Friday, May 8, 2015

Tennessee Legislature Turned Into "Horror Story CPI Buzz for 5-8-15

Koch brothers clash with GOP lawmakers as their lobbyists turn Tennessee into a ‘horror movie’

Legislative council's influence rises in Tennessee

Indeed, as Republicans have enlarged their majorities in the Tennessee General Assembly, ALEC has become more ingrained in the culture of the legislature and its legislation. Eighteen Tennessee lawmakers billed just over $53,000 to taxpayers to attend ALEC conferences in 2014, not counting lawmakers who traveled on ALEC "scholarships" or other means, according to expense records on the legislature's website.
Ketron, known to most Tennesseans for shepherding the wine-in-grocery-stores bill to passage last year, attended three ALEC meetings in 2014: a spring "task force" in Kansas City, the main annual meeting in Dallas last summer and the policy summit in Washington on Dec. 2-6.
ALEC is one of several national and regional organizations whose meetings are attended by Tennessee lawmakers. Others include the NCSL, Council of State Governments, Southern Legislative Council and the National Black Caucus of State Legislators.
Little need to lobby
Unlike national groups such as Americans For Prosperity that seek to influence state laws and policy from the outside of statehouse chambers through lobbying and political pressure, ALEC doesn't need to: Its members are the lawmakers themselves — and thus far more effective. It's not surprising that conservative legislators flock to its conferences and support its goals, just as black lawmakers attend NBCSL meetings.
Aside from conservative advocacy, another big difference between ALEC and other legislative groups is its membership of business and trade association executives, whose corporations largely fund ALEC. Corporate representatives are fully integrated into its structure, as voting members of its various policy "task forces" alongside its legislative members.
ALEC's "private enterprise advisory council" helps govern the organization, along with a board of directors of 30 lawmakers. The council includes executives from Koch Companies, Exxon Mobil, State Farm, Pfizer, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), the tobacco giant Altria, AT&T, National Federation of Independent Business, the alcoholic beverage giant Diageo, United Parcel Service, the for-profit online school company K-12 Inc. and the American Bail Coalition, representing the bail bond industry.
ALEC doesn't run political advertising or contribute to legislators' campaigns, but its corporate members do.
Far more importantly, lawmakers bring home ideas, model bills and research from ALEC developed by its committees, task forces, "ALEC scholars" and the corporate and foundation advisers that help support ALEC. LINK

State promises release of insurance cost records despite lawmaker complaints

 Lawmakers and state administrators blasted the state Benefits Administration decision to release information about the nearly $6 million Tennessee pays for health insurance premiums provided to members of the General Assembly.
But in a letter released Thursday afternoon, Commissioner Larry Martin of the Department of Finance and Administration told lawmakers the information requested by The Tennessean isn't subject to federal health privacy rules.
"Therefore, because the information requested is not protected under the state open records law, we were required to release the information," Martin said in the letter, obtained by The Tennessean.
A Tennessean reporter spent roughly three hours Wednesday in a conference room at the Tennessee Tower reviewing the records on a state laptop — with two department employees watching. Based on that preliminary review, records show the state has paid nearly $5.8 million in premiums for lawmakers since 2008. Lawmakers themselves paid $1.4 million in premiums during that same time period, according to the review.
But when a Tennessean reporter and editor returned Thursday to pay for copies of the records, which the Benefits Administration said would be provided Thursday, the state agency suddenly reversed course and refused to provide the documents. The department closed Thursday without providing any additional details to The Tennessean, but the news organization will attempt to get a copy of all the records Friday.
The state has not released records that show the total state cost of lawmakers' health care or said if premiums are the only state cost. LINK

Koch brothers clash with GOP lawmakers as their lobbyists turn Tennessee into a ‘horror movie’

Haslam said he believe outside groups have less impact than many believe, but Ingram – who has longer experience in state government – said lawmakers fear AFP’s spending power in a primary election.
“Even if they’re not intimidated, they’re aggravated by it,” Ingram said.
Montana conservatives booed AFP representatives earlier this year during a town hall forum on that state’s Medicaid expansion, and a Florida Republican recently denounced the group and its billionaire patrons as serving “no purpose.”
However, Ogles defended AFP as a promoter of the type of government he believes the founders envisioned.
“Our founding fathers wanted the states to be laboratories of solution and, again, that’s why we’ve kind of pushed back on the federal overreach,” Ogles said.
The analogy was troubling to House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh (D-Ripley), who fears that national groups like AFP will attempt to accomplish more cheaply at the state level policies changes they cannot enact at the federal level.
“There’s good laboratories and bad laboratories,” Fitzhugh said. “In some of the horror movies you’ve seen, bad things come out.” LINK

UAW Losing Patience, Presses For Collective Bargaining At VW's Chattanooga Plant

As Volkswagen experiences a management shakeup in Germany, the United Auto Workers is pressing harder than ever to unionize VW’s Chattanooga plant. Top union leaders say they’ve been patient long enough.
The UAW has struggled to get a majority of workers in Chattanooga to sign on as members. But now they have commitments from 55 percent of the blue-collar workers, according to official documents filed with the Department of Labor.
Instead of calling for another plant vote, the union has drawn up a detailed agreement to get exclusive collective bargaining rights. It would be the first of its kind in the U.S., based on the German works council model. It would also let the UAW claim victory in an effort to unionize a foreign-owned plant in the South. LINK

Haslam Signs Statewide Ban on Snapping Photos, Shooting Video Inside Polling Stations

A bill passed this year by the General Assembly prohibiting people from using cellphones to record images at voting sites in Tennessee has been signed by Republican Gov. Bill Haslam.
Starting in 2016, state law will permit using “a mobile electronic or communication device” for “informational purposes to assist the voter in making election decisions.” But it will forbid Tennesseans “from using the device for telephone conversations, recording, or taking photographs or videos while inside the polling place.”
The GOP-sponsored initiative passed 75-23 in the House and unanimously in the Senate. LINK

Crockett Policy Institute

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