A House-passed bill to give children of school superintendents a 25 percent discount on tuition at state colleges and universities could not win a single vote in the Senate Education Committee, leaving it dead for the session.
Currently, the children of certified teachers get a 25 percent discount. The bill (SB402) by Sen. Ken Yager, R-Harriman, and Rep. Bill Sanderson, R-Kenton, would give all school superintendents the same discount, even if they are not certified teachers.
Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, led objections in the Senate committee, noting that Knox County’s school superintendent “makes over a quarter of a million dollars a year.”
“I don’t think he needs a discount,” Campfield said.
Sens. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, and Charlotte Burks, D-Monterey, offered similar objections. Gardenhire said the bill was setting up a special class and suggested an amendment giving children of firefighters and law enforcement officers a 25 percent discount, saying “no one is more worthy.” He was told by the committee chair that the amendment would not be accepted as is.
In the House, the bill had won approval on a 76-17 vote after defeat of an amendment offered by House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley.
Fitzhugh’s amendment would have extended the 25 percent discount to all “full-time, noncertified employees” of schools — including people such as secretaries and custodians. His amendment was tabled, or killed, on a 60-33 vote.
The Senate has approved, 31-1, legislation that will require newspapers to post public notices on their websites as well as in their print editions with no extra charge starting in April, 2014.
The bill (SB461) faces a House floor vote next week after clearing committees without a dissenting vote. It is sponsored by Sen. Ken Yager, R-Harriman, and Rep. Ryan Haynes, R-Knoxville, and supported by the Tennessee Press Association.
In Senate floor debate, Yager noted there has been debate in the past about having public notices posted online on government websites rather than in newspapers with valid arguments on both sides. He said the legislation “tries to take the best of both and combine them into a bill that will preserve independence by allowing someone other than the government to disseminate notices.”
Besides requiring the notices be posted on newspaper websites, the measure also requires each newspaper provide a link to a website where such notices from newspapers statewide will be available. The Tennessee Press Association anticipates operating such a website.
The sole vote against the bill came from Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, who said he views the measure as “excluding everyone else who is not a Tennessee newspaper” from publishing public notices.
By Eric Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee lawmakers are poised to decide this week whether a proposal to allow supermarket wine sales moves ahead or withers on the vine.
The bill to overhaul the current system that prevents shoppers from buying wine alongside groceries faces votes in both House and Senate committees this week, where as little as a single vote could decide the bill’s fate after months of lobbying.
“It could fall either way at this point,” said Republican Sen. Ken Yager of Harriman, chairman of the Senate State and Local Government Committee.
Yager’s committee meets Monday to hear from both sides of the bill, which seeks to allow cities and counties to hold referendums on whether to do away with liquor stores’ exclusive license to sell wine. The nine-member panel is scheduled to vote the following day.
Yager, who opposes of the bill on the basis that the change would hurt existing package stores in his district, said the measure could come down to a 5-4 vote.
A bill that could exempt planning commission members in six East Tennessee counties from disclosing their financial interests has been introduced by Sen. Ken Yager and Rep. Kent Calfee.
Calfee, a freshman Republican lawmaker from Kingston, said HB15 was introduced at the request of Roane County Mayor Ron Woody.
The measure also would apply in Campbell, Fentress, Morgan, Pickett, Rhea and Scott Counties which are included along with Roane in Yager’s state Senate district. Yager said the other counties were added because of a “communications error.” The senator said he has written officials in the other counties and will amend the bill to delete those counties where an objection is raised.
Planning commission members were not required to file the disclosures until last year, when the Legislature enacted a bill adding them.
The disclosure statements in question require public officials to list their financial holdings and sources of income, but not the amount of income. Planning commission members were not on the list of those required to file the statements until the General Assembly added them in legislation approved last year with little debate and by almost unanimous margins.
The first disclosure reports since the new law took effect are due on Jan. 31, according to the Tennessee Ethics Commission.
Woody said in an interview that the new law is “kind of intrusive” and a deterrent to finding people to serve on the commissions, which typically pay very little or nothing for their services. They are in a different situation than elected officials such as himself, he said.
“It may have been adopted for good reasons and this is an unintended consequence. Or it may have been adopted for bad reasons… (with the intent of) killing our planning commissions. I don’t know. But I’m a firm believer in the need for planning commissions,” Woody said.
The bill approved last year was sponsored by Sen. Jim Tracy, R-Shelbyville, who was not available for comment. A spokeswoman, however, said it was the senator’s own idea. In a committee meeting last year, Tracy said the bill was “just common sense” and that those overseeing development should have to disclose potential conflicts of interest.
Woody said the Roane County Planning Commission has “ethical members,” including some who retired in the area after a business career “up north” and who may have substantial stock and real estate holdings.
By making their holdings public, he said, “you get to the point where people don’t want to serve.”
Yager said he basically agrees with Woody.
“In these rural counties, they (planning commissioners) are essentially volunteers – in Roane County, I think they get $50 a month – and it’s hard to attract people anyway,” Yager said.
News release from Senate Republican Caucus:
NASHVILLE – State Senator Ken Yager (R-Harriman), Chairman of the Senate State and Local Government Committee, said today he has put the Tennessee Housing Development Agency (THDA) on notice regarding his committee’s intentions to carefully review their spending practices. THDA came under fire after lavish spending on employee-related activities was uncovered in an investigative report by WTVF-TV in Nashville. The State and Local Government Committee reviews THDA’s budget and is responsible for recommending changes to the full Senate in the agency’s spending plan.
“It is essential that not only you but also the entire agency recognize that THDA is a state agency,” said Chairman Yager in a letter to Perrey. “This demands the agency have the fiscal discipline that is expected of every state agency. In fact, the nature of the agency’s work is such that it should be held to an even higher standard.”
“The Senate Committee I chair on State and Local Government will be reviewing the progress you make in implementing needed reforms in the coming months,” the letter continued.
THDA was created by the General Assembly in 1973 to provide housing assistance to Tennesseans in need by offering a variety of housing-related programs, especially for those with low incomes. Until October, the agency was led by Executive Director Ted Fellman.
Perrey was questioned by Yager on Monday regarding the expenditures at a meeting of the Joint Fiscal Review Committee, which also has legislative oversight responsibilities for state spending.
“We’ve lost sight of the good you do because of these outrageous activities that were funded through your budget,” Yager told Perrey at that hearing.
He also asked Perrey about whether he expressed concerns as a former THDA Board member before being selected as the new Executive Director. Perrey said he was not aware of some of the more lavish expenditures but pledged that they would not be repeated.
“Director Perrey has given us his word that the Agency will not repeat these excessive expenditures and we are going to hold him to that,” added Yager. “We will be holding THDA fully accountable for the dollars they spend.”
Senate Democrats have asked the chairman of the Senate State and Local Government Committee, Republican Sen. Ken Yager of Harriman, to open the committee for a hearing on voting irregularities. Yager replied that it’s not necessary.
Here’s an exchange of news releases on the matter: News release from Senate Democratic Caucus:
NASHVILLE – Democratic legislative leaders have renewed calls for a hearing on voting irregularities before early voting begins for the November elections.
That election was fraught with issues. While Davidson County has decided not to use the electronic poll books again, other issues remain unresolved by state elections officials.
Voters are still coming forward with issues. Some received the wrong ballot, and others were falsely told they were at the wrong precinct. County and state officials disagree over who is ultimately responsible for elections.
“It could all happen again,” the letter states. “It is critical we hold a hearing on these issues before early voting begins.”
The letter calls for on State and Local Committee Chairman Sen. Ken Yager to hold a hearing on the issue. It was sent Monday by the Democratic members of that committee, Sens. Thelma Harper, Joe Haynes and Lowe Finney.
“Our state has put considerable effort into fighting voter fraud, a problem that barely exists,” the letter states. “Now we have irregularities in our largest cities that could open a door to election fraud, and it is time we act. We must do our part to return integrity to our elections.”
Read the complete letter HERE.
— Statement from Sen. Ken Yager, issued through Senate Republican Caucus:
(NASHVILLE, TN), September 25, 2012 — “There are two state agencies, the Division of Elections and the State Election Commission, which are charged with the responsibility of reviewing this matter and making any recommendation for changes. These are the most appropriate bodies to review any issues related to the August election.”
“The State Election Commission is a bipartisan board whose members are appointed by the General Assembly as recommended by the Republican and Democratic caucuses. ”
“Secretary of State Tre Hargett and Coordinator of Elections Mark Goins requested an independent audit by the office of the Comptroller of Treasury to fully investigate the matter.”
“Both of these agencies are currently discharging their responsibilities fully and appropriately. I have confidence that they will make any changes needed after reviewing all of the facts; therefore, I see no reason to duplicate their work at taxpayer’s expense.”
News release from Senate Republican Caucus:
(NASHVILLE, TN), August 1, 2012 — A new state law making elected and appointed officials ineligible for pre-trial and judicial diversion for criminal offenses committed in their official capacity meets constitutional muster according to a recent Attorney General’s opinion. Tennessee Attorney General and Reporter Robert Cooper, Jr. opined the state “may treat elected or appointed public officials differently from the general public by making them ineligible for pretrial or judicial diversion, without running afoul of federal or Tennessee constitutional protections.”
The request was posed by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Eric Watson (R-Cleveland). The bill was sponsored by Senator Ken Yager (R-Harriman) and Representative Ryan Haynes (R-Knoxville).
“I am pleased that the Attorney General has opined that this new law passes constitutional muster,” said Senator Yager. “It is good to restate that both pre trial and judicial diversion are not a ‘fundamental rights’ for public officials. Those of us who have the privilege to hold public office should be held to a higher standard and violations of the law related to our official duties ought not to be swept under the rug by pre-trial or judicial diversion.”
“I was confident that our legislation was on solid constitutional ground,” added Representative Haynes. “With this new law we are sending the message that a public office is still a public trust and criminal conduct in public office will not be tolerated.”
The opinion stated that pretrial and judicial diversion are treated as “truly extraordinary relief” and are not fundamental rights. It also said “Tennessee and federal courts have not recognized public officials as a suspect class for equal protection purposes. The act took effect July 1, 2012.
— Note: The full attorney general’s opinion is HERE.
Lapdogs in cars could mean trips to court under legislation that appears headed for passage after gaining approval of a committee that killed a similar bill last year.
Sen. Ken Yager, R-Harriman, won approval of SB3110 in the Senate Transportation Committee on a 5-2 vote.
Last year, the committee killed a bill by Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, that had the same goal, though slightly different language.
This year’s bill creates a new misdemeanor offense for having an animal in the lap while driving. It also covers an animal being between the driver and the driver’s door.
Yager won the committee’s approval after reading a letter from a constituent in Oliver Springs who said he has twice barely avoided a serious accident because of other drivers with dogs in their laps.
Both the and the House sponsor, Republican Rep. Jim Cobb, said passage of the bill should make highways safer. Cobb said statistics show about 30,000 accidents per year nationwide caused by drivers distracted by dogs or cats in their vehicles.
The House version of the bill is scheduled for a floor vote tonight.
Security forces at TVA’s Sequoyah and Watts Bar nuclear plants would have authority to use deadly force to prevent sabotage at their facilities under legislation given final approval Thursday by the state Senate, according to the Chattanooga TFP.. Senators voted 32-0 for the bill, sponsored by Sen. Ken Yager, R-Harriman. The measure, which was previously approved by the House, now will go to Gov. Bill Haslam.
Yager, who represents Rhea County where Watts Bar is located, later called it “critically important that the scope of authority for nuclear facility security officers is clearly spelled out in state law,” in a news release.
“There should be no uncertainty as to whether they have the authority to effectively defend the public as well as themselves, against acts of radioactive sabotage,” Yager said.
The Tennessee Valley Authority’s general manager of nuclear security, Dr. Mark Finley, recently told lawmakers that officers at Watts Bar and Sequoyah are operating under the “Castle Doctrine.” The self-defense provision allows for the use of force, including deadly force, when threatened within one’s home.
The Senate has approved and sent to the House a bill that prohibits public officials from receiving pre-trial diversion for crimes committed while in office.
Such a law, had it been in effect at the time, would have apparently have prevented former Knox County Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner from receiving pre-trial diversion, which allowed him to collect a state pension and will allow his criminal record to be expunged if he does not violate probation.
Sen. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, referred to Baumgartner’s case during Senate floor debate on SB2566, sponsored by Sen. Ken Yager, R-Harriman. McNally said the judge’s situation “points out the need for legislation like this.”
The bill passed unanimously during the Senate’s Monday evening session, though three senators abstained. One of them, Sen. Joe Haynes, D-Nashville, was the only lawmaker to voice any concern about the bill.
Haynes said that a crime by a public officials is bad, but that it is “just as horrible” for a trusted employee to embezzle money from his or her employer. He suggested the bill would be the equivalent of declaring punishment for a given crime would be less for a person over age 65.
“Why are we going to set apart one group and treat them differently than anybody else on various crimes?,” Haynes asked Yager. “If it’s good for those of us who serve in public office, why wouldn’t we do the same for anyone else?”
“Because a public office is a public trust and, as public officials, we ask for these jobs,” said Yager, contending that a higher standard should apply to judges, legislators and others holding an elective position.
McNally, after citing the Baumgartner case, said that state law already declares some types of crimes ineligible for pre-trial diversion and the bill simply adds another category. Drawing such distinctions, McNally said, is an appropriate function for the Legislature.
The bill now goes to the House, where it is sponsored by Rep. Ryan Haynes, R-Knoxville. It is scheduled for a subcommittee vote today, which could move the bill forward for final passage by next week.