Some state legislators of both parties are criticizing the push to end the legislative session quickly, contending the rush has led to confusion and limited vetting of bills by lawmakers working long hours.
House Calendar Committee Chairman Bill Dunn of Knoxville has become one of the first Republicans to publicly criticize the rush to adjournment, first in a speech to the House Republican Caucus in which he said some colleagues were left “glassy-eyed” by listening to bill presentations hour after hour. He repeated the criticisms in an interview aired Thursday on WPLN, Nashville’s public radio station, that irritated Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey.
“If the speaker of the Senate had to sit in on a committee and study 85 bills and sit there for six hours and try to do his work, he might have a different view,” Dunn said. “He doesn’t feel the pain that we are (feeling).”
Ramsey, specifically citing Dunn’s remarks, devoted the first portion of his weekly news conference later in the day to disputing the notion that lawmakers are working too fast in trying to meet the deadline he and House Speaker Beth Harwell have set for ending the 2013 session. At one point, they had set the date as April 19. Ramsey has since moved it up a day to April 18.
If the target is met, adjournment will come earlier than any annual session of the General Assembly since 1990, according to a listing provided by Ramsey’s office. Last year, adjournment came on May 2.
By standards of legislative speed of the not-too-distant past, the so-called “guns in parking lots” bill roared through the General Assembly at a breakneck pace, crossing the finish line at just one month after starting.
The bill (SB142) was introduced Jan. 28 and sent to the governor Feb. 28. If you subtract the days legislators were not working during that period, just 18 days were involved. That, folks, is warp speed in Legislatorland, especially on a matter of some controversy. It may be an indication of things to come.
House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner says the bill’s sponsor, Republican Rep. Jeremy Faison of Cosby, spent 11 minutes in his speech in support of the measure on the House floor Thursday, while one committee approved the bill after just six minutes discussion.
Indeed, the only lengthy discussion — one hour and 20 minutes, including Faison’s speech — came on the House floor. That was because 13 amendments were proposed and it took awhile to kill them all in a methodical manner.
Now, this was something of a special situation. Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey and House Speaker Beth Harwell both pushed for rapid action, deeming that legislators had spent entirely too much time last year in inconclusive arguing over the issue, which pits gun-owner rights against property-owner rights. Once the leadership had decided what should be done — the “compromise” was crafted by Ramsey — they wanted no time wasted in doing it.
A federal judge has dismissed a $6 million class action lawsuit filed against Bluff City, its mayor and an Arizona-based traffic camera company regarding tickets issued from two speed-enforcement cameras on Highway 11-E, reports the Kingsport Times-News. Motorists Chris Cawood and Jonathan Kelly Proffitt filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Greeneville in September 2011 naming Bluff City, Mayor Irene Wells and American Traffic Solutions as the defendants.
The lawsuit claimed Bluff City and ATS conspired to violate the Fair Debt Collections Act, state law and the city’s own ordinances by imposing an administrative fee of $40 on top of the $50 fine imposed for motorists allegedly captured on the city’s two speed-enforcement cameras on Highway 11-E.
Last month, Judge Ronnie Greer granted the motion to dismiss the lawsuit.
In his opinion, Greer wrote that conspiracy has to be supported with enough factual allegations … that is plausible on its face.
“The only factual allegation regarding ATS is that ATS installed and maintained the cameras at issue,” Greer wrote, noting this is insufficient to establish a conspiracy.
BLUFF CITY, Tenn. (AP) — Despite a lawsuit and temporary shutdown, speed cameras in Bluff City have become a significant revenue generator that netted the city nearly $1.6 million.
An audit obtained by the Bristol Herald Courier shows that in the 2010-2011 fiscal year, the city’s general fund earned $2.6 million, which included $1.9 million in fines and forfeitures that primarily came from tickets issued by cameras along U.S. Highway 11E (http://bit.ly/yIBHK1 ).
The city signed a contract with American Traffic Solutions, and the cameras catch speeders going over 55 mph in a 45 mph zone along Bristol Highway in Sullivan County.
Between Jan. 1, 2010, and May 31, 2011, the cameras have resulted in nearly 40,000 citations to drivers from all 50 states, Canada and the District of Columbia.
The city temporarily turned them off last year after a state law required a longer distance between a speed zone change and the cameras. The town had to lengthen the speed zone to comply and refunded $46,700 in fines.
A federal lawsuit has been filed against the town by two people who were issued citations.
The revenue generated from the citations, which cost drivers $50 to $90 each, goes into the city’s general fund. The revenue from the citations exceeds other taxes collected into the general fund, including property taxes, sales taxes and intergovernmental revenue.
City manager Judy Delaney said the city can afford projects that would normally be outside the town’s budget with the money from the citations. The Board of Mayor and Alderman recently donated $50,000 to the Boys and Girls Club of Bristol to help start a club in Bluff City.
“The cameras made it possible,” Delaney said. “Without the cameras, we would not be able to do that.”
The Tennessee Obesity Task Force has made its recommendations for action by the state Legislature in the 2012 session, reports The Tennessean. The group wants to be sure all schools are complying with the state’s 90-minutes-a-week mandate for physical education, a tax on sugar-sweetened soft drinks and increased fines for speeding in school zones.
Rebecca Johns-Wommack, the state’s executive director of the Office of Coordinated School Health, said her office will spend the school year monitoring complaince with the 90-minute weekly physical activity law and must report back to the legislature in August on which schools are in compliance. Last school year, that was 85 percent of Tennessee schools, she said.
“We’re living in a fiscally conservative environment, so we are currently focusing on policies that do not carry large fiscal notes or that might actually bring in revenues,” said Joan Randall, director of the Tennessee Obesity Task Force. “Our policies attempt to raise awareness and create an environment that supports healthier lifestyles.”
Increasing the fine for speeding in a school zone by $50 could make it safer for kids to walk and bike to school, plus the money would go to the Safe Routes to School program, which encourages exercise through walking or biking to schools.
The soda tax bill, as its been dubbed, would place a 1-cent-per-ounce tax on bottled, sugar-sweetened beverages purchased at convenience and grocery stores, but reduce the state food tax by 1 percent. The bill, which was sponsored by State Rep. Mike Stewart, D-Nashville, last session, was held up in the House Finance Subcommittee. Stewart plans to present it again during the next session
Bluff City Mayor Irene Wells sounded exasperated Monday, says the Johnson City Press.
She not only was upset about the handling, or mishandling, of the city’s speed cameras on U.S. Highway 11E, but also about what she feels is a purposeful exclusion of her opinions and abilities as mayor. (Yesterday’s related post HERE.) Interim City Manager, City Recorder and Finance Officer Judy A. Dulaney shut down the camera aimed at the southbound lanes last week after it was brought to her attention that the city had been violating state law since July 1. For more than two months after legislation was enacted, the city failed to move two posted 45 mph signs on the southbound lanes of U.S. Highway 11E at least one mile away from the devices
…”They tell me nothing — I’m not included in their little network,” Wells said about Dulaney and the Board of Aldermen. “I’m a person on the outside looking in. I just find out things like this when I read the newspaper or watch the news.”
Article VI, Sec. 1 of the city charter states that “The Town Manager, town attorney and town judge shall serve at the pleasure of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen.”
“They took my office and my desk, and apparently they don’t want me around,” Wells said. “And no one’s even asked my opinion on the speed camera and signs. The sign distance was going to be a problem, but former City Manager Don Weaver had introduced a resolution to take care of it.”
Wells, who was a sitting alderwoman, was appointed mayor at a special called meeting on June 28 by two of the city’s five alderman.
BLUFF CITY, Tenn. (AP) — Bluff City officials are enjoying the extra revenue from speed cameras that have generated more than a million dollars in a little over a year, but the windfall could be short-lived.
Between Jan. 1, 2010, and May 31, 2011, the cameras on U.S. Highway 11E in Piney Flats issued 39,923 citations to drivers, including now Gov. Bill Haslam, who was ticketed last year when he was caught speeding during his campaign.
The tickets netted the city nearly $1.6 million — an amount equal to eight times Bluff City’s total property tax collections from the last fiscal year — during that period, according to the Bristol Herald Courier.
Purchases with the money include a new support truck for the city’s rescue squad and putting a shelter over a caboose in the city park.
But Interim City Manager Judy Dulaney said the two biggest accomplishments are funneling about a fourth of the money directly into the city’s existing operations budget and putting some away for a rainy day.
“These things wouldn’t normally be in a budget,” Dulaney said. “But because of these extra funds, we were able to buy them.”
While the extra money has been beneficial, the cameras have their critics, particularly those who consider the Piney Flats corridor a speed trap.