Monday, December 14, 2015

Beware: State Lawmakers Back in Session January...More from Crockett

Haslam administration wades into broadband debate

Tennessee woman nearly dies trying coat hanger abortion — and then gets jailed for attempted murder

Beware: State lawmakers return to work in January

The Tennessee General Assembly officially returns to work in Nashville next month. God help us all.
Of course, it’s not like lawmakers haven’t had occasion to embarrass the state since wrapping up the session in the spring. Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey has a great propensity to make national headlines whenever he opens his mouth.
And of course, there are plenty of his colleagues in the Republican-led General Assembly who are more than happy to make spectacles of themselves as well. One of the latest is our very own state Rep. Micah Van Huss, R-Jonesborough, who has become one of the fiercest culture warriors in Nashville.
Last week, Huss announced he was taking aim at those over-sensitive political correct types in the Office of Diversity at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. As Press Assistant News Editor Nathan Baker reported Tuesday, Huss plans to de-fund the university’s diversity office. (Diversity? Isn’t that PC code for appeasement?)
Huss and his fellow right-wing ideologues weren’t happy with the office’s non-binding memo in August asking students and faculty to use gender neutral pronouns. But it was the memo the office sent this month recommending best practices for hosting all-inclusive holiday parties that really sent them to the edge.
This bill is something committee chairmen of the GOP supermajority can really sink their teeth into. They are salivating at the prospects of having academic liberals appear before their panels to explain why diversity is not a bad thing.
I often hear from readers who have nothing positive to say about their state representatives. “They aren’t dealing with the issues I am interested in,” many tell me. And these are Republicans, mind you. Most Democrats have just resigned themselves to sub-par representation in Nashville.
What’s really scary, however, is the number of Tennesseans who live in blissful ignorance when it comes to the General Assembly. They don’t know who represents them in the General Assembly, and they really don’t care.
That’s sad. As I’ve noted in this space before, more Tennesseans should be paying attention to what their state representatives are doing in our good names in Nashville. And it would also help if more of us understood why electing a legislator who can talk about issues other than those used solely to gin up his ultra-conservative base is so important.
One issue of real importance to taxpayers in Johnson City and Jonesborough is that of annexation. Northeast Tennessee’s delegation in Nashville have pushed a measures to shackle the growth of municipalities across Tennessee. Most of this was based on the politics of fear and anger Johnson City Press

Sunday column: A retreat from streamlining government

While Gov. Bill Haslam has made “streamlining” government a recurring theme since his debut on the Tennessee political scene, his latest crusade may be seen as governmental expansion — and he’s so far getting bipartisan applause.
Yes, the governor, who has successfully advocated cutting the number of state boards and commissions, now wants to create new boards — one each for six regional state universities that are part of the Board of Regents system. And the Board of Regents would remain in place, along with the University of Tennessee board and the Tennessee Higher Education Commission.
Since the 1970s, past governors have toyed with going the other way — consolidating UT, the Regents and THEC into one higher education governing authority. A task force set up by former Gov. Don Sundquist actually put forward such a plan, though it was promptly shot down in the ensuing bureaucratic and political turf war.
Indeed, a pet project of Shelby County political leaders for decades has been creation of an independent board for the University of Memphis. Both Sundquist and former Gov. Phil Bredesen more or less promised, as candidates, to push to honor that effort, then failed to do so. For one thing, the former governors were advised that, if you give Memphis a separate board, then every other university will want one, too. Rather than get into such board proliferation and further undermine statewide oversight, they let the notion quietly die.
Under the Haslam plan, East Tennessee State, Middle Tennessee State, Tennessee State, Tennessee Tech and Austin Peay State universities will join Memphis in having their own independent boards.
Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris declared there will be “dancing in the streets” of Memphis. His Democratic counterpart, Senate Minority Leader Lee Harris, also lauded the move. And there’s little doubt that the expansionist move will clear the Legislature, although almost certainly after some tinkering.
One likely revision: Giving the House and Senate speakers authority to appoint members of the new boards. As proposed by Haslam, he would make all appointments. The Republican supermajority has been consistently moving to give the speakers more appointive authority and the governor less. There’s no reason for them to change that focus with the new boards. Tom Humphrey

States expanded gun rights after Sandy Hook school massacre

The 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, in which a mentally troubled young man killed 26 children and teachers, served as a rallying cry for gun-control advocates across the nation.
But in the three years since, many states have moved in the opposite direction, embracing the National Rifle Association’s axiom that more “good guys with guns” are needed to deter mass shootings.
In Kansas, gun owners can now carry concealed weapons without obtaining a license. In Texas, those with permits will soon be able to carry openly in holsters and bring concealed weapons into some college classrooms. And in Arkansas, gun enthusiasts may be able to carry weapons into polling places next year when they vote for president.
Dozens of new state laws have made it easier to obtain guns and carry them in more public places and made it harder for local governments to enact restrictions, according to a review of state legislation by The Associated Press. The number of guns manufactured and sold and the number of permits to carry concealed weapons have also increased, data show.
The trend has been discouraging to some gun-control advocates, even as other states have adopted stricter background checks. Other gun-control supporters say their movement is emboldened by the recent rise of Everytown for Gun Safety, a well-funded group backed by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg that is becoming influential in some state capitols.
The debate over gun rights moved to states after Congress rejected a bill in 2013 that would have expanded background checks to all gun sales, including those at gun shows and over the Internet. The arguments are expected to intensify next year as legislatures convene in the wake of the mass shooting of county government employees in San Bernardino, California, which is being investigated as an act of terrorism.
Recent mass shootings at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado, a community college in Oregon and a church in South Carolina have also reignited passions on both sides.
“Most of our churches are just wide open,” said Mississippi Republican Rep. Andy Gipson, who plans to file a bill next year allowing congregations to designate people who could carry guns.
The pro-gun legislation reflects a growing public sentiment that “gun-free zones are magnets for bad guys,” said David Kopel, a gun policy expert at the Independence Institute, a libertarian think tank in Colorado. He said that concept was not popular after the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado, but the frequency of mass shootings since then has made the idea of having a trained, law-abiding gun owner present more appealing.
“We’ve gone from, ‘You can’t even say that out loud’ to it being an evenly divided issue, with the pro-gun side having an advantage on that,” he said. “I would expect that we will see continued movement on that in the coming year.” WATE

Pat Nolan: Back In Tennessee

The Trump’s “No Muslim allowed” comments brought a bit of a mixed response here in the Volunteer State. The Tennessee Republican Party denounced what it said has “no place in the Republican Party or in American politics,” adding that Trump’s comment don’t “reflect someone who is serious about that endeavor (running for President).”
But State Senator Mae Beavers, who is on the March 1 Tennessee Presidential Primary to be a Trump delegate, endorses what he said. “No, I don’t think there’s anything Islamaphobic at all. It’s about protecting our own, protecting our country. It’s our job to protect Tennessee. “
Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey did not endorse Trump’s plan, but he came close in a way. While saying in a statement on his Facebook page (December 8) he would not support an “explicitly religious test” for immigration, he wants a moratorium imposed on allowing anyone to enter to the U.S. if they are coming from a country with “ties to terrorism.”
Ramsey admits that might be a “long list” of nations. Indeed, in some ways that’s an even broader ban than Trump’s proposal since terrorists over the years have been homegrown and from places like Belgium (the Paris attack), and even from my major country of origin (Ireland). Or have we forgotten the IRA? On a related topic, Lt. Governor Ramsey has said in the past during his 2010 gubernatorial campaign that he thinks Islam is more a cult than a religion.
It’s that voter fear especially among conservatives that seems to be driving many GOP elected officials to try and “do something.” So state lawmakers met all afternoon here in Nashville looking for how the state can stop refugee immigration to Tennessee, even though they were told repeatedly that control of this matter is a federal not state issue.
Some lawmakers say they just need more information or reports from Washington about this. Governor Bill Haslam said the same thing a few weeks back when asking for a moratorium. But now he admits the more he’s learned the better the federal screening program for refugees looks to him. He adds “people are scared” and this issue is the one his office has gotten the most calls about since he came to the governor’s chair nearly 6 years ago.
Some lawmakers seem so panicked they are thinking about introducing legislation to take back control of the state’s liaison with the feds on this matter from Catholic Charities, even though no one can cite a single reason why that organization is doing anything but a good job.
But they have “to do something,” right?
Well, no they don’t really. The federal screening now takes up to two years. Nothing the Legislature is talking about would make anyone safer. Period. Capitol View Commentary

Clinton emails show Corker sought her help

Emails from Hillary Clinton’s days as U.S. secretary of state show Sen. Bob Corker in 2012 pushed the state department to resolve a visa problem for a Nashville-based company with strong political connections,according to The Tennessean.
Corker, R-Tenn., was a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee when he called Clinton about visas being denied to foreign students seeking summer work at Southwestern Advantage, which does door-to-door sales.
Corker and Clinton spoke by phone on May 29, 2012, and the next morning, Clinton emailed her staff with the resolution.
“I believe we have decided to issue visas to this year’s students and then make a decision going forward that gives ample notice to everyone,” Clinton wrote. “If that is correct, please be sure Corker hears from us today.”
Soon after, instructions went out reaffirming that Southwestern Advantage was an authorized employer in the Summer Work Travel program and that “Sen. Corkerwas apprised of this outcome,” according to an email sent to Clinton on May 31.
The State Department emails mentioning Corker and the Tennessee company are among thousands being released over several months in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit related to Clinton’s use of a private email address and server while she was secretary of state.  Humphrey

Tennessee woman nearly dies trying coat hanger abortion — and then gets jailed for attempted murder

A Tennessee woman who tried to abort her own pregnancy in September has been charged with first degree attempted murder.
According to the Murfreesboro Post, Detective Tommy Roberts determined that 31-year-old Anna Yocca attempted to “self-abort” her pregnancy in September.
Police said that Yocca filled her bathroom tub with hot water, got in and then “took a coat hanger and attempted to self-abort her pregnancy.”
Roberts wrote that Yocca became “concerned about her safety” after she lost a lot of blood. She was taken to Saint Thomas Rutherford Hospital by her boyfriend.
Doctors at the hospital said that Yocca stated that she wanted to end her pregnancy. However, doctors were able to save the baby, which weighed only 1.5 pounds at birth. It will reportedly need medical care for the rest of its life because of damage done to the lungs, heart and eyes during the abortion attempt.
Yocca, who is employed at an Amazon fulfilment center, was indicted on charges of first degree attempted murder by a grand jury last week. She was being held at the Rutherford County Adult Detention Center in lieu of $200,000 bond. Raw Story

Haslam administration wades into broadband debate

 Without taking a position, Gov. Bill Haslam's administration has cautiously entered a hotly contested dispute over the appropriate governmental role in providing broadband Internet connections to rural areas of Tennessee.
Randy Boyd, commissioner of the Department of Economic and Community Development, said the state has contracted with two companies to "define the problem" of getting broadband access to rural areas, believing that it is crucial to expanding jobs and future development opportunities.
With the studies, Boyd said in an interview, "We are not going to propose a solution." But he said that, as some point, the Department of Economic and Community Development and the Haslam administration may "take some leadership in developing the solution." The solution is currently subject to a multifaceted dispute.
As things stand now, there's a state law on the books prohibiting municipal electric utilities from providing broadband access outside their service areas and attempts in the state Legislature, the U.S. Congress and the court system to change or support the status quo.
A bill pending in the Legislature would repeal the state prohibition on government-affiliated expansion of broadband with proponents, such as sponsor Sen. Janice Bowling, R-Tullahoma, contending this would allow city-operated utilities to provide service in nearby underserved areas. The bill is adamantly opposed by private providers — AT&T is a leading example — as unfair government-backed competition and intrusion into the private business arena. KNS

Crockett Policy Institute

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