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McCormick: Lawmakers’ Travel Rules Need Changing

Taxpayers shouldn’t have to pick up the tab for lame-duck lawmakers taking out-of-state trips, says House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick.

But he won’t ask outgoing legislators who traveled to Chicago this week for the National Conference of State Legislatures’ annual summit to pay the bill themselves, he told reporters Thursday. The lawmakers are either retiring or have been booted by voters in the primary but still chose to take the publicly-funded trip, TNReport revealed Tuesday.

“I think the rules ought to be changed in the future, though,” McCormick said, although he didn’t say whether he would spearhead revising the practice.

“They’re on the way out. They’re not going to have much time to use their experience to benefit the taxpayers and their constituents,” he said. “But the ones that are there now, they did it under the old rules.”

When asked why the rule hadn’t been changed in the two years Republicans have been running the chamber, he said he “just wasn’t thinking.”

“If I lose a primary two years from now, I will not be going on trips,” he told reporters.

House Speaker Beth Harwell said she allows legislators to be reimbursed for one out-of-state legislative trip per year, and she has no problem sending retiring and outgoing lawmakers to the conference if that is the one they choose to go to.

“I don’t think in any way it was an attempt to misuse the system,” she told TNReport. “That was their one trip, and so that was decided many months ago by my staff. So, I’ll respect their decision as legislators that that’s they way they chose to use their legislative trip.”

The House and Senate speakers gave four retiring lawmakers the green light to get reimbursed for the trip, which could cost as much as $2,500 in registration, airfare, hotel stay, per diem and cab rides.

Those lawmakers are Sen. Mike Faulk, R-Church Hill; Rep. Bill Harmon, D-Dunlap; and Rep. Jimmy Naifeh, D-Covington. Sen. Roy Herron, D-Dresden, was also approved to go on the trip, but said he decided against it after family emergency.

Both House Education Chairman Richard Montgomery, R-Sevierville, and Rep. Jeanne Richardson, D-Memphis, were in attendance at the conference, according to legislative staff, although both had lost their bids for re-election less than a week before in the primary.

Outgoing lawmakers can collect payments such as per diem and travel benefits up to the day before the November election. The state constitution outlines that members belong to the Legislature beginning the day they win the general election, and thus stop earning any compensation the close of day the on the eve of the election, said Connie Ridley, director of the Office of Legislative Affairs.

TNGOP Slams Dems Voting Against Income Tax Ban

Press Release from the Republican Party of Tennessee, Jan. 19, 2012:

Once Again, Tennessee Democrats Stand Up For A State Income Tax

NASHVILLE, TN – Today, the Tennessee House of Representatives voted in favor of a resolution to amend the Tennessee Constitution by adding language to ban a state income tax. SJR 221, sponsored by Representative Glen Casada, passed the Republican-controlled House by a vote of 73-17-3.

The amendment will now have to be approved by a two-thirds majority in both the House and Senate in the next session. The amendment will then be placed on the ballot, coinciding with a gubernatorial election, to allow Tennessee voters to approve.  “I applaud our Republican leadership for moving us one step closer to solidifying the unconstitutionality of a state income tax. However, several Tennessee Democrats once again showed their liberal mindset by reinforcing their belief that government should not be restricted from  dipping into your paycheck,” said Tennessee Republican Party Chairman Chris Devaney.

“While Tennesseans work hard to get through this economic recession, Tennessee Democrats are content with duplicating President Obama’s philosophy of raising taxes to meet reckless government spending, instead of reducing government to meet current revenue,” said Devaney.

Democrats Who Voted Against Banning a State Income Tax: Karen Camper, Barbara Cooper, Charles Curtiss, Lois Deberry, G.A. Hardaway, Bill Harmon, Mike Kernell, Larry Miller, Gary Moore, Jimmy Naifeh, Joe Pitts, Jeanne Richardson, Johnny Shaw, Mike Stewart, Harry Tindell, Joe Towns, and Johnnie Turner.

1-2-3, Go! Redistricting Maps Advance

Tweaks to the lines on redrawn Democratic districts in the state House came down to something like a game of Rock-Paper-Scissors.

House lawmakers approved the new maps 67-25-3 Thursday. Speaker Beth Harwell said she had politely encouraged Democrats to throw some votes her party’s way for the sake of bipartisanship appearances.

“I said to (Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner), ‘If we are making these concessions for some of your members, I would appreciate votes from your caucus,’” she said.

That left the #1 and #2 Democrats to figure out who would make Harwell feel appreciated.

“I’d like to think it was a little punitive, maybe, because the discussions were pretty hot and heavy,” Turner, of Old Hickory, said. … “I thought it was worth that to save a couple of our members.”

Turner threw down rock to Leader Craig Fitzhugh’s paper in their session to make sure the speaker got at least one leadership vote from their side. Turner was one of six Democrats who voted in favor of the Republican-drawn maps, while Fitzhugh toed the party line.

“Everybody we had that was paired, we tried to do so something about that,” said Turner, who had been one of the most vocal critics of GOP maps. “In areas where it didn’t impact their members, they decided to give us a couple of those back.”

In the final hours before the map was approved by the chamber, Republicans agreed to make these concessions to preserve incumbent advantage:

  • Separate Democrats Sherry Jones and Mike Stewart, who had been drawn into the same south Nashville district.
  • Return Rep. Eddie Bass, D-Prospect, to the district he represents now. He had been lumped into the same district as Rep. Vance Dennis, R-Savannah.
  • Adjust the lines in the district represented by Harry Tindell, D-Knoxville.

Democrats pitched a handful of other amendments to the maps on the House floor, mainly attempts to make more Shelby County districts represent a greater percentage of minorities. All those attempts failed.

The maps fell “way short on minority representation,” according to Turner, although he said he wanted to talk to the Tennessee Democratic Party, the General Assembly’s Black Caucus and other “interested parties” before deciding whether to challenge the lawsuit in court.

Harwell said the Democratic votes symbolize that the map has bipartisan support.

“Bottom line is, surely it sends a clear message that a majority of the members in this General Assembly is pleased with it, and I think the people of this state will be well represented by this map,” she said. “No one can doubt that we have drawn these lines fairly, that there’s proper representation from each district.”

In the new map, sitting House members who would have to run against other legislators (unless they relocated) are situated in:

  • District 28 in Hamilton County: Tommie Brown, D-Chattanooga, and Joanne Favors, D-Chattanooga
  • District 31 in Sequatchie, Bledsoe, Rhea and part of Roane counties: Jim Cobb, R-Spring City, and Bill Harmon, D-Dunlap
  • District 86 in Shelby County: Barbara Cooper, D-Memphis, and G.A. Hardaway, D-Memphis
  • District 98 in Shelby County: Jeanne Richardson, D-Memphis, and Antonio Parkinson, D-Memphis

The Senate is expected to vote on its maps and OK the House drawings Friday. If approved by both chambers, the maps will go to the governor for his approval.