Wednesday, March 18, 2015

CPI Buzz: Secret Legislative Meetings called "Complete Betrayal of Open Government

This and more from Crockett:

Secret meetings at TN Capitol called 'complete betrayal of open government'

At least ten of the House's 15 standing committees now hold the unannounced meetings, often in out-of-the-way offices. Each committee sets its own rules. Some allow non-committee members and/or lobbyists. Some don't.
Armed with a recently leaked schedule of various pre-meetings, reporters from the state's largest newspapers, including the Times Free Press, as well as The Associated Press, sought entry into several of the meetings on Monday and Tuesday.
Reporters representing the Times Free Press, The Commercial Appeal of Memphis and Knoxville News Sentinel were initially rebuffed by the chairman of the House Civil Justice Committee, Rep. John Lundberg, R-Bristol, when they asked to join the meeting in Republican House Speaker Beth Harwell's conference room.
"No," Lundberg said. Asked why, Lundberg said he "never had anyone come" before.
Judging by the schedule leaked to reporters, at least ten of the House's 15 standing committees are holding such meetings.
Asked about the meetings, Harwell told reporters from the aforementioned newspapers as well as the the Associated Press and the Tennessean of Nashville that "they're not having meetings as you think of meetings."
She cited the example of a Nashville Airport Authority measure in which she told all sides to "sit down and get something worked out. This [move] doesn't need to be in state statute."
"There are some members present there as they discuss and hash that out," Harwell said. "But no decision will be made, and no vote will be taken."
Regarding Lundberg's discouragement of reporters, reporters asked if the public should accept it on good faith that no votes are being taken.
"You'd have to ask Chairman Lundberg that," Harwell said. She noted that when she was a committee chairman she did not hold pre-meetings.
Later, at Harwell's prompting, Lundberg opened the meeting where a thorough, often-free wheeling discussion of various bills expected to come up in committee or subcommittee was underway.
One bill under discussion involved taking some discretion away from judges on a particular issue. LINK

Secret 'Pre-Meetings' Become Commonplace in Tennessee House

Tennessee House committees are increasingly gathering in cramped, tucked-away conference rooms in the legislative office complex to hold secret "pre-meetings" to discuss pending legislation. The public isn't informed or invited.
No public notice is given for the time or location of the meetings held at odd hours by at least 10 of the 15 standing committees in the House.
Supporters say the pre-meetings allow free-flowing discussion about bills without lobbyists, the media or parliamentary procedure. But without public access, it's impossible to verify whether lawmakers are keeping promises that they are not predetermining the outcome of later committee votes.
Republican Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey sent House GOP leader Gerald McCormick a scathing letter about it last week. Ramsey objected to McCormick's claim that the House was more thorough than the Senate.
"Our committees publicly debate each bill and do not meet in private before a meeting to discuss outcomes," Ramsey wrote in the letter. LINK

Governor steers clear of judgment on House’s secret ‘pre-meetings’

Tennessee’s top state government official said he has little to say about House members meeting behind closed doors to discuss legislation before voting in committees.
“The House and the Senate, we’ll let them decide how they do business themselves. We’re obviously not a part of those meetings so I don’t know that I have any additional knowledge there,” Gov. Bill Haslam told reporters Tuesday. LINK

Betsy Phillips: Ron Ramsey Appoints Eric Crafton to the Human Rights Commission

Now that Ron Ramsey's putting Eric Crafton on the Board of the Tennessee Human Rights Commission, I fully expect a call from the Lieutenant Governor appointing my dog to the Vehicle Services section of the Tennessee Department of Revenue. He's pretty obsessed with car rides and has definite opinions on loud trucks and has an agenda that makes no sense to most people and is terrible about following the rules. Those last parts put him right in line with Crafton, who, back in the day, wanted to make English the official language of Nashville and then failed to disclose in a timely manner who all supported him in his English-only crusade, because he claimed he feared for their safety, but it seemed more likely that he was trying to keep voters from knowing most of his donors were from out of state. LINK

On voucher bill maneuvering; delay in House, amendment in Senate

The House sponsor of a proposal to create a school voucher program in Tennessee says he’s taking his time moving it through the legislative process after it failed in the last two legislative sessions.
Rep. Bill Dunn was scheduled to discuss the measure in a House education committee on Tuesday but delayed talking about it.
The Knoxville Republican told The Associated Press after the meeting that he plans to bring it back up and that the delay was mainly because some committee members were absent, and to work on an amendment.
Dunn wouldn’t reveal details of the amendment, but said he wants to give the bill the best chance to pass this session. LINK

Fitzhugh: Republican sub ‘playing political games’ with Medicare resolution

News release from House Democratic Caucus:
Nashville, TN: After a week’s deliberation, House Republicans introduced a number of “poison-pill” amendments to HJR 80, effectively killing further action on the resolution. HJR 80 honored the Medicare program on its 50th anniversary and expressed opposition to any federal plans to cut funds for the program.
“There are some things above politics and the lives and livelihoods of our senior citizens should be chief among them,” said House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh, sponsor of the resolution. “I’m disappointed that Chairman Williams let these kind of political games go on with such an important issue.”
When Medicare was signed into law 50 years ago, half of this nation’s senior citizens had no access to health care and 35 percent lived in poverty. Today, 52 million Americans rely on Medicare for doctor visits, hospital services and long-term care. Another 37 million access Medicare Part D for prescription drug coverage.
“In Tennessee alone, 1.2 million senior citizens rely on Medicare. It’s not some type of government hand out; they paid into this program. It’s their money, politicians should keep their hands off,” said Fitzhugh.
Medicare has proven to be the most successful, efficient social program in the history of the United States. Between 1969 & 2009, Medicare insurance rates increased 300 percent less than comparable private market insurance plans. By the same token, Medicare spends approximately 1 percent of its funding on overhead, while traditional insurance providers spend 10 percent or better.
“HJR 80 was an opportunity for both parties to stand together in support of Medicare and our senior citizens. Instead of doing that, Chairman Williams and the House Republicans want to play games. If they’re in favor of cutting Medicare, that’s their business, but they should bring their own bill. I won’t let them use mine to hurt senior citizens.”

Tennessee Weighs Opening Absentee Voting To Everyone, No Questions Asked

A plan making its way through the legislature would let anybody cast their ballot by mail, no questions asked. Current state law requires voters to give a reason when they apply for an absentee ballot, but the excuses can be wide-ranging.
Advocates say opening absentee balloting to everyone boosts turnout and gives voters more time to research issues and candidates before making their selections. Many states have loosened restrictions on absentee ballots in recent years, and Oregon votes entirely by mail.
The proposal, House Bill 553, stops short of vote-by-mail, but it would give the option to any voter who asks for it. They would join college students, truck drivers, the elderly, the disabled, jurors and people who are out-of-town during polling, all of whom can get an absentee ballot under current law. LINK

Crockett Policy Institute

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