Legislation allowing cigarette retailers to raise prices — by 32 cents per pack according to a legislative staff estimate — has cleared its first committee.
The bill by Rep. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough, deals with a current state law setting a minimum price for cigarettes. Hill told colleagues that has led to “large out-of-state cigarette manufacturers” requiring by contract that their products be sold at that price, costing retailers “hundreds of thousands if not millions of potential revenue” that could be realized by raising prices.
The Fiscal Review Committee staff calculated that the average price of a pack of cigarettes is currently about $5 in Tennessee and that the bill, if enacted, would let retailers charge an extra 32 cents per pack. It is further calculated that the higher price will drive down consumption so that the state loses about $1.4 million in annual revenue that it would otherwise receive from sales and tobacco taxes.
Because of complicated tax provisions interacting with the law on “state-shared revenue,” however, the Fiscal Review staff figures that local governments will actually receive more money if the law is changed to raise prices, even if cigarette sales drop as predicted.
Current law says retailers can sell cigarettes at no more than 8 percent above the price they pay to get them. The bill (HB644) would raise the ceiling to 15 percent above their cost. It is being pushed by lobbyists for convenience stores.
It was approved by the House Agriculture Committee last week and faces its first Senate committee vote this week.
Some Northeast Tennessee legislators are opposing Gov. Bill Haslam’s voucher bill, according to Robert Houk. He suspects it’s not all a matter of philosophical differences. Now, the Republican governor and the GOP-led state General Assembly is looking to divert already limited state and local tax dollars away from public education to private schools. Haslam’s voucher plan is seeing opposition from teachers, school boards and Democrats.
And the governor’s bill is not getting any love from state Rep. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough. Boss Hill has vowed to stand with the school boards of Johnson City and Washington County, which aren’t keen on the idea of losing precious tax dollars to private schools.
Even so, Hill is not necessarily philosophically opposed to school vouchers. Hill says he is opposed to the governor’s bill because it is aimed squarely at failing schools in urban areas (Memphis and Nashville) and not the better academically performing school systems in our area.
Freshman state Rep. Micah Van Huss, R-Jonesborough, agrees with Hill on this matter.
“I think vouchers are a good idea, but it’s hard to say what the details of the legislation will be,” Van Huss told Press staff writer Gary B. Gray earlier this month.
Actually, it’s not. The governor’s bill is pretty specific when it comes to the particulars of the proposed voucher system.
So what’s really going on here? Why do Hill and Van Huss (and we suspect Hill’s brother, Timothy, too) appear to be solid votes against Haslam’s voucher bill? Some Capitol Hill insiders believe it’s Hill’s way of exacting some revenge for Haslam’s overhaul of the Tennessee Regulatory Authority.
From the Kingsport Times-News: A Kingsport woman is accused of stealing nearly $50,000 from a Bristol-based non-profit, which funds a Bluff City Christian radio station and is directed by Kenneth C. Hill — the Tennessee Regulatory Authority director and father of local representatives Timothy and Matthew Hill.
An affidavit filed in Bristol General Sessions Court states Quyen Renee Quillin, 37, of 613 West Valley View Circle, Kingsport, was arrested Jan. 22 by Bristol, Tenn., Police. She was charged with theft of more than $10,000, booked into the Sullivan County jail and released after posting $3,000 bond.
“It’s a difficult thing, and it’s a very difficult and very sad thing for her,” Hill told the Times-News of the arrest, adding an investigation is continuing. BTPD Det. Brian Hess says Quillin had been an employee of Hill’s non-profit approximately four years, with AECC continuing to follow paper trails and suspecting the total theft could be close to $300,000.
Court records state Quillin was an employee of Hill’s Appalachian Education Commission Corporation, which broadcasts WHCB 91.5 Christian radio out of Bluff City, Tenn. Hill reportedly contacted investigators on Jan. 14, two months after attempting to obtain a loan for the ministry and being denied.
He reported that a subsequent check of records discovered Quillin, a bookkeeper and administrative assistance with his non-profit, had opened a joint American Express card on his account without permission. Hill told police Quillin had charged approximately $47,000 on the card and then paid it off with money from the Appalachian Education Commission Corporation, which is funded through donations from the public.
A state agency has awarded Washington County $300,000 in disaster relief for damage from last month’s floods, reports the Johnson City Press. The Tennessee Housing Development Agency funds would supplement a Federal Home Loan Bank grant for housing repairs not covered by insurance or other disaster relief programs. The funds would be used to serve households at or below 80 percent of area median income and would require a 50 percent personal match.
“All of Washington County has spoken with one voice about the need for disaster assistance in our area,” state Rep. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough, said in announcing the relief in a news release. “I appreciate THDA stepping up and bringing help to those in our community who faced flooding.
“This is a great first step and I will continue working with Mayor Eldridge and other leaders to make sure we receive the help we need.”
The funds were made available from the THDA Housing Trust Fund. The funds will either be administered from the county or another agency. A decision on that will be made later this week, according to Hill’s news release.
…The Federal Emergency Management Agency ruled that the area did not meet the criteria for aid despite significant damage to scores of homes and other properties in Washington, Carter and Unicoi counties.
There was an $8.5 million threshold for the area to qualify for federal dollars to help residents rebuild what raging flood water swept away or destroyed. Affirmation would have cleared the way for residents to be reimbursed up to $30,000 for repairs.
Matthew Deniston, the only independent candidate in Tennessee’s 3rd Congressional District race, said he’ll refuse the customary $174,000 congressional salary and work for free if he wins.
Further excerpt from Chris Carroll’s report: “I don’t need 175 grand,” the McDonald, Tenn., resident said. “I sell solar panels, so hopefully I’ll sell enough to support myself.”
Deniston also said that, if he reaches Capitol Hill, he’s not sure he’ll hire any help — not a legislative director, not a press secretary, maybe not even an administrative assistant.
“I can do everything myself,” said Deniston, who co-owns an organic farm in Ooltewah.
Deniston, 27, is a soft-spoken U.S. Army veteran who earned an honorable discharge after two tours in Afghanistan and two in Iraq. He considers himself a lifetime soldier who fixes problems, so he sees Congress as a natural next move. He said the military exemplified the “waste, fraud and abuse” he hopes to root out of government.
…Mostly, he’s about honesty in government. Deniston admitted he’s been in jail three times for misdemeanor charges — once for driving under the influence — but he doesn’t believe that should hold him back from being in Congress.
He said he doesn’t drink anymore.
“I realized I had a drinking problem,” he said, “and I’m sorry for getting in my car and driving that night.”\
Deniston said he hasn’t raised any money yet, but he plans door-to-door visits and a postcard mailer.
Up in Sullivan County, Robert Houk sees some political intrigue involved in the firing of the veteran county election commissioner after she “called out” three election commissioners for a possible violation of the state’s “sunshine law.” Two Republican commissioners and one Democrat jointed in voting to fire Connie Sinks. One Democrat and one Republican voted against the dismissal.
And some area state legislators are mentioned. The politics of the vote and the possible repercussions are indeed intriguing.
For instance, many are wondering what (if anything) was promised to Graham for his vote. Will his decision to join the two Republicans cost Graham his position on the board? I’ve heard scuttlebutt that there is a movement by some county Democrats to have him removed from the Election Commission.
Walter Buford, the new chairman of the Washington County Democratic Party, told me last week he would not even speculate on the Election Commission matter until he has all the facts.
“I’d rather not make any comments until I am aware of all the intricacies,” he said.
And what about the future of Willis and Ruetz on the board? There’s been a struggle inside the Washington County Republican Party in recent years between far-right forces aligned with state Rep. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough, and GOPers who are not. The reappointments of Willis, Ruetz and even Chinouth could be affected by which side prevails in this battle.
Meanwhile, state Sen. Rusty Crowe, R-Johnson City, said he had no inkling that Sinks was about to be fired and was surprised to learn of her dismissal. “I heard about it afterward when I got a call from Sue Chinouth,” Crowe said.
The senator said he and his legislative colleagues from Washington County (Hill and state Rep. Dale Ford, R-Jonesborough) had not planned to make any changes to their appointments to the Election Commission next year. Still, Crowe said he feels he has a duty to “find out what’s really going on” with the Election Commission.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — State Rep. Matthew Hill says he’s taking two anti-abortion bills off notice and plans to replace them with new measures.
The proposals sponsored by the Jonesborough Republican would have required abortions to be performed in hospitals (HB433) and increase the minimum medical malpractice liability for abortions (HB436).
They were to be heard in the House Health Subcommittee. The companion bills to both were awaiting a vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Legislation authorizing Tennessee city and county governments to display the Ten Commandments in public buildings has been introduced by Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, and Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough.
The bill (SB2641) includes the Ten Commandments as appropriate for display in city and county buildings and property along with the U.S. Constitution, the Magna Carta and the Declaration of Independence as and other documents “recognized to commemorate freedom and the rich history of Tennessee and the United States of America.”
Last year, the House approved a resolution – which has no legal effect – urging all Tennessee counties to display the Ten Commandments. That measure (HR107), sponsored by Watson, says that 88 of Tennessee’s 95 counties “have already adopted resolutions acknowledging the historical significance of the Ten Commandments and pledging to defend their right to display them.” Note: Andy Sher has a thorough report on the bill, HERE. Some excerpts: Bell said Friday he thinks “it’s important that our local government buildings and our local legislative bodies know they have the right to post those documents.”
He said displays that include the Ten Commandments should withstand legal challenges in a state where several counties, including Hamilton, have been directed by federal courts to remove stand-alone Ten Commandments displays.
…Barry Lynn, executive director of the Washington-based Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, said he thinks such moves are constitutionally suspect.
…Suzanna Sherry, a Vanderbilt University School of Law professor and expert on constitutional law, said the legality of such displays “depends on exactly the context” in which governments act to install them.
“This is a really difficult question, and the Supreme Court has visited it and visited it a number of times,” Sherry added.
She said justices have examined “what were the circumstances under which it was posted. What were the likely motivations of those who posted it? … What was the message that both was intended to be sent and received … by those who viewed it?”
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Police have arrested four more Occupy Nashville protesters and briefly detained a journalist who was trying to cover their activities.
The protesters were cited for disorderly conduct because police say they refused to leave the middle of the road and protest on the sidewalk, according to The Tennessean (http://tnne.ws/v47Xvw).
Matthew Hamill, who hosts This Occupied Life on 107.1 WRFN-LPFM, Radio Free Nashville, told the newspaper that he was rounded up while videotaping the protesters, but released about 30 minutes later without being charged.
He is the third journalist to be detained while covering the activities of Occupy Nashville protesters.
Such detainments have drawn opposition from the public and media organizations, which argue it leaves an information blackout on the Occupy movement and the government response.
Metro police defended the actions of the officer.
“In reviewing the video, the officer is speaking in the context of the individual ignoring previous commands to remain on the sidewalk. You hear the officer telling him he should not have walked out into the street,” police spokeswoman Kris Mumford said in a written response. “Press status does not override the law. Any citizen of any profession is required to obey police lines and directives. Once the situation was evaluated, he was released without being cited.”
The arrests came as the first major gathering of Occupy protesters from across the state occurred at the plaza outside the state Capitol. About 200 people from Knoxville, Johnson City Chattanooga and Clarksville gathered with Nashville protesters to strategize and focus their efforts.