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TTU Constitution Day Celebration Sept. 14

Press Release from Tennessee Tech University, Aug. 10, 2010:

Constitution Day at Tennessee Tech University Sept. 14 is shaping up to be the best ever for political and media buffs alike.

The day’s activities include a nonpartisan gubernatorial debate and a discussion of the role of political satire in democracies. The Nolan Fowler and Elaine Fowler Palencia Constitution Day Celebration, now in its sixth year, commemorates the signing of the U.S. Constitution on Sept. 17, 1787.

Understand the role of political satire – and give yourself a few laughs – with Danna Young, assistant professor of communication at the University of Delaware. Young specializes in the study of media, politics and public opinion.

She’ll discuss the impact of popular programs like “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” “The Colbert Report” and political satire websites like Funny or Die. The free event is set for 5 p.m. in Derryberry Auditorium and is open to the public.

“Democratic governments are suitable homes for and even require political satire to function well. I’ll also be talking about how satire works, cognitively, to expose hypocrisy and bring to light criticisms of people and institutions without explicitly criticizing them head-on. Most importantly, I’ll reveal how and why this mechanism can be particularly effective as a form of persuasion,” she said.

Young said viewers of programs like “The Daily Show,” which is popular with college students, are more politically savvy than many realize.

“Viewers of ‘The Daily Show’ are more engaged in politics, more attentive to politics, more knowledgeable about politics, and more likely to be participating in politics than people who don’t watch the show. We also know that the observation that ‘young people are getting their news from The Daily Show’ is probably inaccurate,” she said.

Young finds the website Funny or Die and “The Colbert Report” on Comedy Central among the most interesting outlets for political satire because they’re on the cutting edge of pop culture and politics.

“The Colbert Report,” she said, is a fascinating example how irony, parody and satire work together to make arguments that one might not be able to make in a serious way.

“The show itself is a parody of a Fox-news style pundit show. Colbert’s entire presentation is ironic. He means the opposite of almost everything he says. And the resulting message is satirical in that it critiques the institution of conservative media as well as many conservative ideas,” she said. “Yet, such complex messages require a lot of work on the part of the audience, and so are always open to misinterpretations.”

After Young’s presentation, audience members are invited to remain in Derryberry Auditorium for a live video feed of the Highlands Town Hall Debate 2010, which will originate from TTU’s Wattenbarger Auditorium in the Bryan Fine Arts Building at 7 p.m. The debate is being presented in partnership with WTVF NewsChannel5 and the Tennessee League of Women Voters.

The day’s activities are in remembrance of Nolan Fowler, who taught history at TTU from 1962-79, including classes on constitutional law. Fowler passed away in 2008, but before his death endowed a fund with $150,000 to sustain this event each year to promote knowledge of the U.S. Constitution. His daughter, Elaine Fowler Palencia, is expected to attend in honor of her father.

All educational institutions receiving federal funds are required each year in September to host a celebration commemorating the Sept. 17, 1787, signing of the U.S. Constitution.

For more information about Young’s visit to campus, call Constitution Day Committee chairperson Kent Dollar at 931-372-6547. For more information about the debate, contact Laura Canada at 800-264-5541 or 931-586-2211 or see the website.

House Moves to Rescind Con-Con Call

The state House of Representatives took steps today to try and make sure Tennessee doesn’t accidentally help instigate a wholesale rewrite of the U.S. Constitution.

But one House lawmaker says she’s convinced the state could and should call for a limited constitutional convention to focus on a single issue — chiefly, making it easier for the states to amend the federal government’s guiding document.

“There has to be the political will to do that, and I don’t know that we’re at (that) point,” said state Rep. Susan Lynn, a Mt. Juliet Republican and self-styled state sovereignty enthusiast.

The Tennessee House of Representatives voted 65-23 Thursday to rescind any past expressions of legislative desire that a constitutional convention be convened. Tennessee lawmakers most recently called for a constitutional convention in 1977, with the idea in mind of forcing the federal government to live within its fiscal means.

One lawmaker who voted against rescinding the 1977 resolution argued that the issues that gave rise to the call to convene a convention 33 years ago are still serious problems today.

“The threat of a constitutional convention can serve as leverage to encourage constitutional change and fiscal responsibility,” said Jim Coley, R-Bartlett.. “I believe we should honor the collective wisdom of these assemblies and vote not to rescind.”

A constitutional convention is still warranted to address “the unchecked growth of the federal government over the 1970, 1980s, 1990s and now the 21st century,” Coley said.

Thirty-four states would need to officially request a constitutional convention. Twenty-one states, including Tennessee, are currently on record as desiring one.

That’s a risky proposition to be supporting, said Rep. Matthew Hill, a Jonesborough Republican and sponsor of the bill to repeal the request. Hill worries an open-ended effort to amend the constitution would range far afield from what most Tennesseans would regard as proper, necessary or wise.

“Once you open up the box, they can do whatever they want,” he said of the constitutional-convention amendment process.

If the Tennessee Legislature wants to rally for a rewritten U.S. Constitution, lawmakers should take the time to examine the issues now and renew their call rather than relying upon the 1977 legislature speak for the today’s General Assembly, Hill argued.

“We do not need to trigger a constitutional convention with resolutions that are over 30 years old,” said Hill.

Lynn today joined the Tennessee House majority voting to rescind the call for a convention. But she said she’ll also soon be joining other state lawmakers from across the country pushing to revise the U.S. Constitution to require the federal government to pass a balanced budget each year.

Lynn voiced support for a constitutional convention at a Tea Party rally earlier this month, saying “we have to keep going, we have to keep pushing until we push this monster of a federal government back to where they belong.”

The measure must now be taken up in the Senate to officially remove the previous calls for a constitutional convention.

Andrea Zelinski can be reached at andreazelinski@tnreport.com.

Senate Advances Attorney General Election Amendment

After putting the issue on hold earlier this week, Sen. Mae Beavers managed today to convince a slim Senate majority to embrace changing the Tennessee Constitution to give voters the power to determine who should become the state’s chief prosecutor.

But if the narrow margin by which the measure passed today is any indication, the odds appear steep against the state electorate ever even getting a chance to weigh in on the constitutional amendment question itself — let alone ever actually getting to cast ballots for an attorney general.

Nineteen state senators voted for the resolution, 14 against it.

It now must pass the House of Representatives before this session ends. After that, it’ll have to be passed again in both chambers next session — but by two-thirds majorities in both, not just a simple majority.

The measure first came up for a vote on Monday, but faltered after several lawmakers wondered why Beavers, a Mt. Juliet Republican, would want to fix a system they said wasn’t “broken.” They also asked why she was only pushing for attorney general elections, and not voter-selection of other constitutional officers as well.

Said Sen. Roy Herron, D-Dresden, “Perhaps the most important thing that what we can look to is not what has been said but what has not been said. What you have not heard is that for the last 140 years the attorney generals have been too political. What you have not heard is that in the last 140 years the attorney generals have failed to serve this state well.”

Beavers said she actually has supported pushes in the past to elect other constitutional officers. However, she said, the secretary of state, the comptroller of the treasury, and the treasurer are themselves appointed by elected officials. Tennessee Supreme Court justices aren’t elected by the people — making the attorney general, whom they appoint, “twice removed” from any direct democratic accountability, she argued.

Rep. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, will be carrying the bill in the House.

Most TNGOP Tenth Amendment Advocates Wary of Constitutional Convention

A national constitutional convention to fight back against federal power is being discussed in the General Assembly, but contrary to what Tennesseans might assume, legislators looking at that possibility don’t want such a convention to happen.

At the same time, if one were to happen, those same legislators want to be prepared and make sure the convention is narrowly focused, which is why they are devoting time and effort to protect the process.

Enough backlash against Washington has surfaced across the nation that states find themselves looking for options, and the notion of a national constitutional convention to rein in federal power has grown.

The negative reaction to the recent health care legislation in Washington might have been the last straw in the debate. The constitutional convention issue is distinctly separate from the efforts in some states calling for a lawsuit against the federal government on grounds that the health care bill is unconstitutional.

The Tennessee General Assembly has a group of legislators addressing state sovereignty issues, and they have been involved in serious discussions about actions to take. The idea of a constitutional convention, however, scares many of those same lawmakers, because they fear a runaway convention, where things could get out of control and the country could find itself with provisions it never wanted.

One of the most immediate issues in Tennessee is the fact that this state apparently would not even have to call for a constitutional convention, because it already has a call on the books. It dates to 1977, when Tennessee sought a convention over issues involving the federal judiciary, revenues and the power of the president to veto items in an appropriations budget. There is some disagreement, however, as to whether a call issued by a past General Assembly is binding to the current General Assembly.

Some legislators want Tennessee’s call rescinded.

The General Assembly has a resolution scheduled on the House calendar for Thursday, sponsored by Rep. Glen Casada, R-Franklin, the Republican caucus chair, to rescind three specific resolutions from 1977 and any other resolutions passed “at any time” calling for a federal constitutional convention.

Such a convention is made possible by Article V of the U.S. Constitution. Two-thirds of the states — 34 of 50 — are required to create a constitutional convention. Amendments to the Constitution from such a convention would have to be ratified by both houses of the legislatures of three-fourths of the states (38 of the 50).

State Rep. Susan Lynn, R-Mt. Juliet, has been at the forefront of these issues and last year guided HJR108, which urged Congress to recognize Tennessee’s sovereignty under the Tenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. A committee was formed to communicate with the other 49 states. Lynn has been in a working group under the American Legislative Exchange Council.

Lynn also hints she might support a constitutional convention under the right circumstances — namely, that she and her philosophical allies could control its outcome.

“What we’re trying to do is create firewalls against a runaway convention, so we could do something like legally bind delegates to a convention, so they would be bound to vote the way the legislature that sent them there instructed them to vote,” Lynn said. “We’re doing a lot of research to see if there’s any precedent for this.

“What we’re trying to do is be prepared.”

The irony, she says, is Congress could handle all of this if it wanted to do so.

“I think everything that has been done so far could be corrected in a weekend,” she said. “They could vote to change everything in a weekend. All it takes is the political will.”

Lynn said if a convention did become a reality, she would like to see a change to make it easier for states, not the federal government, to amend the Constitution.

The efforts related to a constitutional convention have gone largely under the radar. Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, who led the Senate to urge Tennessee Attorney General Bob Cooper to join lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the health care reform act, was asked last weekend if he had heard discussion of a constitutional convention, and he said he had not. U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, in Nashville last Friday, was asked if he had heard about the issue.

“When you say heard, yes, I’ve read about people discussing it. But there has been no discussion of it in the halls of Congress, or at least not in the halls I’ve been around,” Corker said.

U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, pointing to the unfunded mandate in the health care legislation, said he could see that people are worked up about the federal government.

“All I would say is the federal government has thrown such bombs into the states you could see all across the country states taking action to try to stand against this mandate,” Wamp said. “I would ask anyone who says we might not have a constitutional convention how we are going to pay for this mandate.

“I’m open to whatever the possibilities are.”

But Wamp said there is reason for caution.

“Constitutional conventions are messy and dangerous, and you have to be very sure what we’re trying to accomplish as a state to open that up. I think, frankly, the way the federal government is wreaking havoc on states there may be talk like this in other states coming up over the next three to four years.”

State Rep. Debra Young Maggart, R-Hendersonville, another active figure in the Legislature on Tenth Amendment issues, said she, too, is concerned about the pitfalls of a convention.

“My concern about a national constitutional convention is that my understanding is everything gets opened up, and I’m not comfortable with us opening up everything in the U.S. Constitution. I don’t think that’s wise,” she said.

“People are very concerned about this health care reform act being just shoved down our throats, when we had the Republicans in Congress trying desperately to get the Democrats to at least acknowledge some of the ideas and programs they wanted to do.”

Maggart said she, too, doesn’t see the need to go so far as a constitutional convention.

“I think the Tenth Amendment is enough to do it,” she said. “Why people are not paying attention to that in Congress I don’t know. I can tell you that the people here in Tennessee are paying attention to the Tenth Amendment. They know. They can read. They know what it means.”

The Tenth Amendment states, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.”

Rep. Bell Pushes Health Care Anti-Mandate Bill

Press Release from Rep. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, March 23, 2010:

(March 24, 2010, NASHVILLE) – Representative Mike Bell (R-Riceville) today presented the “Tennessee Health Freedom Act” in a House subcommittee, which is aimed at protecting the right of an individual to purchase—and the right of doctors to provide—lawful medical services without penalty. The bill would also require the state Attorney General to take the necessary steps to defend these rights.

“This government takeover of our healthcare is an unprecedented move by the federal government. Never in the history of our great country has the federal government required each and every citizen to purchase a product from a private company. The ‘Tennessee Health Freedom Act’ will protect citizens from the heavy hand of Washington,” explained Representative Bell.

Other states have passed similar legislation, and several have joined together and announced they will be filing a lawsuit against the federal government regarding the federal law.

“Ultimately, the bill signed into law by the President is a one-size-fits-all solution to a very complex system,” said Representative Bell. “I have heard from people all across the state who are supportive of my bill and they are passionate about this issue. They do not want to see the government’s hand in their healthcare.”

An amendment was offered to put the bill in line with the Senate version, which has already passed with an overwhelming majority. In order to give committee members time to read and examine the amendment, the bill was deferred for one week. The committee is expected to vote on the measure next Wednesday.

‘Health Freedom’ Bill Held Up In Committee

Tea Party protesters who converged on the Tennessee State Capitol to pour out some outrage against the federal health care package signed into law this week got an unwanted douse of legislative reality today.

A bill to direct the Tennessee Attorney General to defend state citizens against federal efforts to punish or prosecute them for failing to purchase or enroll in health insurance programs as mandated by the federal government was tabled for a week in a House subcommittee.

The “Tennessee Health Freedom Act,” which passed in the Senate last month on a 26-1 vote, is designed to protect Tennesseans from, in the words of Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, a “massive (federal) power grab that will reduce individual liberty and strangle state government finances.”

Rep. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, the chief sponsor of the House version of the act, told members of the Industrial Impact subcommittee Tuesday that the bill’s “intention is to be a tool to protect Tennesseans who do not want to participate in the new federal program.”

“This is an unprecedented move by the federal government to mandate that individuals purchase a product,” said Bell. “We’re not talking about another Medicare program, where people pay a dedicated tax to support a program. But what the federal bill does is mandate the purchase of a product.”

“This has never been done in the history of our country,” he said.

Anti-ObamaCare protesters who packed the hearing room and the hallway outside greeted Bell’s introduction of the bill in the subcommittee with jubilant cheers.

Their mood soured when a short time later Bell announced he was attaching a “severability clause” amendment to the bill — declaring that if any or all the parts of the act are declared unconstitutional by a court, then that part would be automatically removed from law.

Bell said he decided to offer the amendment after earlier talks “with several members of the committee who were concerned about the possible constitutionality” of the act. That amendment quickly passed without opposition.

However, the panel’s chairman, Rep. Charles Curtiss, D-Sparta, subsequently declared that in keeping with traditional practices of the Industrial Impact subcommittee, he would delay a vote on the actual proposal.

“This is not a rule that we just started,” explained Curtiss. “Because, historically, we deal with so much insurance legislation and everything, when we amend a bill of any significance…we roll it for one week. It’s just a formality, and we’re going to roll this bill and it will layover for one week, and then we’ll be voting on it next week.”

Upon that announcement, the protesters’ excitement turned to groans of impatience and disappointment.

Many of the 75 or so demonstrators said they’d taken time off work or traveled considerable distances across the state to express themselves and witness a definitive, defiant first response from lawmakers in the wake of adoption of the federal health care legislation.

Bell and other bill supporters on the committee assured them the move was altogether proper and normal.

In fact, the amendment, as suggested by Bell, may help ensure the act’s ultimate passage in the House, predicted Rep. Glen Casada, R-Franklin, who is a co-sponsor of the legislation.

The subcommittee is made up of six Democrats and six Republicans with a Democrat in the chairman seat, so it likely needs bipartisan support to move, which the amendment will help ensure, he said.

A separate bill sponsored by Rep. Susan Lynn, Mt. Juliet (pdf), seeks to amend the Tennessee Constitution to prohibit government from compelling “directly or indirectly, any person, employer or health care provider to participate in any health care system.”

That bill was also tabled Tuesday and is awaiting an attorney general’s opinion.

Mark Todd Engler can be reached at markengler@tnreport.com. Andrea Zelinski contributed to this story. She can be reached at andreazelinski@tnreport.com.

Right-to-Hunt-&-Fish Amendment Clears Last Hurdle Before Voters

A proposed amendment to the state’s constitution that protects citizens’ right to hunt and fish is headed to the voters.

After already being approved by the Senate, the House approved final passage of the proposed amendment, SJR30, on Thursday.

The language of the measure reads, “The citizens of this state shall have the personal right to hunt and fish, subject to reasonable regulations and restrictions prescribed by law. The recognition of this right does not abrogate any private or public property rights, nor does it limit the state’s power to regulate commercial activity. Traditional manners and means may be used to take non-threatened species.”

The House sponsor of the resolution, Rep. Joe McCord, R-Maryville, said the amendment is needed to prevent erosion of the rights before they are attacked.

“They didn’t think they had a problem in Great Britain and other European countries until it was politically popular to ban certain types of hunting, and then it was too late,” McCord said on the House floor. “This isn’t just a knee-jerk reaction to what occurred in some other countries. States such as Pennsylvania put these in their original constitutions when written.”

McCord said 12 other states have similar provisions in their state constitutions and at least eight other states are considering such a measure.

Rep. Johnnie Turner, D-Memphis, questioned the need for the measure. “Your reference has been to what has happened in other countries. What has happened in Tennessee — what has happened in America — that has led you to seek this amendment?” she asked.

McCord acknowledged there doesn’t appear to be a current or immediate threat against people hunting and fishing. But nothing presently in the Tennessee Constitution prohibits lawmakers or political interests hostile to the harvest of fish and wild game from attempting to outlaw or unreasonably restrict the activities in the future, he said.

“There is currently not a problem with this, but what happened in other countries, when it became politically popular, it was too late to address the issue, and we are trying to address it now while it’s not a problem before it becomes a problem,” he said.

Turner said she is not against people who hunt or fish, but she said the issue could be resolved through state laws and regulations rather than a constitutional amendment.

“I just think that the Constitution is sacred, and those laws that we pass should reflect upon the uniqueness, the importance, of this,” she said. “My husband was an avid fisherman…but all he had to do was follow the rules and regulations of wherever he was. I just cannot understand why we would need a constitutional amendment. I’m talking about the sacredness of the Constitution.”

McCord said protecting those rights by constitutional amendment is the strongest way to protect hunting and fishing rights. “We all in this room assume we have that right (to hunt and fish), but we’re not guaranteed that right unless it’s by Constitution,” he said.

A change to the state Constitution must be approved by a two-thirds majority in each legislative chamber in two consecutive General Assemblies, and it then must be approved by the voters, while a change in state law takes approval by a simple majority of each chamber plus the governor’s signature and is not subject to the approval of the voters.

McCord added that the measure would not prevent state government from protecting any species deemed threatened.

“This does not take the ability for the Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency to set reasonable regulations – their first goal is the protection of species, and they maintain that responsibility and right,” he said.

Rep. Tommie Brown, D-Chattanooga, said the push for the constitutional amendment was a preemptive strike against the Obama administration.

“I heard the whole scenario as to the rage that’s going across the country with this whole idea this present administration is moving to ban this right,” she said. “It’s alright if Tennessee wants to respond to every kind of allegation that’s out there, so eventually we’re not going to be able to even read the Constitution it’s going to be so long.”

McCord responded that the move to pass the proposed constitutional amendment began while George W. Bush was still president.

The final vote was 90-1.

Turner was the lone vote against the measure. Brown and Rep. JoAnne Favors, D-Chattanooga pushed the “present but not voting” button. Rep. John DeBerry, D-Memphis, and Rep. Sherry Jones, D-Nashville, were present but did not vote.

Reps. Kevin Brooks, R-Cleveland, Gary Moore, D-Joelton, Eric Watson, R-Cleveland, and John Mark Windle, D-Livingston, were excused from attending the floor session.

The vote in the Senate, which occurred in late January, was unanimous.

NRA: Restaurant Gun-Carry Ruling A Setback for Tennessee

This press release was issued by the National Rifle Association on Nov. 23, 2009:

Fairfax, Va. – Chancellor Claudia Bonnyman of the Chancery Court for Davidson County, Tennessee ruled last week that Tennessee’s restaurant carry law is unconstitutionally vague because of a perceived ambiguity over the state’s definition of restaurants. This law gave right-to-carry permit holders the chance to defend themselves from criminal attack while in a restaurant.

“This ruling is a setback for Tennessee’s law-abiding concealed carry permit holders,” said Chris W. Cox, NRA chief lobbyist. “We strongly urge Attorney General Robert Cooper to defend the Tennessee statute and appeal this unwise ruling.”

HB 962, Tennessee’s Restaurant Carry legislation, passed both the House and Senate with broad bipartisan support, but Governor Phil Bredesen vetoed the bill on May 28, disappointing more than 200,000 right-to-carry permit holders in the state. While an override of the veto only needed a simple majority vote to pass, it cleared both chambers with overwhelming, bi-partisan support. This law went into effect in July of this year after the Tennessee House and Senate successfully overrode Gov. Bredesen’s veto of HB 962. Tennessee joined 35 other states which recognize the right to carry in restaurants that serve alcohol when it enacted this legislation into law.

This law is crucial because crimes do occur in restaurants. On April 2, 2009, Benjamin Felix Goeser was gunned down at Jonny’s Sports Bar on Nolensville Road in Nashville. His wife, Nicole Goeser, has a right-to-carry permit, but she had to keep her gun locked in the car because of Tennessee law. Mrs. Goeser actively lobbied for the passage of this measure.

“Right-to-carry permit holders in Tennessee need to be aware that the chancery court’s regrettable and incorrect decision effectively suspends the law the legislature enacted and that they should not carry in restaurants until this litigation is resolved on appeal,” concluded Cox. “The NRA will continue to fight on behalf of our members, permit holders and victims of crime until this reasonable self-defense measure is restored as Tennessee law.”

Established in 1871, the National Rifle Association is America’s oldest civil rights and sportsmen’s group. Four million members strong, NRA continues its mission to uphold Second Amendment rights and to advocate enforcement of existing laws against violent offenders to reduce crime. The Association remains the nation’s leader in firearm education and training for law-abiding gun owners, law enforcement and the military.