By pushing for a more expansive school voucher program than Gov. Bill Haslam wanted, key state Senate Republicans probably have assured that no voucher bill of any sort will be enacted this year.
Haslam decided Wednesday to abandon for the year efforts to pass his bill to provide “opportunity scholarships” to a limited number of low-income students in the state’s lowest-rated schools.
Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, announced the governor’s decision.
“He did not want it to become a political football at the expense of the children,” said Norris, adding that the situation had devolved into “gamemanship.”
Senate Education Committee Chairman Dolores Gresham, R-Somerville, and Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, had been leading an effort to broaden the voucher bill to cover far more students than the Haslam bill. Their plans called for transforming the governor’s bill with amendments to accomplish that goal.
By yanking the bill from further consideration this year, Haslam and Norris avoid that possibility and, as a practical matter, eliminate chances for any voucher bill to pass this year.
Kelsey, however, said he has not given up and Gresham said she would be looking at options.
A bill that declares Tennessee can declare federal firearms laws “null and void” within its borders and prosecute federal officers enforcing them is unconstitutional under the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution, according to another attorney general’s opinion released Monday.
The opinion on SB250 was requested by Senate Judiciary Chairman Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown. His committee voted 5-4 to postpone a vote on the bill by Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mount Juliet, to seek Cooper’s opinion. Beavers argued that the state, through the Legislature or other officials, can nullify federal laws that exceed the federal government’s authority.
The opinion quotes a U.S. Supreme Court case: “If the legislatures of the several states may, at will, annul the judgments of the courts of the United States, and destroy the rights acquired under those judgments, the constitution itself becomes a solemn mockery . . . .No state legislator or executive or judicial officer can war against the Constitution without violating his undertaking to support it.”
— Note: Full opinion HERE. Previous post HERE.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Brian Kelsey, comparing himself at one point to Andrew Jackson in 1832, managed to delay Tuesday a vote on legislation that declares Tennessee has a right to nullify federal gun laws and charge federal agents enforcing them with committing a felony.
The committee voted 5-4 to grant Kelsey’s call to postpone a vote on the proposal (SB250) for one week while he seeks a legal opinion from state Attorney General Bob Cooper on whether it would violate the U.S. Constitution.
Sponsor Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mount Juliet, said the U.S. Constitution authorizes states – through their legislatures – to decide the validity of federal laws.
She understands that lawyers believe the Supreme Court is the “ultimate arbitrator” of constitutionality, Beavers said, and that has allowed justics “setting themselves up as a dictator” and “generation after generation we have just accepted that.”
But that is wrong, she said, and the 10th Amendment lets states decide what laws are constitution and which can be ignored or nullified.
Beavers’ view was reenforced by June Griffin of Dayton, who heads the Tennessee Commission on the Bill of Rights. Griffin said Tennessee’s own constitution cast upon legislators – and sheriffs around the state – a duty to resist federal intrusion by supporting the bill.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Senate voted Thursday to place proposed constitutional amendments to ban a state income tax before Tennessee voters.
The chamber approved the measure on a 26-4 vote, and if the House concurs, it would be placed on the ballot in next year’s general election.
The political fallout from failed efforts to impose a state income tax more than a decade ago has already made renewed efforts exceedingly unlikely. But Republican Sen. Brian Kelsey of Germantown said his proposal is aimed at eliminating any uncertainty about the measure in the future.
Sen. Douglas Henry of Nashville, one of the four Democrats to vote against the measure, likened himself to “the skunk at the garden party” for raising concerns that the proposal would also eliminate the possibility of payroll taxes on employers.
“If you’re going to rule out an income tax, you should not rule out the payroll tax, because we may very well need it some time,” Henry said.
He stressed that he has long opposed the income tax, including during his time as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, when three governors unsuccessfully sought his support for changing Tennessee’s sales tax-based system.
But the state’s fiscal situation could become difficult with the payroll tax option off the table, he said.
The final serious attempt to enact a state income tax occurred in 2002, when former Republican Gov. Don Sundquist and Democratic leadership in the Legislature sought to overhaul the state’s tax system.
The proposals led to talk radio-fueled protests at the Capitol and included a brick being thrown through the window of the governor’s office. The measure ultimately failed, and several supporters ultimately decided against running again or were defeated as part of a public backlash.
Democrats have since lost control of both chambers of the General Assembly.
Kelsey is also the sponsor of a constitutional amendment to give the lawmakers the power to confirm or deny the governor’s appointments to the state Supreme Court. A scheduled vote was put off for a week on the request of Sen. Ophelia Ford, D-Memphis.
By Eric Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Republican lawmakers are putting the brakes on a bill seeking to bar Tennessee from expanding Medicaid under the federal health care law.
Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey of Blountville announced the move at a legislative preview session Thursday hosted by The Associated Press and the Tennessee Press Association. He said he persuaded fellow Republican Sen. Brian Kelsey of Germantown to park his bill to block the expansion.
“It was on notice yesterday, and not on notice today, OK?” Ramsey said.
(Note: In legislator language, that means the sponsor had scheduled it for a committee vote next week, then backed off and took it ‘off notice’ — in this case, presumably at the request of Ramsey and/or others.)
Ramsey remains skeptical about whether Tennessee should participate in growing the program known as TennCare in the state, but said he doesn’t want to preclude the governor from examining all angles before making a decision.
Haslam said he’s “seen some growing flexibility” in the U.S. Health and Human Resources Department about which services the state would have to cover among the expanded TennCare population. He also said he wants to check with other Republican governors who have recently decided to pursue an expansion in their states.
“We’re trying to go back to them and say specifically, what do you know now that you didn’t know before?” he said. “I don’t know if they’ve gotten any special deals yet. We’re trying to find that out.”
Sixteen Republican state senators declared their support last week for legislation to prohibit expansion of Medicaid in Tennessee, but Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey says it’s likely there will be no action on the controversial subject in the 2013 session.
Sen. Brian Kelsey’s bill, refiled in the Senate in an updated version that matches the House bill (HB82), has 15 co-sponsors. Ramsey is not among them, though he is outspoken in declaring opposition to Medicaid expansion, which is permitted but not required under a U.S. Supreme Court decision on the federal Affordable Care Act, better known as “Obamacare.” The House bill by Rep. Jeremy Durham had 21 co-sponsors.
Gov. Bill Haslam has asked legislators to wait until he has studied the matter and Ramsey said that’s fine with him, though it’s almost certain the governor will study the matter until past adjournment of the 2013 legislative session — April 19, if legislative leaders meet their goal. The bill would pre-empt Haslam’s decision, effectively deciding “no” without him involved.
But inaction means no expansion, Ramsey explained to reporters, because legislative approval is needed to expand the rolls of Medicaid, which operates as TennCare in Tennessee.
“There’s no time line whatsoever,” Ramsey said. “We could hold off a year and see how other states do, how it’s working out.” Tennessee could wait until 2015, he suggested, as a “hypothetical.”
In his “State of the State” speech last week, Haslam said that he is “hesitant” to go along with expansion of a program “already eating up so much of our budget.”
“But I also understand that the decision isn’t just as easy as standing here today and saying, ‘We’re not going to expand Medicaid,’ ” the governor said. “There are hospitals across this state, many of them in rural communities, that are going to struggle if not close under the health care law without expansion and that’s not something to take lightly.”
Ramsey said he is skeptical of hospital claims, though acknowledging some hospitals will be “left in a lurch” and “that’s what makes this decision tough.”
“Hospitals are notorious for inflating numbers over what the truth is,” the lieutenant governor said, adding “hospital math has always puzzled me” because some facilities “lose money for five years in a row and are still in business.”
House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh and Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Lowe Finney, meanwhile, have filed a bill (HB290) that would grant the governor authority to expand Medicaid. The measure has no co-sponsors so far, according to the Legislature’s website.
News release from Senate Republican Caucus:
(NASHVILLE, TN), January 31, 2013 -Senator Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) and 15 State Senate co-sponsors today filed the TennCare Fiscal Responsibility Act. Senate Bill 804 will prevent expansion of the Tennessee Medicaid program under provisions of the Affordable Care Act, also known as “Obamacare.” The bill is an updated version of Senate Bill 1, filed by Sen. Kelsey in November.
“I am pleased to have the support so far of 16 of the 33 state Senators in Tennessee, and I hope to have other members sign on as co-sponsors,” said Sen. Kelsey.
Last week, a similar version of the bill, House Bill 82, was filed in the House of Representatives with 22 co-sponsors by Rep. Jeremy Durham (R-Franklin).
In June 2012 the United States Supreme Court ruled in National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius that states have the right to opt out of Medicaid expansion without losing pre-existing federal Medicaid funding.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Freshman state Rep. Jeremy Durham has filed a House bill seeking to block Tennessee from expanding Medicaid under the federal health care overhaul.
Durham noted the experience of TennCare, the state’s expanded Medicaid program that was plagued by out-of-control costs until former Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen made deep cuts to enrollment and benefits in 2005.
Republican Gov. Bill Haslam has not said whether he will pursue Medicaid expansion, which hospitals say would make up for heavy losses from changes in federal reimbursements.
The federal government would pick up the full costs of Medicaid expansion for the first three years and 90 percent thereafter.
Durham said Thursday that his bill has 21 co-sponsors, including Republican House Caucus Chairman Glen Casada and House Finance Chairman Charles Sargent. All three are Franklin Republicans.
– Note: Durham promised to file the bill last October while campaigning (Previous post HERE). Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, had already filed the Senate companin bill – in fact, it was the first bill filed for the 108th General Assembly, SB1. So far, Kelsey has only one Senate co-sponsor — Sen. Janice Bowling, R-Tullahoma.
Legislation filed by state Sen. Brian Kelsey would make keeping confidential the identity of those making comments on online news stories a matter of state law.
According to a news release from Kelsey, R-Germantown, the bill (SB106) was inspired by the Shelby County Commission’s efforts to subpoena the identities of all online commenters on the Commercial Appeal stories about moves by Memphis’ suburban cities setting up their own separate school districts. A federal judge rejected the subpoena request.
“This legislation will safeguard the free and open exchange of ideas,” said Kelsey. “Political discourse should be encouraged– not discouraged through fishing expeditions by over-zealous lawyers.”
“News organizations themselves should determine how much identifying information of online commenters to make public.”
The bill’s text says it would apply to “any information related to the identity of a person who participates in online services offered by the news media or press, including, but not limited to, name, phone number, postal address, e-mail address, or IP address.”
That language is added to a portion of state law listing “privileged communications” that cannot be used as evidence in court proceedings in most situations. Other examples include conversations between a husband and wife, private conversations with a member of the clergy, and communications between a psychiatrist and patient.
The bill’s summary on the Legislature’s website says it block demands to news media for such information from “a court, grand jury, general assembly or other administrative body.”