Senator Todd Gardenhire might as well have called all Tennesseans "a**holes" last week when he leveled the vulgar term at a man in the hallway of the state Capitol.
The man had questioned Gardenhire about how the lawmaker could justify taking taxpayer-funded state health insurance yet vote against Insure Tennessee, which would provide health insurance for hundreds of thousands of Tennesseans.
That disdain seems indicative about how most Tennessee legislators feel about residents in our state.
The verbal sparring happened on March 31 after the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee, which Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, serves on, killed the Insure Tennessee resolution without debate.
Insure Tennessee, by the way, has the support of more than 70 percent of the citizens in the state.
The popular measure benefits nearly 300,000 working-poor people by providing them affordable health insurance, creates jobs in the critical health care sector and keeps hospitals open in rural parts of the Volunteer State. LINK
Leadership 'on sidelines' for Insure Tennessee, professor saysAdvocates for the governor's controversial health care plan curse Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, House Speaker Beth Harwell, their fellow lawmakers and special interest groups alike for the death of Insure Tennessee.
But navigating the path necessary to successfully pass controversial legislation is seldom easy or swift, note several political observers.
"I think Beth has done a real good job in handling the House and handling the affairs. She's done well," said Jimmy Naifeh, former Democratic speaker of the House from 1991 to 2009.
Naifeh is an outspoken supporter of Insure Tennessee. He's upset that politics clearly got in the way of what he considers a vital plan to help Tennesseans in need. But when he was speaker, he said, he never supported any effort to try and pluck a stalled bill from committee and bring it to the full House for a vote.
nsure Tennessee supporters have blasted Ramsey and Harwell for not bringing the measure to the floor of the House and Senate for a vote. Logistically, that's nearly impossible. Naifeh agreed with recent comments from both leaders that they can't just summon a bill out of committee. Insure Tennessee, in fact, has had more scrutiny by legislators than most bills.
It takes a two-thirds vote to bring a bill out of committee to the floor of either chamber. In the Senate alone, 14 of the 33 members have cast votes against Insure Tennessee. Opponents would need only 11 votes to keep the measure from the floor.
Apart from procedural wrangling, the leaders simply never came out in support of the policy. Ramsey seemed to indicate he might support the plan during the special session, but has since stepped back significantly from even tacit support of Insure Tennessee.
Harwell has never taken a position on the issue. LINK
Reporters May Need Permission to Use Laptop, Phone in CourtReporters may soon have to get permission from a judge any time they want to bring a cellphone, laptop or other digital device inside a courtroom.
Those are among the new requirements under proposed changes to a Tennessee Supreme Court rule that regulates media coverage in the courtroom.
The rule currently regulates when media can use still or video cameras to cover court proceedings. But in a nod to a rapidly changing digital landscape, where reporters can live Tweet murder trials and use their cellphones to photograph, video, and stream courtroom proceedings, The Tennessee Supreme Court is revamping its regulation known as Rule 30.
Speaking at a meeting of the Society of Professional Journalists on Friday,Deborah Tate and Michele Wojciechowski of the Administrative Office of the Courts said the proposed changes would help judges maintain decorum in the courtroom. Both also encouraged media organizations to make written comments to the Tennessee Supreme Court to raise any concerns. LINK
Pat Nolan: Capitol View CommentaryFirst, Governor Bill Haslam has signed into a law a bill that will make it illegal for employers to fire an employee for bringing a gun to work and storing it in their vehicle. This is a follow up to a bill passed in an earlier session. Both measures were strongly opposed by business groups including the Tennessee Association of Business and Industry (TAB). Actually the TAB and others are now concerned the new law will make any disciplinary action all but impossible (for any reason) against a worker who has a gun in their car while on the job.
But if Tennesseans can tote their weapons to work without fear of getting in trouble, they can't yet bring their guns into local parks. Again, as a way to broaden an earlier law which allows gun permit holders to bring their firearms into state parks, a new bill to allow guns in all local parks (no opt-outs allowed) appeared positioned to pass easily a week or so ago.
But then Nashville Democratic Senator Jeff Yarbro said lawmakers need to avoid hypocrisy and allow gun permit holders to bring their weapons to the State Capitol as well. Yes said the GOP Super Majority in the Senate. No said the GOP Super Majority in the House. And so the bill is headed to a conference committee of both chambers to try and work out something.
Some say the Yarbro amendment was meant as a “poison pill” to the legislation. Well, it hasn't killed it yet, but it sure has gummed up the works. The delay means the bill can't be signed into law to take effect immediately. So NRA members won't be able to take a legal stroll with their gun in a Metro Park while they are in town. And things could get bogged down even more as House Speaker Beth Harwell wants the conference committee to clean up language in the proposed law so it doesn't conflict with other legal restrictions about the possession of guns in parks that are nearby to schools or parks which are actively being used by students.
Senate Speaker and Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey believes the conference committee will work things out. He says both Houses will pass a bill that does not contain the “guns in the Capitol” provision (although he says he personally supports that idea). Ramsey also says the deliberations of the conference committee should be open to the public (and video streamed for on-line viewing). That's something which has not always been historically true (or actually occurs) on the Hill. LINK
It's Not Just One Woman Who Alledges a DHS Worker Tried to Trade Food Stamps for Sex
Back in March, Channel 5 had the story of Shameka Bransford, who says a DHS worker tried to force her to trade sexual favors for food stamps:
Bransford claims a DHS employee told her she didn't qualify for food stamps, but if she granted him sexual favors he'd make it happen.
"He wants to feel my breast and hold me and make me feel good. And he asked if I lived alone,” Bransford said.
The alleged demands included meeting him under a nearby bridge.
"He would hold up these little, you know letters, post its, and like I would say, ‘No’ and he'd say, ‘Shhh [sic] you’re too loud’ and stuff like that,” Bransford added.
Bransford said she's afraid to even go back to the office and apply again.
At the time, State Rep. Sherry Jones said, "It makes me wonder how many other people have been harassed, and were afraid they weren't going to get any services."
At least three more. According to a lawsuit filed at the end of March, three other women (who I'm leaving unnamed because of the nature of the accusation and the fact that they haven't chosen to identify themselves to the media) were allegedly approached by the same Department of Human Services employee who is alleged to have sexually harassed Bransford and harassed them.
Perhaps more disturbingly, this lawsuit alleges "another employee was able to identify the harassing employee after a general description did not work when [one of the alleged victims] told the other employee that the offending employee was flirtatious and liked her tattoos. The co-employee then said, 'I know who you are talking about; he does that to everybody' and got the harasser's name."
So, that does not bode well for the allegations to be limited to just four people.
Jones told Channel 5 that this is a black eye for the department because "They're supposed to be sure that all their employees know what sexual harassment is, and that they don't do it," which I agree with, but I also feel like the behavior alleged in the suits is not the behavior of a confused, inappropriate, lonely awkward man who's just not being his best self because he doesn't know better, but of a person who knows full well what he's doing and took steps to hide his wrong behavior from co-workers. LINK
State Rep. Ryan Haynes elected new TN GOP chairmanState representative Ryan Haynes of Knoxville will be the state's next Republican Party chairman.
The State Executive Committee of the Tennessee Republican Party held a special-called meeting Saturday in Nashville to elect a replacement for outgoing chairman Chris Devaney.
Devaney announced on March 23 that he would step down effective April 11.
Haynes, 29, won on the first ballot. Other potential candidates includes State Executive Committee member Rebecca Burke, state Rep. Mary Littleton and Vanderbilt University professor Carol Swain. LINK
Tom Ingram: Lawmakers paralyzed by fear of defeat, lack of leadership
The unilateral, heroic efforts of State Sens. Jeff Yarbro, Doug Overbey and Richard Briggs, a Democrat and two Republicans — who just by God decided they were determined to push what they thought was right, regardless of the politics — are the only reason Insure Tennessee saw the light of day again last month.
How does that happen?
It happens because our politics today are driven primarily by protection of incumbents (Republicans in Tennessee currently, but it works the same for both parties); artful, partisan redistricting that defines boundaries to protect majorities; low turnout by voters who feel more and more as if their vote doesn't matter; elections decided by narrow-minded party primaries more often than broadly debated general elections; and much of all of the above unduly influenced by out-of-state, moneyed, special interests.
What can be done about it?
The only short-term fixes are: 1) the selection of leaders with the money, intelligence and courage to worry more about governing and doing what is right rather than worrying about their own or their members' re-elections, and 2) the activation of Tennessee groups as committed as out-of-state groups to meting out political consequences to legislators who capitulate to narrow, special interests. LINK
Moore: The Washington Update
Ed. Note: Beginning this week, every Monday we will be bringing to Billy Moore's column The Washington Update on what is scheduled for the week ahead in Washington. Billy Moore worked in his first of over 50 election campaigns when Richard Nixon was president. He joined U.S. Senator Lloyd Bentsen's staff during the Ford Administration. During a 26-year congressional career, Billy served in the House and Senate; the taxing, spending and budget committees; he was chief of staff to two U.S. Representatives. Billy left Congress in 2001 and joined Vianovo in 2006.
Billy's congressional and campaign experience helped him win tax initiatives for real estate clients, defeat Medicare and Medicaid restrictions on healthcare providers, pass a highway bill and implement a sales strategy for a worldwide information technology provider. He has organized coalitions of finance corporations, real estate associations, local elected officials, and Texas employers.
Billy is a guest lecturer at the United States War College and John Hopkins University Center for Strategic and International Studies. Politico’s top political reporter Mike Allen calls Billy “Washington’s Favorite Texan.” He attended The University of Texas at Austin.
Congress reconvenes Monday, after a two-week Easter-Passover recess, for an eleven-day April session that will help decide the breadth of the 2015 fiscal and policy agenda, and whether bipartisanship can yield important accomplishments.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell hopes for bipartisan action on House-passed legislation to permanently repeal a 21 percent cut in Medicare physician payments that took effect April 1. Speaker John Boehner and Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi pass the bill in March. Senate conservatives threaten to derail the measure, insisting that spending cuts offset the additional costs, although they do not specify what the spending cuts should be. If McConnell can clear the bill for President Barack Obama's signature, it could provide a template for future bipartisan accomplishments.
Wednesday is the non-binding deadline for a conference agreement on budget resolutions passed by the House and Senate in March – a conference that would define how expansive the agenda might be for the balance of the year. The committee chairmen met April 9 in Washington to begin resolving the differences, but quickly hit an impasse over whether extra Defense spending would be subject to a 60-vote threshold in the Senate. It is unclear whether the chairmen made progress on their different reconciliation provisions that would provide immunity from filibusters for specific bills. The more robust House reconciliation provisions could ease passage of health reform repeal, a highway bill, tax reform and privatization of Medicare.
The House plans votes on April 15 – the deadline for filing 2014 tax returns – to repeal the federal estate tax and make permanent the state and local sales tax deduction.
On Tuesday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is scheduled to mark up legislation to require congressional review of any nuclear deal arms agreement with Iran, a bill President Obama has promised to veto.
Crockett Policy Institute