A Senate committee killed Wednesday a proposed change in the state’s hotel-motel tax statute that was depicted by opponents as tax increase and by proponents as closing a loophole.
Seven members of the Senate State and Local Government Committee voted against SB212, sponsored by Sen. Doug Overbey, R-Maryville. Only one, Committee Chairman Ken Yager, R-Harriman, voted for it.
The bill would apply hotel-motel taxes, collected by many city and county governments, to the price paid by the customer for a room. As things stand now, the tax is applied to the amount of money the motel owner receives for the room.
The difference between those two amounts is typically the fee charged by an online booking company, which, for example, may charge the customer $100 and remit $90 to the motel owner. A federal court decision last year interpreted the wording of current law to exempt the online booking companies’ fee from the tax.
Motels operators and local governments that benefit from the revenue – legislative staff estimates they would receive about $1.5 million in new revenue if the bill passed – support the measure. Online travel companies opposed it.
Legislation to renew three special state “assessments,” all used to collect more money for health care facilities from the federal government and sometimes called taxes, are moving quickly through the committee system with very little discussion.
All are slated to expire on June 30 unless renewed. All involve facilities paying the “coverage assessment” with the resulting revenue then being used to trigger federal government payments of about $2 for every state dollar. Gov. Bill Haslam’s budget plan anticipates all of them being renewed.
The bill imposing a $2,225 levy on each bed in a nursing home (SB430) had been previously known as a “bed tax.” This year’s bill, sponsored by Republican Sen. Doug Overbey of Maryville, changes the terminology to “assessment.” It is otherwise unchanged from current law and is projected to bring in $235 million for TennCare payments to nursing homes.
The hospital assessment (SB441) imposes a 4.52 percent levy on net patient revenues of hospitals, producing $450 million in state revenue that brings in federal matching funds of about $843 million. It is the newest of the assessments, launched in 2010 at the urging of the Tennessee Hospital Association. U.S. Sen. Bob Corker has called it a “gimmick” and has filed legislation in Congress that would phase out such programs over a 10-year period.
The bill imposing a 5.5 percent levy on gross receipts of institutions serving the mentally disabled (HB157) brings in $11.4 million in state revenue, according to legislative staff, including $5.1 million paid by the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities.
The latter two bills got no discussion at all in winning voice vote approval of the House Health Subcommittee last week with Rep. Mike Harrison, R-Rogersville, as sponsor. The Senate Health Committee had only brief discussion on Overbey’s bills dealing with nursing homes and hospitals before they were unanimously approved.
The nursing home levy has, in the past, been renewed for longer periods. Asked why this year’s bill only gives a one-year extension, Overbey said the idea is to put all the levies on an annual renewal basis so they can be discussed regularly as developments unfold at the federal level on health care.
“I think if you took a poll (of legislators), most of us would like to take the hospital assessment fee and vote on it every 10 years,” quipped Sen. Lowe Finney, D-Jackson.
Several incumbent legislators — including Overbey — last year faced opponents who accused them of supporting a tax increase by voting for the assessment.
State Sen. Doug Overbey, a Maryville lawyer, has pocketed a passel of endorsements in the 2nd District Senate Republican primary, observes Greg Johnson. Newspapers, the National Federation of Independent Business and the Tennessee Education Association endorsed Overbey, along with Republican heavyweights Gov. Bill Haslam and, a bit surprisingly, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, a tea party favorite.
Given his opponent, Overbey needs all the help he can get.
Scott Hughes, chief financial officer for a Knoxville church and former pro-life executive, is challenging Overbey at every turn, in every way. Though Overbey maintains an enormous financial advantage, Hughes has loquaciously roughed up Overbey in debates.
At a June debate in Sevierville — the 2nd District includes all of Blount County and much of Sevier — Hughes had Overbey back on his heels, out-arguing the lawyer with a withering, well-researched attack on Overbey’s record. Hughes’ verbal pugilism aims to make Overbey the moderate, a characterization sure to stick with some voters.
In fact, TEA’s lead lobbyist, Jerry Winters, said when endorsing Overbey and a few other Republicans, “The people we endorsed in Republican primaries are moderate Republicans who have voted pro-public education.” TEA’s political action committee donated to Overbey, though the group historically gives more than 90 percent of its contributions to Democrats.
Overbey isn’t backing away from the TEA endorsement, citing it on his website under the headline, “Teachers Endorse Doug Overbey.” Education is, no doubt, an important issue for Overbey. In 2008, he ousted incumbent Sen. Raymond Finney, R-Maryville, after Finney voted for changes to school funding formulas that led to both Sevier and Blount counties receiving much less money from the state.
Hughes, a Seymour resident, is supported by the Tennessee Conservative Fund, a tea party PAC, which wrote in its endorsement, “Hughes is a full-fledged conservative who has vowed to protect life and Tennessee’s sovereignty under the Constitution.” Significantly, Hughes is backed by Peggy Lambert, a longtime Blount County GOP activist and Republican National Committee member.
At the June debate, Overbey said, “I will work with anybody willing to reach out a hand of goodwill to do what’s right for the state of Tennessee.” Could such bi-partisanship burn him?
Here’s a memo on a poll commissioned by Sen. Doug Overbey, R-Maryville, by North Star Opinion Research, who is seeking reelection in Senate District 2 against Republican primary challenger Scott Hughes. It was provided by the Overbey campaign in response to a request for poll information to the senator during an interview last week.
To: Interested Parties
From: Dan Judy
Date: June 22, 2012
Re: Senator Doug Overbey’s Standing Among Senate District 2 Republican Primary
Voters Our firm conducted a survey of 300 likely Republican primary voters in Tennessee’s 2nd State Senate District May 15-17, 2012, with a margin of error of ±5.66 percent. The results show that Senator Overbey is very popular among these voters, and enjoys a wide lead on the primary ballot. The key findings are:
• Senator Overbey enjoys a favorable-to-unfavorable rating of better than ten-to-one.
Overbey’s favorable-unfavorable rating among these Republican primary voters is 70 to
• Senator Overbey is strong among his conservative base. Overbey has a 66 to 7
percent favorable-unfavorable rating among voters who consider themselves “very
conservative” (over half of the electorate), as well as a 68 to 6 percent rating among
voters who support the Tea Party movement (over two-thirds of the electorate).
• Voters overwhelmingly approve of the job Doug Overbey has done as state senator.
Seventy percent of these voters approve of the job Senator Overbey has done, while just 8
• Senator Overbey currently enjoys a wide lead on the primary ballot. Overbey leads
challenger Scott Hughes by a 69 to 9 percent margin, with 22 percent of voters
Senator Overbey’s ratings are impressive, particularly during a time of unprecedented voter cynicism about elected officials. He begins his reelection campaign in a strong position.
Perhaps more than any Tennessee campaign this summer, the contest between Scott Hughes and Doug Overbey poses the question of whether Tennessee’s ruling Republican majority in the Legislature has achieved an appropriate balance in governing on proclaimed conservative principles.
Answering the question on Aug. 2 will be voters in state Senate District 2. Composed of Blount and Sevier counties, it is one of the most staunchly Republican regions of the state and has a history of unseating incumbent senators. With no Democrat running, the GOP primary decides the election.
Hughes, 35, a married father of four and chief financial officer for a Knoxville chuch, declares that Overbey, 57, a married father of three and attorney with a Knoxville law firm, is “the least conservative Republican legislator in the state.”
He has produced a long list of votes cast by Overbey to advance the claim, which is echoed by some local political figures – notably including Peggy Lambert, who serves as Tennessee’s national committeewoman on the Republican National Committee and chairman of Hughes’ campaign. A tea party-oriented political action committee has also endorsed Hughes.
Overbey adamantly rejects Hughes’ contentions, instead saying he continues “to represent conservative values and bring commonsense solutions to the issues facing our state.” He says the critique of his voting record is “chock full of untruths, half-truths and misleading statements.”
News release from the governor’s office:
SEVIERVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) Commissioner John Schroer announced today a grant for the final link in a pedestrian and bicycle route between downtown Sevierville and Pigeon Forge.
The $423,833 transportation enhancement grant to the city of Sevierville is for Phase II of the Hospital to East Gate Greenway Project, which includes a 10 foot paved multi-use trail for pedestrians and bicyclists to be constructed parallel to Middle Creek.
The project also includes ornamental lighting, shade trees and other decorative features designed to enhance the scenic character of the city’s transportation system.
“Communities across the state are creating networks of greenways, trails and walkways that offer Tennesseans additional ways to commute or exercise as well as offering visitors a new way to see our state,” Haslam said. “This project will provide an essential link in Sevierville’s alternative transportation network while also promoting healthy living and pedestrian travel.”
A variety of activities such as the restoration of historic facilities, bike and pedestrian trails, landscaping and other non-traditional transportation projects are eligible for grant funds made possible through a federally funded program administered by TDOT.
“Through Transportation Enhancement grants, TDOT has funded more than $270 million in non-traditional transportation projects,” Schroer said. “This program has assisted communities all over the state in their efforts to revitalize downtowns, highlight historic areas, provide alternative means of transportation, and increase opportunities for economic development.”
State Sen. Doug Overbey (R-Maryville), and state Reps. Richard Montgomery (R-Sevierville) and Art Swann (R-Maryville) represent Sevier County in the Tennessee General Assembly.
— Note: Overbey and Montgomery both have contested primaries as they seek re-election this year and both have been endorsed by the governor.
News release from Scott Hughes campaign:
SEYMOUR, TN- Today, the Scott Hughes for State Senate campaign launched an informational website aimed at shedding some light on the voting record of Hughes’ opponent, State Sen. Doug Overbey. The website, HowDougVotes.com, details some areas of Sen. Overbey’s voting record that he has, so far, been reluctant to discuss with voters and includes topics ranging from taxes and spending to illegal immigration and ethics laws.
In launching HowDougVotes.com, Hughes had this to say:
“Unfortunately, truth and fact are usually the first casualties of political campaigns. All too often in election years, politicians spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on political advertising and direct mail campaigns aimed at reframing the record and injecting uncertainty and ambiguity into their voting histories. As campaigns exchange poll-tested rhetoric and one-liner accusations, voters are often left unsure about who to believe and the debate becomes less and less about where the candidates actually stand on the issues.”
“Hence, I do not feel that my opponent has been entirely forthcoming about his voting record. While he has been quick to assert that he has ‘a conservative voting record,’ after looking at his voting history for myself, I feel that his votes tell a very different tale.”
“My intention in launching HowDougVotes.com is not to personally attack my opponent. It simply reflects my efforts to ensure that voters have access to all of the relevant information needed to make an informed voting decision. Every vote discussed in the website is documented and linked back to the official voting records on the Tennessee General Assembly’s website. I would encourage voters to visit HowDougVotes.com and read over the legislative records for themselves. From taxes and spending to government bailouts and ethics laws, I believe the truth about where my opponent really stands on the issues can be found in his voting record.”
— Note: The website is easy to use and well-researched and cleverly (but, of course, not very objectively) written. An example, stemming from Overbey’s vote this year against a proposed constitutional amendment to change the state system for selecting Supreme Court judges to something along the lines of the federal judicial selection system: Voted against legislative confirmations for state judges, effectively siding with liberal billionaire George Soros in keeping judicial selection insulated from both the voters and their popularly-elected representatives (SJR 710, 2012; SB 3576, 2012)
As part of an in-depth look at drunken driving in Tennessee, Natalie Alund has a review of DUI legislation that passed the General Assembly earlier this year….and more to come next year. This past session, lawmakers continued their efforts to keep serial drunken
drivers from climbing behind the wheel.
Prosecutors say many repeat DUI offenders are such pros, they know that if they violate the implied consent law they can still apply for a restricted license.
So lawmakers passed a bill (HB2749) that empowers judges to order an ignition interlock device on vehicles of people who violate the implied consent law as a condition for issuance of a restricted license.
“Research shows that ignition interlock devices are one of the most effective ways to keep drunken drivers from continuing to drive drunk,” said Sen. Doug Overbey, R-Maryville, who sponsored the bill in the Senate. “Unfortunately, they’re underused across the state.”
Lawmakers also beefed up a current DUI law that requires people to serve a mandatory 30 days in jail if they drive drunk with a passenger under age 18 in the vehicle. Under HB 2751, the 30 days will be consecutively tacked on to any sentence received for an alcohol-related offense. A judge can’t make the sentences run at the same time.
Another bill, HB2752, authorizes a police officer to get a court order or a search warrant to force a person who has refused to submit to a blood alcohol test.
…And lawmakers say they are the start of many more to come.
“We’re getting the launching pad set for next year,” said Rep. Tony Shipley, R-Kingsport, who sponsored HB2749, HB2751 and HB2752.
Shipley said that in the next legislative session lawmakers will address HB942, which if approved, would make it a DUI for those caught driving with a nonprescription schedule 1 or schedule 2 substance in their blood, regardless of the amount in their system.
“We ran into a few philosophical issues with it this session,” Shipley said. “I took it off notice until we can spend time researching it a little more. It’s better to fold that one up and work on it over the next year to see if we can make it work. Some defense attorneys in the Legislature were concerned the presence of a controlled substance or its metabolites in the blood could not be proven to be the proximate cause of an offense.”
…Another bill Shipley plans to push for next session is HB139. Currently, DUI defendants with a BAC of 0.15 percent or higher who apply for a restricted license must have an ignition interlock installed on their vehicle if they want a restricted license. Under HB139, Shipley wants to reduce the 0.15 BAC to 0.08 percent.
“You’re going to grab a whole lot more people because more defendants get caught driving with a 0.08 to 0.15 BAC than with a 0.15 and higher,” Shipley said.
Although he has high hopes for the bill, he decided not push for it this past session because of funding.
Shipley, backed by Overbey, also said he’d like Tennessee to join the other 16 states in mandating ignition interlocks on vehicles for all convicted first-time DUI offenders.
— Note: The bill numbers are those for the 107th General Assembly. If re-introduced next year, of course, they’ll likely have different numbers.
Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey says he will be campaigning for Sen. Doug Overbey, R-Maryville, who he believes is the only incumbent Republican senator facing a serious primary challenge this summer.
“Doug’s a good friend,” Ramsey told reporters Thursday. “He supported me … I’ll be returning the favor.”
He acknowledged that the backing of Overbey over challenger Scott Hughes contrasts with his stance four years ago when Ramsey remained officially neutral in the race for a Senate seat in Blount and Sevier counties. In the 2008 race, Overbey was the challenger and former Sen. Raymond Finney, R-Maryville, was the incumbent.
“I stayed out of that one,” he acknowledged. “I’m not sure what the distinction would be except that I’m for Doug Overbey.”
Ramsey also said he will support re-election of House Republican Caucus Chairman Debra Maggart of Hendersonville over her primary challenger, Courtney Rogers.
But he indicated no preference in two races where Republican representatives are running in primaries for open state Senate seats. State Rep. Joey Hensley, R-Hohenwald, is seeking the newly created 20th Senate District seat in southern Middle Tennessee and Rep. Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains, is running for the East Tennessee seat vacated by retiring Sen. Mike Faulk, R-Church Hill.
Back in April, as the qualifying deadline for legislative races passed, Ramsey made a quip to state Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, who posted it on his blog:
“You ever hear the song, ‘All The Girls Get Prettier at Closing Time’? Well, after hearing about the competition to replace Mike Faulk, Frank Niceley looks gorgeous.”
Asked about this a day after Ramsey’s news conference, Ramsey spokesman Adam Kleinheider replied by email: “While the quotation on Sen. Campfield’s blog from April is authentic, no endorsement has been made in Senate District 8,”
Campfield says the comment came in response to him questioning Ramsey about former Sen. Mike Williams filing papers to qualify as a Republican for the 8th Senate District race. Williams, who had declared himself an Independent before running for re-election in 2008, was later deemed ineligible to run as a Republican by state party officials.
Three other Republicans — Cynthia Bundren Jackson of Rogersville, Jeff Brantley of Sharps Chapel and Hobart Rice of Dandridge — qualified along with Niceley to run for the seat.
Gov. Bill Haslam will be supporting state Sen. Doug Overbey in his re-election bid against Republican primary challenger, Scottie Hughes, according to the Mountain Press.
Overbey’s Senate district includes Blount and Sevier counties. The governor had previously said he would back House Education Committee Chairman Richard Montgomery, who also faces a challenger in the Republican primary. A spokesman for the governor said Haslam is offering his “full support” for fellow Republicans Rep. Richard Montgomery and Sen. Doug Overbey in both their August primary contests and the November general election. (Note: No Democrat is running for either seat.)
Haslam told reporters recently he would be working for incumbents including Montgomery, with Press Secretary David Smith explaining Overbey will also receive that assistance. While the governor’s office is being careful to point out he’s not offering any full endorsements, Smith was willing to say Haslam “fully supports” both men in their campaigns. (Note: Say what, Dave??)
Meanwhile, a political action committee declaring ties to Tea Party groups has endorsed Hughes and declared Overbey too liberal and too tied to special interests. The news release is below.