Responding to an online petition drive launched by an 11-year-old Oak Ridge boy, StudentsFirst has rescinded its designation of state Rep. John Ragan as a ‘reformer of the year” because he sponsored the so-called “the don’t say gay bill.”
“Regardless of when Representative Ragan was named a “Reformer of the Year” by our organization, his introduction of ill-conceived and harmful legislation including HB 1332 — which would have cultivated a culture of bullying — does not represent the type of leadership we look for in our legislative champions. We have made that clear to Rep. Ragan and rescinded the recognition,” wrote Michelle Rhee, founder and president of StudentsFirst in a post on the education reform organization’s website.
“Simply put, we must hold our “Reformers of the Year” to a higher standard. So let me be very clear — policies that are intended to single out any student based on their sexual orientation and treat them differently are wrong,” Rhee said.
The rescission of Ragan’s recognition by the group Wednesday came five days after Marcel Neergaard, 11, and his parents started a petition at MoveOn.org urging StudentsFirst to do so. On Thursday afternoon, it had collected 55,034 supporters.
Highs and Lows for TN’s GOP Leaders
Andrea Zelinski has a 2012 reminiscence focused on the legislature and Gov. Bill Haslam’s doings. It starts like this: Between the governor’s first veto and wild political backlash against Republican leaders, this was a year of firsts on Capitol Hill. It all started in January when Republicans took control over legislative redistricting for the first time. The Sen’s Sizeup
Sen. Stacey Campfield,, in a blog post, put together a list of Tennessee superlatives for 2012. A couple of samples: Tumble of the year – Scott Deejarleigh. OK. I may never get the spelling of his name down but one thing is for sure his political stock went down when his divorce proceedings came out.
Non news story of the year- Wine in grocery stores. Seldom has so much been said and reported about something that had so little to no chance of actual movement. Elsewhere, briefly….
Nooga.com did a rundown on the year of Gov. Bill Haslam and another on U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais… along with some Hamilton County and Chattanooga city politics.
The News Sentinel’s list of top East Tennessee stories included two political items – Tim Burchett’s campaign finance/divorc troubles at No. seven and DesJarlais divorce revelation difficulties at No. 9. (Pat Summitt’s retirement topped the list.)
Metro Pulse did a Knoxville-oriented rundown – with some mention of the legislature. Nashville City Paper focused, reasonably enough, on Nashville HERE.
Both of Tennessee’s U.S. senators, Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, voted yes on the tax deal that was approved by the Senate in the early on New Year;s day.
Here’s Alexander’s statement on the vote from his media office: “This agreement rescues 99 percent of Americans from individual and estate tax increases in 2013, and then makes these lower rates permanent, providing certainty and creating jobs. But the Medicare fiscal cliff is still ahead of us, which is why Senator Corker and I have a proposal to deal with the out-of-control spending that will soon bankrupt the programs seniors rely on to pay their medical bills. If we don’t deal with this during the debt ceiling debate, we are on the road to becoming Greece.”
Here’s Corker’s statement on the vote from his media office:
WASHINGTON – After voting in favor of legislation to rescue 99 percent of the American people from a tax rate increase, U.S. Senator Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said “it’s time to move on to the spending reductions that will be part of the debt ceiling package.” “I am disappointed we could not address our country’s fiscal issues all at once, but unfortunately, the president made it clear that he was only willing to do this in two steps and leveraged the country and the economy to force revenues to be dealt with first. Now that we’ve addressed the revenue part of the equation, it’s time to move on to the spending reductions that will be part of the debt ceiling package. Passing fundamental entitlement reform is the most important action we can take in ensuring our country’s solvency and now we must have the courage to finish the job and make the tough choices necessary to get these problems behind us once and for all,” said Corker.
Earlier this month, Corker offered legislation to raise the debt ceiling by roughly $1 trillion in exchange for roughly $1 trillion in reforms to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. Here’s the AP’s summary of what the bill does:
Highlights of a tentative agreement Monday between the White House and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., aimed at averting wide tax increases and budget cuts scheduled to take effect in the new year. The measure would raise taxes by about $600 billion over 10 years compared with tax policies that expire at midnight Monday. It would also delay for two months across-the-board spending cuts otherwise set to begin slashing the budgets of the Pentagon and numerous domestic agencies. Highlights include:
–Income tax rates: Extends decade-old tax cuts on incomes up to $400,000 for individuals, $450,000 for couples. Earnings above those amounts would be taxed at a rate of 39.6 percent, up from the current 35 percent. Extends Clinton-era caps on itemized deductions and the phase-out of the personal exemption for individuals making more than $250,000 and couples earning more than $300,000.
–Estate tax: Estates would be taxed at a top rate of 40 percent, with the first $5 million in value exempted for individual estates and $10 million for family estates. In 2012, such estates were subject to a top rate of 35 percent.
–Capital gains, dividends: Taxes on capital gains and dividend income exceeding $400,000 for individuals and $450,000 for families would increase from 15 percent to 20 percent.
–Alternative minimum tax: Permanently addresses the alternative minimum tax and indexes it for inflation to prevent nearly 30 million middle- and upper-middle income taxpayers from being hit with higher tax bills averaging almost $3,000. The tax was originally designed to ensure that the wealthy did not avoid owing taxes by using loopholes.
–Other tax changes: Extends for five years Obama-sought expansions of the child tax credit, earned income tax credit, and an up to $2,500 tax credit for college tuition. Also extends for one year accelerated “bonus” depreciation of business investments in new property and equipment, a tax credit for research and development costs and a tax credit for renewable energy such as wind-generated electricity.
–Unemployment benefits: Extends jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed for one year.
–Cuts in Medicare reimbursements to doctors: Blocks a 27 percent cut in Medicare payments to doctors for one year. The cut is the product of an obsolete 1997 budget formula.
–Social Security payroll tax cut: Allows a 2 percentage point cut in the payroll tax first enacted two years ago to lapse, which restores the payroll tax to 6.2 percent.
–Across-the-board cuts: Delays for two months $109 billion worth of across-the-board spending cuts set to start striking the Pentagon and domestic agencies this week. Cost of $24 billion is divided between spending cuts and new revenues from rules changes on converting traditional individual retirement accounts into Roth IRAs.
New Legislature Faces Familiar Topics
Chas Sisk has first here-comes-the-legislature roundup story for 2013 (appearing before 2012 has ended). The summary sentences: Pass a budget. Resolve debates on guns, charter schools and wine. Get out of Nashville quickly.
Tennessee lawmakers do not reconvene until Jan. 8, but already their list of resolutions for the 108th General Assembly is becoming clear.
There’s also a sidebar with brief discussion on the following topics: Guns, health care reform, vouchers, charter schools, wine in grocery stores, workers compensation, solar industry tax breaks, pre-kindergarten, campaign finance. Legislator Surprised to be in Office
Chris Carroll reports that some legislators don’t realize they officially take office on election day in Tennessee. Opening line: Not even Todd Gardenhire knew when he became Sen. Todd Gardenhire.
There’s a list of some other Southeastern state rules on when legislators assume office. It appears Tennessee is the earliest listed, though Alabama lawmakers are close – the day after election. Florida legislators take office “upon election,” but that may mean when the votes are certified? Knoxville Had a ‘Fiscal Cliff’ Rally
Nearly two dozen people rallied outside the Howard H. Baker Jr. U.S. Courthouse in downtown Knoxville Saturday to urge Tennessee’s congressmen to pass a bill to extend tax cuts for the middle class and head off the looming “fiscal cliff,” reports the News Sentinel. Local residents gathered about 10:30 a.m. and stood outside for about an hour, said organizer June Jones.
“They’re just playing politics, and we’re just putting a light on the subject,” Jones said. “They’re just playing with people’s lives and making a lot of people very nervous.” No Free Ride for Putnam’s New Year’s Eve Celebrants
In Putnam County, a New Year’s Eve tradition of providing free rides home for drunken celebrators won’t be functioning this year, reports the Cookeville Herald-Citizen, because the Upper Cumberland Human Resource won’t furnish vehicles and drivers. “We provided the vans and our staff volunteered in coordinating the services, drove the vehicles and a separate staff volunteer went as an escort in each van,” Randall Killman, field operations specialist with UCHRA, explained. “In recent years, the agency has experienced some issues with intoxicated passengers that put our volunteer staff at risk.”
By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — In the months following his first legislative session, freshman Gov. Bill Haslam frequently boasted in speeches about earning unanimous approval of his budget plan and a near perfect record with his legislative agenda.
The Republican’s sophomore effort wasn’t as much of a slam dunk.
Haslam’s $31 billion spending plan went to a conference committee for the first time since the income tax fights of more than a decade ago, and 29 lawmakers voted against the final version. The governor nevertheless declared himself pleased with the results.
“In the end, we’re very grateful that such a larger percentage of our agenda was approved, including the budget, which obviously is one of the biggest things we do,” Haslam told reporters after a groundbreaking ceremony at Middle Tennessee State University least week.
(Note: Of the 55 bills in the Haslam legislative package introduced at the outset of this year’s session, 45 were passed.)
Early in the session, Haslam had to abandon an effort to lift a cap on average classroom sizes after educators and parents expressed fears about growing teacher-to-student ratios.
His effort to seal records used to decide which private companies receive cash grants from the state stalled over concerns about keeping the identities of individuals receiving taxpayer money secret.
From Chas Sisk in the Tennessean: A year that began with Gov. Bill Haslam’s inauguration on War Memorial Plaza ended with protesters occupying the exact same spot.
(A subhead says it’s the year ‘fed-up Tennesseans fought back.’
From Jeff Woods in The City Paper: The debate over repealing collective bargaining for public school teachers was the most contentious of this year’s state legislative session, with opponents rallying at the Capitol in raucous demonstrations like those that put the national spotlight on Wisconsin.
It took two tie-breaking votes from House Speaker Beth Harwell before Tennessee Republicans succeeded in stripping the teachers’ union of most of its power.
Fantasy from Greg Johnson in the News-Sentinel on what’s coming next year: In January, capitol police summon Tennessee House Speaker Beth Harwell to Gov. Bill Haslam’s office to intervene in an altercation between the guv and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey
The AP’s list of Tennessee’s top 10 stories for 2011 is HERE..
The East Tennessee Historical Society honored Gov. Bill Haslam on Thursday night with its first annual East Tennessean of the Year Award at a celebration dinner held at the Cherokee Country Club, reports the News Sentinel. “If there is an award for most blessed East Tennessean, that would be me,” Haslam said after accepting the award.
The board of directors of the Historical Society established the award to honor an East Tennessee history maker who is not only an ambassador for the region but who also represents integrity, dignity, leadership qualities and the volunteer spirit, according to Tennessee Supreme Court Judge Gary Wade, who is from Sevier County
Note: The AP’s Erik Schelzig asked the governor about the unemployment benefits extension bill and the school year bill. The following two briefs resulted.
SPRINGFIELD, Tenn. (AP) — Republican Gov. Bill Haslam says his administration is evaluating a legislative effort to extend unemployment benefits to thousands of jobless Tennesseans.
Haslam said after an education discussion at a Springfield elementary school on Tuesday that he has asked his staff and lawmakers to clarify who exactly would be covered and how much it would cost the state.
Benefits ran out in April for about 28,000 people in Tennessee after state officials didn’t adjust state law to comply with new federal standards.
Passage of the bill sponsored by Rep. Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley and Sen. Lowe Finney of Jackson (HB2156), both Democrats, could result in nearly $60 million in federal funds to pay up to 20 more weeks of unemployment benefits.
SPRINGFIELD, Tenn. (AP) — Republican Gov. Bill Haslam says he wants to ensure that any changes to Tennessee’s academic calendar won’t reduce the number of days students spend in school.
But Haslam and Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman said after a meeting with educators at a Springfield elementary school on Tuesday that they haven’t taken a specific stance on a legislative proposal to mandate that schools can’t start until the fourth week of August.
Supporters say the measure would boost tourism, save on cooling costs and standardize the school schedule around the state.
But dozens of school districts have objected to the move, and the version passed by the House on Monday would exclude many counties from the legislation.
The House and Senate versions would have to be reconciled before heading for the governor’s consideration
The House has voted to push public schools toward beginning their school year no later than the fourth Monday in August, but only after more than 20 counties were excluded from the bill’s provisions.
As passed by the Senate earlier, SB1471 would require that schools open no later than the second Monday in August in 2012, the third Monday in August in 2013 and the fourth Monday in August in 2014.
But the House piled on amendments exempting various counties at the urging of legislators who said they acted at the request of school boards in their home counties.
Backers of the bill warned the multiple exemptions could violate provisions of the state constitution, but those pushing the amendments – with one exception – apparently accepted arguments that each legislator should decide matters impacting only his or her county.
Reps. John DeBerry, D-Memphis, and Richard Montgomery, R-Sevierville, acted as lead spokesman for the bill, contending it would benefit parents and students by assuring summer vacation time is preserved and businesses by assuring that students are available to work at summer jobs.
Montgomery said a University of Tennessee poll found that 71 percent of Tennesseans think schools now start too early. He also said schools will save money by not having to pay for cooling during August, the most expensive month for air conditioning.
The move to exclude multiple counties, Montgomery said, “just blows my mind.”
The bill passed 70-23, with many of those who exempted their own counties out still supporting the amended version.
One of those was Casada, who was criticized by Democrats for removing Williamson County after earlier this year sponsoring a bill to have the Legislature override a Nashville City ordinance that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation.
The only opt-out amendment that was rejected came from Democratic Rep. Brenda Gilmore of Nashville. It was defeated after Republican Rep. Jim Gotto, also of Nashville, objected to Gilmore’s move.
The bill allows school systems that miss an average of 10 school days or more for a five-year period to seek a waiver from the law from the Department of Education.
The measure now returns to the Senate, which must decide whether to go along with the multiple amendments.
Among East Tennessee counties amended out of the bill were Blount, Hamblen, Johnson, Carter, Loudon, Monroe and McMinn. Memphis City Schools, the state’s largest system, was also excluded on motion of Rep. Joe Towns, D-Memphis.