Tennessee’s 31 judicial districts haven’t been overhauled since 1984 and some state legislators say the lines are very outdated and should be changed before all state judges come up for reelection in 2014. TNReport has a report on the matter: (S)ome powerful voices in the General Assembly are saying it’s high time because while judicial maps have not changed in 30 years, the state’s population certainly has. In the past three decades, Tennessee’s population has jumped from 4.5 million to 6.4 million today.
“Rural counties have become suburban counties, and suburban counties now wrestle with issues similar to urban counties,” Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey said in a statement. “Put simply, our state is a dramatically different place than it was when the last redistricting occurred. This naturally results in inefficiency and misallocation of resources.”
Sumner County, for example, makes up the 18th Judicial District. It has a population of 163,686, according to 2011 census numbers, and has one circuit court judge assigned to it. But over in Blount County, where there are 40,000 fewer people, there are two circuit court judges.
“There are certainly some oddities,” said Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, the new chairman of the Senate’s Judiciary Committee, which would likely tackle the issue of judicial redistricting.
Kelsey pointed to Coffee County, which makes up a single judicial district, as compared to rapidly growing Williamson County, which is part of a single four-county judicial district.
Judicial redistricting is “an issue worthy of consideration,” Kelsey said.
House Speaker Beth Harwell and Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey both said Tuesday they are inclined to oppose Medicaid expansion, though not flatly ruling out the possibility as Gov. Bill Haslam studies the issue and contemplates making a decision sometime next year.
With Haslam’s decision Monday to leave operation of a healthcare exchange in Tennessee to the federal government, battle lines are now being formed on whether or not to expand Medicaid, operated as TennCare in Tennessee, as envisioned by the federal Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
Haslam said rejection of a state-operated healthcare exchange should not be seen as an indication he will reject Medicaid expansion.
“I’ve tried from the very beginning to separate the two because they are very different issues,” said Haslam.
The governor also said he has no hard timeline for making a decision, which could come after the Legislature ends its 2013 session – probably in late April or early May. The federal law calls for expanded Medicaid to begin on Jan. 1, 2014.
But the first bill officially filed for the 2013 session, labeled Senate Bill 1, would preempt the governor by enacting a state law that prohibits Medicaid expansion. Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, who sponsored the measure, said Tuesday he is undecided whether to push for prompt action early in the coming session.
Tennessee lawmakers will almost certainly approve some kind of voucher bill in the upcoming legislative season, says the Commercial Appeal. And while Gov. Bill Haslam doesn’t know how broad it will be, he is not interested in a trial run. “I don’t think it will start with a pilot,” Haslam said late last week. “To say we are just doing this in Shelby, Davidson and Knox …. I wouldn’t be in favor of that. I do think it should be income-qualified.”
…Haslam appointed a task force to study the issue a year ago. In its final report last week, the task force affirmed the need to limit vouchers to low-income children currently enrolled in public schools. Once they receive a voucher, the task force agreed they should have access to it until they graduate.
But other large questions, including how much vouchers should be worth, how the receiving schools will be held accountable and whether children enrolled in low-performing schools will get first priority are left now to be worked out by the Republican majority in the state legislature.
The leading proponent is Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Collierville. His bill, which passed in the Senate in 2011, would have made vouchers worth $5,400, or half what the state spent that year to educate one child.
He says vouchers should be funded the same way charter schools are to keep from “reinventing the wheel.” Memphis charters this year receive $8,065 in tax dollars per child.
“The task force agreed not to not require further funding from the parents,” Kelsey said. “For the few private schools in Memphis that do charge more than $9,000, they have said they will accept the students. Many of the schools that charge that much are already giving scholarships to students.”
Gail Kerr, meanwhile, declares in a column that the voucher task force raised more questions than answers.
A task force of nine people met numerous times over the course of a year, did massive research, wrote a 94-page report, and still couldn’t reach a consensus on how a school voucher system would work in Tennessee. How in the name of Ned does anyone think the state legislature, with all its differing mindsets can do any better?
…Before lawmakers hash those out, they need to start at step one. Will school vouchers improve public education or undermine it?
Gov. Bill Haslam is undecided, at last report, about whether to take advantage of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling and block Medicaid expansion that was initially required under the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare. Two Republican lawmakers say they’re moving ahead with plans to block the expansion, contrary to the position pushed by Tennessee hospitals. Here’s today’s news release from the Senate Republican Caucus:
(NASHVILLE, TN), October 29, 2012 — State Senator Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) and Jeremy Durham (R-Franklin) said today they will introduce legislation to prevent expansion of the Tennessee Medicaid program under the Affordable Care Act, also known as “ObamaCare.” Kelsey and Durham said they will file the bill the day after the 108th General Assembly is elected in November.
Senator Kelsey has two years remaining in his four year term, and Mr. Durham is unopposed for the District 65 seat in the State House of Representatives. The legislation states Tennessee “shall not establish, facilitate, implement or participate in the expansion of the Medicaid program pursuant to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.”
“Unlike Washington, Tennessee balances its budget every year,” said Senator Kelsey. “Tennessee taxpayers cannot afford this expansion of spending. The federal government may be promising money today, but with sixteen trillion dollars of debt, those funds will not be there tomorrow.”
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A task force appointed by Republican Gov. Bill Haslam has skipped over the question of whether to create a school voucher program. Instead, the panel’s most spirited debate Wednesday was over how soon vouchers could be offered in Tennessee.
Former state Sen. Jamie Woodson of Knoxville, now the head of the State Collaborative on Reforming Education, said that even if lawmakers approve a voucher program in the spring, properly implementing the program would take until the 2014 school year.
Republican state Sen. Brian Kelsey of Germantown said he was surprised at that timeline, arguing that if the legislation is passed by March, the first vouchers should be issued by fall 2013.
“It blows my mind that we would even consider not implementing it immediately,” he said. “I thought the whole point was to get it started and see how it does and move forward from there.”
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A proposal to amend the Tennessee Constitution to change the way judges are selected has passed the Senate.
The measure sponsored by Republican Sen. Brian Kelsey of Germantown was approved 23-8. It would impose a federal-style system of having the governor make nominations to the Tennessee Supreme Court and give lawmakers the power to confirm or reject.
A separate proposal to amend the state constitution to change the way appeals judges are selected passed the Senate 21-9 last week. The resolution would let legislators decide between three options for selecting judges: contested elections, a federal-style plan or a plan similar to the current one.
Under the current Tennessee judicial selection method, a commission nominates judges, the governor appoints them and voters cast ballots either for or against keeping them on the bench.
A conservative Washington-based lobby group, whose policy director once clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, is jumping with both feet into one of the hottest political games going in the Tennessee General Assembly.
More from Andy Sher’s report: The group is trying to influence state lawmakers when it comes to how state Supreme Court justices and other appellate judges are selected.
State Ethics Commission records show the Judicial Crisis Network and its chief counsel and policy director, Carrie Severino, have hired four lobbyists to push a proposed state constitutional amendment sponsored by Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown.
The group recently retained Estie Harris, Anne Carr and Meagan Frazier of the Smith, Carr & Harris lobbying group, as well as Doug Fisher, of Chattanooga, who recently affiliated with the lobby firm.
Kelsey’s proposal would let voters do away with the state’s current merit-selection plan in 2014 and replace it with governor nominating appellate judges, who then are confirmed or rejected by the Senate.
…Legislative aides say the Judicial Crisis Network has been trying to put pressure on lawmakers to support the Kelsey plan through phone banking of Tennesseans and switching would-be supporters of it directly to lawmakers’ offices.
While a special Supreme Court upheld the merit-selection and retention vote plan, conservatives argue it is unconstitutional. The Tennessee Bar Association supports the current plan, saying direct elections could lead to appellate judges from the far right or far left, depending on what money flows in to the various campaigns.
Legislators have reached what Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris calls “the stalemate place” on how Tennessee’s top judges should be selected and are now racing to delay a decision until next year.
After a convoluted series of events, the Senate now has before it two different proposals for amending the state constitution. Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey says he now hopes lawmakers will approve both before adjourning the 2012 session, probably in two weeks.
If that happens, lawmakers can pick up the stalemate next year and try to resolve it then. If not, the inaction will apparently mean no change in the status quo until at least 2018.
The two competing proposals are:
News release from Senate Republican Caucus:
(NASHVILLE, TN), February 16, 2012 — State Senator Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) filed a resolution in the State Senate today urging President Obama and Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius to reverse the administration’s decision requiring all employers to provide birth control as part of their health plans. The birth control mandate is part of the rules implemented as a result of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) as spelled out by Sebelius.
Individuals have not been required previously to participate in a health service program or a research activity funded in some part by the United States Department of Health and Human Services if such participation is contrary to their religious beliefs or convictions. The retreat from that position has prompted numerous religious organizations, including Catholic bishops, to announce strong opposition to the interim rule. They have also called for stronger protection of the consciences of religious employers and health plans.
“This action tramples on the liberties of many Tennessee citizens and religious organizations,” said Senator Kelsey. “It could also impose significant costs on Tennessee and other states if religiously affiliated hospitals, schools, universities and agencies which provide social services to the poor are no longer able to continue due to this rule.”
The bi-partisan measure calls for a copy of the resolution to be sent to the President of the United States, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, and each member of the Tennessee’s congressional delegation upon passage.
Senate Resolution 84 is co-sponsored by Senators Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville), Jim Tracy (R-Shelbyville), Mike Bell (R-Cleveland), Jim Summerville (R-Dickson), Mark Norris (R-Collierville), Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro), Mae Beavers (R-Mt. Juliet), Rebecca Duncan Massey (R-Knoxville), Steve Southerland (R-Morristown), Ken Yager (R-Harriman), Mike Faulk (R-Church Hill), Jack Johnson (R-Franklin), Doug Henry (D-Nashville), Reginald Tate (D-Memphis), and Speaker Pro Tempore Bo Watson (R-Hixson).
State Senate Republican leaders unveiled a plan Tuesday that would leave Democratic Leader Jim Kyle of Memphis without a district to represent in November, reports Rick Locker. The plan, which involves a switch in district numbers from the redistricting plan unveiled last week, would force Kyle out of the Senate when his term ends in November. Kyle told reporters he saw the renumbered districts for the first time Tuesday afternoon
. “I have represented certain neighborhoods in Shelby County for right at 30 years and have a knowledge and rapport with those constituents, and it appears this plan tries to diminish that — but also it appears to try to make it impossible for me to run.
“They’ve been writing my political obituary ever since last fall’s elections, but I am working hard to keep it from being published. I do believe that this rush is to try to get it out of the public’s view and viewpoint,” Kyle said.
The legislature convened its 2012 session Tuesday and immediately began fighting over the decennial redistricting of the legislature as well as Tennessee’s nine congressional districts. By Tuesday night, the new maps had won committee approval in both chambers and were headed to floor votes in the House on Thursday and the Senate on Friday.
The biggest surprise occurred in the Senate Judiciary Committee, where GOP leaders unveiled precinct-level details for the new state Senate district maps they presented only in broad strokes last week.
The plan for the state Senate eliminates a district in Shelby County, due to slow population growth, and creates a new one in Middle Tennessee that would have the same number, District 28, as the one Kyle currently represents.
That was a change from the map unveiled last week, and it cancels a general election contest this year between Kyle and Republican Sen. Brian Kelsey of Germantown that was set up by the earlier proposal.
Even under the scenario created by last week’s map, Kyle would have faced stiff odds against Kelsey in the new heavily Republican, Germantown-based district. But switching the new district in which Kelsey and Kyle both reside from District 28 on last week’s map to District 31 on the new version makes it odd-numbered, and only even-numbered Senate districts are up for election this year.
Senate Republican Leader Mark Norris of Collierville and Speaker Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, said they were advised by lawyers that the plan last week would have meant Kelsey and Democratic Sen. Reginald Tate would both have to resign in the middle of their current four-year terms and run in newly numbered districts.
The change Tuesday removes that requirement, and means Kyle is left without a district to run in this year with his term expiring with the November election. His District 28 will be moved to Middle Tennessee and Kelsey’s District 31 is not up for election until 2014.