Tag Archives: mike bell

Bell, Matheny launch legislator response to Chattanooga murders

State Rep. Judd Matheny of Tullahoma and Sen. Mike Bell of Riceville, both Republicans, are apparently leading state legislators in calls for doing something in response to the murders of servicemen in Chattanooga. Here are their releases to media:

News release sent through Senate Republican Caucus:
NASHVILLE — State Senator Mike Bell (R-Riceville) announced today that he has filed a resolution calling for federal action to end gun-free zones at military facilities. Bell drafted the resolution in the wake of the attack on two military sites in Chattanooga, Tennessee on Thursday.

Mohammad Youssuf Abdulazeez killed U.S. Navy Petty Officer Randall Smith, Marine Corps Gunnery Sergeant Thomas Sullivan, Marine Corps Sergeant Carson Holmquist, Marine Corps Lance Corporal Skip Wells, and Marine Corps Staff Sergeant David Wyatt during the attack. Military facilities and personnel have been threatened by jihadists plotting to conduct violence within the United States.

“We cannot in good conscience send young men and women abroad to fight our enemy only to disarm them when they serve here at home,” said Senator Bell. “Our military men and women have the inherent right to carry a firearm and the training to do so effectively and responsibly. It has now been clearly established that our soldiers, sailors, marines and airman are targets of jihadi terror. We must give them the means to defend themselves — and us –when the War on Terror hits home.”
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ACLU, Beacon Center to jointly lobby for reform of ‘policing for profit’ laws

The American Civil Liberties Union, usually depicted as left-wing in politics, and the Beacon Center of Tennessee, usually depicted as right-wing, are jointly backing reform of state police forfeiture laws – known as “policing for profit” by critics.

From TNReport’s report:

One issue critics have taken with the operation of the state’s drug task forces is that they’re funded through asset seizures, which they say creates an incentive to seize cash and property, rather than focusing on drug seizures.

Beacon’s “top priority will be to send all forfeited property to the state’s general fund,” according to a statement from Lindsay Boyd, the center’s policy director. Taking this step would “remove the perverse incentives associated with the current system” by stopping officers from lining “agency budgets with the proceeds confiscated from search and seizures,” she said.

Hedy Weinberg, executive director Tennessee ACLU, said a step in the right direction would be to remove the appearance of the profit-seeking incentive. She added that they would also like to see a requirement for arrest and conviction before property can be seized, as well as shifting from the individual to the government the burden of proof to justify a seizure. Law enforcement agencies should also provide better data in instances where property or cash is seized from individuals, in order for the state to discover the true “extent and prevalence” of the practice, Weinberg said.

Both organizations said they’re still in discussions with lawmakers to work out the specifics of the legislative action.

State Sen. Mike Bell, a Riceville Republican and lest session’s chairman of the Senate Government Operations Committee, has said he is working on a bill to address the matter, but the particulars aren’t mailed down. “I’m still trying to figure out exactly how I’m going to approach this,” said Bell, who chaired a Senate hearing last year that took a look at the oversight of the state’s Judicial Drug Task Forces. He added that he expects several bills dealing with the issue this year.

Bill would have commission draft standards to replace Common Core

By Lucas Johnson, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Two Republican state senators filed legislation Monday to repeal the state’s Common Core standards even though Gov. Bill Haslam has called for a public review of the higher benchmarks in English and math.

The proposal would set up a Tennessee Standards Commission that would recommend to the State Board of Education new standards to be used in the state’s K-12 public schools.

Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Dolores Gresham and Senate Government Operations Committee Chairman Mike Bell said the move is designed to ensure Tennessee students continue to improve by applying the highest standards while exerting state control over education.

“It is the next logical step that will take us into the future and ensure that we as Tennesseans have control over our education system,” Gresham told The Associated Press.

Common Core is a set of English and math standards that spell out what students should know and when. The standards — which have been adopted by most of the states — are intended to provide students with the critical thinking, problem solving and writing skills needed for college and the workforce.

The standards were scrapped this year in Indiana and Oklahoma. Governors in North Carolina, South Carolina and Missouri have signed legislation to reconsider the standards, even though they’re still being used in those states.

Last month, Haslam, a Republican, announced the formation of panels to review the math and English components of the Common Core standards and to report their recommendations at the end of next year. That’s months after the state Legislature concludes its annual session. The next session starts in January.

On Monday, after a speech to a group of educators, Haslam told reporters that he hasn’t thoroughly reviewed the repeal legislation. But he said he questions how the standards would be replaced because students and teachers are already using them.

“To change any standards is not an automatic process … that’s going to take some time,” Haslam said. He said the point of his review is to determine which changes would be possible.
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Sen. Bell developing ‘contingency plan’ for Amendment 2 rejection: Popular elections for top judges

News release via Senate Republican Caucus:
NASHVILLE, Tenn., October 13, 2014 — State Senator Mike Bell (R-Riceville) said today he is already working on a legislative contingency plan for how appellate judges should be elected in the event that voters reject Amendment Two to the State Constitution in the upcoming general election. Amendment Two proposes to constitutionalize the current retention vote system for choosing the state’s appellate judges with some modifications that mirror the federal judicial selection method. Early voting on the proposed change to the Constitution begins Wednesday.

“The impetus for putting Amendment Two on the ballot is that the General Assembly was not comfortable that the state is in compliance with the State Constitution through our current ‘retain or replace’ system of choosing appellate judges,” said Senator Bell, who is Chairman of the Senate Government Operations Committee. “I agree that we are not in compliance with that requirement. The Constitution clearly states judges shall be elected by the qualified voters of the state, not stand for a retention vote eight years after being selected by the governor.”

“This is not the first time that an amendment has been presented to the people to constitutionalize the selection process with a retention vote,” added Bell. “It was proposed as part of a constitutional amendment presented to voters for ratification in 1978. Out of 13 amendments, this was the only one rejected by voters; however, the appellate selection process continued contrary to the plain language of the State Constitution and the will of the people who voted it down.” (Note: The emailed release includes a link to a report on the 1978 constitutional convention amendments, HERE.)

“That cannot be the case this time if Amendment Two is rejected,” he added. “We are sworn to uphold the Constitution and if voters disagree with the proposed amendment, changes must be made. It shouldn’t take twice for that to happen. We need to get it right.”

There are 29 appellate court positions in Tennessee affected by the proposed retention vote system amendment. The state’s 155 popularly elected trial court positions are elected through popular lections.

Bell said he is considering election of appellate judges through districts, rather than statewide elections in his proposal. He also said he would consider non-partisan elections, rather than nomination of candidates through party primaries.

“I am looking over several proposals to see what would be the best fit for Tennessee,” he added.

Bell said if voters reject the Amendment 2, he will file the legislation as soon as possible after the November election to give lawmakers an opportunity to review it before the General Assembly convenes in January.

GOP legislators want AG candidates to be questioned on Obamacare

At least 13 Republican state legislators say state Supreme Court justices on Monday should ask candidates for Tennessee attorney general whether they would have joined other states in challenging the Affordable Care Act in 2011, reports Andy Sher.

Many of those legislators are among conservatives who tried (unsuccessfully) to unseat three Democratic justices in the Aug. 7 retention election… A good part of the judicial ouster effort centered on conservative criticism of current Attorney General Bob Cooper, a Democrat and Chattanooga native who did not join the anti-Obamacare lawsuit filed by mostly Republican state attorneys general. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the ACA’s constitutionality.

…(Sen. Mike) Bell said he had hoped to ask the AG candidates the Obamacare lawsuit question himself. But the format chosen by the five justices, who appoint the attorney general, doesn’t permit that, Bell noted.

He said he believes it needs to be asked because a “majority of Tennesseans” oppose Obamacare.

And the question gets at a larger issue than just the Affordable Care Act, he said.

The attorney general “defends laws passed by the Legislature,” said Bell, chairman of the Senate Government Operations Committee.

“Along with a great many Tennesseans, we want to know whether the other applicants would have pursued a case like the majority of other states to defend our sovereignty.”

Sen. Janice Bowling, R-Tullahoma, said in a news release (note: available below) that the attorney general “serves as the top lawyer for the citizens of this state.” Calling the ACA an “overreach of federal power,” she said, “We hope that this question will be posed and believe it will provide great insight for the public regarding these applicants.”

Nashville attorney Bob Tuke, a former Tennessee Democratic Party chairman, charged Republican lawmakers were doing some overreaching of their own.

“They’re overstepping the bounds of the separation of powers and it’s entirely inappropriate,” Tuke said.

Moreover, Tuke said, “it puts those candidates for attorney general in a very uncomfortable position because they’ve not studied that position, I presume. It was a matter of very careful study by Bob Cooper. I know that.”

Besides Cooper, seven candidates, including Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s legal counsel, Herb Slatery, and Administrative Officer of the Courts Bill Young, have applied for the post.

… Speculation is rampant in Democratic circles, meanwhile, that neither Slatery nor Young would have applied if at least one of the Democratic justices wasn’t open to naming a Republican.
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Bell, Gresham echo RNC attacks on American history course, seek state investigation

Advanced Placement U.S. History could become a new education battleground in Tennessee after a pair of Republican state senators have alleged the course leaves out key founding fathers, principles of the Declaration of Independence and iconic American figures, according to The Tennessean.

The allegations, the newspaper says, mirror attacks waged by conservatives nationally. And it comes a year after the same two senators took on social studies textbooks they said were biased, a push that resulted in lawmakers getting new say on who sits on the state’s textbook commission.

Senate Education Committee Chairman Dolores Gresham, R-Somerville, and Government Operations Committee Chairman Mike Bell, R-Riceville, have requested the Tennessee State Board of Education to conduct a review of new framework and materials used in the teaching of Advanced Placement U.S. History.

AP courses, overseen by The College Board, a private company that manages the SAT test, are elective high school classes that cover a range of subjects, allowing students to earn college credit if they score high enough on end-of-year exams.

The Republican National Committee earlier this month came out against the new framework The College Board has turned to for AP U.S. History — “APUSH,” as it is commonly called. Changes are reflected in final exams for the first time this year, but the RNC has called for a one-year delay. A column in the National Review earlier this week contends it will “force American high schools to teach U.S. history from a leftist perspective.”

“There are many concerns with the new APUSH framework, not the least of which is that it pushes a revisionist interpretation of historical facts,” echoed Gresham in a statement on Tuesday. “The items listed as required knowledge have some inclusions which are agenda-driven, while leaving out basic facts that are very important to our nation’s history.”

College Board officials have rejected such charges. But the two Tennessee senators want the state board of education to provide a public forum to let parents speak on the matter.

David Sevier, deputy director for the state board of education, said the board would likely follow the request. What the review would look like is unclear. He said the special hearing would likely be carved into the board’s regularly meeting schedule. It meets next in October.

Gresham and Bell — copying much of the language used in a resolution approved by the RNC — have alleged that the new AP U.S. History framework included “little or no discussion of the founding fathers and the principles of the Declaration of Independence.” Moreover, they say, the framework negatively portrays settlers’ explorations of America, American involvement in World War II, and the development of and victory in the Cold War.

The Commercial Appeal notes that the Bell-Gresham letter says “members of the General Assembly have received an increasing number of messages from constituents” about AP courses, including ‘complaints of inappropriate materials, inaccurate textbooks and revisionist history’.” Further:

Neither Bell nor Gresham directly responded Tuesday to a reporter’s request to review the complaints, but the Senate Republican Caucus’s press liaison said “the vast majority are from telephone calls to their offices,” that Bell routinely deletes email after answering it and that Gresham is concerned about a “breach of privacy” regarding release of email from constituents.

James Teague, superintendent of Fayette County Schools in Gresham’s home county, said his office has “not received a single complaint or concern” about AP U.S. history offered in his school system and that Gresham had not contacted him about the issue. State Department of Education spokeswoman Kelli Gauthier said her agency has received no formal complaints either.

On Supremes squabbling in Southeast TN

A Southeast Tennessee Republican state senator scoffed Monday at the idea that judge races in Tennessee are nonpartisan, while two of the state Supreme Court justices facing retention votes this week called the conservative push to oust them nothing more than a “power grab,” reports the Chattanooga TFP.

State Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, spoke to nearly 50 die-hard Republicans at the Pachyderm Club’s regular meeting about why voters should boot Supreme Court Justices Gary Wade, Sharon Lee and Connie Clark.

Bell said the justices “masquerade as apolitical” but their personal donations to Democrats and the court’s appointment of state Attorney General Bob Cooper show otherwise.

Wade, Lee and retired Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Mickey Barker held a separate, prearranged news conference one mile away at the Hamilton County Courthouse steps nearly two hours after Bell’s speech.

Barker called attacks against the justices in recent months a “slap in the face” of intelligent voters.

Wade and Lee both said that over the course of their personal and professional lives they’ve donated to politicians in both parties.

Wade also responded that, while the Tennessee Supreme Court does appoint the state attorney general, “once that appointment is made, the attorney general is captain of his own ship.”

Opponents have said the justices support the Affordable Care Act, though they’ve never ruled on a case involving the health care mandate, as it is a federal issue.

Advertisements have linked the justices with Cooper’s decision not to join in a multi-state lawsuit against the federal government regarding Obamacare.

Wade was scheduled to speak at the noon event Monday but changed plans when the forum was altered to more of a debate-style format, said Carole Andrews, spokeswoman for Keeping Tennessee Courts Fair, an organization that supports retaining the justices.

“Chief Justice Wade would have gone as the original invitation stood, but unfortunately some hyper-partisans there wanted to turn it into something else altogether,” Andrews wrote in an email to the Times Free Press.

She added that the “last-minute” change wasn’t appropriate for what was supposed to be a nonpartisan event.

But state Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, who was at the Pachyderm meeting, cast doubt on Andrews’ explanation.

“Frankly, it doesn’t surprise me at all that Wade would back out of this debate. The Pachyderm Club is an educated group of highly informed folks who are well aware of Wade’s record of ethically questionable and partisan Democrat behavior,” Gardenhire wrote in an email to the Times Free Press.

Three GOP state senators file complaint against Nashville judge

Three Tennessee state senators have filed a complaint against Davidson County Judge Casey Moreland in the wake of his controversial decision to waive the 12-hour “cooling-off” period and release a man accused of abusing his girlfriend.

From The Tennessean:

Sens. Mike Bell, Randy McNally and Brian Kelsey have submitted the complaint to the Board of Judicial Conduct, which is charged with investigating allegations of misconduct by the state’s judges. In the complaint the senators say Moreland’s actions “have done nothing but promote distrust, suspicion and a belief that the ‘good ole boy’ system pervades the judiciary.”

On June 8, after a call from his friend and political contributor, local attorney Bryan Lewis, Moreland, a general sessions judge, overruled a 12-hour domestic violence hold on David A. Chase, who was accused of pulling his girlfriend out of his apartment by her hair. Less than three hours after his arrest, the prominent Nashville contractor was released by Moreland, and police say he returned to beat his girlfriend again while she was packing her belongings to leave.

“Reports indicate that Judge Moreland was completely disconnected but chose to insert himself into the case,” Bell, R-Riceville, wrote Friday in a statement explaining why he filed the complaint. “It is our duty as legislators to oversee the creation of laws and to check and balance our other governmental branches. We strongly feel it is within our duty to ensure that a proper complaint to the Board of Judicial Conduct is formally filed in this matter.”

Bell, Kelsey, R-Germantown, and McNally, R-Oak Ridge, accused Moreland of violating several Tennessee Supreme Court rules that govern judges. They chastised him for talking with Lewis without involving prosecutors, and they allege Lewis’ tight-knit relationship with the judge influenced Moreland’s actions.

“Judge Moreland has engaged in actual impropriety and should be severely sanctioned by the board,” the senators wrote in the complaint.

Moreland has publicly acknowledged that he and Lewis are friends. The two have vacationed together in Costa Rica, and Lewis and his wife each contributed $1,500 — the legal limit — to Moreland’s campaign in 2013.

DA Bebb blames politics for troubles

Steve Bebb, who resigned effective today as district attorney general in southeast Tennessee while facing multiple allegations of misdeeds, tells the Cleveland Daily Banner that the criticism he faced was motivated by politics. And he names some politicians – starting with Gov. Bill Haslam, who Bebb says was among the first to urge him to run for office.

(Note: A number of politicians have been critical of Bebb, most recently Senate Judiciary Chairman Brian Kelsey, who says Bebb’s case shows that Tennessee is a corrupt state in need of judicial reform. Post HERE.)

Excerpts from the Daily Banner article:
The decision for the early departure was no doubt in part due to the stress, distractions and angst Bebb has faced — while still trying to do his job as the area’s highest-ranking law enforcement officer — in knocking back one accusation after another from a Chattanooga newspaper and one state legislator in particular.

All formal complaints have been dismissed. Tennessee Attorney General Robert E. Cooper Jr. found no prosecutable violations. And, the state Senate let the recommendation for his removal from a state House oversight committee die, for lack of action.

Despite the move to remove him at the end, there was what he called “pressure” to go into the office to begin with eight years ago.

“The first two people to talk to me about running for DA were Bill [Haslam] and [Judge] Amy Reedy,” Bebb said. “At the time, I told them no.”

The discussions planted a seed, he said, but it was the desire to help law enforcement that spurred his final decision.

…There have been those successes and happy days, but the last 2 1/2 years of the battering from accusations and investigations have not been taken kindly by their subject.

“I’m trying not to be bitter,” Bebb said of all the problems over the last few years.

“It was politics, but it wasn’t Republican and Democratic politics,” Bebb said. “I had almost 1,500 letters, phone calls and emails from people who saw those stories in the Chattanooga Times Free Press — they were angry. It was not politics, and it didn’t start as politics.”

Bebb said he feels the problems all began because Duff Brumley [a former investigator] was fired from the Cleveland Police Department.

“He was fired for good reason. He violated state law. He violated Cleveland Police Department policies. It’s all in his personnel files. I read it,” he said.

Bebb alleged he also made a discovery from the files of former DAG Jerry Estes “… of their complaints with Brumley.”

…He said Brumley is related to state Sen. Mike Bell’s wife.

“So, Mike Bell and (state Rep.) Eric Watson go to the state attorney general, who is running scared because they want to get rid of him, and I’m with them on that. He’s a smart man, but he doesn’t have the guts to stand up to political pressure,” Bebb said.

He has no respect for the Chattanooga Times Free Press and the writer who wrote the series of stories that led to the months of investigations.

… He said although he is trying, it is “… hard not to be bitter.”

(Note: The article above is second in a series on Bebb. The first, which basically chronicles his early life, is HERE.)