Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Buzz for 1-19-16: Lt. Gov Ramsey Runs This State and Don't You Forget It!

Marriage defense, school vouchers among 4 bills to watch

TN legislature low on women, high on businessmen and Christians

Religion often intersects with Tennessee politics

Ramsey: Insure Tennessee doesn't have a chance

When the Tennessee General Assembly’s 2016 session began in Nashville a few days ago, Insure Tennessee advocates were there insisting the GOP-controlled legislature should resurrect the failed Medicaid expansion plan.
Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, is having none of it.
“This is 2016 and we’re going to have a new president in November one way or the other,” Ramsey said in a recent meeting with members of the Times-News Editorial Board. “Every Republican presidential nominee has basically said that we will give the money to the states in block grants and allow us to design our own (Medicaid) program. ... They would say, ‘Here’s your $3.1 billion and design your own plan.’ I think we can do that. ... Even TennCare (the state’s current Medicaid program) experts say that is the case. ... The timing is bad now, (Gov. Bill Haslam, a Republican) is not going to bring (Insure Tennessee) back up.”
But Ramsey also noted House and Senate Democrats will try something to bring Insure Tennessee back up for consideration.
“I’m sure Jeff Yarbro (a Nashville Democrat) in the Senate will put that (Insure Tennessee) bill in the first day,” Ramsey predicted.
State Rep. Bud Hulsey, R-Kingsport, pointed out people who want Insure Tennessee are more vocal than those who don’t.
“When it came to the forefront before, I had a whole lot of folks who called me and were against it,” Hulsey said. “In fact, it was running probably 7-1 against it, but there’s a lot of really good people in this district who have worked really hard to push it and keep it on the front burner.”
Aside from Insure Tennessee, Ramsey promised there will be legislative pushback against Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring’s announcement last month that Virginia will no longer recognize concealed handgun carry permits from 25 states, including Tennessee. Kingsport Times-News

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Marriage defense, school vouchers among 4 bills to watch

The most controversial bill that will be discussed this week is likely to be the "Tennessee Natural Marriage Defense Act." The legislation seeks to "defend natural marriage between one man and one woman regardless of any court decision to the contrary."
The bill arose after the U.S. Supreme Court announced its decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized same-sex marriage throughout the country.
The bill filed by Rep. Mark Pody, R-Lebanon, and Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, is estimated to cost the state more than $8.5 billion, according to a fiscal note.
The bill, which received national headlines after its initial introduction, is being closely watched by supporters and detractors, including the Tennessee Equality Project, an advocate group for the LGBT community that alerted supporters about the bill's fiscal note.
The House Civil Justice Subcommittee will be discussing the bill Wednesday at 3 p.m Tennessean/Subscription

TN legislature low on women, high on businessmen and Christians

The Tennessee General Assembly has fewer women among its members than the average for other state legislatures, but more business owners and Christians, according to a compilation of data by the National Conference of State Legislatures and the Pew Charitable Trusts.
The review, based on 2015 legislative sessions, reported 18 percent of Tennessee’s lawmakers are women versus a national average of 24 percent, tied with Pennsylvania.
The Tennessee percentage will drop a bit for 2016 since one woman, state Rep. Leigh Wilburn, R-Somerville, resigned effective Dec. 31 and a man, Jamison Jenkins, was named by the Fayette County Commission to replace her on an interim basis for this session.
The state’s status comes despite the efforts of House Speaker Beth Harwell, one of four women serving nationwide in the top position of a state legislative body, who in 2013 led a Republican State Leadership Committee national endeavor called “Right Women, Right Now” with the goal of getting more women to run as Republican candidates. Humphrey on the Hill

Sunday column: Morgan’s war on ambiguity

In his resignation letter to Gov. Bill Haslam, Board of Regents Chancellor John Morgan said that during his 40-year state government career, “I have observed that ambiguity is the ally of ineffectiveness and inefficiency.”
Characteristically for his career, the former state comptroller and former deputy governor practiced what he preached in the letter. There’s no ambiguity there.
Morgan is resigning a year ahead of his previously-planned retirement because he believes Haslam’s proposal for overhauling the Regents system is “unworkable” and, as a matter of personal principle, he will not act as a two-faced government bureaucrat and collect another year’s paycheck — basically $327,000 plus benefits — by nodding politely, keeping his views to himself and going along with the game plan as others have often done in state governmental circles.
Morgan’s unambiguous move might be called integrity, perhaps just characteristic candor. It’s probably both, the two often going hand in glove.
Further, Morgan followed up his resignation, effective at the end of this month, with a final gesture of respectful defiance. Tom Humphrey

Religion often intersects with Tennessee politics

State Reps. Mark Pody and Harold Love Jr. fall on opposite sides of the political divide, but the two state lawmakers have one big thing in common: Both men rely on their faith as they shape policy at the Capitol.
Pody, R-Lebanon, said his faith as a born-again Christian influenced his bill directing Tennessee officials to ignore the U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage. Love, D-Nashville, is an African Methodist Episcopal pastor and said he relies on his Christian beliefs when deciding what types of bills to author and when navigating relationships with colleagues, especially during tense and divisive moments at the statehouse.
From opening sessions with prayer to new laws, religion often intersects with politics and policy in the Tennessee General Assembly's work, drawing passionate discussion and even national attention. And the week-old 2016 legislative session promises to deliver more of the same.
Lawmakers will consider new bills on religion or other issues of great importance to people of faith. Abortion, new religious protections for counselors or therapists and how public schools teach about religion are among the topics. Legislation from last year's session, like the proposal to make the Bible the official state book, will likely resurface as well.
Pody, who sponsored the Tennessee Natural Marriage Defense act, said his faith cannot be separated from the rest of his life. While protection of states' rights remains a key motivator for the lawmaker, Pody said introducing the marriage bill is one way he is fulfilling God's expectation to warn others against wrongdoing. Subscription/Tennessean


Meantime the only way Democrats can improve their extreme minority status on the Hill is to start winning elections. Money can help do that. In that the regard the Democratic House Caucus got a big boost this week with Nashville businessman and former mayoral candidate Bill Freeman contributing $100,000 to its campaign war chest. 
Freeman says the GOP is ignoring the state’s major issues while they “do little but pander to their extreme fringe” in running the Legislature.
Freeman has not been discouraging talk he is considering becoming a Democratic candidate for Governor in 2018. That gives his gift to the Democratic Caucus potentially another significance. It may also get the attention of potential rivals such as former Nashville mayor Karl Dean who has reportedly been making speeches and appearances at party suppers and gatherings in counties across the state.  Meeting folks, making friends, building contacts is one way to build a campaign. Giving money helps too.
Maybe the Democrats will continue to enjoy good fortune in terms of raising funds and enlisting good candidates for future races. They’ll need it. But think about it. What were the odds this week that one of the winning tickets for the largest Powerball jackpots ever ($1.5 billion) would be purchased at the West Tennessee food store owned by the family of former Democratic House Speaker Jimmy Nafieh? Astronomical. But maybe those odds were still better than the Democrats taking back control of the General Assembly later this year.  Capitol View Commentary

Washington Update

In his State of the Union address, President Obama prodded Congress and the American people to enable the country to tackle its challenges by reforming the political system. The next day, Republican Representatives and Senators departed for Baltimore to plan the 2016 agenda. Rather than planning a list of legislative proposals, House Speaker Paul Ryan unveiled a list of committee-led task forces that would suggest policy initiatives to address national security, economic growth, healthcare, poverty programs and "restoring the constitution."
The task forces will develop broad ideas and recommend proposals to the Republican leadership. The Speaker declined to specify the form of the policies or whether the House will eventually vote on the ideas the task forces develop.
The program underlines what the schedule already suggested: in 2016, Congress will emphasize message bills over concrete legislation. The annual budget-appropriations process will occupy most of Congress' time. Representatives seem poised to adopt a budget and act on appropriations. Senators are unsure they want to debate a budget and party leaders are threatening to make the appropriations process a series of referendums on the policies of presidential candidates.
In addition to message bills and appropriations, the initiatives most likely to see action this year have been in the works for some time, including criminal justice reform, energy legislation, international business tax reform and (after Election Day) the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement.
Last week, the Senate voted down a motion to debate legislation requiring a full audit of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System and confirmed Luis Felipe Restrepo to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. The Senate will be in session next week, with votes scheduled on confirmations and preventing Syrians from entering the country.
The House voted again to overturn Obama Administration environmental regulation and recessed until January 29.
William K. Moore

Crockett Policy Institute

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