Archive for the ‘state Senate’ 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.

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.

###

 

Ramsey Seeks to Reduce Friend’s Property Taxes

Monday, April 11th, 2011
Ramsey

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey is ready to chop tax bills -- for his wealthy campaign contributors.

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey has a wealthy friend who is sick of paying property taxes. So, naturally, Ramsey is trying to pass a law that exempts his friend and other wealthy landowners from having to pay their full tax bills.

Tennessee Republicans have made their priorities clear: tax giveaways for their campaign donors, pain for working Tennessee families.

Tom Humphrey gives a one-line analysis and then the story from The Daily News Journal:

A developer with 187 acres of vacant land off Medical Center Parkway (in Murfreesboro) would get a $273,058 tax break if proposed legislation by Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey were the law today, says the Daily News Journal.

Ramsey’s bill would cap appraisal increases on vacant land at 25 percent — an idea that doesn’t sit well with either (Rutherford) County Mayor Ernest Burgess or Property Assessor Bill Boner.

“It’s not fair,” Boner said. “I’m not against a rich man making millions, but he still has to pay his fair share of taxes. … If they pass this law, it’s not going to be good to anybody. It’s going to cost the county billions in assessed value.

It will be millions in tax dollars. “Somebody is going to make up the difference.”

Ramsey, an East Tennessee Republican, said he came up with the idea after learning his friend and constituent C.M. Gatton of Bristol faces the higher tax bill based on land in Murfreesboro he owns that was recently reappraised at about $30 million by Boner.

…If Boner’s value remains in place, Gatton faces an annual tax bill of about $282,758 for both commercial and residential land. That’s in addition to city taxes owed on the property.

“Nobody can afford that,” Ramsey said during a phone interview this past week.

Under Ramsey’s bill, the reappraisal would only raise the value to $1.6 million, resulting in an annual tax bill of $9,701.

C.M. Gatton and Carol Gatton, who are both listed with addresses at 1000 W. State St. in Bristol, contributed a total of $5,000 in June 2009 to Ramsey’s unsuccessful campaign for governor in 2010.

Here’s the summary for SB1316 (which hasn’t been scheduled for a vote) from the legislature’s website:

“This bill specifies that it is the policy of this state that an owner of real property that is vacant, unused, or held for use should not be subject to a disproportionate and unexpected increase in taxes solely due to changes in the use of other real property in proximity to such real property. This bill specifies that the value of such real property would be the lesser of:

(1) The value of the real property but for this bill; or

(2) The value of the real property in the tax year of the immediately preceding reappraisal plus 25 percent of that value.

The fiscal note estimates that enactment of the bill would mean a loss of revenue to local governments that “exceeds $1 million.”