State Rep. Rick Womick has reluctantly revealed that a previously secret plan is in place to allow the Tennessee General Assembly to continue functioning in the event of a terrorist attack or natural disaster.
Despite Womick’s understandable hesitancy to make public plans that could be exploited by those plotting disruption of legislative activities, he did so in trying — albeit unsuccessfully — to pass a bill with the goal of preventing such things and preparing for them should they occur. And many of us breathed a sigh of relief in learning that there’s at least a plan to assure that our legislators will be able to continue their vital tasks even if an electromagnetic pulse bomb (EMB) disables their ability to exchange text messages with lobbyists via cellphone.
“This is something I don’t like to put out publicly,” Womick told the House State Government Subcommittee. “There are provisions in place (in the event of an attack) where each one of you will be contacted and taken to an off-site location, in the state of Tennessee, and continue to conduct business. With the governor.”
Womick’s comments came as he pushed for passage of HB1327, which calls on the state Department of Safety and Homeland Security to do background checks and then grant security clearances to 10 select members of the Legislature assigned to a special Security Committee.
In remarks to a state House subcommittee, Rep. Rick Womick, R-Murfreesboro, said that an electromagnetic pulse bomb went off near Shelbyville about two years ago. The comment came in urging support for his bill (HB1327) to require that the state Department of Safety and Homeland Security provide background checks and security clearances for ten legislators serving on a special security committee. Blogger Jeff Woods reports that he has checked around with Shelbyville officials and the local newspaper – which, according to Womick, reported on the EPB in a very small story – in an attempt to verify the Womick claim. No one had heard of such an incident.
His conclusion: Yes, possibly Womick is confused. He has been known to, ahem, stretch the truth from time to time. He might be talking nonsense, just another tin foil-wrapped nutjob spinning bizarre paranoid fantasies. On the other hand, just because no one will admit that it happened doesn’t mean it didn’t. Think about it. If it did happen, would the Powers that Be talk about it? Of course not. Too many people have never heard of this E-bomb explosion. Doesn’t that make you suspicious? The plot thickens.
The House approved 71-15 Monday evening a bill that would – if the Senate agrees – reduce automatic daily expense payments to legislators living near Nashville by $107 per day.
“I find it hard to look constituents in the eye when they ask, ‘Why we paying you 107 a day for a hotel you don’t use’,” said Rep. Rick Womick, R-Murfreesboro, sponsor of HB80.
Legislators now get $173 per day as an automatic “per diem” daily expense allowance. The bill eliminates $107 of that – the amount calculated to cover the cost of a motel room – for those whose residence is within 50 miles of the state Capitol building. They would continue to receive the remaining $66, deemed the amount needed for meals, and would collect mileage from the state for commuting daily.
House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner of Nashville criticized the proposal, saying the 50 mile rule was arbitrary and unfair. Womick said that is the standard set by the Internal Revenue Service, which considers the payments as taxable income for legislators living within 50 miles.
In fact, Womick said a secondary advantage was the IRS would collect less in taxes from the affected legislators, including himself. He said about $45 of the $107 he has been collecting has been “sent straight to Washington.”
The companion bill has been stalled in a Senate committee for weeks after Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, said he wants to consider an amendment that would instead require legislators to submit an actual motel bill receipt for reimbursement.
Rep. Johnnie Turner, D-Memphis, also criticized the bill, saying legislators, regardless of where they live, do not receive enough for their work. She quoted Gov. Bill Haslam as saying at a recent reception for legislators that he calculates legislators actually are paid about 50 cents an hour for their labors.
State Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey said Thursday that if Tennessee expands its Medicaid program to cover more uninsured working poor, it should follow Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s example and put stipulations into law requiring cuts if federal funding is reduced.
Further from Richard Locker: Ramsey, R-Blountville, said he expects Gov. Bill Haslam to announce his decision on whether to seek expansion of Medicaid/TennCare in Tennessee — and for the state legislature to act on Haslam’s request — before the General Assembly adjourns this spring. But he said he’s not sure whether lawmakers would go along with an expansion or not.
I’ve not polled members but it won’t be easy and that’s why I’ve told him (Haslam) that you need to be able to convince legislators it’s the right thing to do. And we need to be able to see that we, quote, got something for it or that there are statutory requirements that come into place if the federal funding changes and things of that nature,” Ramsey told reporters in his weekly media briefing.
Ramsey said he was surprised that Scott — a conservative elected with Tea Party backing — announced Wednesday that he will ask the Florida legislature to expand its Medicaid program, a key provision of President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act that Scott had vowed to oppose. Scott is the latest Republican governor to propose his state expand Medicaid and is seen as the most conservative on the list to do so.
Under “Obamacare,” the federal government will pay 100 percent of the costs of expanding Medicaid to people with incomes up to 138 percent of the poverty level for three years, then drop to 90 percent over the following two years, with the state paying the rest.
Ramsey appears to have softened his stance on the issue. Last summer when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld key provisions of the Affordable Care Act — but made it optional for states to expand Medicaid — the Senate speaker and lieutenant governor called Obamacare “a disaster” and a “usurpation of our liberty … that must be resisted.”
Republicans in the House and Senate appear at odds over a proposal to reduce the amount of money lawmakers living within 50 miles of Nashville get as a daily expense allowance.
The House State Government Subcommittee approved Wednesday the bill (HB80) as filed and sponsor Rep. Rick Womick, R-Murfreesboro, promised to reject any amendments. In the Senate State and Local Government, meanwhile, the bill has been delayed to consider an amendment proposed by Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro.
As introduced, the bill would reduce the automatic “per diem” expense payment by $107 per day – the amount calculated to cover the cost of a motel room in Nashville. Lawmakers would still get $66 per day that is attributed to meals and other expenses, plus mileage for commuting.
Ketron said in the Senate committee that he has heard of a lawmaker, living more than 50 miles from Nashville, “milking the system” by sleeping in his office to avoid a motel bill. He suggested the bill be amended to instead require all lawmakers to file receipts for their motel for payment by the state.
But Womick told colleagues “you have my word” that no such amendment would be accepted. That came after Rep. Shelia Butt, R-Columbia, expressed concern that the bill could become a “slippery slope” with revisions that with paperwork requirements “could grow to cost more than the savings.”
Legislative staff estimates that the bill would save taxpayers about $250,000 per year.
News release from Senate Republican Caucus:
(NASHVILLE) – State Senator Ferrell Haile (R-Gallatin) filed legislation today to end expense account payment for lodging for state legislators who live within 50 miles of Tennessee’s State Capitol Building. Haile said Senate Bill 107 is a big step forward in reforming the per diem system through which members receive reimbursement for expenses.
“I should not be reimbursed for a hotel stay if I sleep in my own bed at night,” said Senator Haile. “This legislation would end reimbursement for lodging for those who live within a 50-mile commuting distance to the State Capitol Building.”
“We are accountable to the taxpayers, and we felt it was time to change the system,” Haile added. “This fulfills a promise I made to file this legislation as my first bill of the 2013 legislative session.”
The state law that provides for the reimbursement of legislator expenses is not a permissive statute, meaning reimbursement of the expense account is not optional. If a member chooses to reimburse the state for their expense account payment, they must write a check to the state; however, they still are required to pay taxes on the full amount to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The IRS considers the per diem payment for those living within 50 miles of the State Capitol as income, meaning affected lawmakers must pay federal taxes on it in accordance with their guidelines.
Other Senate sponsors of the bill include Senators Steven Dickerson (R-Nashville), Jack Johnson (R-Franklin) and Mark Green (R-Clarksville). The bill will be sponsored by Representative Rick Womick (R-Rockvale).
ATLANTA (AP) — Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who made a fortune as a health care executive, long opposed President Barack Obama’s remake of the health insurance market. After the Democratic president won re-election, the Republican governor softened his tone. He said he wanted to “have a conversation” with the administration about implementing the 2010 law. With a federal deadline approaching, he also said while Florida won’t set up the exchange for individuals to buy private insurance policies, the feds can do it.
In New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie held his cards before saying he won’t set up his own exchange, but he’s avoided absolute language and says he could change his mind. He’s also leaving his options open to accept federal money to expand Medicaid insurance for people who aren’t covered. The caveat, Christie says, is whether Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius can “answer my questions” about its operations and expense.
Both Republican governors face re-election in states that Obama won twice, Christie in 2013 and Scott in 2014. And both will encounter well-financed Democrats.
Their apparent struggles on the issue, along with other postures by their GOP colleagues elsewhere, suggest political uncertainty for Republicans as the Affordable Care Act starts to go into effect two years after clearing Congress without a single Republican vote. The risks also are acute for governors in Democratic-leaning or swing-voting states or who know their records will be parsed should they seek the presidency in 2016 or beyond.
“It’s a tough call for many Republican governors who want to do the best thing for their state but don’t want to be seen as advancing an overhaul that many Republicans continue to detest,” said Whit Ayers, a consultant in Virginia whose clients include Gov. Bill Haslam of Tennessee, a Republican who didn’t announce his rejection of a state exchange until days before Sebelius’s Dec. 14 deadline.
Democratic candidate Luke Dickerson said Republican state Rep. Rick Womick lacks “discernment” in making legislative decisions during their Wednesday debate at City Hall, according to the Murfreesboro Daily News Journal. “He didn’t ask about the online charter school,” said Dickerson, who contends the Tennessee General Assembly should never have funded the private education company’s request. “He has voted along party lines quite a bit.”
Womick defended his record representing the 34th District as well as the accomplishments of the Republican-controlled Tennessee House of Representatives and Senate, as well as Gov. Bill Haslam.
“I have discernment,” Womick said. “We have made a difference. You’ve seen us bring jobs to Tennessee.”
..In Wednesday’s exchange, Womick bragged that the GOP-controlled state government has brought 90,000 jobs to Tennessee, including 4,500 to Rutherford County since he took office nearly two years ago.
…Dickerson also complained that the more than 4,000 bills introduced by GOP lawmakers was not an example of smaller government. But Womick countered that 25 percent of those involved getting rid of unnecessary laws.
For incumbent 34th District state Rep. Rick Womick and challenger Luke Dickerson, education lies close to their hearts. So says a review of their race in The Tennessean. Womick, a 54-year-old Republican from Rockvale, taught school for a couple of years in Ohio before joining the Air Force in 1983. Dickerson, D-Murfreesboro, currently works as a special education teacher at Northfield Elementary.
The pair hope their experiences and message resonate with voters as they head to the polls for early voting beginning Oct. 17 and on Election Day, Nov. 6.
Tennessee’s teachers face challenges with the state’s adoption of teacher evaluation systems. Womick noted that each district was given the option of choosing from a few different models, but most went with the Tennessee Educator Acceleration Model, which drew a lot of criticism from classroom teachers and administrators alike.
“In Memphis and Chattanooga, they use TIGER, which has a lot to do with the teacher’s individual development, and they love it. I may be asking (state Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman) to look at the possibility of adopting that statewide,” said Womick, now a commercial pilot who is married and has four children.
Dickerson, 28, who is entering his fourth year teaching English as a second language, said the reason many districts didn’t adopt TIGER is cost.
“The state is only supporting and funding TEAM. I think an evaluation system is important, but not worth spending $130 million like the state has. I think the most teacher growth and learning will come from Professional Learning Communities that we use here in Murfreesboro City and Rutherford County schools and having principals that are good leaders,” he said.
TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) — Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder says a bipartisan organization of governors will work to promote the auto manufacturing industry in the United States.
Snyder on Wednesday discussed the creation of the National Governors Auto Caucus. Snyder is among the founding governors alongside Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon and Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam. Snyder says the group will seek to explore policy and developments that impact the industry.
Snyder was in the Traverse City area for the Center for Automotive Research management briefing seminars.
Snyder’s office says the event was his first opportunity to meet with the Automotive Communities Partnership. That Center for Automotive Research initiative aims to promote regional collaboration in the Great Lakes area that fosters economic development related to the auto industry.