Green Street Church of Christ has been on a mission to help Nashville’s homeless for years, but now the church says that mission is under fire, reports The Tennessean. In late June, the Metro Nashville Codes Department cited the church for having tents on the property where the homeless sleep, saying the property’s zoning does not allow camping.
The church vows to challenge the citation in court.
“It is the position of the church that they’re protected under federal statute and under the Constitution of the United States,” said William “Tripp” Hunt, the attorney representing the church.
Church leaders say they are following a biblical directive, in the 25th chapter of the book of Mark, to help house the poor.
“In that chapter, it says that if you help the poor you are helping Jesus himself,” Hunt said. “Under that basis alone they feel that it is their obligation to help the poor.
“Where it stands now, the city’s prosecuting them for having the homeless encampment there.”
A street preacher has emerged victorious in his battle against a Maryville ordinance requiring he and fellow proselytizers apply for a permit to spread their message, reports the News Sentinel. In an opinion released late Tuesday, the Tennessee Court of Appeals struck down as unconstitutional a Maryville ordinance that makes it “unlawful for any club, organization or similar group to hold any meeting, parade, demonstration or exhibition on public streets without some responsible representative first securing a permit.”
“We fully acknowledge Maryville’s legitimate interest in preserving order and safety on its streets,” the court opined in a decision delivered by Appellate Judge D. Michael Swiney. “Nothing in this opinion diminishes the right of municipalities to protect people on roadways. However, the particular measure at issue in this case fails to pass constitutional muster as it is vague, overly broad and affords too much discretion to the officials charged with issuing permits.”
The case began in November 2008 when street preacher Wallace Scott Langford, his adult stepson and his stepson’s friend “were screaming and shouting at passing motorists” their gospel message at one of Maryville’s busiest intersections — U.S. Highway 321 and Broadway, the opinion stated.
A video showed the trio “were holding signs and that, at times, the two adults other than (Langford) were passing back and forth through the crosswalk to and from the median,” the opinion noted. Langford was positioned at the Maryville Municipal Building at the same intersection.
Maryville Police Department officers asked the trio to leave, but they refused. Langford was then cited for failing to secure a permit to demonstrate. Langford was ultimately convicted, and attorney William Gribble appealed on his behalf.
Maryville attorneys argued it wasn’t the preaching that was an issue but the dangerousness of doing so at one of the city’s busiest intersections and contended the ordinance requiring a permit was constitutionally sound.
In its ruling, the appellate court agreed the ordinance and the enforcement of it was not targeted at street preaching. However, the court opined the ordinance cast too wide a net to pass constitutional muster.
In a March 24 editorial, the Wall Street Journal declared Gov. Bill Haslam “the main obstacle to reform” of Tennessee’s inheritance tax. Now Haslam has replied with a letter to the editor of the publication that appears under the headline, “I’m Not the Problem on Death Tax Reform.” The governor has, of course, now embraced the idea of complete repeal of Tennessee’s inheritance tax.
Here’s an excerpt from the editorial: A November 2011 study of tax return data by economists Arthur Laffer and Wayne Winegarden shows how people avoid state death taxes. The study compared Florida and Tennessee high-income returns. Both states have no income tax, but Tennessee is one of only two states that imposes an estate and a gift tax. (Connecticut is the other.)
The authors point out that this year there is a $5 million exemption on the federal estate tax and gift tax (a once-in-a-lifetime wealth transfer for the living), but in Tennessee the exemption is a meager $13,000 for estates and gifts. With a gift and death-tax rate that reaches 9.5%, a Tennessean with a $5 million estate would pay $462,000 more estate tax than someone living in the 29 states with no such tax, such as Florida. Tennessee is a very expensive state to die in.
The Tennessee tax really does cause the rich to flee. The authors found that in 2010 Florida had nearly twice as many federal tax returns with taxable estates (per 100,000 population) as did Tennessee. The average estate is also larger in Florida–$7.4 million versus $4.4 million in Tennessee.
Here’s the kicker: Because wealthy people avoiding the estate tax take their businesses and spending with them, the study concludes that “had Tennessee eliminated its gift and estate tax 10 years ago, Tennessee’s economy would have been over 14% larger in 2010.” They also find the estate tax cost Tennessee state and local governments over $7 billion in tax collections. Could there be a more self-defeating tax?
The main obstacle to reform in Nashville is GOP Governor Bill Haslam, who earlier this year acknowledged damage from the tax, saying “There’s a whole lot of people who used to live in Tennessee who don’t anymore because it’s cheaper to die in Florida.” But he now says the state needs the revenues, however imaginary they might be. This mistaken logic is also being used to block repeal in Nebraska.
Here’s the Haslam letter: Regarding your editorial “Death Tax Defying” (March 24): In early January I proposed legislation to raise the exemption level on Tennessee’s estate tax from the current rate of $1 million to the federal exemption level of $5 million during my time in office. (Note: Actually, the bill did not originally raise the exemption level to $5 million, though the governor declared that as a goal.)
Just last week, I cemented that proposal by recommending doing so in the next three years and worked with House Finance Committee Chairman Charles Sargent to completely repeal the tax in year four.
This is a thoughtful and realistic approach to eliminate a tax that chases capital out of our state as Tennessee slowly recovers from the economic downturn that we continue to carefully manage our way through.
Tennessee is a low-tax state, and I’m working with the General Assembly to lower taxes even further.
News release from Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey’s office:
Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey today announced the online release of Tennessee’s new state Senate district maps with street-level detail. The release is an unprecedented step in the history of redistricting in Tennessee and gives the general public access to the same information as county election officials.
“The first Republican redistricting process was not just fair and legal — it was also open and honest,” said Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey. “Technology has given us the opportunity to distribute information quickly, efficiently and with little cost to the taxpayer. The new districts belong to Tennessee citizens so it is important for us to make the new maps widely available as soon as possible.”
Using Google’s publicly available Maps application, the Office of Legislative Information Services has created a map that displays Tennessee’s new redistricting data in a clean, detailed and easy-to-use fashion. Citizens now have the ability to find their own district as well as explore districts statewide.
This year’s redistricting has been the most open, interactive and transparent redistricting process in Tennessee history. In September, Lt. Governor Ramsey opened the redistricting process, soliciting map proposals from the general public. Any Tennessean with access to a computer and an internet connection had the ability to participate in the redistricting process.
State Rep. Mike Stewart has filed legislation that would prohibit state-level political contributions by large financial institutions that received federal bailout funds and loosen some rules on filing lawsuits against them in Tennessee courts.
The Nashville Democrat said the “Main Street Recovery and Wall Street Accountability Act of 2012” targets “too-big-to-fail” institutions — those that received federal aid through the Troubled Asset Relief Program and have assets of more than $100 billion. That would include corporations such as Citigroup and Bank of America, but not smaller banks, he said at a news conference last week atop the Legislative Plaza with “Occupy Nashville” protesters encamped behind him.
While oversight of such mammoth financial institutions is primarily a federal matter, he said, there are things that state legislatures can do and his bill is a starting point. The measure — HB2224 — also calls for a study committee to consider other possibilities, including whether Wall Street executives could be prosecuted in state courts for actions impacting Tennessee investments and whether the state could impose new regulations on such institutions.
Stewart said TARP allowed the “too-big-to-fail” banks to “socialize the risk” from their bad investment practices and, at the same time, “privatize the profits.”
The ban on political donations by such companies, through political action committees or directly as allowed by state law, is appropriate, he said. Otherwise, he said, the institutions will effectively “take bailout money and use it to influence the political system.”
The bill also extends the period that Tennesseans can file lawsuits for recovery of funds lost through the institutions’ actions rather than have them cut off by the “statute of limitations.” The institutions financial maneuvering were so complicated that extra time is needed to figure them out and file lawsuits, he said.
“Banks shouldn’t be allowed to hide behind the complexity of these financial transactions,” he said.
Stewart said he is hopeful that some Republicans will join him in pushing the legislation, since TARP meant that they are “not working in the free market system” that many Republicans support.
“Thanks to citizen protests like the Occupy Wall Street movement, people are focused on the continuing threat to our economy posted by financial institutions that are so large that they can reap profits from risky investments when things go well, yet expect to be bailed out again and again by the taxpayers whenever things go poorly,” Stewart said
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A group representing brick-and-mortar stores says forgone tax collections from online sales are costing Tennessee more than 6,000 jobs.
The Alliance for Main Street Fairness has been a vocal opponent of the state’s agreement to waive the requirement for online retailer Amazon.com to collect sales taxes on items sold through distributions centers being built in Tennessee.
A University of Tennessee study has projected that the state loses $411 million in sales taxes from items sold online. Meanwhile, the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis estimates that every million dollars spent by state and local governments supports about 15 jobs.
Monday’s report multiplies those two figures to conclude that collecting the sales tax on online sales would result in at least 6,200 jobs, earning a total of $260 million in annual wages.
NIOTA, Tenn. (AP) — Niota’s street commissioner has quit, saying in a letter he’s been threatened in response to commission actions and it’s been “nothing but trouble” from some of his detractors for two years.
The Daily Post-Athenian in Athens reports that the 800-resident East Tennessee town’s mayor read the resignation letter from Donald Youngs at a Monday night meeting (http://bit.ly/p9JsTb).
The letter said Youngs has also had his vehicle vandalized in response to commission actions.
Youngs was appointed to a vacancy in 2009.
Youngs did not return a telephone message seeking comment Tuesday.
The town is now seeking resumes to pick a successor.