Monday, March 9, 2015

News Buzz for 3-9-15

Jacking Up the Ransom Note on Public Records Is Not the Answer to Government Transparency

Advisory Committee on Open Government isn’t open?

Todd Gardenhire's school voucher bill moves in Tennessee House this week

Rural Tennesseans limited in Internet choices

 It's usually between the 10th and the 15th day of the month when Clifton and Joanna Miller's satellite Internet account hits its data cap. Clifton, a lawyer, and Joanna, a sixth-grade math teacher, are unable to work from home. Their 16-year-old daughter, who depends on access for homework, takes a laptop to her grandmother's house nearby to complete her assignments until a new month begins.
The Millers' house is less than a mile from Tullahoma's city limit, but under state law, the Tullahoma Utilities Board cannot extend its high-speed fiber Internet network outside its electric service footprint. They would settle for basic broadband from other providers, but those companies — AT&T and Charter Communications — don't reach his neighborhood.
"Having Internet connection is a crucial part of daily life," Clifton Miller said. "If (private-sector companies) are not going to provide us with the utility, then someone should be allowed to give it to us."
The same scenario is playing out throughout the state as demand increases for reliable Internet access. Tullahoma is among several Tennessee cities — Chattanooga, Clarksville, Jackson, Bristol, Morristown, Pulaski and Columbia — that offer broadband access to residents and businesses, often at cheaper rates and faster speeds than the private-sector providers, and unlike satellite, they don't include data caps. Those in neighboring communities want the option of fiber access or, in many cases, just any kind of broadband access to fill in the gaps left by the private sector.
Nearly half of Tennesseans in rural areas don't have access to broadband Internet with 25 megabits-per-second download speeds, according to the Tennessee Municipal Electric Power Association, which supports the state bill.
A bill to lift restrictions on municipal broadband Internet reach has been filed during the past three legislative sessions and has been killed in committee each time, illustrating the sway Internet providers hold in the Tennessee General Assembly. But with a recent victory at the federal level, this time could be different. LINK (Subscription)

Sen. Hensley accused of hitting ex-wife with car; files bill on divorce with Rep. Hawk

State Sen. Joey Hensley’s ex-wife has obtained an order of protection after contending the Hohenwald Republican hit her twice with his car during a domestic argument,reports WSMV-TV. The senator says Gina Hensley’s allegations in an affidavit are “completely fabricated.”
The Nashville TV station also reports that Sen. Hensley introduced a bill dealing with distribution of property during divorce proceedings. Gina Hensley says the domestic argument came after the senator accused her of taking property that should belong to him.
Gina Hensley also discussed a bill her ex-husband filed eight days prior to the alleged incident, saying a judge may distribute marital property based on who is at fault in a divorce.
“I think it’s very inappropriate,” Gina Hensley said. “I think the legislation has been filed solely due to our divorce.”
Joey Hensley admitted the bill was based on his divorce, but he said he can’t benefit because his divorce is final. LINK

Advisory Committee on Open Government isn’t open?

By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A panel of experts assembled to offer advice on transparency issues is not subject to the state’s open meetings law. At least that’s the opinion of Ann Butterworth, who heads the Comptroller’s Office of Open Records Counsel.
She made the finding in response to an email activist Ken Jakes’ request for more information about a recent teleconference held by the 14-member Advisory Committee on Open Government.
“Is that not ironic that the very office that holds the responsibility of seeing that the citizens have access is involved in blocking access?” Jakes said. LINK

Jacking Up the Ransom Note on Public Records Is Not the Answer to Government Transparency

The fastest way to shut down access to government records is to charge fees that people can’t afford to pay.
Another way is to simply ignore or delay responding to citizens or media who make requests under the Tennessee Public Records Act.
Yet another, which takes more effort, is to actively confuse or frustrate a citizen or journalist with byzantine policies and practices to make them go away.
All can be powerfully effective. And, unfortunately, all take place in Tennessee.
The Tennessee Coalition for Open Government received nearly 200 calls to its hotline last year from journalists and citizens who faced obstacles in getting public documents from their local government or suspected their local governing bodies were not holding meetings in compliance with the Tennessee Open Meetings Act.
Since TCOG’s founding, it has logged more than 1,200 such phone calls.
This year, state lawmakers are working on several bills that would make changes to the Tennessee Public Records Act.
The one seeking the most fundamental change would allow all local governments to charge per-hour labor fees for the time spent retrieving, compiling and copying documents for the public to see. The bill is among the top legislative priorities of the Tennessee School Boards Association who say some of its members are getting large public records requests that are costing too much staff time to fulfill. LINK

Tennessee Lawmakers Tap Dance Around The Word ‘Temp’

The Haslam administration is trying to strengthen controls on corporate subsidies while not coming down too hard on the increasingly common practice of hiring employees through temp agencies.
It’s become the norm in manufacturing for workers to start out on the payroll of a staffing firm. The question is whether those jobs should still qualify for automatic state incentives, at least at the same rate. Right now, they do.
“Under current law, [the state] has to incentivize a temp agency at the same rate as they would incentivize a permanent employee,” Rep. Tilman Goins (R-Morristown) told a House subcommittee, which unanimously approved a bill written by the administration that gives the state more discretion.
There’s been no resistance to the policy change, but there has been some confusion. Instead of “temp agencies,” the bill uses more business-friendly terms like "co-employment" and “professional employer organization.” LINK

Pat Nolan: View Commentary

For the second time in a little over a month a State Senate committee has failed to approve legislation which could kick up a lasting controversy across the state. During the special session in early February, it was the rejection of the INSURE TENNESSEE healthcare legislation by a special Senate committee.
This week it was a decision by the Senate Government Operations Committee to not pass out a bill to extend the life of Tennessee's Economic Council on Women. Never heard of it? Well, I am not sure I have either. But what's likely to kick up some political dust on the issue is the debate that went on in the committee. Senate Democratic Leader Lee Harris put out a news release after the vote claiming “much of the discussion centered around whether we should have an economic council on men.”
Actually according to an on-line article by (quoting from the official recording of the committee meeting) there was one lawmaker (Senator Mike Bell) who wondered why not a Hispanic Council or an African-American Council? Even a couple of the female members of the committee raised concerns. Senator Mae Beavers said: “If you are going to have an economic council why not have it cover everybody?” Senator Janice Bowling raised concerns about a“balkanization” of the population which could “almost by implication create a victims group, and I don't perceive women to be victims at all.”
But Senator Harris has a very different take on the Women's Council in his news release. He says women's related issues such as “domestic violence, drug trafficking and sexual assault rob our state's economy of $1 billion each year. “ We know this he adds “because of the peerless research this council provides. It is heartbreaking that this important work could fall victim to the Republican war on women.”
The Council was formed by the state in 1998 during the administration of Republican Governor Don Sundquist. If the legislation pending in the committee does not pass out of there and through the full General Assembly by the end of this session, the Council will begin to sunset (shut down) effective June 30, 2015. LINK

Todd Gardenhire's school voucher bill moves in Tennessee House this week

After clearing two legislative panels last week, a bill that would let low-income parents with children in failing public schools use taxpayer dollars to attend private institutions faces its next test this week.
The voucher bill is scheduled to come up Tuesday in the House's full Education and Administration Committee. Last week, the measure cleared the panel's subcommittee on a 7-1 vote following a sometimes emotional debate.
Its Senate companion, sponsored by Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, zipped through the Education Committee on an 8-0 vote last week with little debate.
It's dubbed the "Tennessee Choice & Opportunity Scholarship Act," and various versions of the bill have foundered in past years in House committees. But House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, said last month "there probably is more of a chance this year that it could pass."
The bill says that low-income students whose schools rank in the bottom 5 percent statewide for student achievement may use the scholarships.
If it passes, the bill would initially provide vouchers to 5,000 students in five school systems, including Hamilton County Schools. Over three years, the number of eligible students rises to 20,000, with $70 million leaving public schools for private ones. Each voucher is projected to be worth $6,628 in the 2015-16 school year. LINK

Crockett Policy Institute

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