News release from the governor’s office:
NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced Larry Martin will become the interim commissioner of the state Department of Finance and Administration (F&A) when Commissioner Mark Emkes retires at the end of the month.
Martin becomes interim commissioner at F&A June 1 after Emkes’ retires effective May 31.
A year ago, he joined the governor’s staff as a special assistant to the governor, working alongside Human Resources Commissioner Rebecca Hunter to oversee the implementation of Haslam’s civil service reform, the Tennessee Excellence, Accountability and Management (TEAM) Act; and reviewing state employee compensation.
“I am grateful that Larry has agreed to step into this position and serve Tennessee taxpayers in this capacity,” Haslam said. “He has been critically important in helping us establish the systems and organizational structure to begin recruiting, attracting and retaining the best and brightest to serve in state government, and I look forward to continuing to work with him as interim commissioner of F&A.”
Davidson County Election Administrator Albert Tieche survived to work another day after enduring sometimes testy questioning by his bosses, who took a scathing state review to heart but decided not to discipline him after a nearly five-hour meeting on Friday, according to The Tennessean. Tieche still could face a tough road if state Elections Coordinator Mark Goins, the author of the draft review, moves to decertify him once Goins presents his final report to state election commissioners next month. Through a spokesman, Goins declined to comment Friday night.
The five Davidson County election commissioners decided to respond to Goins’ review in the way that Metro attorneys advised — by acknowledging about a dozen errors and issues and succinctly saying how they’d try to avoid repeating them. They did not adopt Tieche’s much longer, more personal and sometimes feisty response to Goins, though the administrator and his own attorney, Art McClellan, said they might still submit it to the state.
Ron Buchanan, the election commission’s chairman and one of four new members, said any decisions about Tieche’s future would come later. Buchanan and other election commissioners dodged questions about their confidence in Tieche’s ability to conduct fair elections.
“There’s going to have to be some mending of fences and changes of procedures to restore voter confidence,” said Buchanan, a Republican.
“We’re going to move forward,” said A.J. Starling, a Democrat.
In a document longer than the review that prompted it, Tieche contested virtually every charge made by Goins. He wrote that the review “focuses on fault and blame rather than fostering improvement.”
“A casual review of the draft report would cause one to conclude that it is written to be personal in nature.”
For example, where Goins said the election commission’s use of faulty technology in some precincts in the August primary was “shocking” and that it could have influenced the outcomes of two House races, Tieche took offense at the use of that term and said there were just 106 voter history errors out of more than 12,000 votes cast with the technology.
Tieche also said that he took “great exception” to Goins’ claim that disciplinary actions against employees who talked to state investigators in late January had been backdated to December so they wouldn’t appear retaliatory. “That is a direct attack on my character,” he said.
The Senate Wednesday launched an effort to amend Tennessee’s constitution to allow the Legislature to select the state attorney general.
The proposal (SJR196) would repeal a provision in the current state constitution, in effect since 1870, that requires the state Supreme Court to appoint the attorney general.
Sen. Mark Green, R-Clarksville, sponsor of the resolution, said Tennessee is the only state in the nation with such a system and it creates a conflict of interest for the attorney general to present cases to the body that hired him.
Green also argued that the attorney general is “twice removed” from being answerable to the people since justices of the Supreme Court are appointed by the governor rather than elected by voters.
“In essence, we have appointees appointing,” he said.
The sponsor cited current Attorney General Bob Cooper’s refusal to file a lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act – as did many elected attorneys general in other states – as an example that “clearly our present system is not working.
Green also argued that popular election of the attorney general, the system in place for 43 states, makes the position too political. In 2010, he said, 10 of the 43 elected state attorneys general were campaigning for governor while serving.
The sponsor’s arguments were sharply disputed by Sen. Jim Kyle, D-Memphis, and Doug Overbey, R-Maryville.
Overbey said no Tennessee attorney general has ever gone on to be elected governor, showing the present system results in attorneys general providing “honest and objective” legal advice “without regard to political winds.”
Kyle said a legislator-selected attorney general would be obliged to “kowtow to us.”
The resolution was approved 22-9 in the Senate. It now goes to the House. If approved there during the 108th General Assembly, it would then face approval again by the 109th General Assembly before being scheduled for a statewide referendum in 2018.
The Senate has approved, 22-9, legislation that requires anyone filming livestock abuse to turn over all “unedited photographs, digital images or video” to law enforcement authorities within 48 hours.
Proponents say the bill (SB1248) is aimed at stopping animal abuse promptly. Critics said it actually protects animal abusers by targeting only those make photographs or video.
The measure is scheduled for a House floor vote today.
In Senate debate Tuesday, Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, cited abuse of Tennessee Walking Horses recorded on video by the Humane Society of the United States as illustrating the need for legislation. The HSUS video led to successful prosecution for abuse of the animals, but Bell said the animals themselves suffered.
“They sat on it (the video) for four months… then released it at an opportune time for them,” said Bell, suggesting the recording was to “benefit fundraising” by HSUS. “They had no concern for that (abused) horse.”
But Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, noted that if HSUS had “sat on the film forever” the proposed new law would never have come into play and the abuse would have continued.
“You’re criminalizing the film-making, not the abuse,” said Norris. “That puts the lie to the assertion that it’s the abuse you’re concerned with.”
The bill makes it a misdemeanor crime, punishable by a fine of up to $500 but no jail time, to fail to turn over all recordings of livestock abuse to a law enforcement authority.
Norris proposed an amendment that would have required anyone having knowledge of animal abuse to report it to authorities as well. He said that would “get to the root of the problem” by targeting the abuse, not the photographing of the abuse.
Sponsor Sen. Dolores Gresham, R-Somerville, opposed Norris’ revision, saying it would “make every person who ever saw or observed what they might think animal unreasonably treated, a criminal if don’t turn in.” Norris’ amendment was then tabled, or killed, on a 17-10 vote.
The bill was also debated Wednesday in the House Calendar Committee, where Rep. Jon Lundberg, D-Bristol, tried to have it sent back to the House Civil Justice Committee, which Lundberg chairs, for further hearings.
Lundberg said he believes the bill infringes on First Amendment rights, but his motion was killed with only seven committee members voting for it while 12 opposed. Critics of the bill said amendments may also be filed for today’s House vote.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — State finance chief Mark Emkes is retiring after presiding over three annual spending plans for Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration.
Emkes, formerly the CEO of Nashville-based tiremaker Bridgestone Americas, was one of Haslam’s highest-profile Cabinet choices following the 2010 election.
As Department of Finance and Administration commissioner, the 60-year-old Emkes has been responsible for budget matters and managing the state’s day-to-day finances.
Emkes’ retirement comes following Haslam’s decision to forgo — at least for the time being — $1.4 billion in federal money in the upcoming budget year for Medicaid expansion while pursuing a special arrangement with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Emkes will be the third Haslam Cabinet member to leave this year, after Children’s Services Commissioner Kate O’Day and Labor Commissioner Karla Davis.
— Note: News release below.
By Lucas Johnson, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A proposal that would create a special panel to authorize charter schools in several Tennessee counties passed a key legislative committee on Wednesday and is headed for a full House vote after the bill was amended to provide oversight of the entity.
The measure sponsored by Republican Rep. Mark White of Memphis was approved on a voice vote in the House Finance Committee and will now be scheduled for a vote on the House floor.
The panel would oversee five of the state’s lowest-performing counties: Davidson, Hamilton, Hardeman, Knox and Shelby.
Charter schools are public schools that are funded with state and local tax dollars. But they don’t have to meet some of the state regulations that traditional public schools do as they try to find different ways to improve student learning.
Currently, local school boards decide whether to authorize a charter application. There are 48 charter schools in Tennessee.
News release from Department of Finance and Administration:
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee revenue collections continued to exceed budgeted expectations in March. Finance and Administration Commissioner Mark Emkes reported today that overall March revenues were $936.1 million, which is $33.1 million more than the state budgeted. Total tax collections in March were 2.2% above the previous year.
“March collections continued to reflect strong corporate profits from last year, but also reflect very modest retail activity for the month of February, when spending occurred,” Emkes said. “We believe the slowdown in retail spending reflects the two percent increase in the federal payroll tax in January and temporary erosion in consumer confidence, most likely brought about by the federal budget sequestration process.
“While year-to-date corporate tax collections remain very encouraging, we must remember that about a fourth of them typically – but not always – occur in the month of April. Due to the volatility of our corporate tax collections, we will be extremely diligent in monitoring our spending patterns for the remainder of this year, maintaining a balanced budget and financially posturing ourselves for the future.”
On an accrual basis, March is the eighth month in the 2012-2013 fiscal year.
The general fund was over collected by $35.4 million and the four other funds were under collected by $2.3 million.
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.
Some legislators voiced skepticism about a $72.4 million “health and wellness initiative,” a portion of Gov. Bill Haslam’s budget that was reviewed in full for the first time on Tuesday.
The plan includes $43 million for an anti-smoking and anti-obsesity efforts. Most of that will go to programs targeting teenagers, pregnant women and women with infant children.
About $5 million goes to the obesity program with officials saying they hope to enhance the state money with $20 million to $27 million in private sector donations.
The administration is also counting $24 million for converting the University of Tennessee’s coal-fired steam plant to use natural gas as part of the “health and wellness initiative.”
The project was announced earlier as part of Haslam’s original budget proposal in February. The original proposal was altered somewhat with an amendment outlined Tuesday to the House and Senate Finance Committees.
The coal plant conversion money comes from tobacco company payments being made to the state to resolve lawsuits. Rep. Gary Odom, D-Nashville, questioned the conversion being part of a “health and wellness initiative” as well as involving tobacco money.
“I don’t see the relationship,” he said. “That’s a third of the tobacco settlement money (available to the state next year).”
“The logic behind that is that particular plant in Knoxville is one of the biggest air polluters in the region,” replied Health Commissioner John Dreyzehner, who outlined the initiative to the House Finance Committee with Finance Commissioner Mark Emkes.
The anti-smoking efforts were questioned by House Finance Committee Chairman Charles Sargent, R-Franklin, and House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga.
“That’s a lot of money and a lot of marketing,” said McCormick, suggesting the state has “some more immediate needs.” He also questioned whether it is necessary to explain the dangers of smoking, when most people are already aware of that – including smokers.
Sargent noted the state had allocated $10 million to an anti-smoking campaign in 2007 and added another $5 million two years later. He questioned whether that expenditure had done anything to reduce smoking among Tennesseans.
Dreyzehner said about 23 percent of Tennesseans smoke, according to most recent statistics, and “the needle has been moving down.” That indicates some anti-smoking efforts have been successful, he said, even though Tennessee’s spending on such programs has lagged far behind other states.
The new initiative will have long-term effect in reducing state spending on health care, he predicted, since it targets teenagers and mothers of small children.
Gov. Bill Haslam is prepared to withdraw his limited school voucher proposal from the Legislature if Senate Republicans carry out current plans to expand it, its sponsor says.
From Andy Sher’s report: “It won’t be expanded, because I’ll withdraw it,” said Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville.
Norris said this isn’t a case of brinkmanship on Haslam’s part. He said he has sponsored “hundreds of bills” for the governor “and he always works with the General Assembly.”
But Norris said that Haslam “filed exactly what he thought was appropriate” in light of “all the other education reforms” he has implemented since taking office in 2011.
Last week, Haslam reminded reporters his plan came out of a yearlong task force headed by his education commissioner, Kevin Huffman.
“It’s not like we’re people who say it’s just our way or the highway, the Legislature shouldn’t have input,” Haslam said. He noted he has agreed to lawmakers’ proposed changes in areas such as limiting lawsuit damage awards.
“On this issue we really have worked hard to say this is where we really think the right place is,” Haslam said. “We think if somebody thinks something different, they should run their own bill.”
…Republican Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey of Blountville, favors a broader bill.
But noting Haslam’s concerns, he told reporters last week, “I’m letting the committee system play out on that. Whatever happens, happens.”
He said Haslam’s bill is included in the proposed budget.
“So if you’re going to put an amendment on, it probably needs to be on the governor’s bill,” he said.
He acknowledged the possibility that Haslam could yank his bill.
“I could vote for either bill when it comes to the floor,” Ramsey said. “Obviously my preference is a more expansive one. But it doesn’t matter to me one way or the other. I’d like to pass something.”