Bitcoins-for-Candidates Bill in TN Legislature

Got any Bitcoin you can spare? If so, you might soon be able to use it to make a political contribution to a candidate running for elected office in Tennessee.

A couple of Volunteer State lawmakers want to clarify the law so there’s no question that candidates can use digital currency to fuel their political ambitions.

Sen. Steven Dickerson of Nashville and Rep. Jeremy Faison of Cosby, both Republicans, have filed a bill to ensure state law matches federal campaign finance regulations on the matter. In May 2014, the Federal Election Commission ruled unanimously to allow Bitcoin donations to political candidates.

“That ruling applies to federal elections. There was possible ambiguity as far as state races. This bill would remove any ambiguity,” Dickerson recently told CoinDesk, a website dedicated to news about Bitcoin and other digital currencies.

Senate Bill 674 would also require that any increase in the value of the digital currency be reported as interest in registry of election finance filings. Candidates would also be required to sell the alternative currency and deposit the proceeds before “spending the funds.” The legislation is HB701 in the lower chamber.

The bill has been assigned to the State & Local Government Committee in the Senate, and the Local Government Committee in the House.

Bitcoin, often described as the first of its kind in the realm of “virtual currency,” emerged in 2009. Bitcoins are “mined” using complex computer programs and are then entered into circulation through “peer-to-peer transfers” independent of traditional banks.

Name-Change for State Veterans Department Approved by Senate Committee

The administrators who run Tennessee’s Department of Veterans’ Affairs want to distance themselves from the federal agency of the same name.

A proposal to change the official moniker of the state department to “Department of Veterans Services” easily cleared its first hurdle in the General Assembly Tuesday.

The Senate State & Local Government Committee passed SB0116 with no discussion as part of its consent calendar. The administration-backed bill is scheduled to be heard by the House State Government Subcommittee Wednesday.

The re-branding was suggested late last year by the agency’s head, Many-Bears Grinder, during her department’s preliminary budget pitch to Gov. Bill Haslam.

Sharing a nearly identical name with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs — even though they’re entirely separate entities — has generated a lot of confusion, wasted time and frustration, both for veterans seeking services and the state department’s employees, Grinder said. The TDVA’s purpose is to connect Tennessee veterans with benefits provided by the federal agency, as well as to provide burial services.

The emergence over the past year of scandals that have afflicted the federal agency have only exacerbated the problems, with the state being “inundated” with complaints meant for the feds.

In April of 2014, news broke that about 40 vets had died waiting for care at the Phoenix VA Hospital, prompting an internal investigation by the VA into the Veterans Health Administration system. That investigation found that upwards of 120,000 veterans had not received timely care, and a criminal investigation was launched by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Eric Shinseki, the head of the VA at the time, also resigned as a result of the scandal. Robert McDonald, the current head of the VA who took over amid the scandal, was recently discovered to have lied when he told a homeless veteran in Los Angeles that he had also served in the Army Special Forces.

The federal government’s problems delivering aid and services to those in need who served in the armed forces are hitting home here in Tennessee. In September of last year, the TDVA and the Department of Mental Health & Substance Abuse Services announced that suicides by veterans were on the rise, and that since 1990, veterans made up about 21 percent of all of the suicide deaths in the state.

The Tennessee Military Department’s commander told Haslam late last year that in an effort to bridge the gap in post-deployment counseling, five years ago his department had begun providing outreach to soldiers returning home from combat zones. Maj. Gen. Max Haston said his department is trying to pick up some of the slack. Since 2013 more than 600 current and former service members received counseling, and since 2011 more than 80 guard members have been talked down from hurting themselves, he said.

And during the Legislature’s special session to consider Haslam’s proposed Medicaid expansion plan, supporters touted an estimated 25,000-30,000 Tennessee veterans who lack health coverage through either Obamacare’s insurance exchanges or the VA.

House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, a Chattanooga Republican who sponsored the governor’s failed “Insure Tennessee” plan, argued that responsibility for help those who served is shared by the state. “Maybe they need a hand up right now with their health care coverage,” said McCormick. “And maybe they’re suffering from some problems that they encountered while they were in the military.”

NC5: Did TDEC Ignore Unlawful Pollution by State Lawmaker?

A WTVF-TV NewsChannel 5 story that aired Monday raises the possibility that state regulators turned a blind eye to animal-waste management violations on a hog farm run by West Tennessee state Rep. Andy Holt.

WTVF reported that it’d been told by a state inspector, now retired, that Holt, a Republican from Dresden and vice chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, has a history of not properly disposing of dead hogs and manure. Furthermore, when the Department of Environment and Conservation was alerted to the situation, a formal probe was discouraged by the agency’s higher-ups.

Interviewed for the WTVF story, Holt denied pressuring TDEC to give his ag operation a pass. Holt appeared in the story to acknowledge that he operated his hog farm without proper permits, however he denied that he’d done so to flout the law. “This isn’t something where I just said nope, I don’t want a permit, I don’t want to have to apply for that. That’s not the case,” Holt told the news station. “There were several attempts made to apply for the permit.”

TDEC Commissioner Robert Martineau also denied Holt was receiving special treatment.

Aerial footage run during the WTVF segment purported to show a dead hog on Holt’s property in 2015, although he has maintained he’s been out of the business since the end of 2014.

House, Senate Speakers Assign Legislative Committee Memberships

The 109th Tennessee General Assembly officially convened its regular session Saturday afternoon, following the inauguration of Republican Gov. Bill Haslam to his second term as Tennessee’s governor. The Legislature, which also concluded its week-long organizational session Saturday, will return to Legislative Plaza Feb. 2 to discuss Haslam’s Medicaid expansion proposal in a special session. The regular legislative session is scheduled to resume Feb. 9.

The bill filing deadline for both chambers was announced as the close of business Thursday, Feb. 12.

In the House, several changes were made in committee leadership, and the Education Committee was split into two separate committees: Education Administration & Planning and Education Instruction & Programs.

Senate committee chairmanships saw no changes.

The committee assignments for both chambers are as follows:

Senate

Commerce & Labor

  • Chairman: Sen. Jack Johnson, R-Franklin
  • 1st Vice Chair: Sen. Mark Green, R-Clarksville
  • 2nd Vice Chair: Sen. Jim Tracy, R-Shelbyville
  • Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga
  • Sen. Dolores R. Gresham, R-Somerville
  • Sen. Steve Southerland, R-Morristown
  • Sen. Reginald Tate, D-Memphis
  • Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson
  • Sen. Ken Yager, R-Kingston

Education

  • Chairman: Sen. Dolores R. Gresham, R-Somerville
  • 1st Vice Chair: Sen. Reginald Tate, D-Memphis
  • 2nd Vice Chair: Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga
  • Sen. Rusty Crowe, R-Johnson City
  • Sen. Steven Dickerson, R-Nashville
  • Sen. Ferrell Haile, R-Gallatin
  • Sen. Joey Hensley, R-Hohenwald
  • Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown
  • Sen. Jim Tracy, R-Shelbyville

Energy, Agriculture & Natural Resources

  • Chairman: Sen. Steve Southerland, R-Morristown
  • 1st Vice Chair: Sen. Frank S. Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains
  • 2nd Vice Chair: Sen. Paul Bailey, R-Sparta
  • Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville
  • Sen. Mark Green, R-Clarksville
  • Sen. Dolores R. Gresham, R-Somerville
  • Sen. Lee Harris, D-Memphis
  • Sen. Kerry Roberts, R-Dickson
  • Sen. Ken Yager, R-Kingston

Finance, Ways & Means

  • Chairman: Sen. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge
  • 1st Vice Chair: Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson
  • 2nd Vice Chair: Sen. Doug Overbey, R-Maryville
  • Sen. Steven Dickerson, R-Nashville
  • Sen. Ferrell Haile, R-Gallatin
  • Sen. Thelma Harper, D-Nashville
  • Sen. Joey Hensley, R-Hohenwald
  • Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro
  • Sen. Mark Norris, R-Collierville
  • Sen. John Stevens, R-Huntingdon
  • Sen. Reginald Tate, D-Memphis

Government Operations

  • Chairman: Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville,
  • 1st Vice Chair: Sen. Ed Jackson, R-Jackson
  • 2nd Vice Chair: Sen. Kerry Roberts, R-Dickson
  • Sen. Paul Bailey, R-Sparta
  • Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet
  • Sen. Janice Bowling, R-Tullahoma
  • Sen. Rusty Crowe, R-Johnson City
  • Sen. Lee Harris, D-Memphis
  • Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown

Health & Welfare

  • Chairman: Sen. Rusty Crowe, R-Johnson City
  • 1st Vice Chair: Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson
  • 2nd Vice Chair: Sen. Joey Hensley, R-Hohenwald
  • Sen. Richard Briggs, R-Knoxville
  • Sen. Ed Jackson, R-Jackson
  • Sen. Becky Duncan Massey, R-Knoxville
  • Sen. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge
  • Sen. Doug Overbey, R-Maryville
  • Sen. Jeff Yarbro, D-Nashville

Judiciary

  • Chairman: Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown
  • 1st Vice Chair: Sen. Doug Overbey, R-Maryville
  • 2nd Vice Chair: Sen. Janice Bowling, R-Tullahoma
  • Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville
  • Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga
  • Sen. Lee Harris, D-Memphis
  • Sen. Sara Kyle, D-Memphis
  • Sen. Kerry Roberts, R-Dickson
  • Sen. John Stevens, R-Huntingdon

State & Local Government

  • Chairman: Sen. Ken Yager, R-Kingston
  • 1st Vice Chair: Sen. Steven Dickerson, R-Nashville
  • 2nd Vice Chair: Sen. Richard Briggs, R-Knoxville
  • Sen. Mark Green, R-Clarksville
  • Sen. Thelma Harper, D-Nashville
  • Sen. Ed Jackson, R-Jackson
  • Sen. Jack Johnson, R-Franklin
  • Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro
  • Sen. Mark Norris, R-Collierville

Transportation & Safety

  • Chairman: Sen. Jim Tracy, R-Shelbyville
  • 1st Vice Chair: Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Tullahoma
  • 2nd Vice Chair: Sen. Frank S. Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains
  • Sen. Paul Bailey, R-Sparta
  • Sen. Janice Bowling, R-Tullahoma
  • Sen. Sara Kyle, D-Memphis
  • Sen. Becky Duncan Massey, R-Knoxville
  • Sen. Steve Southerland, R-Morristown
  • Sen. Jeff Yarbro, D-Nashville

Calendar

  • Chairman: Sen. Becky Duncan Massey, R-Knoxville
  • 1st Vice Chair: Sen. Mark Norris, R-Collierville
  • 2nd Vice Chair: Sen. Lee Harris, D-Memphis

Ethics

  • Chairman: Sen. Doug Overbey, R-Maryville
  • 1st Vice Chair: Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro
  • 2nd Vice Chair: Sen. Mark Norris, R-Collierville
  • Sen. Thelma Harper, D-Nashville
  • Sen. Reginald Tate, D-Memphis

Rules

  • Chairman: Sen. Mark Norris, R-Collierville
  • 1st Vice Chair: Sen. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge
  • 2nd Vice Chair: Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson
  • Sen. Doug Overbey, R-Maryville
  • Sen. Jeff Yarbro, D-Nashville

House

Agriculture & Natural Resources

  • Chairman: Rep. Curtis Halford, R-Dyer
  • Vice Chair: Rep. Andy Holt, R-Dresden
  • Rep. David Byrd, R-Waynesboro
  • Rep. David B. Hawk, R-Greeneville
  • Rep. G.A. Hardaway, D-Memphis
  • Rep. Bud Hulsey, R-Kingsport
  • Rep. Ron Lollar, R-Bartlett
  • Rep. Pat Marsh, R-Shelbyville
  • Rep. Steve McDaniel, R-Parkers Crossroads
  • Rep. Debra Moody, R-Covington
  • Rep. Dennis Powers, R-Jacksboro
  • Rep. Jay D. Reedy, R-Erin
  • Rep. Johnny Shaw, D-Bolivar
  • Rep. Art Swann, R-Maryville
  • Rep. John Mark Windle, D-Livingston

Agriculture & Natural Resources Sub

  • Chairman: Rep. Ron Lollar, R-Bartlett
  • Rep. G.A. Hardaway, D-Memphis
  • Rep. Curtis Halford, R-Dyer
  • Rep. Andy Holt, R-Dresden
  • Rep. Jay D. Reedy, R-Erin
  • Rep. Johnny Shaw, D-Bolivar

Business & Utilities

  • Chairman: Rep. Pat Marsh, R-Shelbyville
  • Vice Chair: Rep. Kent Calfee, R-Kingston
  • Rep. Martin Daniel, R-Knoxville
  • Rep. Barry Doss, R-Leoma
  • Rep. Kevin Dunlap, D-Rock Island
  • Rep. Brenda Gilmore, D-Nashville
  • Rep. Tilman Goins, R-Morristown
  • Rep. Marc Gravitt, R-East Ridge
  • Rep. Patsy Hazlewood, R-Signal Mountain
  • Rep. John B. Holsclaw, Jr., R-Johnson City
  • Rep. Harold M. Love, Jr., D-Nashville
  • Rep. Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga
  • Rep. Jason Powell, D-Nashville
  • Rep. Jay D. Reedy, R-Erin
  • Rep. Jerry Sexton, R-Bean Station
  • Rep. Mike Sparks, R-Smyrna
  • Rep. Art Swann, R-Maryville
  • Rep. Tim Wirgau, R-Buchanan

Business & Utilities Sub

  • Chairman: Rep. Art Swann, R-Maryville
  • Rep. Kent Calfee, R-Kingston
  • Rep. Martin Daniel, R-Knoxville
  • Rep. Patsy Hazlewood, R-Signal Mountain
  • Rep. Brenda Gilmore, D-Nashville
  • Rep. Marc Gravitt, R-East Ridge
  • Rep. John B. Holsclaw, Jr., R-Johnson City
  • Rep. Pat Marsh, R-Shelbyville
  • Rep. Jason Powell, D-Nashville

Civil Justice

  • Chairman: Rep. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol
  • Vice Chair: Rep. Mike Carter, R-Ooltewah
  • Rep. Carson W. (Bill) Beck, D-Nashville
  • Rep. Jim Coley, R-Bartlett
  • Rep. Martin Daniel, R-Knoxville
  • Rep. John Forgety, R-Athens
  • Rep. Sherry Jones, D-Nashville
  • Rep. Courtney Rogers, R-Goodlettsville
  • Rep. Leigh Wilburn, R-Somerville

Civil Justice Sub

  • Chairman: Rep. Jim Coley, R-Bartlett
  • Rep. Carson W. (Bill) Beck, D-Nashville
  • Rep. Mike Carter, R-Ooltewah
  • Rep. Sherry Jones, D-Nashville
  • Rep. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol
  • Rep. Leigh Wilburn, R-Somerville

Consumer & Human Resources

  • Chairman: Rep. Jimmy Eldridge, R-Jackson
  • Vice Chair: Rep. Mark Pody, R-Lebanon
  • Rep. Glen Casada, R-Franklin
  • Rep. G.A. Hardaway, D-Memphis
  • Rep. Susan Lynn, R-Mt. Juliet
  • Rep. Bo Mitchell, D-Nashville
  • Rep. Bryan Terry, R-Murfreesboro
  • Rep. Ron Travis, R-Dayton
  • Rep. Johnnie Turner, D-Memphis
  • Rep. Mark White, R-Memphis
  • Rep. Rick Womick, R-Rockvale

Consumer & Human Resources Sub

  • Chairman: Rep. Susan Lynn, R-Mt. Juliet
  • Rep. Glen Casada, R-Franklin
  • Rep. Jimmy Eldridge, R-Jackson
  • Rep. Bo Mitchell, D-Nashville
  • Rep. Mark Pody, R-Lebanon
  • Rep. Johnnie Turner, D-Memphis

Criminal Justice

  • Chairman: Rep. William Lamberth, R-Cottontown
  • Vice Chair: Rep. James (Micah) Van Huss, R-Jonesborough
  •  Rep. Raumesh Akbari, D-Memphis
  • Rep. Sheila Butt, R-Columbia
  • Rep. Andrew Farmer, R-Sevierville
  • Rep. Tilman Goins, R-Morristown
  • Rep. Antonio “2 Shay” Parkinson, D-Memphis
  • Rep. Mike Stewart, D-Nashville
  • Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver, R-Lancaster

Criminal Justice Sub

  • Chairman: Rep. Andrew Farmer, R-Sevierville
  • Rep. Raumesh Akbari, D-Memphis
  • Rep. Tilman Goins, R-Morristown
  • Rep. William Lamberth, R-Cottontown
  • Rep. Mike Stewart, D-Nashville
  • Rep. James (Micah) Van Huss, R-Jonesborough

Education Administration & Planning

  • Chairman: Rep. Harry Brooks, R-Knoxville
  • Vice Chair: Rep. Debra Moody, R-Covington
  • Rep. Kevin Brooks, R-Cleveland
  • Rep. Kent Calfee, R-Kingston
  • Rep. Jim Coley, R-Bartlett
  • Rep. John J. DeBerry, Jr., D-Memphis
  • Rep. Kevin Dunlap, D-Rock Island
  • Rep. Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley
  • Rep. Eddie Smith, R-Knoxville
  • Rep. Johnnie Turner, D-Memphis
  • Rep. Dawn White, R-Murfreesboro
  • Rep. Mark White, R-Memphis
  • Rep. Rick Womick, R-Rockvale

Education Administration & Planning Sub

  • Chairman: Rep. Mark White, R-Memphis
  • Rep. Harry Brooks, R-Knoxville
  • Rep John J. DeBerry, Jr., D-Memphis
  • Rep. Kevin Dunlap, D-Rock Island
  • Rep. Debra Moody, R-Covington
  • Rep. Eddie Smith, R-Knoxville
  • Rep. Dawn White, R-Murfreesboro
  • Rep. Rick Womick, R-Rockvale

Education Instruction & Programs

  • Chairman: Rep. John Forgety, R-Athens
  • Vice Chair: Rep. Billy Spivey, R-Lewisburg
  • Rep. Raumesh Akbari, D-Memphis
  • Rep. Harry Brooks, R-Knoxville
  • Rep. Sheila Butt, R-Columbia
  • Rep. David Byrd, R-Waynesboro
  • Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville
  • Rep. Roger Kane, R-Knoxville
  • Rep. Sabi “Doc” Kumar, R-Springfield
  • Rep. Ron Lollar, R-Bartlett
  • Rep. Harold M. Love, Jr., D-Nashville
  • Rep. Joe Pitts, D-Clarksville
  • Rep. Joe Towns, Jr., D-Memphis
  • Rep. Ryan Williams, R-Cookeville

Education Instruction & Programs Sub

  • Chairman: Rep. Roger Kane, R-Knoxville
  • Rep. Sheila Butt, R-Columbia
  • Rep. David Byrd, R-Waynesboro
  • Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville
  • Rep. Harold M. Love, Jr., D-Nashville
  • Rep. John Forgety, R-Athens
  • Rep. Joe Pitts, D-Clarksville
  • Rep. Billy Spivey, R-Lewisburg

Finance

  • Chairman: Rep. Charles Sargent, R-Franklin
  • Vice Chair: Rep. David Alexander, R-Winchester
  • Rep. Joe Armstrong, D-Knoxville
  • Rep. Kevin Brooks, R-Cleveland
  • Rep. Karen D. Camper, D-Memphis
  • Rep. Mike Carter, R-Ooltewah
  • Rep. Barbara Ward Cooper, D-Memphis
  • Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville
  • Rep. Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley
  • Rep. Brenda Gilmore, D-Nashville
  • Rep. Mike Harrison, R-Rogersville
  • Rep.  David B. Hawk, R-Greeneville
  • Rep. Ryan A. Haynes, R-Knoxville
  • Rep. Patsy Hazlewood, R-Signal Mountain
  • Rep. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough
  • Rep. Curtis Johnson, R-Clarksville
  • Rep. Susan Lynn, R-Mt. Juliet
  • Rep. Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga
  • Rep. Steve McDaniel, R-Parkers Crossroads
  • Rep. Steve McManus, R-Cordova
  • Rep. Larry J. Miller, D-Memphis
  • Rep. Bo Mitchell, D-Nashville
  • Rep. Curry Todd, R-Collierville

Finance Sub

  • Chairman: Rep. Mike Harrison, R-Rogersville
  • Rep. David Alexander, R-Winchester
  • Rep. Joe Armstrong, D-Knoxville
  • Rep. Kevin Brooks, R-Cleveland
  • Rep. Karen D. Camper, D-Memphis
  • Rep. Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley
  • Rep. David B. Hawk, R-Greeneville
  • Rep. Ryan A. Haynes, R-Knoxville
  • Rep. Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga
  • Rep. Steve McDaniel, R-Parkers Crossroads
  • Rep. Charles Sargent, R-Franklin
  • Rep. Curry Todd, R-Collierville

Government Operations

  • Chairman: Rep. Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby
  • Vice Chair: Rep. John Ragan, R-Oak Ridge
  • Rep. Glen Casada, R-Franklin
  • Rep. John Ray Clemmons, D-Nashville
  • Rep. Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley
  • Rep. Curtis Halford, R-Dyer
  • Rep. Dan Howell, R-Georgetown
  • Rep. Curtis Johnson, R-Clarksville
  • Rep. Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga
  • Rep. Mike Stewart, D-Nashville

Health

  • Chairman: Rep. Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville
  • Vice Chair: Rep. Barry Doss, R-Leoma
  • Rep. John Ray Clemmons, D-Nashville
  • Rep. John J. DeBerry, Jr., D-Memphis
  • Rep. JoAnne Favors, D-Chattanooga
  • Rep. Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby
  • Rep. Mike Harrison, R-Rogersville
  • Rep. John B. Holsclaw, Jr., R-Johnson City
  • Rep. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough
  • Rep. Darren Jernigan, D-Old Hickory
  • Rep. Sherry Jones, D-Nashville
  • Rep. Sabi “Doc” Kumar, R-Springfield
  • Rep. Mary Littleton, R-Dickson
  • Rep. Judd Matheny, R-Tullahoma
  • Rep. Bob Ramsey, R-Maryville
  • Rep. Bryan Terry, R-Murfreesboro
  • Rep. Leigh Wilburn, R-Somerville
  • Rep. Ryan Williams, R-Cookeville

Health Sub

  • Chairman: Rep. Ryan Williams, R-Cookeville
  • Rep. John Ray Clemmons, D-Nashville
  • Rep. Barry Doss, R-Leoma
  • Rep. Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby
  • Rep. JoAnne Favors, D-Chattanooga
  • Rep. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough
  • Rep. Sabi “Doc” Kumar, R-Springfield
  • Rep. Judd Matheny, R-Tullahoma
  • Rep. Camera Sexton, R-Crossville
  • Rep. Bryan Terry, R-Murfreesboro

Insurance & Banking

  • Chairman: Rep. Steve McManus, R-Cordova
  • Vice Chair: Rep. Ron Travis, R-Dayton
  • Rep. Glen Casada, R-Franklin
  • Rep. Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin
  • Rep. Andrew Farmer, R-Sevierville
  • Rep. JoAnne Favors, D-Chattanooga
  • Rep. Timothy Hill, R-Blountville
  • Rep. Curtis Johnson, R-Clarksville
  • Rep. Kelly Keisling, R-Byrdstown
  • Rep. Roger Kane, R-Knoxville
  • Rep. Bill Lundberg, R-Bristol
  • Rep. Judd Matheny, R-Tullahoma
  • Rep. Jimmy Matlock, R-Lenoir City
  • Rep. Mark Pody, R-Lebanon
  • Rep. Joe Pitts, D-Clarksville
  • Rep. Dennis Powers, R-Jacksboro
  • Rep. Charles Sargent, R-Franklin
  • Rep. David Shepard, D-Dickson
  • Rep. Mike Stewart, D-Nashville
  • Rep. Joe Towns, Jr., D-Memphis

Insurance & Banking Sub

  • Chairman: Rep. Kelly Keisling, R-Byrdstown
  • Rep. Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin
  • Rep. Curtis Johnson, R-Clarksville
  • Rep. Steve McManus, R-Cordova
  • Rep. Dennis Powers, R-Jacksboro
  • Rep. David Shepard, D-Dickson
  • Rep. Joe Towns, Jr., D-Memphis

Local Government

  • Chairman: Rep. Tim Wirgau, R-Buchanan
  • Vice chair: Rep. Mike Sparks, R-Smyrna
  • Rep. Dale Carr, R-Sevierville
  • Rep. Jimmy Eldridge, R-Jackson
  • Rep. Marc Gravitt, R-East Ridge
  • Rep. Andy Holt, R-Dresden
  • Rep. Dan Howell, R-Georgetown
  • Rep. Larry J. Miller, D-Memphis
  • Rep. Antonio “2 Shay” Parkinson, D-Memphis
  • Rep. Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville
  • Rep. David Shepard, D-Dickson
  • Rep. Billy Spivey, R-Lewisburg
  • Rep. James (Micah) Van Huss, R-Jonesborough

Local Government Sub

  • Chairman: Rep. Dale Carr, R-Sevierville
  • Rep. Dan Howell, R-Georgetown
  • Rep. Larry J. Miller, D-Memphis
  • Rep. Antonio “2 Shay” Parkinson, D-Memphis
  • Rep. Mike Sparks, R-Smyrna
  • Rep. Tim Wirgau, R-Buchanan

State Government

  • Chairman: Rep. Bob Ramsey, R-Maryville
  • Vice Chair: Rep. Mary Littleton, R-Dickson
  • Rep. Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin
  • Rep. Ryan A. Haynes, R-Knoxville
  • Rep. Bud Hulsey, R-Kingsport
  • Rep. Darren Jernigan, D-Old Hickory
  • Rep. William Lamberth, R-Cottontown
  • Rep. Jason Powell, D-Nashville
  • Rep. Johnny Shaw, D-Bolivar
  • Rep. Bill Sanderson, R-Kenton
  • Rep. Curry Todd, R-Collierville

State Government Sub

  • Chairman: Rep. Bill Sanderson, R-Kenton
  • Rep. Darren Jernigan, D-Old Hickory
  • Rep. Bud Hulsey, R-Kingsport
  • Rep. Mary Littleton, R-Dickson
  • Rep. Bob Ramsey, R-Maryville.

Transportation

  • Chairman: Rep. Jimmy Matlock, R-Lenoir City
  • Vice Chair: Rep. Courtney Rogers, R-Goodlettsville
  • Rep. David Alexander, R-Winchester
  • Rep. Joe Armstrong, D-Knoxville
  • Rep. Carson W. (Bill) Beck, D-Nashville
  • Rep. Karen D. Camper, D-Memphis
  • Rep. Dale Carr, R-Sevierville
  • Rep. Barbara Ward Cooper, D-Memphis
  • Rep. Kelly Keisling, R-Byrdstown
  • Rep. Timothy Hill, R-Blountville
  • Rep. John Ragan, R-Oak Ridge
  • Rep. Bill Sanderson, R-Kenton
  • Rep. Jerry Sexton, R-Bean Station
  • Rep. Eddie Smith, R-Knoxville
  • Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver, R-Lancaster
  • Rep. Dawn White, R-Murfreesboro
  • Rep. John Mark Windle, D-Livingston

Transportation Sub

  • Chairman: Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver, R-Lancaster
  • Rep. Barbara Ward Cooper, D-Memphis
  • Rep. Timothy Hill, R-Blountville
  • Rep. Jimmy Matlock, R-Lenoir City
  • Rep. Jerry Sexton, R-Bean Station
  • Rep. John Ragan, R-Oak Ridge
  • Rep. Courtney Rogers, R-Goodlettsville
  • Rep. John Mark Windle, D-Livingston

Calendar & Rules

  • Chairman: Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville
  • Vice Chair: Rep. Timothy Hill, R-Blountville
  • Rep. Harry Brooks, R-Knoxville
  • Rep. Kevin Brooks, R-Cleveland
  • Rep. Glen Casada, R-Franklin
  • Rep. Jimmy Eldridge, R-Jackson
  • Rep. Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley
  • Rep. Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby
  • Rep. John Forgety, R-Athens
  • Rep. Curtis Halford, R-Dyer
  • Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville
  • Rep. Curtis Johnson, R-Clarksville
  • Rep. Williams Lamberth, R-Cottontown
  • Rep. Harold M. Love, Jr., D-Nashville
  • Rep. Bill Lundberg, R-Bristol
  • Rep. Pat Marsh, R-Shelbyville
  • Rep. Jimmy Matlock, R-Lenoir City
  • Rep. Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga
  • Rep. Steve McManus, R-Cordova
  • Rep. Antonio “2 Shay” Parkinson, D-Memphis
  • Rep. Bob Ramsey, R-Maryville
  • Rep. Mike Stewart, D-Nashville
  • Rep. Charles Sargent, R-Franklin
  • Rep. Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville
  • Rep. Jerry Sexton, R-Bean Station
  • Rep. Tim Wirgau, R-Buchanan

Ethics:

  • Chairman: Rep. Steve McDaniel, R-Parkers Crossroads
  • Rep. Kevin Brooks, R-Cleveland
  • Rep. Karen D. Camper, D-Memphis
  • Rep. Mike Carter, R-Ooltewah
  • Rep. John Forgety, R-Athens
  • Rep. Ryan A. Haynes, R-Knoxville
  • Rep. Antonio “2 Shay” Parkinson, D-Memphis
  • Rep. Joe Pitts, D-Clarksville
  • Rep. David Shepard, D-Dickson
  • Rep. Mike Stewart, D-Nashville

Lawmakers Request AG Opinion on Erlanger Bonus Discussions

The Tennessee General Assembly’s Hamilton County delegation has requested Attorney General Herbert Slatery’s opinion on whether or not Erlanger Health System’s Board of Trustees violated the state’s sunshine laws.

The questions arose when the board  held two private meetings to discuss awarding millions in performance bonuses to management-level employees.

Earlier in 2014, Erlanger, in danger of ending the year with a financial shortfall, came to lawmakers seeking financial help. Politicians at all levels of government went to bat for the hospital, and helped Erlanger get a $19 million federal benefit.  Because of the hospital’s danger of ending the year in the negative — as well as the secret nature of the discussions — state lawmakers were upset with the board’s decision to pay out nearly $2 million in bonuses.

Erlanger announced it would delay payment of half of the bonuses until Summer 2015 after attorneys assured them they had operated within state law.

However, lawmakers told the Chattanooga Times Free Press editorial board Tuesday that they were going to ask Slatery to look into whether the board violated the open meetings law with their discussion of the bonuses. Members of the Hamilton County legislative delegation also said they plan to consider legislation to address their concerns in the upcoming session — such as by removing the public meetings exemption from Erlanger.

Additionally, the decision by the hospital board to pay out bonuses after receiving public assistance has caused some lawmakers doubt over the feasibility of supporting Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposed “Insure Tennessee” plan to expand Medicaid eligibility using federal funds under the Affordable Care Act.

In December, Republican state Sen. Todd Gardenhire told TNReport he was concerned about taking “the political hit” for expanding Medicaid if it just meant hospitals were going to pay out bonuses to its management-level employees.

State Sen. Bo Watson, a Hixson Republican and the Senate Speaker pro tem, echoed Gardenhire’s comments last week, and questioned whether hospitals would use the increase in funds from the expansion to better serve their communities or to pay out large bonuses to their administrative components.

Haslam announced recently that he’s calling an “extraordinary session” of the Legislature to discuss his proposal beginning in early February.

Alexander, Corker Elected to Chairmanships

Tennessee’s U.S. senators — Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker — have won top posts overseeing influential legislative committees. Alexander will lead the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and Corker the Foreign Relations Committee.

Both the Republican senators — who will travel with President Barack Obama aboard Air Force One to the Knoxville area Friday — will be working closer with an executive branch they’ve had a mixed relationship with.

Senate Republican leaders, including Corker, have indicated a willingness to compromise with the president if he, in their view, meets them in the middle. Alexander recently told the Knoxville News Sentinel his relationship with Obama was “cordial, courteous, proper and infrequent,” but he criticized the White House for seeming to “have no capacity for crafting a consensus.”

The 114th United State Congress convened Tuesday with the GOP firmly in control of both chambers after Senate Republicans gained nine seats in the November elections. Alexander and Corker both had seniority among the Republican members of their respective committees, and were heavily favored to be elected chairmen.

“Whether we are fixing No Child Left Behind, or reducing federal paperwork to make it easier for students to attend college, or making it simpler for medical treatments and cures to make their way through the Food and Drug Administration to patients who need the help,”  no other Senate Committee impacts “the daily lives of more Americans” more than the HELP Committee, Alexander said in a press release.

This past fall, Alexander’s campaign indicated that should the Maryville Republican take over the committee, he intended to initially focus on “repairing the damage done by Obamacare, fixing the No Child Left Behind law — which has been overdue for reauthorization since 2008 — and reauthorizing the Higher Education Act.”

The former Volunteer State governor has already announced he’ll co-sponsor bipartisan legislation with the intent of changing the definition of “full time” employment from 30 hours per week—as it was established under Obamacare—to 40 hours per week, according to a press release.

Alexander indicated he intends to hold the “first committee hearing on health and labor this Congress to look at how this provision has made it harder for so many Americans to make a living.”

However, while Alexander has routinely characterized President Barack Obama’s signature law as harmful and has indicated his intention to fix the damage it’s caused, neither the senator nor his spokespeople have indicated how those intentions relate to the individual mandate — one of the law’s most controversial provisions, initially conceived of in the late 1980s by the conservative Heritage Foundation.

The individual mandate was held to be constitutional in a 5-4 ruling by the United State’s Supreme Court in 2012.

Alexander, who served as U.S. Secretary of Education under George H.W. Bush, has also announced legislation to reduce the federal student aid form from 108 questions to two, as well as a push to overhaul the George W. Bush-era No Child Left Behind law.

Corker this week also issued a statement that shared his excitement at leading his committee “at a time when pragmatic U.S. leadership around the world matters more than ever to our nation’s security and prosperity”

Because of “limited resources” Congress would have to work hard to ensure American tax dollars are “used efficiently in advancing U.S. interests,” Corker said. To that end, he vowed the committee would “begin conducting immediately a thorough review of all State Department programs and practices, with the goal of passing a responsible reauthorization of the department,” which hadn’t been done by Congress in 13 years.

“We must also do a better job of explaining how strategic U.S. engagement overseas improves our economy and makes us safer here at home,” he added.

In December, Obama’s signed legislation co-sponsored by Corker to authorize more sanctions on Russia and military aid to Ukraine in the Eurasian conflict that flared up last spring, a decision the Tennessee senator praised.

Corker announced last week on “Fox News Sunday” that Republicans in Congress are willing to work with the president on many issues — including changes to the Iranian nuclear program deal and sending ground troops back to Iraq to fight ISIS — but Obama first has to present them with some credible plans. To that end, Corker has begun to meet with military and executive branch officials to discuss the wording of an authorization for military force in Iraq.

The new Foreign Relations chairman also acknowledged this week that the 53-year-old embargo of Cuba had not “yielded the result we had hoped it would yield,” and there would be “some robust hearings” on the matter. Obama recently announced his decision to normalize relations with the Communist-led Caribbean nation.

However, the former Chattanooga mayor was more critical of the Obama administration’s recent decision to “reduce annual insurance premiums for mortgages insured by the Federal Housing Administration,” which he called “bad news for taxpayers.”

Additionally, Corker has said he is working on legislation that would give Congress some say before the president can finalize any agreement with Iran over their nuclear program,

In late October, Corker visited Tennessee with Alexander for a series of roundtable discussions on Ebola preparedness, where Tennessee’s junior senator indicated he felt the U.S. military was “the entity in our country that best responds to things like” the Ebola crisis.

DesJarlais, Cooper Break Partisan Ranks in U.S. House Speaker Votes

The United States House of Representatives has re-elected Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, to another two-year term.

Two of Tennessee’s representatives — Scott DesJarlais, a Republican from the 4th District, and Jim Cooper, a Democrat from the 5th District — broke ranks with their respective parties to cast votes for someone other than the official party nominees.

DesJarlais joined 24 other Republicans in casting a vote against the incumbent speaker — the biggest rebellion against a sitting House speaker in around 100 years. Mermbers of congressional GOP leadership have expressed hope that Boehner’s victory without the support of conservative hardliners could mean he’ll have more freedom to establish a more tempered conservative agenda.

DesJarlais said the current Republican House leadership is unpopular with his constituents, in a statement explaining his vote for Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio. DesJarlais didn’t say why he cast his vote for Jordan, who also picked up a vote from U.S. Rep. Justin Amash, a Michigan Republican and the chairman of the House Liberty Caucus.

In 2009, Jordan, a conservative who is also from Ohio, “introduced the only balanced budget alternative to President Obama’s budget,” according to his congressional webpage.

“Speaker Boehner has certainly accomplished a lot during his tenure and I am thankful for his leadership these past few years. However, I join my constituents in their belief that we need a new direction and a fresh approach,” DesJarlais said in the statement.

Likewise, Cooper voted for retired four-star general and former Secretary of State Colin Powell instead of joining his fellow Democrats to vote for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat who held the position of Speaker prior to the GOP takeover of the House in 2010.

“Colin Powell gets my vote again this year. He’s willing to work with both parties, he’s a military expert, and he’s a master diplomat. Most importantly, he isn’t scared of reform. There’s nothing that needs it like Congress,” Cooper said in a prepared statement.

The U.S. Constitution places no limit on who may serve as Speaker of the House, and Cooper previously cast his vote for Powell to take the U.S. House’s top post in 2013. Although there is no prohibition on non-members serving as Speaker, it has never happened before.

Cooper himself received one vote to serve in the position from fellow Democrat U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, of Florida.

Votes were also cast for U.S. Sens. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., and Rand Paul, R-Ky.

Other than the official party nominees, there were 13 more people House members suggested for the lower chamber’s top post.

Boehner was re-elected to the U.S. House’s top post for a third term with 216 votes. Pelosi received 164 votes.

 

Harwell Poised for Third Term as Speaker

Beth Harwell has won the Republican caucus nomination for speaker of the Tennessee House of Representatives.

Harwell, who in 2011 became the first woman to win the top post in the General Assembly’s lower chamber, easily fended off a challenge Wednesday from Rick Womick, R-Rockvale.

A former Belmont University political science professor who is entering her 14th two-year term as a state lawmaker, Harwell won the support of 57 GOP legislators in the secret-ballot vote held a few blocks from the Capitol at the Nashville City Club. Womick gathered just 15 votes.

Because the GOP dominates the chamber, Harwell is virtually assured of victory when the full House convenes in January to officially choose who will preside over the body. There are 73 Republicans in the House, 26 Democrats.

The Nashville lawmaker said after the votes were tallied that party unity is one of her priorities going forward. “I feel very good about where this caucus is,” she said.

Harwell had been criticized by Womick for working too closely with the Gov. Bill Haslam, also a Republican, on the kinds of legislation that the body gives serious consideration to — and that her leadership style has at times divided the caucus.

Womick argued that the governor’s influence over the legislative process the past four years has on occasion crossed the line into “a violation of the separation of powers.” He said Gov. Haslam has illegitimately attained for himself “a de facto veto against our legislation.”

But Harwell defended her handling of the legislative process, and her chummy relationship with Haslam.

“I want a good working relationship with our governor. He has a 70 percent approval rating — why would we not work with him?” said Harwell.

Harwell added that she’s asked the National Conference of State Legislatures to analyze the Tennessee Legislature’s system of calculating the costs of proposed bills, to determine how the system compares to processes used in other states, and if changes need to be made.

“If there is room for improvement I am always open to that,” said Harwell. She added, though, that in the interest of keeping Tennessee “a fiscally sound state,” it’s important for executive branch departments “to let us know what a bill is actually going to cost.”

“We have to rely on the experts to tell us what legislation is going to cost, because we don’t have the luxury of just passing bills like Congress does and guessing what they might cost,” she said. “We actually have to know before we pass legislation.”

Womick Driving Ahead with Bid Against Harwell Despite Carr’s Defeat

Over the weekend, a Tennessee GOP establishment figure took a convincing re-election win against a challenger looking to lead the party in a more conservative direction. But that hasn’t resulted in state Rep. Rick Womick having second thoughts about taking on Beth Harwell for the title of House speaker.

During the TNGOP’s leadership elections held in Nashville on Saturday, Chris Devaney, who has served as the state party’s chairman for the last 5 years, collected 47 votes from the executive committee. Devaney’s challenger, Joe Carr, a former state representative who unsuccessfully attempted to overthrow Lamar Alexander in the GOP’s U.S. Senate primary earlier this year, snagged only 17 votes.

speaker of the houseBut Womick doesn’t see Carr’s defeat either as a repudiation of conservatives within the party, or an endorsement of the status quo within Republican leadership circles.

“I don’t think it has anything to do with that,” Womick told TNReport following the TNGOP vote. “That was a completely different, separate issue.”

Carr was running “an uphill battle” against “a very well liked” party leader in Devaney, said Womick. And whereas Devaney clearly “has done a lot” for Republicans during his tenure as TNGOP’s top strategist and party-resources coordinator, Harwell has mostly just ruffled feathers under her reign, he said.

“We have serious philosophy and leadership issues that are involved,” Womick said. Between him and Harwell, “there is a clear choice of leadership.”

The Republican caucus is scheduled Wednesday to pick a nominee for speaker. There are 73 Republicans in the House of Representatives, and only 26 Democrats. So barring successful execution of some astonishing gavel-grabbing scheme that splits the GOP caucus in January, whomever the lower-house Republicans nominate this week will be the speaker for the next two years.

The question that members of the House GOP caucus should be asking themselves is “which way do we want the House to go?” Womick said. “Do we want to go the way where we constantly listen to the governor and do what he tells us to do, or do we represent the people?”

Harwell, R-Nashville, is the odds on favorite to win a third term in control of the GOP-supermajority controlled lower chamber — at least as far as most House Republican members are willing to say publicly.

Even Womick has placed his solid support among the caucus at only around 25 members — although he says more may support him secretly.

Womick emphatically refuted the possibility that, should he come up short in the GOP caucus vote this week, he might seek a deal with Democrats to entice them to join forces with Tea Party-leaning Republicans to oust Harwell. While it’s an idea the retired Air Force fighter pilot said he’s recently heard suggested often, it isn’t something he’d ever consider.

“I would never do exactly what Haslam’s doing, and try to perform a coup with the Democrats to take over on the floor of the House,” Womick said, reiterating that one of his “biggest complaints” has been primary-election targeting of incumbent Republican legislators by allies of the governor.

“If Beth Harwell wins, she will have my 100 percent support, and I will vote for her on the floor of the House — if she wins the caucus race,” he said.

A few weeks ago, Womick challenged the speaker to a public debate — or “at the very least, a debate before all elected members of the 109th Tennessee General Assembly.” However, Womick said he never received a response from Harwell.

In an email to TNReport Monday, Harwell’s spokeswoman wrote, “As per the caucus bylaws, each candidate will have the opportunity for brief remarks Wednesday morning.”

Womick Wants to Debate Harwell for House GOP Speakership Nomination

Rick Womick last week challenged Speaker Beth Harwell to a debate on who’s best suited to lead the GOP-dominated House of Representatives, but he hasn’t heard back whether she’s game.

So Womick, a Republican from Rockvale, has issued a missive to the 73-member supermajority caucus to try and turn up the heat on the 14-term Nashville lawmaker, who four years ago became the first woman ever elected to lead the Tennessee General Assembly’s lower chamber.

Womick said the letter will be released to the media on Monday, and that it details several criticisms he thinks Speaker Harwell needs to openly address with respect to her legislative leadership.

“The content of the letter is going to focus on three main areas, three main points,” Womick told TNReport. “And it deals with my style of leadership versus the speaker’s style of leadership, and my perspective when it comes to her accountability to the caucus.”

The secret-ballot House GOP caucus vote to nominate a speaker for the next two years is planned for Dec. 10. At that meeting, each of the candidates for the chamber’s top position will have a few minutes to address the members before the vote, which Womick said is an insufficient format for delving into issues he says need addressing.

The retired Air Force pilot from Rutherford County has criticized Harwell for capitulating to Haslam’s policy whims, allowing the governor to deep-six legislation he doesn’t favor or want seriously discussed. “And it starts with the speaker,” Womick recently told the Daily News Journal in Murfreesboro. “She allows things like flagging bills and fraudulent fiscal notes, these kinds of things that are put on legislation with the sole intent to kill the bill because the governor may not agree with them.”

Womick, now in his third House term, announced his challenge to Harwell shortly after they both won reelection in their respective Middle Tennessee districts earlier this month. He also accuses the speaker of doing nothing last summer to protect conservative House GOP caucus members from being targeted in the primary by a PAC associated with the governor’s supporters.

Nevertheless, Womick recently disavowed a disparaging email attacking Harwell that was anonymously sent by his apparent backers to House GOP lawmakers. The email implied that House Clerk Joe McCord, a former Republcan state representative, was controlling policy from behind the scenes and has been pulling the strings of Harwell, Speaker Pro Tem Curtis Johnson of Clarksville, House Finance Committee Chairman Charles Sargent of Franklin, and former House GOP Caucus Chairwoman Debra Maggart.

“My challenge to Speaker Harwell is not of a personal nature and I will not allow it to degrade into a campaign centered around character assassination,” Womick said in an email to legislators.

Womick said he still hopes to debate Harwell prior to the caucus nomination vote so all the Republican House members “have the opportunity to make a fully informed decision.” However, while he’s gotten no direct response from Harwell as to his debate challenge, Womick told TNReport he’s heard she “wants to stick to the three minute speech.” He said limiting the discussion in that manner turns the nominating process into “nothing more than a popularity contest for class president.”

“If that’s what she wants to do, I understand that, and that’s her prerogative,” Womick said.

Harwell could not be reached for comment Friday. She has both denied any role in helping unseat House Republicans or that she’s taken any inappropriate action to derail bills while she’s been in charge of the chamber. “I have always allowed a fair hearing on every single bill, and whether or not bills advance is the purview of the committee to which it is assigned. Those hearings are all done in public view,” Harwell said in an emailed statement to TNReport earlier this month.

Womick said he hopes the letter he’s sending out will boost his base of supporters from what he says now is about 25 House Republicans to to a level that’s “more than enough to secure” his nomination. He also said he’s encouraging his supporters not to be vocal about where they stand “unless they really, really want to.”

“I’m asking them for their vote and their support privately, but not to do it publicly, because if they do, they will be targeted and there will be retribution,” Womick said.

Antagonizing Harwell is “not worth it” for lawmakers who, unlike himself, haven’t already been labeled troublemakers in the Republican caucus, he said. But Womick’s not afraid of further drawing Harwell’s ire, and said he fully expects to be targeted for reprisal if she wins the gavel again. He anticipates payback in the form of ineffectual committee appointments, hostility from caucus leadership to any bills he might sponsor and Republican primary opposition in 2016.

But Womick said that for him the risks are worth doing what he feels needs to be done. “I’m all about the truth, I’m all about integrity of the office and I’m all about representing the people that elected us within our districts, and if I don’t do that, then I might as well resign and go home,” he said.

“I’m not worried about it, because my district knows that I represent them, and it’s a very strong conservative district, and they’re going to have to spend a whole lot of money to tarnish my reputation,” Womick said.