TCA: Legislative Update on Voting, Labor, Transparency Bills

Newsletter from Tennessee Citizen Action; Feb. 28, 2012:

In a political climate such as ours where money equals speech and large corporations and their CEOs can literally buy all the access to our elected officials that they want, our government should be more accountable to the 99%, than ever before. They should…

  1. Make it easier for people to vote – not harder.
  2. Make our government institutions more transparent and accountable to the people – not less.
  3. Work for the 99%, instead of capitulating to large corporations and the super-rich.
  4. Value the hardworking people of the state and their families (our most precious resource) instead of attacking them.
  5. Hold large corporations accountable for their egregious behavior.

Is any of this happening in Tennessee? No. In fact, it’s looks like we’re going to have to fight for it. Read on for an update.

EQUAL ACCESS TO THE BALLOT BOX FOR ALL (ELECTION BILLS)

Last Wednesday, Tennessee Citizen Action, along with members of the No Barriers to the Ballot Box Coalition, elected officials, and over 100 supporters, held a press conference and delivered your hard work to the legislature – over 6000 signatures representing 88 counties urging lawmakers to repeal the photo ID to vote law. (You can read coverage from WPLN, Chattanooga Times Free Press, and The Examiner.

With this momentum, now is the time to START EMAILING AND CALLING YOUR REPRESENTATIVES in the State House and Senate to urge them to repeal the photo ID to vote law.

Find the contact info for your representatives by going to www.capitol.tn.gov/legislators and entering your address and zip code. If you send an email, don’t forget to put your zip code in the subject line.

Sample call: “Hi, my name is _____________, and I am a constituent of Rep. ___________ (or Sen. __________). My address is ___________________.

I am asking you to please vote to repeal the photo ID to vote law. The requirements necessary to comply with the law are excessive & restrictive. It’s not right that Tennessee lawmakers are taking away a person’s right to vote and then telling them they have to have a very specific government-issued photo ID to get it back.

Government-issued photo ID restrictions like the one we have in Tennessee will disproportionately affect seniors, people with disabilities, students, rural Tennesseans, people who work 2 and 3 jobs, and people of color. This law will disenfranchise those whose vote is very often the only voice they have in our democratic process. Thank you.

ELECTION BILL UPDATE

SB2692 / HB2709

SPONSORS: Sen. J. Haynes (D), Rep. M. Turner (D)

Allows for ANY registered voter in Tennessee to vote by absentee ballot.

This bill passed out of the House State & Local Government Subcommittee and will be heard in the full House State & Local Government Committee on Tuesday, 2/28, 1:30 pm, Room 16. It will also be heard in the Senate State & Local Government Committee on Tuesday, 2/28, at 10:30 pm, Room 12.

SB3089 / HB3753

SPONSORS: Sen. A. Berke (D), Rep. M. Turner (D)

Exempts senior voters age 60+ from having to have a Photo ID to vote.

To be heard in the Senate State & Local Government Committe on Tuesday, 2/28, at 10:30 pm, Room 12. Deferred in the House General Subcommittee of State & Local Government to the Voter Photo ID calendar (not scheduled yet).

HB2176 / SB2139

SPONSORS: Rep. Mike Turner, Sen. Lowe Finney

Repeals the photo ID to vote law.

The bill to repeal the photo ID to vote law will be heard in the Senate State & Local Government committee and the House General Subcommittee of State & Local Government. However, it has not been scheduled yet. We have heard that this bill, along with all the other Voter Photo ID bills listed here, will be heard on one day in March or April. On that day we will need a strong show of support in the committee rooms. We will let you know the exact date asap. If you can come, wear yellow to support voting rights in Tennessee.

In other photo ID to vote news:

A GOVERNMENT THAT IS TRANSPARENT, ACCOUNTABLE, AND WORKS FOR THE 99% (aka You know we SHOULD be able to see you, right?)

On Sunday, the Tennessean published a editorial with this headline: “Public is shut out of state business, Access to your information is tightening.” Below is an excerpt:

Yes, even though the governor on his first day in office in January 2011 stated that “the rule should be, the more you can be in the open, the better,” in numerous ways the administration is moving to reduce transparency in state government.

It isn’t that Tennesseans were not warned. On the same day as the governor made that statement, he signed an executive order eliminating requirements for him and top aides to disclose how much they earn in outside income.

…In the intervening months, here is what the Haslam administration has done with that chance:

Given verbal support to efforts to charge fees to anyone who makes a request for public records, even though state law guarantees the right to public records…

Sought to close records used to make economic-development grant decisions, even to the extent of letting prospective clients for state business conceal ownership…

Would seal state workers’ performance evaluations….

Supported legislation to end the requirement that government notices be advertised in Tennessee newspapers….

And, in the latest misstep, the administration may have violated the state’s Open Meetings Act….

All of the above presents a disturbing pattern. At best, it could signal a lack of understanding of government’s role. At worst, Tennesseans could be looking at a return to the type of government they put a stop to decades ago. Read more…

In addition to the Governor’s secrecy bender, his Republican allies in the House and Senate have introduced their own gems. HB3281 would remove that prohibition along with deleting the requirement on certain large contributions made within 10 days of election. HB2385 would allow the governor to appoint the executive director of the Tennessee Regulatory Authority, which oversees everything from natural gas companies to suburban sewer systems and phone calls by telemarketers. SB2249 would allow the governor to appoint the executive directors of some key state agencies that work with moving our state forward on behalf of the 99%.

TRANSPARENCY & ACCOUTABILITY BILL UPDATE

SB 2207 / HB 2345

SPONSORS: Sen. Mark Norris (R), Rep. Gerald McCormick (R)

Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposal to offer cash incentives to large corporations in secret and without any kind of accountability. SB2207 adds due diligence materials (which include “organization structure and ownership” to the list of documents and records that are to remain confidential within the Department of Economic and Community Development.

Re-referred to Senate Commerce, Labor & Agriculture from the Senate Floor on 02/23/2012. Not scheduled in this committee yet. House floor vote deferred until Thursday, 3/01/12, at 9:00 am.

  • Joe White reports for WPLN, that the bill “flew out of a House committee unquestioned after Representative Kevin Brooks (R) argued the procedure would make government more efficient in evaluating grant applications:’At the very same time we’re protecting corporate privacy, which they, in the industry, have said to us is important.’”Ah, yes, “they.” As in “they” who are undoubtedly more important to Rep. Brooks than the people and their right to know what their government is up to and how their hard-earned tax dollars are being spent.
  • The City Paper had a jaw-dropping exchange with Governor Haslam about the bill where he states that the people don’t have to know “whose crony is getting the money” because “we [his administration] would know.”
  • After a very vocal display of disbelief by Sen. Roy Herron (D) (“…the idea that we’re going to make the records secret where you cannot find, anytime in the future, who the owners were that somebody gave taxpayer dollars to is breathtaking….) and additional concern expressed by Sen. Bo Watson (R) (“…all of the members are interested in making sure that the public gets the necessary information that it needs….We are trying to bring more light to the process..”), a full Senate vote on the bill was delayed last Thursday. The companion House bill was also delayed for a week.

HB 3281 / SB 3645

SPONSORS: Rep. Debra Maggart (R); Sen. Bo Watson (R), Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey (R), Sen. Bill Ketron (R)

Removes the prohibition on insurance companies to make campaign contributions, along with removing PAC aggregate limitation on candidates and deleting the requirement on certain large contributions made within 10 days of election.

HB3281 is more secrecy and more prioritization of corporate campaign contributors against the 99%. Doesn’t look like “Is it good for the people of the state?” to us. It is, in fact, extraordinarily self-serving legislation.

This bill will be heard in the Senate State & Local Government Committee on Tuesday, 2/28, at 10:30 pm, Room 12. Referred to House General Subcommittee of State & Local Government but not scheduled yet.

SB 2247 / HB 2385

SPONSORS: Sen. Mark Norris (R), Rep. Gerald McCormick (R)

Would allow the governor to appoint the executive director of the which deals only with the Tennessee Regulatory Authority, which oversees everything from natural gas companies to suburban sewer systems and phone calls by telemarketers.

Referred to Senate Government Operations and House General Subcommittee of State & Local Government but not scheduled yet.

SB 2249 / HB 2387

SPONSORS: Sen. Mark Norris (R), Rep. Gerald McCormick (R)

Would allow the governor to appoint executive directors the Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC), the Tennessee Commission on Aging and Disability, the Tennessee Arts Commission and the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth, taking that authority away from the boards themselves.

Referred to Senate Government Operations but not scheduled yet. Set for House Government Operations Committee on Wednesday, 2/29/12, 2:00 pm, in Room 30.

HB 3795 / SB 3430

SPONSORS: Sen. Mike Bell (R), Rep. Jim Cobb (R)

Would remove printed public notice of legislative public hearings to review the performance of state agencies and post them to the state websites only.

This one was flagged by our friends at the League of Women Voters Tennessee: “A major concern is that placing these notices on state government websites will effectively bury any word of upcoming public hearings.” The Tennessee Coalition for Open Government highlights two of the problems: 1) Moving notices to the internet leaves out sizeable segments of the population, particularly seniors, rural residents, and others who do not own or use computers, and 2) While only 29% of households in a 2011 statewide survey reported interacting with government websites or elected officials on the internet, 70% of adults regularly read newspapers.

The House State & Local Govt Subcommittee voted to full committee this week. The bill is now scheduled to be heard in the House State & Local Government on Tuesday, 2/28, at 1:30pm in LP 16.

HOLDING CORPORATIONS AND THEIR CAMPAIGN CONTRIBUTING CEOS ACCOUNTABLE (CIVIL JUSTICE BILLS)

A couple of weeks ago we wrote about another Tennessean article that unfortunately established as given the memes that our civil justice system is broken (“tort reform”) and that Tennessee has a problem with lawsuits run amok. Neither is true. The article did, however, do an excellent job of explaining the malicious intent of HB1980 and HB3124, bills that “would require a party who loses a motion to dismiss to pay the litigation costs of the opposing party.” Read more…

CIVIL JUSTICE BILLS UPDATE

HB3124 / SB2638

SPONSORS: Sen. Jack Johnson / Rep. Vance Dennis

Motions to dismiss aka “Loser Pays.”

This bill would like to do the un-American thing and get rid of the “American Rule,” the rule that says that each party in a lawsuit pays their own lawyer’s fees. The effect? Deep-pocketed corporations and insurance companies that can afford the risk would drag out lawsuits brought by injured Tennesseans. And working-class Tennesseans and small businesses owners might be too scared to file a lawsuit because they could get stuck paying the litigation fees of a company with an unlimited funds.

Referred to Senate Judiciary but not scheduled yet. Will be heard in House General Subcommittee of Judiciary on Wednesday, 2/29, at 3:30 in room 31.

STANDING UP FOR HARDWORKING TENNESSEANS (LABOR BILLS)

Chris Rock must have been channeling Rep. Jeanne Richardson (D-Memphis) at the Oscars last night when he said, “I hate when people go on TV and tell you how hard it is to do animations. ‘Oh, Jay, it’s such hard work.’ No no no, UPS is hard work. Stripping wood is hard work.” So why do we insist on attacking hardworking Tennesseans by taking away their rights, their voices, and their dignity? In a recent guest column in the Memphis Commercial Appeal, Rep. Richardson wrote that what is happening at the state legislature right now is “Civil service discouragement, not reform”:

If the goal is really both the effectiveness and efficiency of government work, the focus should be on maintaining a properly trained workforce that serves the public needs in an efficacious and customer-friendly manner. Further, we should make wise use of the investment the state has made in its employees by keeping the best and the brightest of them.

The TEAM Act does not achieve these goals….

…if the TEAM Act becomes law, the administration will be allowed to hire and fire who they wish with very little oversight by the people of Tennessee. State employment will become about who you know instead of what you know….

The governor’s legislative proposals include a raise for state employees of 2.5 percent, while the cost of living index has risen 3 percent this year. For four of the last five years there have been no raises for state employees.

…Balancing the public budget by cutting public employee wages is never a good idea….If the state continues to balance the budget by suppressing wages, we will end up with poorly paid and poorly equipped state employees and, more important, a public that is unhappy with inadequate services. Read more…

LABOR BILLS UPDATE

HB 3815 / SB 3439

SPONSORS: Rep. Andy Holt (R), Rep. Mike Bell (R)

Criminalizes the act of mass picketing in various cases including at any business, school, or private facility, but not a government building or facility.

Taking away the voice of hardworking Tennesseans is just one more way conservative extremists in the Tennessee state legislature are telling the 99% to “sit down and shut up.”

HB3815 will be heard in House Judiciary Subcommittee on Wednesday, 2/29, at 3:30 in room 31.

HB 3386 / SB 3276

SPONSORS: Rep. Glen Casada (R), Sen. Brian Kelsey (R)

Stops local governments from creating wage, benefit, and other regulations which go above what is required by state law.

Our friends from the Tennessee AFL-CIO speak truth to power: “The state should be setting a floor for employment regulations, not a ceiling. Local Governments should have the right to set their own minimum wages – higher if they choose! Local governments should be allowed to determine if conditions require more employee protections or benefits rather than setting a “one size fits all standard” for the whole state

Will be heard in the House State & Local Government Subcommittee on Wednesday, 2/29, at 3:30 in room 30.

MISC BUT BY NO MEANS TRIVIAL

  • The Number of Children Living in Poverty in Tennessee is 25% ( Nashville Scene)
  • They Paved Tennessee and Put Up a Parking Lot – From the League of Women Voters Tennessee: SB2726 by Sen. Jim Summerville (R) abolishes the recordation tax – otherwise known as the Real Estate Transfer tax that funds conservation land acquisition. Tennessee Conservation Voters has lobbied to restore and maintain this funding source for the past several years and has continued its support by making the continuance of this funding as one of our top legislative priorities. Go to forevergreentn.wordpress.com to read more information about the funds.
  • William Carter of Franklin pens an open letter to Williamson County Republican Party Chairman Kevin Kookogey, the guy who said, in response to the Williamson County School districts goal to offer breakfast at all schools as a part of the National School Breakfast program, that it was not the role of the government to feed people. Looking for a way to respond to this kind of mean-spirited nonesense? Look no further…Thanks to Out Of The Blue for the heads up.
  • You Should Know About The ” 99% Spring.”

EVENT: GET YOUR DANCE ON

We know that everyday you’re shuffling…shuffling…shuffling…so you might as well put all those cool dance moves to use and blow off a little workday steam. C’mon, you know you need it….

WHAT: Monthly Dance Party

WHEN: Thursday, March 8, 2012, 5:30 – 7:30 pm.

WHERE: No. 308, 407 Gallatin Avenue, Nasvhille, TN

SPECIAL GUEST: You…and your boogie shoes.

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