The Commercial Appeal has a profile story on Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, “arguably the most powerful legislator west of Nashville.”
Excerpt: This farmer-lawyer-legislator has come a long way to reach his current perch of power. From the night his wife cried herself to sleep when he asked what she thought about him going into politics. From his fight over a developer’s plans to build a golf course across from his tranquil farm that gave birth to his political career. And from those prickly days on the Shelby County Commission when former Mayor Jim Rout was ready to give him a one-way ticket to Nashville.
Though as Senate majority leader Norris carries the governor’s legislative agenda, he sees himself as more of a technician, the one who figures out how to get from point A to point C. And while he understands the significance of the school legislation, it isn’t what he’d point to as the bill he’s most proud of. That would be the effort he led to amend the state constitution to provide tax relief to senior citizens. Or maybe the designation of Tennessee’s “west coast” as a national scenic byway. Then there’s Electrolux, Mitsubishi.The Republican super majority — with Norris leading the charge — may have given unprecedented power in the state legislature to Shelby County suburbs for the first time. Critics contend his tactics have been unfair to the city of Memphis and have changed the rules of the game.
He sees things differently.
“I consider myself to be a Shelby Countian, a Memphian,” he said. “I live in Collierville’s reserve. I don’t live in any municipality. I have a Collierville mailing address. But since 1980, my office has been downtown. My wife’s family’s business has been downtown. I think I have more of a sense of community than a sense of suburbia or that kind of thing.”
News release from Senate Republican Caucus:
NASHVILLE — December 12, 2012 – Tennessee Senate Republicans met Wednesday, December 12 in Nashville to elect leaders for the 108th General Assembly where they voted unanimously to nominate Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey
(R-Blountville) to retain his top leadership post as Lt. Governor and Senate Speaker. The Senate Republican Caucus also voted to re-elect Senator Mark Norris (R-Collierville) for a 4th term as Senate Majority Leader and chose
Senator Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro) for a 2nd term as Republican Caucus Chairman.
The State Senate’s organizational session is set to begin on January 8.
Election of the Lt. Governor is the first order of business after State Senators take the oath of office. Senate Republicans now number 26 of the 33 members of the Tennessee Senate after gaining 6 new seats in the November election.
“It has been the honor of my life to serve as Tennessee’s lieutenant governor,” Lt. Governor Ramsey said. “I am truly humbled to once again be the nominee of my party for Speaker of the Senate. We have welcomed some great new
members to our caucus today and elected a fantastic leadership team. I look forward to getting to work this session continuing to bring Tennesseans what they have asked for: more jobs, less spending and smaller government.”
“I appreciate the confidence of my colleagues and look forward to continuing on the conservative course our constituents deserve,” Leader Norris added.
“I appreciate the opportunity to serve again as Senate Republican Caucus Chairman,” said Chairman Ketron “This is a united team that will work together to encourage private sector job growth, strengthen education, follow sound
fiscal budget practices and that will address many other concerns facing Tennesseans.”
Other Caucus members elected to leadership positions were Senator Ferrell Haile (R-Gallatin) as Treasurer, Senator Becky Massey (R-Knoxville) as Secretary, Speaker Pro Tempore Bo Watson (R-Hixson) as Majority Whip and Senator
Mark Green (R-Clarksville) as Caucus Chaplain.
News release from Senate Republican Caucus:
NASHVILLE — Tennessee Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, will
chair the national Council of State Governments (CSG) beginning in 2014
following his unanimous election in Austin, Texas this week.
CSG is the bipartisan professional association which is the only national
organization serving all three branches of government in all 50 states and
Puerto Rico. International affiliates include the Provincial and Federal
governments of Canada.
Norris is the first Tennessean elected to the national leadership post.
“I am honored to assume this responsibility and look forward to continuing our
work throughout the United States and North America,” said Norris, who will
serve next year as Chair-elect under Senator Gary Stevens of Alaska who was also
elected to serve as 2013 Chairman. “State governments face many challenges, and
CSG is frequently on the front lines with solutions.”
Norris is an attorney with the law firm of Adams and Reese LLP. He has served in
the Tennessee Senate since 2000 and as Senate Majority Leader since 2007.
Founded in 1933, CSG’s region-based forum fosters the exchange of insights and
ideas to help state officials shape public policy. This offers unparalleled
regional, national and international opportunities to network, develop leaders,
collaborate and create problem-solving partnerships.
The organization is based in Lexington, Kentucky and also has an office in
Washington, D.C. It has regional offices in Atlanta, New York City, Chicago and
Sacramento. Norris served as Chairman of the Southern Region in 2010-2011.
Three Knoxvillians who represent the Green Party are trying to make a point: If voters don’t like Republicans or Democrats, they are an alternative, reports Georgianna Vines. “I’d like to see a poll taken (to) ask the American voter or citizen at large, from the tea party to the Green Party: Do you think the two-party system is working well for us now?” Norris Dryer, candidate for the 2nd District congressional seat, asked rhetorically. He’s a retired WUOT program director and a violinist in the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra.
…Other Knoxville Greens seeking public office in the Nov. 6 election are Martin Pleasant, an engineer with Knox County, who’s running against U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, a Chattanooga Republican, and Calvin Cassady, a graduate student in public administration at the University of Tennessee, who’s seeking the seat held by state Rep. Joe Armstrong, a Democrat who represents the 15th District.
If Green Party candidates receive about 40,000 votes in the statewide Senate race this year, under a new Tennessee law they will be recognized and appear on future ballots. Green and Constitution Party candidates will be listed in November as a result of a federal lawsuit resolved this year.
Pleasant is working the hardest of the three local Greens. He’s talked and passed out cards to those walking to UT football games. Dryer, who is not seeking money in his race, said if anyone offers him any, “I suggest they give it to Marty Pleasant.”
Pleasant has some Democrats supporting him, he said. They have rejected the Democratic nominee for the Senate seat, Mark Clayton, after it was reported following the August primary that he is affiliated with an organization the Southern Poverty Law Center considers a “hate group.” The Tennessee Democratic Party has disavowed Clayton.
“I’ve got interest and support from people who might not look otherwise. People really want to vote their values,” Pleasant said.
Attorneys for The Commercial Appeal said Thursday the law firm representing the Shelby County Commission has run afoul of the First Amendment, two federal statutes, the Tennessee reporter’s shield law and “just plain good sense” in a subpoena asking for the identities of commenters on stories about planned suburban school districts. Memphis attorney Lucian Pera and Washington attorney Paul Alan Levy, a member of the Public Citizen Litigation Group, asked in a letter to the Baker Donelson law firm that it withdraw the subpoena request. The request was filed in federal court July 25, asking for the identities of all online commenters to 45 stories that ran between Nov. 19, 2010, and July 12, 2012.
In the letter, the newspaper attorneys said those stories produced more than 9,000 comments on The Commercial Appeal’s website and included stories that ran after legislation already was passed in the Tennessee legislature to authorize referendums on whether to set up independent school districts in six municipalities.
Meanwhile, TNReport says Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris is not happy with a Shelby subpoena for legislator email: Sen. Mark Norris says he will comply with the Shelby County Commission’s requests for all correspondence dealing with the controversial Memphis-Shelby schools merger. But the Senate majority leader and chief architect of legislation dictating rules for combining the school systems thinks the demand is being made principally in the spirit of hassling him and other lawmakers.
“It is a major fishing expedition, but you know, knock themselves out. We’ll give them what we have,” said Norris, a Republican from Collierville, told TNReport this week.
Lawyers for the Shelby County Commission are asking the General Assembly to fork over any communication related to laws dictating rules for the merger between the two school systems as they assemble a case in court to block six suburbs from beginning their own school systems.
The commission is asking for documents dating back as far as 2010 relating to three laws dictating rules for the merger, namely SB25, SB1923 and SB2908.
State Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris of Collierville is facing an opponent for his state legislative seat from within his own Republican Party for the first time ever, reports Richard Locker. Woody Degan, 48, who operates a private airfield in Fayette County and produces charitable and musical events, said he’s in the race because he was encouraged to run by a coalition of tea party groups.
Degan is specifically upset about Norris’ sponsorship of a bill Degan says essentially allowed water polluters to buy their way out of liability by paying into a conservation mitigation fund. The bill failed but Degan says the issue grew out of a fight he waged with the state over flooding of his airport in 2011 from construction of the mammoth intermodal rail yard nearby.
While in Nashville fighting that bill, Degan said he met conservatives who were asking lawmakers to pass resolutions opposing “Agenda 21,” the nonbinding 1992 United Nations program for sustainable development that opponents argue infringes on property rights.
Norris, 57, a Memphis lawyer who lives on a farm north of Collierville, was elected to the state Senate in 2000 after six years in the Shelby County Commission. He faced no opposition, in either the Republican primary or the general election, that year and has faced only one opponent, a Democrat in 2004, in his two re-elections. He has been Republican majority leader for the last six years.
Degan said Norris would not see him when he visited Nashville.”I’ve been on the wrong end of one of these political deals and I’ve understood that being a public servant is about sitting on the other side of the desk and listening to a man or a woman or a group with a problem.,” Degan said.
As Republican leader, Norris handles Gov. Bill Haslam’s legislative agenda in the Senate, which included last year’s sweeping changes in civil liability law that, among other things, placed caps on noneconomic damages in liability lawsuits.
News release from Department of Economic and Community Development:
NASHVILLE – Changes to state law made during the 107th General Assembly will mean $2 million in anticipated funding for the state’s film incentive program, administered by the Tennessee Film Entertainment and Music Commission (TFEMC).
In addition, reforms to the state’s film funding grant formula will give smaller, indigenous film productions access to a larger share of available grant dollars.
Sen. Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville) sponsored a repeal of the refundable tax credit available to film productions under TCA § 67-4-2109(j). The repeal will mean an additional $2 million in funding for the Tennessee Film/TV Incentive Fund .
Norris said the move makes TFEMC the “one-stop shop” for film incentives in the state and ends a complex system of incentivizing productions through both TFEMC grants and refundable tax credits issued by the Department of Revenue.
“We recognize the importance of the film industry not only to the economy of the state but to the welfare of countless Tennesseans whose livelihoods depend on it,” Norris said. “This new program simplifies, streamlines and strengthens our commitment to the film industry.”
Changes made to the Tennessee Film/TV Incentive Fund grant formula by the TFEMC are designed to promote the development of indigenous production and attract independent filmmakers by streamlining the incentive delivery process.
Under the new program, projects with budgets over $200,000 will be eligible to receive grants equal to 25 percent of their qualified Tennessee expenditures. Previously, the combined grant and tax credit system awarded a 17 percent grant and 15 percent refundable tax credit only to productions with budgets over $1 million.
“As part of Governor Haslam’s Jobs4TN economic development plan, the entertainment industry was identified as one of the key industries in which the state has a clear competitive advantage,” Bill Hagerty, commissioner, Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development, said. “I would like to thank Sen. Norris for his vision on this bill and members of the General Assembly for their support.”
The TFEMC is part of the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development.
The Senate gave final legislative approval Monday to the bill letting the Memphis suburbs hold referendums this year on creating municipal school districts, despite charges that it’s “part of a growing trend … of apartheid in Shelby County.”
More from the Richard Locker report: The bill now goes to Gov. Bill Haslam, who said earlier that he wanted the panel planning the merger of Memphis and Shelby County schools to complete its work before the suburbs decide on new municipal school systems. If the bill does become law, it may be the subject of further federal court review.
In his ruling in the schools consolidation lawsuit last August, U.S. Dist. Judge Hardy Mays upheld last year’s Public Chapter 1 that set up the merger planning process but made it clear he was not ruling yet on provisions in that law allowing for new municipal or special school districts after the merger occurs.
Monday’s Senate approval would have been anti-climactic were it not for an exchange between the majority and minority leaders, both from Shelby County. The House approval Friday was the critical vote, because the Senate had approved virtually the same language last week.
The Senate’s 22-9 vote Monday was mostly along party lines, with Sens. Reginald Tate of Memphis and Charlotte Burks of Cookeville the only Democrats voting for the bill. All Republicans voted for it.
Memphis lawmakers aired their differences with Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris over suburban school districts Wednesday, at one point comparing the dispute to the Civil War, reports Richard Locker. The Shelby legislative delegation heard Norris outline his efforts on the issue for the first time this year at its weekly meeting, and he defended his work as helping the school unification process. Norris, R-Collierville, described the bill allowing the suburbs to conduct referendums and school board elections this year, in advance of next year’s lifting of the state’s 14-year-old ban on new municipal school districts.
Memphis lawmakers critiqued the effort as further balkanization of schools countywide.
“We could go from two to one … to perhaps seven” school districts, said Rep. Johnnie Turner, D-Memphis.
But Norris said allowing the suburbs to decide this year what they’re going to do next year will aid planning for merging Memphis and Shelby County schools, which becomes final in August 2013.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A proposal that seeks to amend the state constitution to change the way appeals judges are selected passed the Senate on Monday night.
The resolution sponsored by Republican Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris of Collierville was approved 21-9. It would give voters three options for selecting judges: contested elections, a federal-style plan, or a plan similar to the current one.
Under the current Tennessee judicial selection method, a commission nominates judges, the governor appoints them and voters cast ballots either for or against keeping them on the bench.
Norris said some type of plan is necessary because the current plan is scheduled to “sunset,” or end, and “this is the last opportunity Tennesseans have to get this on the ballot in 2014.”
However, opponents say the legislation is unnecessary.
“I think this is doing something that we can already do,” said Democratic Sen. Andy Berke of Chattanooga. “The current constitution authorizes us to have the Tennessee plan.”
Added Democratic Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle of Memphis: “What we have is folks going around the edges saying I don’t like this or I don’t like that.”
Another proposal advancing in the Legislature would impose a federal-style system of having the governor make nominations to the Tennessee Supreme Court, and then giving lawmakers the power to confirm or reject them.
That measure was slightly amended on the Senate floor Monday and could be up for a vote later this week.