A memo prepared for Sen. Bill Ketron, chairman of the Legislature’s Fiscal Review Committee, says that the Department of General Service’s “emphasis on expeditiously completing procurements” may have limited competition for two state outsourcing contracts, reports WTVF-TV’s Phil Williams.
An excerpt: A recent meeting of the legislature’s Fiscal Review Committee, called to consider three questionable state contracts, ended up being a highly orchestrated endorsement of the Haslam administration.
The governor’s chief of staff, Mark Cate, had met privately with members of the contracts watchdog committee prior to the public session. And, by and large, committee members responded with effusive praise. Some suggested that, in this case, the media had got it wrong.
But a staff report, not shared with the full committee, told a more complicated story regarding at least two of the three state contracts.
Read the memo (HERE).
“Staff did not find evidence in the documentation reviewed that any violation of state law occurred,” the Fiscal Review Committee’s executive director, Lucian Geise, wrote in a July 15 memo to the committee’s chairman, Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro.
“However,” Geise concluded, “an emphasis on expeditiously completing procurements resulted in actions that may have reduced competition.”
And that was what our NewsChannel 5 investigation had suggested in the case of contracts awarded to Enterprise Rent-A-Car and Bridgestone Retail Operations.
Ketron never shared the staff memo with the rest of the committee.
A spokesperson for the Senate Republican Caucus said that the memo was written for Ketron’s “personal” benefit because he had been out of the country.
“He was not asking for information as chairman of the committee,” she said. “Rather, he asked for information in light of the fact that the stories appeared during his absence.”
A board composed of three state officials has upheld the Department of Correction’s award of a $241 million contract to a company that employs Correction Commissioner Derrick Schofield’s wife, though its bid was more than $15 million higher than a competitor.
The decision of the state Procurement Office’s “protests board” was announced to members of the Legislature’s Fiscal Review Committee, some of whom have separately raised questions about the contract for providing medical services to inmates in the state prison system.
But because of what Chairman Bill Ketron described as “a squirrley situation,” no questions were asked at the panel’s meetings this week and the committee instead approved a temporary extension of the current contract, which is scheduled to expire at the end of this month.
The panel also put off inquiries into two other state contracts that Ketron said have at least the appearance of a “common thread” in that they were awarded to companies that have some connection to government insiders.
Humane Tennessee PAC has issued a “scorecard” for state legislators based on their “support and promotion of animal welfare legislation.”
The ratings are based on votes involving six bills — three the PAC supported and three it opposed — with extra points added or subtracted for other activities.
Rep. Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville, for example, got extra points for holding a news conference to denounce the so-called “ag gag” bill that the group opposed.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the lowest rated legislators were the sponsors of that bill, Rep. Andy Holt, R-Dresden, and Sen. Dolores Gresham, R-Somerville. The measure, which required anyone making pictures or video of livestock abuse to turn it over to law enforcement authorities promptly, passed both the House and Senate, but was vetoed by Gov. Bill Haslam.
Joining them on the “paws down” list were Rep. Tony Shipley, R-Kingsport and Sens. Mike Bell, R-Riceville; Charlotte Burks, D-Monterey; Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga; Mark Green, R-Clarksville, and Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains.
Ranking high on the list were Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, and Rep. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, sponsors of a bill increasing the penalty for cockfighting. The Humane PAC supported the bill, which was killed in a Senate floor vote with Niceley leading the verbal opposition.
Besides them and Johnson, others given high ratings were Reps. Susan Lynn, R-Mount Juliet; Mike Stewart, D-Nashville; and Curry Todd, R-Collierville, along with Sens. Lowe Finney, D-Jackson; Jim Kyle, D-Memphis; and Mark Norris, R-Collierville.
The PAC was established in late 2010 and, insofar as donating to campaigns goes, has not been very active. It has given just $3,500 to candidates since being created — including $1,000 to Ketron and $500 to Lundberg — and had a balance of $1,214 in its last report, according to the Registry of Election Finance.
A bill to raise penalties for cockfighting in Tennessee fell two votes short of passage in the state Senate Monday night after Sen. Frank Niceley depicted the measure as an attack on farmers raising livestock by animal rights’ activists.
“This bill is not about chickens, not about cockfighting. It’s about killing animal agriculture in America,” said Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains.
He contended that bill “makes it illegal to own a bantam hen” and “as written, it could outlaw hunting hogs with hounds in Tennessee.” He also said the Humane Society of the United States, which supports the bill, spent $50,000 trying to defeat him in his last campaign and “word in the hall is” that the organization is spending $90,000 on lobbying.
Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Bill Ketron, sponsor of the bill (SB285), said the bill would not make ownership of chickens “of any kind” illegal would merely bring Tennessee in line with 39 other states in penalizing cockfighting.
He also declared that he was not sponsoring the bill for HSUS, but because the mild penalty now was bringing crime associated with cockfighting to Tennessee. In 2008, he said the TBI arrested a group of cockfighters engaged in “multi-ton meth and heroin” shipments, working in conjunction with “Mexican drug dealers.”
The bill sets a minimum fine of $500 for both those who engage in cockfighting and spectators on first offense, though the crime would still be classed as a misdemeanor. The current minimum fine is $50.
Those convicted of a second offense for engaging in cockfighting could be prosecuted on a felony under the bill, subject to a fine of up to $3,000 and six years in jail.
Sens. Charlotte Burks, D-Monterey, and Joey Hensley, R-Hohenwald, expressed misgivings about the bill.
Sen. Douglas Henry, D-Nashville, repeated a remark he said was initially made by another senator years ago: “A chicken’s got a lot better chance in the ring than he does with Colonel Sanders.”
The final vote was 15-8 with nine senators abstaining or not voting. A bill needs 17 yes votes to pass the Senate.
Republican Sens. Bill Ketron and Jim Tracy are concerned about Muslim schools receiving taxpayer funding through the voucher legislation now pending in the General Assembly, reports the Murfreesboro Post. “This is an issue we must address,” state Sen. Jim Tracy (R-Shelbyville) said. “I don’t know whether we can simply amend the bill in such a way that will fix the issue at this point.”
State Sen. Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro) and Tracy each expressed their concerns Friday over Senate Bill 0196, commonly called the “School Voucher Bill” and sponsored by fellow Sen. Mark Norris (R-Collierville), which would give parents of children attending failing public schools a voucher with which to enroll in a private school.
State monies that would otherwise be spent on educating the student in public schools would then be diverted to qualifying private schools to pay private tuition for the student, in whole or in part.
Islamic schools throughout the state, including Nashville and Memphis where several of Tennessee’s lowest performing schools are located, would qualify to receive such students under the state-funded voucher program.
One such Islamic school, the Nashville International Academy, states that its vision is “to create a positive learning environment where students are committed to the teachings of the Quran and example of Prophet Muhammad.”
The school is located on Charlotte Pike and is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, which qualifies it as a Category III private school through Tennessee statutes.
Other such schools include the Clara Muhammad School, a division of the Nation of Islam that operates a school in Nashville among its 74 other locations, and the Anoor Academy of Knoxville.
By Eric Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Sometimes a mop sink is just a mop sink.
Building managers and legislative staffers have sought to reassure some concerned Tennessee lawmakers that recent renovations at the state Capitol did not install special facilities for Muslims to wash their feet before praying.
“I confirmed with the facility administrator for the State Capitol Complex that the floor-level sink installed in the men’s restroom outside the House Chamber is for housekeeping use,” Legislative Administration Director Connie Ridley wrote in an email. “It is, in layman’s terms, a mop sink.”
The nearly $16 million renovation completed in December focused on upgrading electrical, mechanical and plumbing systems in the more than 150-year-old Capitol. Parts of the building also got new carpets, paint and security upgrades.
Senate Clerk Russell Humphrey said he had been approached by a House and Senate member to inquire about the sink, which replaced a utility sink that had been mounted higher on the wall and was used for filling and emptying buckets.
“There was concern about why it had been modified,” said Humphrey, who declined to identify the lawmakers or elaborate on their concerns.
The Senate approved Thursday a bill that will make college student identification cards valid for voting despite Sen. Stacey Campfield’s contention that senators were “gutting” the protections against voter fraud in current law.
The bill by Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Bill Ketron was approved on a 21-8 vote and now goes to the House, where it faces a committee vote.
Besides legalizing college student ID for voting, the bill also prohibits use of library cards issued by the City of Memphis. The state Court of Appeals has ruled the Memphis cards are valid for voting and the state Supreme Court is considering an appeal of that decision, though it issued a temporary order last fall allowing the cards to be used in the November, 2012, election.
The eight no votes on the bill (SB125) included Campfield and four other Republicans who objected to the college ID provision and three Democrats who objected to the Memphis library card prohibition.
Ketron said the bill includes both provisions to imitate, as closely as practical, the voter ID law of Indiana, which has been upheld as valid in a U.S. Supreme Court ruling.
Some supporters of the photo ID law have voiced concern that forbidding use of college student ID issued by a state university while allowing other forms of state-issued ID could be successfully challenged in court.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A proposal that would increase the fine for not wearing a seat belt by $40 is advancing in the Senate.
The measure sponsored by Republican Sen. Bill Ketron of Murfreesboro narrowly passed the Senate Transportation Committee 5-4 on Wednesday. The companion bill was to be heard in the House Transportation Subcommittee later in the day.
Currently the penalty for not wearing a seat belt is $10. Under this proposal, the fine would be $50.
Ketron said the measure is simply to encourage people to buckle up.
However, Republican Sen. Frank Niceley of Strawberry Plains said “these are hard times” and people shouldn’t be fined if they don’t want to wear a seat belt.
State Sen. Bill Ketron predicts the liquor lobby will “come to the table” next week and start negotiating details in his wine-in-grocery-stores bill as it gains momentum more than four years after he initiated it, according to the Murfreesboro Daily News Journal. “I think the liquor lobby is starting to fall apart,” Ketron said after Friday morning’s Chamber of Commerce Capitol Connection breakfast.
Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, said he expects to talk to liquor industry lobbyists to negotiate amendments allowing package stores to sell more items than liquor, wine and lottery tickets.
“It’ll be opening up to allow them to sell whatever they want to sell,” Ketron said. “It’ll open it up to allow them to purchase more than one store.”
Liquor store proprietors in Tennessee are limited to one store. But Ketron said he knows of one liquor store owner in Gatlinburg who wants to purchase four other stores there.
“Why should he be restricted to one if the other four want to sell?” Ketron said.
The bill goes to the Senate Finance Committee next and the full House Local Government Committee.
A Senate vote on legislation that makes college student identification cards valid for voting was halted Thursday after Sen. Stacey Campfield raised objections, saying the cards can be easily faked and are issued to people who are not citizens of the United States.
“They’re easy to forge,” said Campfield in Senate floor debate. “Possibly, in my younger days I might have known a person or two myself who had a falsified college ID.”
Even a valid college ID, Campfield said, opens a door for fraudulent voting since foreign students can get them.
“You don’t even have to be a resident of this country to be get a college ID,” said Campfield, a Knoxville Republican whose district includes part of the University of Tennessee campus.
A vote on the bill (SB125) was postponed until next Thursday by the sponsor, Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Bill Ketron of Murfreesboro, after Campfield’s critical questioning of the measure, which makes several revisions to the state’s law requiring a photo ID issued by the state or federal government for voting.