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Ketron, Sargent File Bill to Boost Human Trafficking Training for Police

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Republican Caucus; January 16, 2015:

NASHVILLE —  State Senator Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro) and Representative Charles Sargent (R-Franklin) have filed legislation to give law enforcement and other officials more training to identify, investigate and prosecute cases of human trafficking in Tennessee.  The bill calls on the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) to implement courses, which will also include information to help first responders and caseworkers find services to assist victims of the crime.

“We have seen far too many cases of human trafficking in Tennessee,” said Senator Ketron.  “Our state has made great gains in combatting human trafficking, but we still have a lot of work to do.  Training is essential to help us identify and prosecute this crime, as well as assist the victims.”

The General Assembly passed a series of bills addressing human trafficking after a 2011 Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) report showed 78 of the state’s 95 counties have reported the crime within their borders.  A follow-up to the report was released last year which showed that these statistics may be understated because first responders have not been trained to identify the crime.  The original report also included a survey from top law enforcement, caseworkers and court officials who deal with human trafficking cases which revealed that 79% felt that their agencies were not adequately trained to recognize and identify the crime.

“Training law enforcement and other first responders in the identification and recognition of human trafficking victims is a high priority,” added Representative Sargent.  “Unless victims are identified, they cannot be rescued or restored and those who are responsible will continue their criminal operations.  That is why is so important that we have this training in Tennessee to truly address this problem.”

Senate Bill 16 calls for the training courses to be implemented by January 1, 2016 and includes the hiring of four additional TBI special agents.  The legislation is co-sponsored by Senator Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) who has sponsored numerous bills strengthening Tennessee’s human trafficking laws.

TFA: Gun Rights Advocates Have Successful 2014 Primary

Press release from the Tennessee Firearms Association; August 9, 2014:

NASHVILLE, TN – The Tennessee Firearms Associa(on played both a successful offense and defense in the August 8th primary elections. The TFA supported several pro-gun incumbent legislators who held their seats by a wide margin while also successfully supporting challengers against two incumbents with a history of opposing firearms legislation.

“The big government wing of the Republican Party lost the election in the grand scheme of things” observes John Harris, Executive Director of the Tennessee Firearms Association. “Legislators the TFA backed who staunchly support the right to keep and bear arms ended up retaining their seats while opponents of gun bills lost or nearly lost their seats. This success sends a strong reminder
that Tennesseans consider the right to keep and bear arms fundamental and gun issues cannot be ignored in legislative elections”

Two pro-gun legislators, Senator Mae Beavers and Representative Courtney Rogers, were challenged by candidates backed by the establishment. However the TFA support of Sen. Beavers and Rep. Rogers helped ensure they held their seats with wide margins.
TFA was also heavily involved in the challenge to 18-year incumbent Representative Charles Sargent by local entrepreneur Steve Gawrys. The race ended with Rep. Sargent almost losing his seat by a margin of 254 votes causing the election to likely face a recount. Political experts have noted that if Rep. Sargent ultimately ends up victorious in this race, he will probably not seek another term in 2016 after taking heavy damage to his credibility and electability this time.

Local high school teacher David Byrd in Waynesboro overthrew the embattled incumbent Representative Vance Dennis with the help of a TFA direct mail program. Representative Dennis worked behind the scenes at the Capitol to kill pro-gun bills.

Although TFA does not play in federal races, John Harris also commented that “The TN 4th Congressional race and the US Senate race both demonstrate the need for closed primaries and runoff elections in Tennessee”.

Retiring, Defeated Lawmakers on Taxpayer-Funded Getaway

Updated Aug. 7, 2012: Sen. Roy Herron called and said he had planned to attend the conference but decided against it due to a family emergency.

Six Tennessee legislators leaving the General Assembly this year are expected in Chicago this week on what could amount to a taxpayer-funded junket.

Four retiring legislators and two state reps who lost their bids for re-election in last week’s primary have given the state notice they plan to get reimbursed for attending the National Conference of State Legislatures annual summit in the Windy City that began Monday, a trip that could cost as much as than $2,500 in registration, airfare, hotel stay, per diem and cab rides.

They are Rep. Richard Montgomery, R-Sevierville, and Rep. Jeanne Richardson, D-Memphis, who lost their primaries, and retiring lawmakers Sen. Mike Faulk, R-Church Hill; Rep. Bill Harmon, D-Dunlap; Sen. Roy Herron, D-Dresden; and Rep. Jimmy Naifeh, D-Covington.

One of the General Assembly’s highest-ranking Republicans says he trusts that the departing lawmakers have good reasons behind their decisions to make the trip.

“I know it will be beneficial to the others who attend to get the benefit of their wisdom and their years of service,” said Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville. “I think discretion is the better part of valor with these things, and obviously they’ve exercised their discretion and think it’s fine to go. I’m not passing judgment on it.”

Legislators are permitted to let taxpayers foot the bill for out-of-state legislative trips, complete with a per diem, travel and lodging expenses. Even outgoing lawmakers are entitled, said Connie Ridley, director of Tennessee’s office of Legislative Affairs.

“Members of the General Assembly serve as a legislator until the general election in November,” Ridley said in an email. “They are no longer eligible for compensation of any form the evening before the November general election.”

Richardson says she may have lost her primary election, but she still has legislative responsibilities to handle at the conference.

“I signed up because I am one of the representatives, there’s just a couple of us, who represent Tennessee on the Health Committee,” she said. “These are working committees where we share what we’ve done, and find out what other states have done and make policy recommendations for states. So, because I represent Tennessee on the health committee, I still need to come to the meeting.”

Attempts to reach Montgomery for comment were unsuccessful.

A handful of retiring lawmakers are also on the trip, including Naifeh and Faulk, according to their offices. Herron and Harmon’s offices did not respond to requests for comment.

Legislators can collect a $173 per diem each of the four days of the conference, for $692 total. Registration to the NCSL event ranges from $549 to $690, depending on when lawmakers registered for the conference online. Guests were encouraged to reserve rooms in downtown Chicago with rates ranging from $199 to $227 a night if locked in prior to Aug. 1. Lawmakers can also be reimbursed for airfare, which runs about $300 roundtrip, and cab rides, which average between $25 to $42 from the airport to the convention site.

If lawmakers decide against splitting hotels and cab fare, the cost to taxpayers could approach almost $2,500 for the four-day, three-night trip.

But no money has left the taxpayers’ pocket yet, Ridley said. Lawmakers will have to submit receipts to have their travel expenses paid for once they return, although the conference’s registration will be billed directly to the state.

While the practice is legal and learning how other state legislatures are tackling difficult policy issues is valuable, sending outgoing lawmakers on an out-of-town trip is still “questionable,” said Dick Williams, chairman of Tennessee Common Cause, a government accountability advocacy group.

“I have mixed feelings about the appropriateness of those going who will not be coming back, whether by the election or their own choice,” he said. “If they’re going to continue to do something in public life, they could make good public use of that.”

Here are the other 22 lawmakers slated to attend, according to the office of Legislative Administration:

House of Representatives

Rep. Vince Dean, R-East Ridge

Rep. John DeBerry, D-Memphis

Rep. Lois DeBerry, D-Memphis

Rep. Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby

House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley

Rep. Sherry Jones, D-Nashville

Rep. Mark Pody, R-Lebanon

Rep. John Ragan, R-Oak Ridge

Rep. Bob Ramsey, R-Maryville

House Finance Committee Chairman Charles Sargent, R-Franklin

Rep. Johnny Shaw, D-Bolivar

Rep. Mike Sparks, R-Smyrna

Rep. Curry Todd, R-Collierville

Rep. Joe Towns, D-Memphis

Rep. Mike Turner, D-Old Hickory

Senate

Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville

Sen. Ophelia Ford, D-Memphis

Sen. Thelma Harper, D-Nashville

Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle, D-Memphis

Sen. Steve Sutherland, R-Morristown

Sen. Reginald Tate, D-Memphis

Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson

NFIB Picks Favorite Incumbents to Support In August Primary

Press Release from the National Federation of Independent Business, Tennessee Chapter; July 6, 2012: 

NFIB Endorses Candidates in 5 Senate, 20 House Primaries

NASHVILLE, July 6, 2012 – The National Federation of Independent Business, Tennessee’s leading small business association, today said it has endorsed candidates in 25 state legislative primary races. The endorsements were made by NFIB/Tennessee SAFE (Save America’s Free Enterprise) Trust, which is comprised exclusively of NFIB members. State primaries are scheduled for Thursday, Aug. 2, with early voting beginning July 13 and ending July 28. NFIB expects to announce general election endorsements later this summer. The general election will be held Nov. 6.

“NFIB supports candidates who understand how important it is to reduce burdens on small business,” said Jim Brown, state director of NFIB/Tennessee. “These candidates have consistently supported less taxation and have worked diligently to improve our unemployment and workers’ comp systems.”

Endorsements by Senate and House Districts (NFIB members bolded)

Senate District, Name

2, Doug Overbey

14, Jim Tracy

18, Ferrell Haile

28, Joey Hensley

32, Mark Norris

House District Name

2, Tony Shipley

5, David Hawk

6, Dale Ford

8, Art Swann

10, Don Miller

11, Jeremy Faison

12, Richard Montgomery

20, Bob Ramsey

22, Eric Watson

24, Kevin Brooks

27, Richard Floyd

31, Jim Cobb

45, Debra Maggart

48, Joe Carr

61, Charles Sargent

66, Joshua Evans

71, Vance Dennis

90, John DeBerry

96, Steve McManus

99, Ron Lollar

NFIB’s endorsement is critical to these campaigns. Small business owners and their employees vote in high numbers and are known for actively recruiting friends, family members and acquaintances to go to the polls. NFIB has pledged it will activate its grassroots network on behalf of these campaigns. NFIB’s political support is based on the candidates’ positions and records on small business issues.

The Pork Not Chopped

Tennessee Republicans this year had a window of opportunity to trim $23 million from the budget’s pork-barrel buffet that’s annually lain before them in the late hours of the legislative session.

But as often happens, the home-cooked political victuals proved too toothsome to pass up. They opted instead to heap their plates and hand taxpayers the tab in advance of hitting the exits and heading for yonder hills, dales and campaign trails.

Late in April, GOP lawmakers in both the House and the Senate appeared to identify more than a dozen local projects deemed worthy of consideration for removal from the state’s $31.5 billion budget.

As legislators entered the final stages of drafting the spending plan, bickering broke out over the relative merit of a series of “local projects” that had somehow meandered into the funding mix– despite a supposed informal “agreement” to spend taxpayer dollars solely this year on projects with obvious statewide or regional impact. At one point, the Senate even voted to cut $22 million worth of local pork that had crept into the budget after their brethren in the House had cut $1.8 million in suspicious spending they’d sniffed out.

But it was all just a show, little more than political theater. Ultimately, after an all-too-surreal House-Senate conference committee hearing, only $1 million in spending previously on GOP lawmakers’ wish lists was no longer in the final budget document.

House Finance Committee Chairman Charles Sargent, R-Franklin, admitted that the late-stage discernment of waste in the budget ultimately amounted to legislative “gamesmanship” — that, truth be known, there wasn’t much taste on anybody’s part for reducing tasty government handouts sure to wow the folks back home when it comes time for incumbents to brag on what they brung em’.

“It always happens at the end of the year. These are the things you just have to work out and take care of,” Sargent told TNReport.

Nevertheless, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, who presides over the Tennessee Senate, said he doesn’t think voters of a fiscally conservative bent ought to be of a mind to make the GOP’s big-spenders pay come election time.

Ramsey, a “huge believer in preserving history, preserving our roots,” suggested it’s natural to make taxpayers pick up the slack when private-sector fundraising for cultural-heritage conservation comes up short.

“I think that fits right into my basic philosophy in general,” said the Blountville auctioneer, who often sells himself as a friend of Tea Party conservatives.

Still, Ramsey conceded not everyone may agree with every aspect of discretionary government spending in the coming year’s budget, especially when you get down to details.

He acknowledged that one of his own rather infamous pet projects — the Birthplace of Country Music Museum — probably “sounded awful” to those of a mind to zero in and identify the particulars of potential government waste. But GOP legislators even in the House rallied around the proposal to capture $500,000 from taxpayers’ wallets to help fund the $13 million as-yet-unfinished tourist trap located in Bristol, Virginia, just across the street and the state line from Bristol, Tennessee.

House Democrats had something of a field day ridiculing the fact that Republicans were willingly sending Tennessee tax dollars to Virginia. Later, though, their leadership acknowledged the outrage was calculated more to raise awareness of their own projects that didn’t get funded than any principled stand against spending money outside state borders.

“That never would have happened in a Democratic administration — at least not until we took care of our own projects first,” conceded House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner.

Ramsey noted, though, that what is, or is not, a “local” project is mostly a matter of perspective.

“You can argue the same thing of the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis: Doesn’t help the state, it only helps Memphis. You could argue that Stax Museum (of American Soul Music) doesn’t help the state — it only helps Memphis,” said Ramsey.

During House floor debate on the museum, Rep. Richard Montgomery, R-Sevierville, argued that taxpayer resources allocated toward tourism is almost always money well spent.

“I live in the center of tourism — the most active tourism area in the state of Tennessee, and we understand that,” said Montgomery. “We understand, too, that when you spend money on tourism it is a proven fact that every dollar you spend will get you $13 in return. Sometimes it is even more than that.”

But to the Tennessee Beacon Center’s bacon detector, things really aren’t all that complicated: If it looks and smells like pork, it probably is.

“It was sort of surprising that he came out with $500,000 for the museum in Bristol. And I think the most egregious part of it is it isn’t even in Tennessee, and this shows that taxpayer waste doesn’t even stop at the state line,” said Justin Owen, president of the free-market think tank that each year takes it upon itself to root out unnecessary and ill-advised government spending in the Volunteer State.

To be fair, Owen noted, the Legislature also voted to cut taxes this year — including reducing the sales tax on food from 5.5 percent to 5.25 percent, lowering the tax on inheriting wealthy estates and eliminating the tax on gifts. The reduction in the food tax will cost the state $22 million in “lost revenue.” And duly elected spenders of state taxpayer dollars will have about $95 million less to play around with after the three-year phase-out of the inheritance tax. Eliminating the gift tax will cost government an estimated $15 million annually.

But, clearly, the temptation to spend recklessly doesn’t stop at the party line either.

“Republicans spend just like Democrats. When you’re in control, you’re going to spend money,” Owen said. “There’s an incentive there to spend taxpayers’ money on things that really don’t benefit taxpayers as a whole, that go to benefit a select few.”

The Beacon Center’s 2012 Pork Report, due out later this month, takes special care to identify “tourist-related pork” and what Owen terms “corporate welfare,” like tax incentives for private businesses, including breaks for filmmakers shooting in Tennessee.

Andrea Zelinski and Mark Engler contributed to this report.

State Budget Clears Legislature

Tennessee lawmakers not only approved a budget filled with “pork barrel projects” they once said were too local, but they also agreed to spend $500,000 of taxpayer dollars on a museum in Virginia.

The GOP-run Tennessee Legislature put its stamp of approval on a $31.5 billion budget Monday after days of wrangling over about $25 million in localized spending. All but a half-dozen of those projects made it into the budget that now heads to the governor.

Republicans pointed out, though, that this year’s budget is in total a reduction over those of recent years.

“Tonight the General Assembly passed a balanced budget which cuts spending, makes government smaller and provides tax relief to every Tennessean,” said Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Bristol. “Republicans have proved once again that it matters who governs.”

The budget package, which passed the House Monday on a 64-28 vote and 31-2 in the Senate, includes $50 million in tax cuts.

The total budget is now about $400 million less than last year’s. The spending plan includes a 2.5 percent pay raise for state employees and accounts for cutting the tax on food to 5.5 percent from 5.25 percent, with expectations of dropping it further during Gov. Bill Haslam’s tenure. The plan also phases out the tax on inheriting estates over four years.

“Republicans understand that when a surplus of money comes in, we should return it to its rightful owners: the taxpayers,” House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, said in a statement.

The budget, HB3835, also calls for the controversial closing of the Taft Youth Center in Bledsoe County and spends about $560 million on building improvements and construction.

The current year’s budget is expected to top off at about $31.9 billion, which includes both state and federal spending.

Passage of the budget got temporarily tied up last week after members of the House rejected about $1.8 million in local spending projects on the basis that they lacked significant statewide or regional impact. In retaliation, the Senate cut $22 million in “local projects” it said the House overlooked. The two chambers then came together Friday night and agreed to add all but six projects back in.

The chambers also included $600,000 in one-time money for the Tennessee Arts Commission to dole out grants for musical heritage. One such grant, to total $500,000, would go toward the “Birthplace of Country Music” museum in Bristol, Va., across the state line from the lieutenant governor’s district.

Democrats in the House spent close to an hour heaping derision on the idea of spending taxpayer funds on a nonessential project that isn’t even technically inside the borders of the state of Tennessee.

“I think at a time that we are in this budget cutting the higher education budget by two percent, cutting University of Tennessee’s budget by seven percent, to just name a couple cuts, we should not be giving money to build buildings in the state of Virginia,” argued Rep. Mike Stewart, D-Nashville. “I think the Tennessee Legislature should focus on giving money to buildings in the state of Tennessee.”

Republicans defended the earmark as passionately as Democrats denounced it.

“When you spend money on tourism it’s a proven fact that every dollar you spend will get you $13 in return. And sometimes, it’s even more than that,” said Rep. Richard Montgomery, R-Sevierville. “You’ve got a very unusual situation in Bristol, Va., and Tennessee. It’s extremely unusual. You’ve got a line right down the middle of a road of a city. On one side of that line is Tennessee, on the other side of that line is Virginia.”

“You figure a half a million dollars that Tennessee spends on that museum, and you walk across the street and stay in the motels, eat at the restaurants and spend all the money you can over in Tennessee when you’re there visiting that area. And you’re getting 13 to one — and even better than that sometimes — on the money? That is a great investment,” Montgomery said.

House GOP Leader Gerald McCormick said it isn’t at all unusual for the state to spend money elsewhere.

“Would it be objectionable for the state of Tennessee to spend money to take care of memorials to our dead soldiers in France, from World War II, that died storming the sands of Normandy?” said the  Republican from Chattanooga, himself a Gulf War veteran. “That’s what we’re doing right now. So I’d say it’s probably legal if we’re going across state lines.”

Several Democrats questioned the relevance and tact of that particular analogy, comparing government funding for a music museum with memorials to American war dead.

“There are no soldiers buried on this site, so we should not have to worry about maintaining it for that reason,” said House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner, D-Nashville.

Memphis Democrat Jeanne Richardson suggested McCormick’s example was unbefitting.

“As much as I like country music, there’s no comparison to building a country music museum in another state, and memorializing those people that fought for our country, and I think you make it petty when you make those kind of comparisons,” she said.

Democrats, overwhelmingly outnumbered in both chambers, complained that the budget ignores $107 million in excess revenue this year, which they expect to grow. They argue that money could be used to restore programs, offer more in the way of college scholarships or further reduce the food tax.

GOP leaders and members of Haslam’s administration argue spending that money would be shortsighted as drug-prescription costs increase and the state prepares to implement provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Two things could change that dynamic: the Supreme Court’s expected ruling in June on a challenge to the health care law and the outcome of the presidential election.

“The money will go into just a regular savings account, CD account, and that money will be saved until we come back, and it will be at our disposal next year, come January,” said House Finance Committee Chairman Charles Sargent, R-Franklin.

The budget document will next head to the governor’s desk.

Republicans Reach Budget Compromise in Conference Committee

Republican legislative leaders seemingly mended a rift late Friday that had emerged between their Tennessee House and Senate lawmakers over local “pork barrel spending.” They agreed on about $1 million worth of additional reductions to a budget plan that had temporarily put GOP members of the two chambers at loggerheads earlier in the week .

In a rarely-called budget “conference committee” involving House and Senate lawmakers assigned to hammer out differences in the $31 billion budget, Republicans set aside their disagreements and struck accord on a list of spending projects to cut and keep. The deal they achieved put the competing versions in line with one another and on track for final passage in both chambers Monday.

“It’s not worth bringing state government to a halt,” Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris said of the earlier impasse. After the conference committee, the Collierville Republican criticized the House for being “just cold” and practicing “a little hypocrisy” for deleting a handful of local projects GOP senators wanted funded this year.

“To hold up the entire state budget under the guise of funding only statewide projects when in fact the House was funding $22 million in local projects just wasn’t going to cut it,” Norris told TNReport.

Prior to the committee meeting it seemed perhaps that the legislative aides, lobbyists and die-hard Capitol watchers who’d stuck around after a grueling week of legislative action to watch the proceedings might be treated to a public airing of intramural animosities among Tennessee Republicans. But that didn’t really happen.

During the hour and a half of back-and-forth over minute budget details and for-the-most part fiscally insignificant programs, declarations of resentment were left mostly to Democrats, who weren’t expecting to win much anyway with respect to program-spending restorations and ampler reductions to the state’s food tax that they’d been advocating most of the week.

GOP leaders had hoped to wrap up their business by week’s end before they began quarreling Wednesday over a pile of so-called “pork projects” that would funnel money to specific programs in some lawmakers’ individual districts, through HB3835.

House leaders said they struck a deal earlier in the session to only fund projects with a regional or statewide impact. Norris says House leaders told them they preferred to fund statewide projects.

The Senate broke the deal, according to House lawmakers, who cut $1.8 million in “local projects” from the Senate’s budget Thursday. The Senate, led by its plainly nettled GOP speaker, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, came back the next day and almost unanimously voted to cut $22 million from the House’s spending plan.

The lone “no” vote came from Dresden Democrat Roy Herron, who said he opposed the appropriations bill because it fell short of giving taxpayers a bigger break on their food taxes and should have handed students more scholarship money.

“I respect those that made the budget, but I disagree fundamentally with taking all the taxes off of those who inherit more than $5 million and at the same time failing to fund education adequately and failing to do something more in terms of tax relief for those mothers who are trying to buy milk for their babies,” Herron told TNReport.

Senate Majority Leader Norris contended the move to gut $22 million from the budget was to send a “greeting card” to the House that the lower chamber’s budget, too, had “lots of local projects” still in it.

House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner called Norris’ description of the maneuver “one of the slickest threats I’ve ever heard.”

Ultimately, most of the cuts were restored, except for about a half dozen projects, which include $300,000 for the E.M. Jellinek Center in Knoxville for operational expenses related to substance abuse treatment, $200,000 in seed money for a higher education facility in Somerville, $75,000 for the Education Equal Opportunity Group’s programs for low-income and at-risk students, and $30,000 for a historic interpretation project.

“This thing needs to be fair. It doesn’t need to be unfair,” said Minority Leader Craig Fizhugh, D-Ripley, who unsuccessfully pushed to add those projects back into the budget. “Let’s just don’t try to get out of here without doing something for jobs in this state for people this year.”

Both chambers plan to pick up where they left off Monday and approve a final version of the budget.

The Senate will begin at 1 p.m. The House plans to come back at 7 p.m. Sunday to take up the second reading of SJR222, a constitutional amendment that requires three readings before lawmakers can vote. The chamber then plans to resume session on Monday.

Andrea Zelinski and Mark Engler contributed to this report.

TCA Opposes Bill Establishing Automatic Agreement to Insurance Policy Changes

Press Release from Tennessee Citizen Action, April 20, 2012:

Tennessee Citizen Action Asks the Haslam Administration and Their Department of Commerce and Insurance Why They Support a Bill That Will Erode Consumer Protections

Nashville, Tenn. (April 20, 2012) — Yesterday, the sponsor of a bill that would further erode consumer protection in Tennessee stated that the Department of Commerce and Insurance was aware of, and supported, the bill. The bill, SB2271 (HB2454) by Rep. Charles Sargent and Sen. Jim Tracy, states that a consumer or small business is bound to a change in their insurance policy by the simple act of paying their premium – either by check or by automatic bill payment. In other words, a consumer’s cashed check or automatic bill payment is enough to allow an insurance company to completely change their policy.

“The sponsor of HB2454/SB2271 said that the Department of Commerce and Insurance reviewed his bill ‘and they are very fine with this legislation…’” said Mary Mancini, Executive Director of Tennessee Citizen Action, “Since the mission of the Department is to protect “the interests of consumers while providing fair, efficient oversight” and this bill would create an unfair financial advantage for insurance companies over consumers and small businesses, we would like to know why they are “very fine” with it.”

A vote on SB2271/HB2454 was rolled in the House until Monday, 4/23.

Amendment Summary: (b) The payment of premium for an insurance contract, or amendment thereto, by an insured shall create a rebuttable presumption that the coverage provided has been accepted by all insureds under the contract.

Tennessee Citizen Action works in the public interest as Tennessee’s premier consumer rights organization. Our mission is to work to improve the overall health, well-being, and quality of life for all people who live and work in Tennessee

Tax Cuts Passed By State House

Tennesseans are only a few votes away from paying slightly less on their groceries and, for some, the tax they pay to inherit wealthy estates.

The House of Representatives on Thursday gave an overwhelming thumbs-up on two proposals that would reduce taxes in the next year. One would drop the tax on non-restaurant food, and the other would repeal the tax people pay when they are bequeathed an estate worth more than $1 million.

“We looked at the numbers, rolled our sleeves up, and worked with Governor Haslam to come up with two bills that will really benefit all Tennesseans,” said Finance Chairman Charles Sargent, R-Franklin, in a statement.

The two measures now head to the Senate for final approval. Gov. Bill Haslam, who pitched both tax cuts back in January, is expected to sign the bills into law if they make it to his desk.

Which is very likely, according to legislative leaders on both sides of the aisle, who said they like the idea of giving taxpayers money back then the state collects more than it needs.

The only catch, according to House Democratic Caucus Leader Mike Turner, is the state needs to spread those tax cuts out among more people.

Turner, D-Old Hickory, voted against the bill that would repeal the tax on inheritances by 2016, saying he wanted to see that plan scaled back in favor of a meatier cut of the food tax.

“I’m not opposed to cutting the inheritance tax. But I think our priorities should have been, let’s give the relief to people on the lower end first, because we’re putting a huge burden on them,” he told reporters.

The first step in repealing the inheritance tax begins with raising the exemption for estates to owe taxes on. Under the bill, HB3760, the state would raise the exemption to $1.25 million from $1 million. By 2016, the phasing out of the tax will have saved money for heirs to more than 800 estates, according to legislative number crunchers.

The plan to reduce the food tax, HB3761, would equate to a savings of 25 cents for every $100 spent on groceries. For a family of four on a modest food budget of $884 a year, that means $26.52 in savings a year.

“The bottom line is we rely on the sales tax for a steady source of revenue for this state,” House Speaker Beth Harwell said to reporters Thursday. “On the other hand, when you remove the food tax, you don’t encourage investment in this state whereas the elimination of the death tax, I believe, will end up bringing additional revenue into the state.”

Justin Owen, CEO of a free-market think-tank called The Beacon Center of Tennessee, says phasing out the inheritance tax is “possibly the most important legislation proposed in the General Assembly this year.”

“The repeal will alleviate the farmers and small business owners who are harmed by this tax, bring additional job opportunities to our citizens, and actually lead to an increase in tax revenue over time,” he said in a statement.

The two tax cuts are up in the Senate Finance Committee Tuesday, April 17.

Governor’s Budget Amendment Prompts Bonanza of Spending Requests

Lawmakers have a wish list up to $500 million in projects and programs long — a pipe dream they’ll have to whittle down to about $5 million, says Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris.

The governor included $5 million in legislative expenditures in his budget, and now lawmakers are clamoring for a piece of that available money. The proposals include projects specific to lawmakers’ districts and attempts to fund favored bills or existing state programs.

Norris said it’s too soon to say what lawmakers will decide to spend that available money on, but said they so far don’t see making many changes to the governor’s proposed budget and accompanied amendment.

“Given that we only have about 1 percent of what’s requested available, all of them will not make it,” said Norris, R-Collierville. “Though worthy, there’s not enough taxpayer money available to fund everything that people would like to see us fund.”

Senate lawmakers began combing through the requests this week in a budget subcommittee and expect to decide next week which of those proposals will actually be funded.

“People think there’s more money,” said House Finance Committee Chairman Charles Sargent, R-Franklin, who said his office has 350 funding requests, an increase from last year’s 150 requests.

Before lawmakers can go home for the year, they need to approve a budget. Gov. Bill Haslam proposed a $31.1 billion spending plan, which the Republican-driven Legislature is so far keen on.