Archive for the ‘state house’ Category

An Overview of the 2011 General Assembly

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2011

After just five months of Republican control in the General Assembly and the Governor’s mansion, things in Tennessee are getting worse.

“How bad is it?” Wendi Thomas of The Memphis Commercial Appeal wrote. “It’s so bad I may have to say I’m from Mississippi.”

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In short, this year Republicans junked their promise to strengthen the state economy and help people find work in favor of ideological pet projects and radical social engineering that takes the wheels off the notion of responsible governance.

Democratic State Sen. Andy Berke summed it up this way:

“There are many things that we’ve done this year that are going to hurt Tennessee, and ultimately, the people who passed them will pay a cost for that… [Tennesseans] don’t want to see the radical agenda that is being pushed through.”

The Jobs Con

In 2010, Republicans campaigned on a platform of jobs, jobs, jobs. Less than one year later, the majority party buried its head in the sand and ignored the crisis facing 300,000 Tennesseans looking for work.

Since Republicans took charge, Tennessee’s unemployment rate has climbed to nearly 10 percent — even while across the nation, the jobs picture in 47 states has stabilized or improved. [Bloomberg, 5/20/11]

The response? Republicans systematically killed a dozen Democrat-sponsored jobs bills aimed at boosting the economy, including a popular sales tax holiday for small business purchases.

Then Governor Bill Haslam and Republicans slashed funding and fired 60 business recruiters at the Department of Economic & Community Development — the organization that lured international corporations like Volkswagen, Nissan, Amazon.com, and Hemlock to Tennessee, securing more than 200,000 jobs and $34 billion in economic investment.

And even further, Republicans endangered 3,900 new jobs and potentially two more Amazon.com distribution centers by threatening to renege on agreements made between the state and Amazon.

The Chattanooga Times Free Press:

“Legislators passed not a single bill that would improve job creation or put people back to work… The notion that lawmakers could leave Nashville celebrating such reversals and derogation of the needs of ordinary working people across the state is stunning. The only reason we can be glad that lawmakers finished the session is that it prevents them from wreaking more damage.”

Damage, indeed. Here is what happened:

ATTACKS ON TEACHERS & PUBLIC EDUCATION: The attacks on teachers and public education defined the Republicans first legislative session in power of both state houses.

“Last year we had Race to the Top. This year we have dive to the bottom.” – Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga

The session’s most contentious legislation was the Republican-led effort to repeal the collective bargaining rights of public school teachers. Teachers rallied by the thousands against measures that unfairly targeted them and the millions worth of spending cuts to public schools.

House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh said the changes would be damaging for Tennessee students:

“Republicans have taken away the job security of our veteran teachers, stripped their ability to negotiate for things like text books, janitorial services & basic school supplies, opened the door to for-profit charter schools and nearly ripped millions from the public school system with a voucher proposal.

“Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey & his counterparts call this reform, but our teachers & the people of Tennessee know better. This is not reform; it’s regression.”

COLLECTIVE BARGAINING BAN: Republicans repealed the Education Professional Negotiations Act ending an era of teacher solidarity, one in which the TEA had bargained with school boards across a wide range of matters in most of the state’s school districts. As a result, our teachers are angry, demoralized and tire of being blamed for the problems facing our education system.

CHARTER SCHOOLS EXPANSION: Gov. Haslam and Republicans expanded charter schools, potentially hurting our neediest children and families by draining traditional public schools of top performers and resources.

VIRTUAL SCHOOLS: Virtual schools, online education run by for profit corporations that  poach millions of tax dollars from public schools. Online schools could be gateway to school vouchers.  Rep. Mike Stewart said it sets “a dangerous precedent” and  will lead to public school money being siphoned off by private for-profit corporations.

CAPS ON HOPE SCHOLARSHIP HOURS: With the cost of tuition increasing at Tennessee colleges and universities, the legislature decided to cut funding for student scholarships. The cap on the 120 hours paid for by the lottery scholarship has students and parents worried about how to pay for degrees that go over the limit.

LAVISH RAISES. Gov. Bill Haslam made cuts to important health programs while handing out more than $250,000 worth of raises to his top cronies, all of whom already made six-figure salaries. One commissioner even got a 32% raise — in his first week on the job!

LT. GOV. RAMSEY GAVE SECRET PAY RAISES TO STAFFERS, TOO: Not to be outdone by Gov. Haslam, Channel 4 News discovered that Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey approved pay increases for 18 senate staffers at the same time salaries were frozen for the other 42,825 state employees.

Channel 4 News: They just got it because Ramsey felt they deserved it. “There’s nothing wrong with that — nothing,” said Ramsey. [Channel 4 News,5/23/11]

WINED & DINED BY LOBBYISTS AT $500,000 WORTH OF PARTIES: Special interest groups spent at least $519,000 this year wining and dining state lawmakers. Last year, even though the legislative session was longer, only $390,000 was spent.

The view of Sen. Andy Berke:

“Special interests play an outsized role in our government and especially in our legislature… It’s difficult not to look at what goes on in the legislature and worry about the individual citizen having his proper say, also.”

TRIED TO CUT TAXES FOR WEALTHY FRIENDS: Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey filed a bill that would have gave his millionaire friend and campaign donor a $270,000 property tax break on high-end real estate in Rutherford County. [The Daily News Journal, 4/10/2011]

USED TAX DOLLARS TO BUILD ROADS FOR SPECIAL FRIENDS: Days into office, Gov. Haslam brokered a backroom deal to have the Tennessee Department of Transportation build a private road to a well-heeled Republican business owner. Seeing it as a waste of taxpayer money to build a road for the benefit of a single business, Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen refused to pay for the road for six years. [KnoxNews.com, 4/3/11]

PROTECTED PREJUDICE: The GOP gave into the radical right-wing of its party, bowing to demands to overturn Metro-Nashville Council’s CANDO ordinance that required businesses with city contracts to employ non-discrimination hiring policies. Major businesses, such as Nissan and FedEx, criticized Republicans for their overreach, stating that their companies are committed to equal rights and protections for all Tennesseans. Furthermore, the Senate passed Stacey Campfield’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill which, as originally introduced, would make it illegal for teachers to even mention homosexuality before the 9th grade, even if to address bullying at the school. [WPLN, 5/24/11]

ATTACKS ON VICTIMS: By setting an arbitrary cap on the damages a citizen jury can award, Republicans put a price of $29 a day on the lives of victims who suffer horrific injuries at the hands of reckless corporations or medical malpractice.

Tennesseans are not interested in protecting reckless corporations from the damage they do, they want to protect the rights of victims and hold corporations responsible for their actions.

Caps on jury awards was Haslam’s pet project — perhaps because his multi-million dollar business is tied up in a lawsuit stemming from a citizen being killed at a Pilot gas station owned by the governor. [WSMV.com, 3/2/11]

ATTACKS ON WOMEN’S PRIVACY: If the constitutional amendment Senate Joint Resolution 127 is approved by voter referendum in 2014, Tennessee’s constitution would no longer protect a woman’s right to an abortion — even in cases of rape or incest or to save the life of the mother.

ATTACKS ON WOMEN’S HEALTH: In a partisan witch hunt Republicans defunded Planned Parenthood in Tennessee. The callous decision will cut more than $1 million worth of funding that provides medical exams, cancer screenings, tests and treatment for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, family planning, counseling and birth-control services for more than 5,000 residents every year.

ATTACKS ON THE OUTDOORS: Republicans killed common-sense legislation that would outlaw the destructive practice of mountaintop removal in Tennessee and preserve our scenic vistas, the water we drink, and the air we breath for generations to come.

ATTACKS ON RELIGION: In an affront to the American principal of religious tolerance, Sen. Bill Ketron’s “anti-terrorism bill,” originally outlawed some practices of Islam and sparked demonstrations by Tennessee Muslims. The bill was amended twice — once to delete any references to religion and then again to merely restate what’s already in federal law.

ATTACKS ON LOCAL GOVERNMENT: In a move that would seem to contradict their constant calls for limited government, Republicans expanded government control over cities by blocking the Memphis City Schools-Shelby County Schools merger that was passed overwhelmingly by a voter referendum and overturned Metro-Nashville Council’s CANDO ordinance that required businesses with city contracts to employ non-discrimination hiring policies.

ATTACKS ON ACCOUNTABLE ELECTIONS: House Bill 386 gutted the Voter Confidence Act, a law that was passed with broad bipartisan support to protect the integrity of our electoral process. The Voter Confidence Act made it mandatory for county election commissions to use voting machines that produce a verifiable paper trail in case of a recount.

ATTACKS ON FREE ELECTIONS: Republicans reduced the number of days in early voting and passed a photo ID requirement that has been called an unconstitutional “poll tax.” The photo ID requirement will make it harder for seniors, students and those who don’t drive to exercise their voting right.

ATTACKS ON FAIR ELECTIONS: On the same day the Senate passed a bill to allow corporations to donate to individual candidates, it banned the Tennessee Education Association from collecting political dues. Corporations were given more of a voice while teachers were silenced. Loud and clear, Republicans said: “Corporations deserve a bigger say in Tennessee elections than people.” Tennessee will now have contribution limits among the highest of any state.

NEXT YEAR

Haslam and Republican leaders have nearly eight months until the 107th General Assembly reconvenes in January to conspire new ways to put special interests before the interest of Tennesseans.

Rep. Mike Stewart on the upcoming legislative session in 2012:

“A lot of this stuff was just pushed off to next year. There’s no chance that we won’t be back arguing about guns on college campuses, anti-union measures again next year.”

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey confirmed our worst fears:

“Tennessee Republicans have talked a lot about what we would do when we took power. Now we are showing what we can do. This year was just an appetizer. Next year, and in the years to come, you will see the main course.”

RADICAL LEGISLATION YOU CAN EXPECT TO SEE IN 2012

CLASS SIZE INCREASES: Governor Haslam is already on the record of saying he is in favor of lifting the cap on class sizes. To handle more students, all you need is a “great teacher,” Haslam says. As if Tennessee didn’t already have great teachers.

PRIVATE SCHOOL VOUCHERS: Sen. Brian Kelsey sponsored a bill that failed this year to allow taxpayer money to be spent on private schools (including parochial schools), poaching money away from students in public schools.

GUNS ON CAMPUSES: A bill uniformly opposed by ALL Tennessee universities and university police departments would allow guns to be carried on campuses, potentially putting students at risk.

ARIZONA STYLE IMMIGRATION LAWS: We will likely see a new version of House Bill 1380, which was inspired by the controversial Arizona law. The law would give state and local law enforcement officers unprecedented authority over our civil rights by allowing an officer to make a determination if you look like an American. The Arizona law has brought on expensive legal battles and cost the state millions of dollars worth of lost tourism.

A TAKE OVER OF MEDICARE: The state Senate voted recently to take the first step toward ending Medicare as we know it in Tennessee by calling for a radical plan called a “health-care compact.” Such a plan would handover Medicare to the state, potentially leading to thousands of seniors losing benefits, being denied coverage, or simply falling through the cracks.

Money Buys Access, Access is Power

Wednesday, June 1st, 2011

The Branches of Government

Political reporters this weekend reported on the overwhelming influence of money in state politics.

Long story short: with Republicans in charge, there’s more money — from rich and powerful interests — in state politics than ever before.

And with the new GOP rules that raise contribution limits and allow direct donations from businesses, the influence of special interest groups — not hard-working citizens who can’t afford lobbyists — is only going to increase.

“Lobbyists had busy year in Nashville,” Times Free Press:

Special interests this year spent millions of dollars seeking to influence the Tennessee General Assembly on issues ranging from a proposed cap on personal injury lawsuit awards to letting grocery stores sell wine, records show.

Fights in these and other areas, including education policy and telecommunications competition, often played out not only in committee rooms and on the House and Senate floor but behind the scenes in lawmakers’ offices, legislative corridors and sometimes lavish receptions for lawmakers.

Groups also spent money in more public ways with studies, telemarketing campaigns and advertising aimed at encouraging the public to pressure legislators.

In the view of Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga: “Special interests play an outsized role in our government and especially in our legislature.”

Obviously, what we do affects wholesale industries, but it’s difficult not to look at what goes on in the legislature and worry about the individual citizen having his proper say, also,” Berke said.

House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, countered that lobbyists represent Tennesseans who don’t have time to come to the legislature every day.

It’s good for anyone to get their story in front of the legislators, especially the legislators that aren’t necessarily familiar with the issue. In that way, I think just anyone coming to see you would be helpful to their cause,” McCormick said.

Moreover, he said, “We can’t stop people from lobbying. I think the First Amendment makes it clear that people can come lobby, so we have set up a system where they have to at least report who’s paying them.

Nearly $520,000 was spent in total. That’s according to filings on the Tennessee Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance website. But it was only a fraction of lobbying costs. The reporting period came seven weeks before the May 21 end of the legislative session, so many totals will be higher.

Other lobby disclosures reveal scrambling by Amazon.com to fend off lawmakers and retailers who hoped to force it to collect state sales taxes at distribution centers it is building in Chattanooga and Bradley County.

Amazon increased its lobbying staff from one to 10, records show.

AT AN ADVANTAGE

Dick Williams with the watchdog group Tennessee Common Cause, said that when combined with campaign contributions, groups that lobby at the Capitol have an advantage.

Businesses, in particular, benefit, he said.

It just flies in the face that lobbying and contributions don’t influence legislation,” Williams said. Companies “want to get results that directly affect their bottom line.”

“$519,000 Used To Entertain State Lawmakers,” WSMV:

Special interest groups spent at least $519,000 this year wining and dining state lawmakers. Last year, even though the legislative session was longer, only $390,000 was spent.

You’ve got a lot of new legislators that special interests or lobbying groups want to ‘educate’ to their issues,” said Dick Williams of Common Cause of Tennessee, a voter watchdog group.

The five of the most expensive events were:

  • The Farm Bureau spent more than $23,000 on a luncheon
  • AT&T shelled out $22,000 for a reception
  • The Hospital Association spent $18,000
  • The School Board Association
  • The Chamber of Commerce reported events costing $17,000.

AT&T had a bill opposed by small phone companies up in the Legislature. The hospital association was a big backer of capping lawsuit damages. The School Board Association was the force behind this year’s most controversial issue: ending collective bargaining for teachers.

“Corporations and for-profit companies don’t spend that kind of money on something they don’t feel is going to bring them some return either financial or otherwise,” said Williams.

“Interest groups wined, dined TN lawmakers,” The Tennessean:

Special interest groups and lobbyists, ranging from the Tennessee Concrete Association to the Tennessee Bar Association, hosted 75 events, according to reports filed with the Tennessee Ethics Commission.

“We’re always dealing with concentrated benefits and distributed costs,” said community activist and tea party leader Ben Cunningham. “That’s the reality of government. Everybody pays for it, and in many cases the recipients of government largess are small groups, small corporations … who can justify spending huge amounts of money on attaining special favors. That’s the nature of the beast.”

Money buys access

Cunningham said the average citizen has a difficult time getting the attention of his state senator or representative the way special interest groups can with expensive events.

“Money means access, and access means power,” Cunningham said. “That is very much true in politics today. It’s probably going to continue to be true, unfortunately.”

Other expensive events were held by corporations including AT&T, which hosted a reception with an open bar and hors d’oeuvres, at a cost of $22,406.39.

RELATED ARTICLES

Chattanooga Times Free Press Rails Against Bank Influence. “It’s pretty obvious that the Republican-dominated Tennessee General Assembly puts the interests of banks ahead of those of the average Tennessean. Why else would legislators be in such a rush to approve a law that would significantly reduce the advance warning home-owners receive before their property is foreclosed? The only plausible explanation is that legislators are far more willing to do the bidding of the well-heeled bankers and their lobbyists than to properly serve and protect those who elected them to office. [“Foreclosure bill is bad law,” Chattanooga Times Free Press Editorial Board, 5/13/11]

Gov. Bill Haslam Hosts GOP Fundraiser During Legislative Session. The lavish soirée was held March 31 at the governor’s mansion in the “the party room.” Tickets ranged from $3,000 to $25,000. [Humphrey on the Hill, May 23, 2011]

Haslam Flaunts Fundraising Ethics Rules. State law bans fundraising by legislators while the General Assembly is in session. It was passed years ago to address public perceptions that lawmakers were “shaking down” special interests with business being considered by the legislature. [Chattanooga Times Free Press, 3/22/11]

Reps. Tim Wirgau, Glen Casada: Out-of-work Tennesseans, You’re On Your Own

Wednesday, May 25th, 2011

Jobs aren’t the only thing you can’t find in Tennessee, we’re also in the middle of a major leadership crisis.

Democrats won the fight to include jobless benefits for 28,000 Tennesseans in the final state budget, but it wasn’t without callous and incorrect dissent from Republicans.

GOP Rhetoric:

Rep. Glen Casada: “I would contend the answer to that is it’s up to individuals to help their family and their friends and neighbors who don’t have a job.” [Chattanooga Times Free Press, 5/20/11]

Rep. Tim Wirgau: “We got people who can’t find jobs, but we got more people who don’t look for jobs because we keep handing them money.” [Chattanooga Times Free Press, 5/20/11]

Gov. Haslam’s first budget didn’t include this funding. His administration said helping jobless Tennesseans was not a “top priority.” [Chattanooga Times Free Press, 5/20/11]

Republican Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey opposed extending the benefits, saying that after 79 weeks “you have to draw the line in the sand and say: ‘This is it.’” [Chattanooga Times Free Press, 5/21/11]

***

Instead of looking for meaningful solutions to fix our state economy by laying out serious plans to put 300,000 out of work Tennesseans back on the job, our elected leaders Rep. Glen Casada and Rep. Tim Wirgau demonized citizens for being out of a job.

THE FACTS: Bad GOP Economy, Lack of Jobs to Go Around

Tennesseans are looking for jobs, but, under this Republican leadership, the state economy is toxic. When the jobs picture in 47 states has stabilized or improving – how is it that Tennessee’s unemployment problem is getting worse? [Bloomberg, 5/20/11]

Payrolls grew in 42 states in April. The only states going the opposite direction were Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee.

The jobs that do open up are getting tons of attention.

  • In Hamilton County, Amazon.com  received 4,300 applications in two days. They can only hire a fraction of those people. You can’t tell me people aren’t looking. [Memphis Business Journal, 5/18/11]
  • In Tullahoma, 60 people applied for 10 jobs — at McDonalds. [Tullahoma News & Guardian, 4/28/11]
  • In Shelby County, more than 20,000 job-seekers applied over 14 days to work at a brewery that plans to hire 500 workers over the next five years. [The (Memphis) Commercial Appeal, 4/13/11]
  • In Montgomery County, “thousands of people” attend a two-day job fair in Clarksville. [The Leaf-Chronicle, 4/28/11]
  • In Rutherford County, 800 people apply for teaching positions. [Daily News Journal, 5/15/11]
  • In Knox County, Jobs News’ drew more than 1,400 seekers. [WVLT, 5/4/11]

Betsy Phillips at The Nashville Scene has more on Wirgau and Casada:

I hope y’all didn’t miss this little gem on Friday. In a story about extending the unemployment benefits for thousands of our most-screwed Tennesseans, Glen “Let Then Eat Cake” Casada and Tim Wirgau argued against the measure.

Andy Sher, in the Chattanooga Times Free Press , has the relevant quotes.

First from Casada:

But Rep. Glen Casada, R-College Grove, the former House Republican Caucus chairman, spoke against acting, saying that although most of the money comes from the federal government, it affects all taxpayers.

“We cannot continue to borrow money to give to people who don’t have a job after 79 weeks,” Casada told the chamber. “I would contend the answer to that is it’s up to individuals to help their family and their friends and neighbors who don’t have a job.”

Apparently Casada doesn’t know that individuals who have family, friends and neighbors are taxpayers, but Casada is … well, Casada. Hard to even get mad at him anymore, really.

But Tim Wirgau is a more interesting case. He says, “We got people who can’t find jobs, but we got more people who don’t look for jobs because we keep handing them money.” Got that? There are, according to Wirgau, people who can’t find jobs — that’s one group — but there’s a larger group of people who don’t even bother to look for jobs because they’re lolling around counting that sweet unemployment money.

In Wirgau’s own district in March, there were 3,420 people out of work. If some of them can’t find jobs but “more” of them aren’t even bothering to look, that means there are, at the least, 1,711 people in District 75 who just aren’t trying hard enough, by Wirgau’s own metric. There are jobs; those jackasses just aren’t working them.

Here’s my question: If what Wirgau says is true — there are all those people who could find jobs, if they’d just look, which would mean there’s at least 1,711 open positions in his district, why isn’t he setting up some kind of program to tell the people who can’t find jobs about them?

 

 

 

Democratic Party Chairman Urges Governor to ‘Act Responsibly’

Tuesday, May 17th, 2011

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 17, 2011

$60M in Federal Jobless Benefits for 28,000 Tennesseans Lost if Republicans Fail to Act

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Chip Forrester issued the following statement urging Gov. Bill Haslam and Republican legislators to pass law to reinstate jobless benefits for 28,000 Tennesseans:

Partisan politics shouldn’t threaten the economic future of 28,000 Tennesseans who can’t find work due to a recession that was no fault of their own.

Gov. Bill Haslam and Republican legislators haven’t lived up to their promise to create jobs, and now their negligence is jeopardizing critical financial support that is keeping children fed, bills paid and families out of foreclosure.

We’ve seen harmful bills that rob citizens and teachers of their rights get all the attention this session. Now Republicans have a chance to make an actual difference by fixing their screw up.

Mr. Haslam needs to prove he’s serious about governing – not scoring political points. The livelihood of nearly 30,000 citizens is on the line. Republicans owe it to these hurting families to act responsibly.

FACTS:

US Department of Labor estimates unemployment benefits give taxpayers a 2-to-1 return on investment. For the modest expenditure of less than $2 million, Tennessee would receive $60 million, which translates to $120 million of economic activity, according to a study commissioned by the labor department. The study suggests these dollars are injected quickly into the local economy and could potentially add more than $5 million directly to state sales tax collections. [US Department of Labor, 11/10]

Democrats scramble on to revive jobless benefits that Republicans failed to prioritize. Republicans, who control the General Assembly and set the legislative schedule, failed to pass a law to extend unemployment benefits for 28,000 jobless Tennesseans. Now legislative Democrats are pushing to reinstate the benefits, with House and Senate committees scheduled to meet Monday to consider last-minute bills to resurrect the program. Success would bring nearly $60 million in federal funds to pay up to 20 more weeks of benefits for Tennesseans unable to find jobs in a still-fragile economy. But it’s unclear whether Republican Gov. Bill Haslam and the Republican-controlled General Assembly will go along. [Chattanooga Times Free Press, 5/15/11]

GOP Sen. Mark Norris says Haslam administration signaled they wouldn’t pursue bill to extend jobless benefits. Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris said today that state Employment Security Administrator Don Ingram last week “made it very clear that the administration’s position at least had been that they didn’t intend to pursue it.” [Chattanooga Times Free Press, 5/16/11]

 

Tenn. Republicans Pass 21st Century Poll Tax

Thursday, April 14th, 2011
Sneaky Seniors

Making voting harder: Republicans institute 21st century poll tax with photo ID requirement.

Republicans in the Volunteer State said today loudly and of nearly one accord: Beware of sneaky senior citizens and their sneaky voting.

On Thursday Republicans in the state House approved a bill that forces voters to show photo identification at the poll — instead of just being able to show your voter registration.

Democrats in the House, and Senate prior to Thursday, tried their best to improve this bill so it wouldn’t be such an affront to seniors’ and others’ right to vote. But Republicans were not interested in protecting the voting rights of Tennessee seniors.

They went ahead and passed a modern day poll tax that requires you to pay the state for an ID card before you can vote. This bill will discourage voting — especially among groups of people who are poor, elderly and indigent.

It puts another hurdle between citizens and the ballot box and is probably unconstitutional, according to our state Attorney General.

Offering a solution to which there is no problem (and making the situation worse for everybody) is a condition that plagues this Republican-led General Assembly.

Jeff Woods at The City Paper has the details:

Democrats contended the bill is intended to make it harder for their traditional constituencies to vote, disenfranchising poor, elderly and minority voters who may not have photo IDs.

They pointed to a formal opinion state Attorney General Bob Cooper issued this week. Because the legislation includes no provision to pay for photo IDs for voters who don’t have them, Cooper said the requirement “unduly burdens the right to vote” and “constitutes a poll tax,” a fee making voting uneconomical for poor people.

“Our oath, of course ladies and gentlemen, prevents us from voting on a bill that is unconstitutional,” House Democratic leader Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley told the House. …

Democrats offered amendments to make the photo IDs free of charge or to waive the requirement for the elderly and others.

“We’ve made it from the days of Andrew Jackson to today in Tennessee electing people without having to show a photo ID,” Rep. Mike Stewart, D-Nashville, said. “I’ve looked around to see if there’s any evidence of widespread fraud by seniors in elections. I haven’t found any. No one so far in this debate has shown any evidence of any need to change the system we now have in place.”

 

Democrats Call Out Republicans for Ignoring Jobs Crisis

Monday, April 11th, 2011

Republican Jobs Rhetoric Amounts to Lip Service

Many people are asking, “Where are the jobs?”

In Tennessee, the more important question may be, “Where is the jobs plan?” It must be top secret because Republicans refuse to talk about what their plans are to help the 76 counties being strangled by double-digit unemployment.

In the past Democrats and Republicans have worked together to bring public-private partnerships to the state, such as Hemlock and Volkswagen.

This session of the General Assembly, Democrats have proposed a slate of laws that will spur job creation in Tennessee. One being a proposal that gives Tennessee contractors priority when seeking state business. Another would allow small businesses to have a sales tax holiday similar to Tennessee’s back-to-school tax holiday.

But Republicans won’t even schedule the bills for discussion. Why are they blocking 300,000 unemployed Tennesseans from getting relief?

Our Democratic leaders in the General Assembly took Republican leaders to task on Monday.

Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Lowe Finney discusses Republicans’ refusal to work toward jobs creation in a press conference Monday.

House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh discusses how Republicans say government doesn’t create jobs, yet are all too willing to benefit from government-spurred job creation.

Republican rhetoric doesn’t match their actions — or lack thereof

Haslam’s ad: Jobs in every county, that’s what matters now

Rep. Debra Maggart: “We’re going to work on jobs”

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey: “We are truly trying to concentrate on jobs”

Speaker Harwell: “Jobs get top priority”

***

After 86 Days, Democrats Still Asking for Answers on Jobs

Governor’s campaign promised regional jobs creation strategy more than a year ago

 

(Nashville) – Following another month of rising unemployment in Tennessee, Democrats Monday again asked for answers on promised job-creation strategies from the administration and the Republican majority in the legislature.

 

“Now more than ever, we need people who place priorities on performance rather than politics,” said Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Lowe Finney (D-Jackson). “Instead, we’re up here debating whether dogs should wear seat belts, or rewriting science books, or talking about creating our own currency.”

 

While national unemployment rates dropped to 8.9 percent last month, the state’s unemployment rate rose to 9.6 percent. Meanwhile, Gov. Bill Haslam gave raises to his commissioners of 11 to 20 percent, even though they were already making six-figure salaries.

 

Democratic leaders also are questioning the use of more than half a million dollars in federal stimulus money, sent from Washington, to fund three R.V.s to drive around the state to teach Tennesseans resume-writing skills.

 

“A resume doesn’t matter if there’s nowhere to send it,” said House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh (D-Ripley). “They’re telling rural West Tennessee how to apply for jobs, yet the governor didn’t include the West Tennessee Megasite in his budget. It doesn’t make sense.”

 

Democrats again asked Republicans to consider their jobs creation plans and work together to help 300,000 Tennesseans searching for work. The call came on the same day House Republican leaders claimed that Democrats had rejected a seat at the table with them.

 

“I sit at the leadership breakfast table every week with the governor and the majority party, and I have yet to hear a word from them about our jobs crisis,” said House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner (D-Old Hickory). “Tennesseans deserve to have their elected officials working together to put Tennesseans back to work.”

 

###


Republican-Controlled Government: Still No Jobs

 

Jan. 15 (Day 1 of Haslam Administration): Newly-elected Gov. Haslam signs an executive order closing financial disclosures for himself and his cabinet.

 

Feb. 2 (Day 18): Senate Republicans ram through a committee vote to stop Memphis City Schools from merging with Shelby County Schools. The bill is passed by House and Senate Republican majorities and signed by Gov. Haslam on Feb. 11.

 

Feb. 10 (Day 26): Union City Goodyear plant announces it will close, putting 1,900 Tennesseans out of work.

 

Feb. 14 (Day 30): Senate Republicans pass a bill to require photo ID to vote, jeopardizing the voting rights of 500,000 Tennesseans.

 

Feb. 16 (Day 32): Senate Republicans vote in committee to strip teachers of collective bargaining rights.

 

March 5 (Day 49): Gov. Haslam tells Rutherford Co. GOP at a fundraiser that “the government doesn’t create jobs.”

National unemployment rate in January: 9.0 percent, down from December.

Tennessee unemployment rate: 9.4 percent, unchanged from December.

 

March 14 (Day 58): Gov. Haslam releases budget with no funds for the West Tennessee Megasite, despite repeated pledges of support to West Tennessee voters and media.

 

March 23 (Day 67): A House subcommittee hears presentations on Haslam’s biggest “jobs plan” to date: tort reform.

 

March 31 (Day 75): Gov. Haslam hosts a $3,000- to $25,000-per-couple fundraiser at the Governor’s Mansion. February unemployment numbers released same day.

National unemployment rate: 8.9 percent, down from January.

Tennessee unemployment rate: 9.6 percent, up from January.

 

April 5 (Day 80): Gov. Haslam announces three stimulus-funded RVs stocked with flat screen TVs and wireless Internet will go to rural Tennessee to help with job searches.

 

Haslam in Commercial Appeal, March 19:

If you think governments can go create jobs, go look and see how much was spent on the (federal) stimulus plan from Washington – trillions of dollars – and did that really help create more jobs? I don’t think so. I just don’t believe in that process.

 

April 6 (Day 81): AP story details average 11 percent raises for Gov. Haslam’s commissioners. State employees would get 1.6 percent raise amidst 1,200 job cuts under Haslam’s budget.

 

April 7 (Day 82): House Republicans debate for hours over changing science curriculum in schools and requiring dogs to wear seat belts. No discussion on job creation.

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State Democratic Party Chair Condemns High-Dollar ‘Pay-to-Play’ Republican Fundraiser

Thursday, March 31st, 2011

Big Money Bash During Legislative Session Likely Breaks Election Finance Laws

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Democratic Party Chair Chip Forrester issued the following statement today condemning the state G.O.P.’s high-dollar fundraiser being hosted by Gov. Bill Haslam at the Governor’s mansion tonight:

We’re now 77 days into Gov. Bill Haslam’s first term. In that time, we have not seen any inkling whatsoever that Republicans have a jobs plan — or even any ideas to put struggling Tennesseans back to work.

On the other hand, we have seen plenty of proposals that: grow the size of government, attack teachers, attack science, restrict religion, blow the tops off our Smoky Mountains, build a state mint, turn away affordable health care, disenfranchise voters, micromanage local school districts from Nashville, make government less transparent, waste millions of tax dollars, stifle economic growth BUT most of all — protect the financial interests of their big dollar campaign donors.

Tonight, those titans of industry are coming to the governor’s mansion to pay the piper.

“Shakedown” Bill Haslam is hosting a fundraiser for the Tennessee Republican Party at $3,000 to $25,000 a ticket — all this smack dab in the middle of legislative session.

What kind of message does this send to the everyday man who can’t afford to spend a year’s salary on Shakedown Bill’s one night soiree?

This event likely shatters the ethics laws designed to keep special interest money out of government, and it surely doesn’t pass muster in the eyes of working Tennesseans.

This governor and the Republican Party are running a pay-to-play scheme on Capitol Hill. Government for sale! All expenses paid for by taxpaying Tennesseans.

In his eight years in office, Gov. Phil Bredesen never held a fundraiser during session. He also mandated that he and his cabinet members would fully disclose their incomes and income sources.

That’s the way it should be.

In contrast, Bill Haslam’s first directive as governor was to repeal Bredesen’s executive order that made financial disclosure for the governor and his cabinet the law of the land.

Hard-working Tennesseans don’t want government business done behind locked doors anymore than they want big money, special interest groups influencing the legislative process.

But that doesn’t seem to bother “Shakedown” Bill and other Republicans, who are standing at the door of their fundraiser with hat in hand

—30—

FACTS:

1. Tennessee law puts major restrictions on fundraising during the legislative session for the governor, state senators, state representatives and state parties.

2010 Tennessee Code?Title 2 – Elections
Chapter 10 – Campaign Finances
Part 3 – Campaign Contributions Limits
2-10-310 – Fund raising during general assembly session.

(a) (1) Except as provided in subdivisions (a)(2) and (a)(3), from the convening of the general assembly in organizational session through the earlier of the last day of regular session or June 1 in odd years, and from the convening of the general assembly in regular session to the earlier of May 15 or the conclusion of the annual session in even years, and from the convening of the general assembly in any extraordinary session through the conclusion of such extraordinary session, no member of the general assembly or a member’s campaign committee or the governor or the governor’s campaign committee shall conduct a fundraiser or solicit or accept contributions for the benefit of the caucus, any caucus member or member or candidate of the general assembly or governor.
(2) During such period, a member of the general assembly who is a candidate for a local public office shall be permitted to conduct fundraising events and solicit or accept contributions for such campaign for local public office only under the following conditions:
(A) Such fundraising events may be held only in the county in which such member is a candidate for local public office;
(B) Solicitations and acceptance of contributions for such purposes may only be made from individuals residing in such county;
(C) Such fundraising events shall not be held, nor contributions be solicited nor accepted, on state property;
(D) The member shall not be permitted to solicit or accept, directly or indirectly, any actual or in-kind contribution during such period from a lobbyist or employer of a lobbyist; and
(E) No other member of the general assembly or the campaign committee of such other member shall be permitted to solicit or accept contributions during such period for the member campaigning for local public office. It shall be unlawful for any lobbyist or employer of a lobbyist to make any contribution to such member’s campaign committee during such period for any purpose.
(3) All contributions raised as a result of fundraising or a fundraising event authorized and held in accordance with subdivision (a)(2) shall be reported on a form prescribed and provided by the registry of election finance for such purposes. Such form shall be filed with and attached to the applicable campaign finance disclosure report. The following disclosures shall be made on such form:
(A) The amount of contributions collected as a result of such fundraising event;
(B) The date and place such fundraising event was held;
(C) The dates on which such contributions were accepted; and
(D) All other information required by law to be reported on a campaign financial disclosure report.
(b) From the convening of the general assembly in organizational session through the earlier of the last day of regular session or June 1 in odd years, and from the convening of the general assembly in regular session to the earlier of May 15 or the conclusion of the annual session in even years, and from the convening of the general assembly in any extraordinary session through the conclusion of such extraordinary session, a political campaign committee controlled by a political party on the national, state, or local level, or by a caucus of such political party established by members of either house of the general assembly, that makes contributions to a candidate for the general assembly or governor for election or to defray the expenses of such person’s office shall not conduct a fundraiser, solicit or accept contributions for the benefit of the caucus, any caucus member or candidate for the general assembly or governor.
(c) Excess funds for election to a local public office are not eligible for transfer under § 2-10-114 to a campaign account for election to the general assembly or governor.

[Acts 1995, ch. 531, § 1; 1998, ch. 1062, § 7; 2002, ch. 470, § 1; 2006 (1st Ex. Sess.), ch. 1, §§ 17, 18.]

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Stewart: “It’s time to cut the tax on milk, bread and eggs”

Tuesday, March 29th, 2011

Legislation Seeks to Help Family Budgets and Children’s Health

NASHVILLE (March 28, 2011) – We need to get rid of Tennessee’s tax on food and HB 537 is a step in the right direction.

HB 537 offers a simple trade – cut Tennessee’s food tax – one of the highest in the nation – and pay for it with a tax on sugar sweetened beverages, which have been linked by many experts to the epidemic of childhood obesity.

Stewart: "It's time to cut the tax on milk, eggs and bread"

“Families have to buy food, but they can cut back on non-essential items like soda when times get tough,” said the bill’s sponsor, State Representative Mike Stewart.

Even with the proposed tax, soda would remain cheaper than it was in the 1970’s, adjusted for inflation. “With the use of high fructose corn syrup instead of cane sugar, the price of soda has come way down whereas the price of food is going through the roof. This is one way to help a young family buy food without imposing a new tax on businesses that might hurt the economic recovery,” Stewart observed.

Additionally, studies show that much like the increase in the cigarette tax this would likely lower consumption and improve health, an increase in soda taxes also can lower the obesity rate for high risk children.

The fiscal note for the bill shows that the proposed 1% reduction in Tennessee’s food tax, which would reduce Tennessee’s rate to 4.5%, would be entirely paid for by the increased tax on sugar sweetened beverages. Beverages that are not sugar sweetened, such as diet sodas, would be taxed less under the proposed change. “For most families, this will be a well-deserved tax break,” Stewart noted.

The bill is scheduled to be heard in the House Budget Subcommittee on Wednesday, March 30, 2011 at 11:00am.

Stewart: “It’s time to cut the tax on milk, bread and eggs”

Tuesday, March 29th, 2011

Legislation Seeks to Help Family Budgets and Children’s Health

NASHVILLE (March 28, 2011) – We need to get rid of Tennessee’s tax on food and HB 537 is a step in the right direction.

HB 537 offers a simple trade – cut Tennessee’s food tax – one of the highest in the nation – and pay for it with a tax on sugar sweetened beverages, which have been linked by many experts to the epidemic of childhood obesity.

Stewart: "It's time to cut the tax on milk, eggs and bread"

“Families have to buy food, but they can cut back on non-essential items like soda when times get tough,” said the bill’s sponsor, State Representative Mike Stewart.

Even with the proposed tax, soda would remain cheaper than it was in the 1970’s, adjusted for inflation. “With the use of high fructose corn syrup instead of cane sugar, the price of soda has come way down whereas the price of food is going through the roof. This is one way to help a young family buy food without imposing a new tax on businesses that might hurt the economic recovery,” Stewart observed.

Additionally, studies show that much like the increase in the cigarette tax this would likely lower consumption and improve health, an increase in soda taxes also can lower the obesity rate for high risk children.

The fiscal note for the bill shows that the proposed 1% reduction in Tennessee’s food tax, which would reduce Tennessee’s rate to 4.5%, would be entirely paid for by the increased tax on sugar sweetened beverages. Beverages that are not sugar sweetened, such as diet sodas, would be taxed less under the proposed change. “For most families, this will be a well-deserved tax break,” Stewart noted.

The bill is scheduled to be heard in the House Budget Subcommittee on Wednesday, March 30, 2011 at 11:00am.

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Tenn. Republicans Resisting Third Party Access

Tuesday, March 29th, 2011

Some Tennessee Republicans are showing that the only ideas they want to hear are their own.

Take for instance, the legislative proposal — ordered by a federal court — to give third parties easier access to Tennessee ballots.

In every sense, a third party adds to the free marketplace of ideas in an open society. But Republican House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick of Chattanooga is not interested in shopping around for the best ideas.

From The AP:

House Majority Leader Rep. McCormick of Chattanooga

“I don’t want to see us become like Italy and have a dozen different parties and all these splinter groups, and have to make coalitions with them,” said McCormick.

Heavens to Betsy! Working with “different parties?” Having to “make coalitions with them?!” That would just be awful.

The Knoxville News Sentinel says it more eloquently:

A vast majority of American voters cast their ballots for one of two parties, not only recently but going all the way back to the Federalists and the Jeffersonian Republicans in the early days of presidential politics.

But third parties – the generic name given to political parties opposing Democrats and Republicans – deserve to have their names on the ballot and try to win public approval.

The state Legislature has an opportunity to make that happen this term, and that should be one of its accomplishments when the session ends.

Third parties have provided a colorful and thoughtful element to American politics, although none in modern times has been able to displace either of the top two. Nevertheless, there is always that possibility in an open and free society.

Sen. Kyle: "Democracy works better when the rules are fair."

Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle of Memphis has also spoken in favor of third party access to Tennessee ballots. He suggests 10,000 signatures from eligible voters should be enough to get your preferred party on the ticket.

“My goal is to allow people who believe they’re in the Tea Party or the Green Party or the Libertarian Party to get on the ballot,” Kyle said. “Any organization that can get 10,000 signatures is as legitimate a political entity as any other. People should be able to stand up there and say I believe in these principles. I just think democracy works better when the rules are fair.”

Well said, Sen. Kyle. Well said.