Tag Archives: mike bell

Demise of TN Economic Council on Women lamented

The executive director of the Tennessee Economic Council on Women, which will cease to exist on June 30 because a Senate committee refused to renew it, laments the demise in an interview with The Tennessean.

“Nobody else is doing what we are doing because we are looking at issues that impact women from an economic point of view so they can enact legislation based on this research,” Phyllis Qualls-Brooks… told The Tennessean this week.

“We’re talking about 3.3 million women in the state of Tennessee. Fifty-one percent of the population — we were that voice from a state level just like the Department of Education,” she said. “That voice no longer exists; I think women will be disappointed.”

…”We worked to provide information that would help, from survivors of sexual assault, sex traffic or domestic violence to women who just lost their way to not be wards of the state but be taxpaying citizens,” she said. “That’s our challenge — that they get the right information so that they can do that.”

Note: A post on the Senate Government Operations Committee meeting on this blog back late March seems to have vanished. It’s resurrected below. Continue reading

Senate passes ‘loser pays’ bill on lawsuits

By Sheila Burke, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The state Senate passed a bill that would force people who sue state employees or elected officials to pay legal fees if they fail in a lawsuit.

Supporters say the bill (HB1679) would prevent frivolous lawsuits from being filed and save taxpayers money. Opponents argue that it would discourage people from bringing legitimate claims against officials, especially sexual harassment claims.

The Tennessee Bar Association opposed the legislation, arguing that it would have a chilling effect when it comes to citizens suing government officials.

Mike Bell, R-Riceville, argued on the Senate floor that all it would do is protect state employees from frivolous lawsuits.
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House poised to join Senate in call for constitutional convention

Over the objections of Democrats, a House committee has cleared the way for Tennessee to become the fifth state to call for a national convention on amending the U.S. Constitution to curb “abuses of power” by the federal government and to impose term limits for members of Congress.

The movement is led in Tennessee by Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, and Rep. Sheila Butt, R-Columbia, who attended a 2013 gathering of representatives from more than 30 states arranged by Citizens for Self-Governance.

The group began a nationally organized push for passage last year and, according to its website, the legislatures in four states — Alabama, Alaska, Georgia and Florida — quickly adopted resolutions calling for a “convention of the states,” as allowed by Article 5 of the Constitution, to propose amendments. Approval of 34 states — two-thirds — would be needed to call such a convention

In Tennessee, Bell’s SJR67 was approved by the Senate 23-5 last year. Butt brought the measure before the House State Government Committee last week where, after lengthy debate, it was approved on a 5-3 party-line vote — all Republicans supporting, all Democrats opposed.
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Bill to repeal RAP expansion filed by Bell, Casada

Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, and House GOP Caucus Chairman Glen Casada of Franklin have proposed a bill to block the expansion of the Revenue Accountability program, part of the state Department of Revenue’s tax enforcement efforts, reports the Times-Free Press.

The bill (SB1475), backed by much of the business lobby, would also require the department to propose formal rules for the previous program, which applied only to beer and tobacco sales.

Under RAP, wholesalers must provide a report to the department on their sales of covered products to retaliers. The department then compares the retailer’s sales tax collections to product stocking to catch tax cheats — an effort revenue officials say has been highly successful. (Note: Previous post HERE)

Bell now believes the changes passed last year were too broad.

“I know I did not expect the commissioner to implement such a broad program and require so much reporting by our businesses in the state,” he said. “I didn’t get that from the language in the bill nor in the explanation the commissioner [Richard Roberts] gave on more than one occasion before committees.”

He became aware of problems when the owner of a tiny meat wholesale operation in Bradley County, who’d been in business for decades and still does bookkeeping on paper, came to him, worried about having to buy a computer to send information to the state.

Revenue officials strongly defend the existing program and the expansion and say they’re bending over backward to address critics’ concerns. And they stress that the whole point is for retailers to send in the sales taxes they collect in a state where the levy accounts for 55 cents out of every state revenue dollar.

Fifty-seven percent of sales taxes go to K-12 education, Revenue officials like to say, as well as paying for programs from housing felons to the TennCare program for low-income women and their children.

Tennessee cities and counties also rely on them. The state rate is 7 percent (5 percent on food) while local option taxes can tag on up to 2.75 percent more.

As Revenue officials see it, RAP is getting a bad rap.

“It’s worked very well,” Deputy Commissioner David Gerregano said last week. “It’s allowed us to collect at least $60 million in sales tax that is paid by the consumer to retailers but would not have been otherwise paid over to the state.”

It also “makes things fair” for retailers who are turning over all the taxes they collect, Gerregano said.

“We know there’s a population that hasn’t been complying.”

Gerregano pointed out that wholesalers have been required to report on their sales to retailers since Tennessee created the sales tax in 1947. Now new technology lets them upload their data files to the Revenue Department and makes it easier for the state to check compliance.

And, he said, the state has responded to feedback and criticisms by collapsing the proposed 21 categories into just one, to make wholesalers’ reporting easier. And it threw out the category on “non-edible grocery” items like paper towels.

Bell bill requires gun policy at private schools

Private schools — both K-12 and college level — would be required to adopt a policy on carrying guns on their property under legislation filed by Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville. It’s SB1559, filed Monday.

From the Tennessean’s report (which includes mention of other gun-related legislation):

Although Bell’s legislation would not require a private school to allow all qualified people the ability to bring their guns into a building, it would mandate the school’s chief officer to create a policy. The private institutions are given the ability to decide who is allowed to carry a weapon on the premises.

Bell said his legislation closes a gap that exists, pointing to the fact that the state pays for security at the University of Tennessee yet a private institution is not able to hire a private security company.

“It treats private schools like private businesses,” Bell said.

GOP legislators call for UT chancellor’s resignation

News release from Senate Republican Caucus
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Senate Education Committee Chairman Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville) and Senate Government Operations Committee Chairman Mike Bell (R-Riceville) today called for the resignation of University of Tennessee at Knoxville (UTK) Chancellor Jimmy Cheek.

The lawmakers made the call after learning about UTK’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion’s new guidance to staff on holiday parties, saying they have no confidence in his ability to lead the state’s flagship university.

The university’s guidance warns students and faculty to “ensure your holiday party is not a Christmas party in disguise,” and to “not play games with religious and cultural themes” such as “Secret Santa.” It warned that parties should have “no emphasis on religion or culture.”

“The Office of Diversity is not welcoming to all and hostile to none as they claim,” said Senator Gresham. “They are very hostile to students and other Tennesseans with Christian and conservative values. By placing a virtual religious test regarding holiday events at this campus, every student who is a Christian is penalized.”
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Sen. Bell eyes revival of ‘guns on campus’ bill

By Lucas Johnson, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A Republican state lawmaker says he might offer legislation authorizing faculty and employees at Tennessee’s public higher education institutions to carry firearms and have “the best chance possible to defend themselves” if there’s a campus shooting.

Sen. Mike Bell of Riceville mentioned the proposal Thursday as the state Senate Higher Education Subcommittee discussed campus security.

Higher education officials with the University of Tennessee system and the Tennessee Board of Regents — which oversees the state’s six universities, 13 community colleges and 27 colleges of applied technology — discussed their emergency preparedness plans.

When questioned by reporters after the meeting, Bell said he believes such a measure is necessary following the campus massacre earlier this month at an Oregon community college where a gunman killed nine people before taking his own life.

“I think we need to give our citizens the best chance possible to defend themselves when that kind of situation comes up,” said Bell, who added that he’s got the support of several other Republican state lawmakers. He said the authorization would apply to those with handgun permits.
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Blackburn, Black testify to legislators on Planned Parenthood

U.S. Reps. Marsha Blackburn and Diane Black, both former state lawmakers, made an unusual appearance at the state legislature to testify about their separate efforts to investigate and defund Planned Parenthood nationally and to urge Tennessee lawmakers to investigate the state’s three Planned Parenthood affiliates.

Further from The Tennessean’s report:

“You need to aggressively pursue this investigation,” Black told members of the Joint Government Operations Committee at the specially convened meeting. Black and Blackburn outlined their next steps for when they return to Congress in September.

Black has introduced a bill placing an immediate one-year moratorium on funding for Planned Parenthood that has more than 160 co-sponsors, she said. Blackburn, who sits on the Energy and Commerce Committee, outlined the steps she had taken to launch an investigation into how Planned Parenthood disposes of aborted fetuses and whether the national family planning organization has broken any laws.

After state (Sen.) Mike Bell, R-Riceville, informed lawmakers they would have to talk to the members of Congress privately after the meeting because there was no time for questions, Democrats on the Republican-dominated committee complained about the lack of transparency.

“I think it was an affront to the public process,” said Rep. John Ray Clemmons, D-Nashville.

Department of Health Commissioner Dr. John Dreyzehner testified that his department is not responsible for enforcing a Tennessee law that bars the sale of fetal tissues from abortion clinics. That responsibility falls to local law enforcement, he said.

That prompted Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, to ask: “There’s really no proof of what they do with those aborted babies, right? You have no follow-up with vendors or anyone … so you just take their (clinics’) word for it, so if they were selling body parts, you would not necessarily know this?”

Dreyzehner responded: “If they were breaking the law, we would not necessarily know this. That’s correct.”

Dreyzehner also said inspectors with the Department of Health perform surprise inspections on abortion clinics every 12 months, and had access to their records on fetal disposal.

Planned Parenthood: Legislators waste ‘time and taxpayer money’

Questioning legislator plans for a special August hearing, a Planned Parenthood leader says no fetal tissue is sold in Tennessee because it’s already against state law, reports the Times-Free Press.

Jeff Teague, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Middle and East Tennessee, said, “I think it’s important to know that Planned Parenthood in Tennessee doesn’t participate in any tissue donation program.”

“We’re totally in compliance with all state and federal laws,” Teague added. “I think this hearing is going to confirm that and I think it’s going to end up being a big waste of time and taxpayer dollars.”

Calling the hearing “completely unnecessary,” Teague said, “it’s obvious if you’ve seen any of those videos they’ve been heavily edited to make Planned Parenthood look like they’re doing something that’s not right.

“You cannot sell any sort of human tissue for research,” Teague added. “That is against state law in most states.”

He said medical researchers can legally use the tissue for “finding treatments like Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s” and have been used in developing vaccines. Clinics are legally allowed to “recoup the cost of the proper handling, storage and transport of the donated tissue to research facilities,” Teague said.

Bell said in an interview that state Health Commissioner John Dreyzehner will testify at the Aug. 19 hearing, which he emphasized was previously scheduled.

“I appreciate what the leader of the largest provider and profiteer for abortion has to say,” Bell said of Teague. “We want to make sure this practice is not going on in Tennessee. It may not be and we want to make sure it’s not.”

Tennessee law states no person, agency, corporation, partnership or association shall offer or accept money or anything of value for an aborted fetus. The 1989 law carries a one- to six-year year jail term and a fine of up to $3,000.

Faison said in a statement, “Regardless of where you stand on abortion, we can all agree that what we have seen Planned Parenthood do is abhorrent! The Tennessee Department of Health must take all precautions to see that his never happens in our state.”

Note: Previous post HERE.

Legislative committee chairs call hearing on aborted fetuses

News release from Sen. Mike Bell and Rep. Jeremy Faison
NASHVILLE — Senate Government Operations Committee Chairman Mike Bell (R-Riceville) and House Government Operations Committee Chairman Jeremy Faison (R-Cosby) announced today that they will hold a joint fact-finding meeting to look at enforcement of Tennessee’s law banning the sale of an aborted fetus. The Joint Operations Committee meeting was called after the release of two videos by the Center for Medical Progress allegedly showing executives of Planned Parenthood discussing prices for intact fetal specimens and methods to destroy a fetus without harming organs or tissues considered valuable for sale to vendors.

Bell and Faison have requested that Tennessee Commissioner of Health John Dreyzehner appear at the meeting set for August 19 in Nashville.

“The gruesome videos released by the Center for Medical Progress have implications at Planned Parenthood affiliates nationwide, including those located here in Tennessee,” said Senator Bell. “The executives filmed were in national leadership roles in the company. We want the facts about who is watching to ensure that the trafficking of baby parts is not happening in Tennessee and whether or not we need additional rules and regulations to make sure federal and state laws against this horrific practice are enforced.”

Tennessee law states no person, agency, corporation, partnership or association shall offer or accept money or anything of value for an aborted fetus. The law is punishable as a Class E felony which carries a one to six-year year jail term and a fine of up to $3,000.

Rep. Faison said, “Regardless of where you stand on abortion, we can all agree that what we have seen Planned Parenthood do is abhorrent! The Tennessee Department of Health must take all precautions to see that his never happens in our state.”

The Government Operations Committee is responsible for reviewing rules and regulations dealing with Departments, Agencies and other entities of state government. The General Assembly passed a law earlier this year to give the Department of Health more authority to inspect basic health and safety standards at abortion clinics beginning July 1; however, U.S. District Judge Kevin Sharp issued a temporary restraining order blocking its implementation.

“The deplorable lack of respect for human life shown in this video has no place in any civilized society,” added Bell. “We have a lot of questions that need answers about how we can make sure that this is not happening in our state.”