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Romney Draws Support from House Speaker Harwell, GOP Caucus Chair Maggart

Press Release from the Campaign of Mitt Romney for President, Jan. 20, 2012:

Mitt Romney today announced the support of Beth Harwell, Speaker of the Tennessee House of Representatives, along with an expanded group of Tennessee legislators working in support of his presidential campaign.

“I am honored to have earned the trust and support of such an outstanding conservative leader as Speaker Beth Harwell, and that of so many other Tennessee legislators who are working hard with her every day to support, and not hamper, the small businesses and entrepreneurs who are growing more jobs for Tennessee and our nation,” Governor Romney said. “I look forward to working with Beth and her colleagues to get our national economy moving again to create even more opportunities for more Tennesseans.”

“As a former Governor and business leader, Mitt Romney is a chief executive who knows how to balance budgets and create more jobs,” Speaker Harwell said. “Just as importantly, Governor Romney knows and is strongly committed to the principle that the states should take the lead on a variety of domestic policy issues which will help us right-size the federal government and protect our Tenth Amendment rights. I strongly support and endorse Mitt Romney for President, and I look forward to working with him to help get America back on the right track.”

Tennessee Elected Officials Joining Speaker Harwell in Endorsing Mitt Romney:

House Republican Caucus Chair Debra Young Maggart – Hendersonville

Rep. Harry Brooks – Knoxville

Rep. Phillip Johnson – Pegram

Tennessee Elected Officials Already Endorsing Mitt Romney:

Governor Bill Haslam

Former Governor Winfield Dunn

Congressman Jimmy Duncan

Congresswoman Diane Black

Congressman Phil Roe

Rep. Curtis Halford – Dyer

Rep. Mike Harrison – Rogersville

Rep. Ryan Haynes – Knoxville

Rep. Julia Hurley – Lenoir City

Rep. Curtis Johnson – Clarksville

Rep. Pat Marsh – Shelbyville

House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick – Chattanooga

Deputy Speaker Steve McDaniel – Parkers Crossroads

Rep. Steve McManus – Cordova

Rep. Richard Montgomery – Sevierville

House Majority Whip Barrett Rich – Somerville

Rep. Charles Sargent – Franklin

Rep. Mark White – Memphis

 

GOP Lawmakers Praise TN’s Latest Economic Growth Ranking

Press Release from the Tennessee House GOP Caucus, June 14, 2011:

Conservative Legislators Believe Historic 2011 Session Will Further Enhance Economic Development in the Volunteer State

(June 14, 2011, NASHVILLE) – A report on data compiled by the United States Bureau of Economic Analysis reveals Tennessee is once again among the leaders for economic development in the country.

The report, researched by On Numbers, shows the economy did expand last year in nearly every State, but only 14 grew by three percent or more. Tennessee placed number six on the ranking, the highest ranking obtained by any Southern State.

After learning of the report, the Republican Leadership of the House of Representatives released the following statements:

Speaker Beth Harwell (R—Nashville) stated, “This ranking highlights what many of us already know: Tennessee is open for business. We have a dynamic, pro-business environment that is attracting the attention of more and more top companies with each passing day. That said, there is more work to be done. I look forward to another successful session next year that will lessen the role of government and enhance the job environment for Tennesseans.”

Majority Leader Gerald McCormick (R—Chattanooga) added, “These numbers reveal the fact our State is making a move to the top in economic growth and the success of the 2011 legislative session will go a long way towards ensuring we get there. With proactive measures such as tort reform and education reform, we are serious about making Tennessee the premiere destination in the country for economic development.”

GOP Caucus Chair Debra Young Maggart (R—Hendersonville) remarked, “Tennessee has done a remarkable job of attracting companies and creating a positive environment for businesses to expand. Government doesn’t create jobs; it paves the way for job creation in the private sector. I believe, over the next few years, with our Governor’s vision and our Republican Majority’s dedication to removing the barriers to job development, our State will only continue to rise in the rankings.”

Maggart: TN Made ‘Stronger’ by Teachers Union Collective Bargaining Repeal

Press Release from the TN House Republican Caucus, June 1, 2011:

(NASHVILLE, June 1, 2011) – House Majority Caucus Chairwoman Debra Young Maggart (R—Hendersonville) released the following statement after Governor Bill Haslam signed the Professional Educators Collaborative Conferencing Act of 2011 into law:

“Tennessee is a stronger State today because of this new law.

“Our Republican Majority set out to reform education by giving a voice to all teachers and prioritzing student achievement. We have done just that.

“A quality education is the lynchpin for building a better society. It leads to high quality jobs, a well-trained and better equipped workforce, and makes Tennessee an even more attractive destination for top companies. By removing barriers in communication and rewarding the hard work of our high performing teachers, we are securing a brighter tomorrow for Tennesseans.

“With the signing of this law today, individual achievement is the hallmark of education in Tennessee.”

Amid Political Uncertainty, Collective Bargaining Bill Headed to House Floor

For the second time this session, Tennessee Republican House Speaker Beth Harwell had to throw a lifeline to a proposal to curb the power of unionized teachers to exclusively negotiate labor contracts with local school boards.

The Nashville Republican offered the tie-breaking vote Wednesday, 13-12, to advance a proposal restricting collective bargaining through the committee system. A similar intervention by Harwell was necessary to save the same measure, HB13o, back in March.

“I made a commitment to the membership of Republican Caucus that they would have an opportunity to vote on this on the House floor and in order for them to do that, this bill had to come out of committee today,” Harwell told reporters after the hearing.

Three Republicans voted with Democrats against the bill, including Rep. Scotty Campbell of Mountain City, Rep. Mike Harrison of Rogersville, and Rep. Dennis “Coach” Roach of Bartlett

Republican Rep. Jim Coley abstained, telling reporters later that he felt a conflict of interest because he belongs to the Tennessee Education Association. His urge, he said, was to vote against the bill, which likely would have killed it. Coley said he hasn’t decided if he would vote on the measure on the House floor.

There are two competing bills the General Assembly is considering. The House version would limit the issues teachers unions can bring to the collective bargaining negotiating table. A bill that has already passed the Senate would eliminate collective bargaining entirely by repealing the 1978 Professional Education Negotiations Act that currently requires school boards to negotiate labor contracts with one recognized teacher union in 92 Tennessee school districts.

GOP Caucus Chairwoman Debra Young Maggart, who is sponsoring the House legislation, was the only Republican during the committee hearing to spend any significant time defending the collective-bargaining rollback efforts, or attempting to argue they will benefit education in Tennessee.

“Saying over and over that this is an attack on teachers is a very nice talking point because I want you all to know that it’s not true,” said Maggart. “We are trying to make sure that we have every tool available to advance student achievement in our schools, that’s what this is about.”

But Democrats say they don’t buy that, and they also maintain there’s little public or local political support for the GOP-led effort to restrict union influence in Tennessee’s school systems.

“I think it’s the tail wagging the dog,” said Rep. Gary Odom, a Nashville Democrat who accused the original architect of the bill — the Tennessee School Boards Association — of driving the proposal without support from their local school boards. “I think this is an attack on teachers. I think it’s motivated politically. To me, until those in my community who work on education issues every day in their position, tell me this is good, how can I vote for it? How can you vote for it?”

Republicans on the committee offered little in the way of rhetorical defense of their caucus chairwoman, save the GOP majority leader, Gerald McCormick, who did so while admitting the collective bargaining bill is treading on thin ice.

“I don’t know that there’s the votes to pass the Senate bill. I honestly don’t,” McCormick told the committee, adding he prefers the House version himself.

Democrats on the other hand spent significant time arguing that passage of the Senate bill is a foregone conclusion — meanwhile admitting they fully understand the strategies being employed by Republicans, having been in the majority themselves only a short time ago.

“This is inside politics,” House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh told the committee after predicting the House will end up adopting the Senate version. “This is the way it’s done, and it’s a roughshod sometimes, and I’ve been on both sides of that.”

Speaker Emeritis Jimmy Naifeh outlined to the committee exactly what he thinks will happen to the bill, ultimately ending in the House adopting the Senate version although it never made it out of any House committees.

But Fitzhugh said he understands the reality of being in the minority.

“We know the votes. We know what the votes are. So something’s going to pass and I guess the lesser of two evils is the House version,” Fitzhugh told TNReport after the vote. “Like I said, I didn’t fall off a turnip truck. I can see what’s coming down the road.”

House, Senate Republicans Working Toward Anti-Collective Bargaining Compromise

House GOP leaders are still laboring over the latest Senate addition to the collective bargaining repeal this week and say they want to put their own fingerprint on the plan before advancing the legislation.

Publicly at least, the House is taking a break from collective bargaining debates for the rest of the month as they huddle over versions of the plan to repeal teachers unions’ power to negotiate labor contracts.

“We’re looking at ways to take the Senate amendment, which is a good first step, and add a little bit of our own thoughts to it,” said House Speaker Beth Harwell, who previously sided with a version of the bill that would have kept a limited amount of collective bargaining intact.

The amendment to SB113 was crafted by Sen. Jack Johnson, a Franklin Republican who has championed a strict repeal of collective bargaining powers among Tennessee teachers despite hesitance from some House Republicans.

He plans to put the measure before the full Senate Thursday, despite whatever changes House Republicans have in the works.

“I’m open to about anything as long as it’s a complete repeal of the negotiations act from ‘78, and as long as it allows for no collective bargaining union-negotiated contracts whatsoever, and that it does not exclude any teacher or teacher organization from having input with the school board,” said Johnson, who added he’s optimistic he’ll have enough votes in the House and Senate.

Harwell, the most powerful Republican in the House, said she likes Johnson’s addition of requiring teachers’ involvement and input but said “bottom floor” issues like merit and differential pay shouldn’t even be a topic of debate.

“Another example would be the evaluation process. That’s not subject to whether teachers like it or not. We need to have evaluations in place,” Harwell told TNReport.

The end result will likely be a combination of the House and Senate versions, Harwell said. When asked for specifics, she added that she and sponsor Debra Maggart, the House GOP’s caucus chairwoman from Hendersonville, are still hammering out ideas for their chamber’s amendments. Those issues would be woven into the Senate amendment mandating school boards adopt policies outlining how they hammer out labor issues, Maggart said.

The Tennessee Education Association, which has doggedly fought against any change in the collective bargaining law, opposes all those amendments on the table but doesn’t have much leverage to fight them.

Their allies, mostly Democrats, are outnumbered in both chambers. The TEA’s last line of defense is hoping there are enough Republicans in the House unwilling to go along with a full repeal.

The Tennessee School Boards Association, the original architect of the collective bargaining ban, is OK with the latest rewrite, which would require them to develop public policy manuals dictating how they set policy on issues like pay, benefits, leaves of absence, working conditions and student discipline, according to the group’s lobbyist.

“We’re not trying to catch anybody off guard. We’re not trying to go around or sneak around with anybody. We want all the teachers to know what we expect of them, what they should expect of us,” said Lee Harrell, TSBA’s lobbyist at the Capitol.

The problem with the current system, said Harrell, is that teachers who don’t join the union now have no voice in the future of their work contracts. Union representatives don’t represent all teachers in a district, he said.

“If they want the process going exactly the way it is now, then it will. They’ll still have their association reps that will express their opinions, express their concerns for them,” Harrell said.

“However, if a system is 50 percent TEA and 50 percent non, that’s 50 percent of the teachers who are automatically excluded from those conversations. That’s what we’re trying to get around,” he said.

The House version of the bill is scheduled for a vote in the House Finance committee on Tuesday, May 3.

Harwell: Union Bargaining Restrictions Likely to Pass

House Speaker Beth Harwell told a group of Tennessee business leaders Tuesday she thinks a bill limiting teachers’ union collective bargaining will pass this year, but probably not until after other education legislation favored by Gov. Bill Haslam.

“We are looking to allowing the governor’s package to move forward first, and then we’ll be looking at collective bargaining,” said Harwell, who addressed an audience of the National Federation of Independent Business and the Home Builders Association of Tennessee at a meeting in downtown Nashville.

The union negotiation bill will likely start picking up steam in the House this month, she said.

Sponsored by Sen. Jack Johnson, R-Franklin, and Rep. Debra Young Maggart, R-Hendersonville, SB 113 and HB 130 would abolish a union’s power to negotiate binding teacher contracts with local boards of education. The legislation has drawn considerable attention as the Republican-dominated Legislature looks to shrink the Tennessee Education Association‘s role and influence in state education policy discussions and local school employee contract negotiations.

Harwell said she believes there will be a few changes in the bill, although she did not elaborate on that point. “Ultimately, I think it will pass,” the Republican from Nashville said.

The collective bargaining legislation has been approved by the Senate Education Committee, 6-3. In the House it is awaiting a hearing in the general subcommittee for education.

“Anything that has an impact on how well a child learns in the classroom should be taken out of the negotiation process,” Harwell said, attempting to separate the educational experience from items like job benefits.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s legislative proposal focuses on another education issue, lengthening the probationary period for teacher tenure from three years to five, and Haslam said Tuesday he may weigh in on the collective bargaining bill. Haslam’s package also carries a tort reform measure, which Haslam believes will make Tennessee a more attractive state to employers.

Harwell is marshalling legislation largely in support of Haslam’s agenda. For the first time since Reconstruction, the Republicans hold the upper hand in the Senate, House and governor’s office. Little GOP dissent has emerged over the Haslam package.

Harwell finds herself in an historic position, the first woman to be House speaker. But she told her audience Tuesday the job comes with mixed responsibilities.

“As many years as I’ve served in the General Assembly (since 1988), I never fully realized how much comes through the speaker’s office,” Harwell said.

“There is a lot that goes through that office, from mundane items like assigning parking spaces and assigning secretaries and office space, to all the contracts that come through the General Assembly. I’ve reviewed a lot of those already.”

She is also involved in appointments to various boards and commissions, she said.

“So it is, in itself, a very powerful position to be in in state government. It’s designed to be that. Not only is it an awesome opportunity but it is somewhat of a humbling experience for me,” she said.

Harwell said she sees the current makeup of state government to be a chance for Republicans to shine and show their ability to lead.

Knowing her audience, she made sure she let the business community know she understands their needs from government, which she said should be limited. Harwell used her husband, Sam, a businessman, as an example.

She told the story of how she was about to speak to a small-business group in her district and asked her husband if there were one thing she could do as a legislator for a business owner, what it would be.

“He very quickly looked back at me, held up his hand and said, ‘Leave me alone. Don’t do anything for me. Don’t do anything against me. Just leave me alone.'” she said.

“Those words have echoed in my mind many times as we’ve talked about business.”

But she also said her husband, who runs Nashville-based Big Time Toys, does not get up each morning pondering how to create a job.

“You know what he sits at the table and says?” she asked. “‘How can I make a profit this year? And if I make a profit, then the byproduct will be a couple of new jobs in Middle Tennessee.’

“That’s the byproduct, and I’m smart enough to realize that.”

She told her audience flat-out, “You’re in the business to make a profit, and there’s nothing wrong with that word. Profit. It’s a good thing.

“It’s what America is all about.”

GOP Lawmakers Propose New Pseudoephedrine-Tracking System

Press Release from Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, and Rep. Debra Maggart, R-Hendersonville, Feb. 3, 2011:

Proposed system would help prevent illegal sales of pseudoephedrine-containing medicines

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Senator Mae Beavers (R – Mount Juliet) and Representative Debra Maggart (R – Hendersonville) introduced legislation [SB 325/HB 234] today that calls for the adoption of a statewide, industry-funded electronic tracking system, called NPLEx (the National Precursor Log Exchange), to monitor and stop illicit purchases of over-the-counter cold and allergy products containing pseudoephedrine (PSE), an ingredient sometimes used to illegally manufacture methamphetamine. The bill provides an alternative, less-intrusive solution to the prescription-only bill (HB 181) introduced last week.

“This kind of government intrusion in our lives is not the solution we need to attack the meth problem in Tennessee,” said Sen. Beavers, the bill’s sponsor in the Senate. “We should not punish the tens of thousands of innocent Tennesseans who need this over-the-counter medication to get at the criminals who are using the drug illegally to produce meth when there is another approach which is very effective. Our legislation offers a proven, effective, non-governmental solution to the problem, without pushing up the cost of the medication on consumers by requiring them to visit a physician to obtain a prescription.”

There is currently no mechanism in place in Tennessee to block illegal sales in real time, as many pharmacies and retailers rely on handwritten, paper logbooks to track purchases. As a result, criminals have learned to circumvent the current system. SB 325/HB 234 would provide a secure, interconnected electronic logbook that allows pharmacists and retailers to refuse an illegal sale based on purchases made elsewhere in the state or beyond its borders. Most importantly, SB 325/HB 234 preserves access to the PSE medicines consumers rely on and trust for cold and allergy relief.

“For all law-abiding Tennesseans, the experience of buying cold and allergy medicines containing pseudoephedrine at the local pharmacy will not change,” said Rep. Maggart, the bill’s sponsor in the House of Representatives. “However, for those looking to purchase more than their legal limit, this system will immediately deny the sale, and law enforcement will possess a powerful tool to track down these individuals when they attempt to do so.”

In the four states that have fully implemented e-tracking technology, nearly 40,000 grams of illegal PSE sales per month are blocked. The system, which provides local law enforcement officials with precise data on who is attempting to buy illegal amounts of PSE, also helps law enforcement find meth labs.

“NPLEx is effective because it prevents the illegal sale of pseudoephedrine from ever happening in the first place,” said Carlos Gutierrez, a state government relations consultant at the Consumer Healthcare Products Association. “Electronic blocking technology gives law enforcement the ability to identify meth cooks, not only in Tennessee, but across state lines and in real time.”

The leading manufacturers of over-the-counter medicines containing PSE, represented by the Consumer Healthcare Products Association, are working closely with state legislators and law enforcement to help implement NPLEx technology to pharmacies and retailers in Tennessee free of charge.

SB 325/HB 234 is supported by the Tennessee Pharmacists Association, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, and the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce & Industry. If passed into law, SB 325/HB 234 would make Tennessee the 13th state to pass legislation requiring a statewide e-tracking system to block illegal sales of medicines containing PSE. The NPLEx system would be fully integrated into Tennessee pharmacy systems by January 1, 2012.

Meet the New Bosses

Tennessee House Republicans spent Wednesday afternoon choosing who’ll lead them into the uncharted waters of undisputed political dominance in the 2011-12 legislative session.

Already the caucus selected Rep. Beth Harwell as their nominee for House speaker. Republicans have now assigned Chattanooga Rep. Gerald McCormick to take the reins as House majority leader, with Hendersonville Rep. Debra Maggart getting the nod to serve as caucus chairwoman.

McCormick and Maggart replace former Rep. Jason Mumpower of Bristol and sitting Franklin Rep. Glen Casada, respectively. Casada lost his bid for the House speaker nomination last month and chose not to run for another caucus leadership post this year.

Rep. Judd Matheny, R-Tullahoma, won the nomination for speaker pro-tempore. He’ll be charged with taking up the gavel in the Speaker’s absence.  If elected — a near certainty given the party’s numerical superiority — he will replace Rep. Lois DeBerry, D-Memphis, who has held the post for 24 years.

McCormick said after the vote that he’s excited about working with a speaker that has the support of the majority party — a dynamic that, as a result of quirk and intrigue during House leadership elections in 2009, has not been the case for the past two years.

Both he and Maggart said doing what they can to get behind Gov.-elect Haslam’s job creation efforts will be a primary focus.

“The Legislature doesn’t really create jobs, we just pave the way for job creation,” said Maggart.

Added McCormick: “I think the Legislature’s role is to provide an environment that is attractive to businesses to make investment — not so much to go out and be in on the details of the deals, and the tax breaks, and those kinds of things. But to provide a good, solid, predictable environment for business people, so that they will feel comfortable making long-range, long-term investments.”

Tennessee AG Not Yet Ready to Fight Feds on Health Care

Government officials and lawyers from a number of states around the country are lining up to battle against the advancing federal health care overhaul. But Attorney General Bob Cooper says he’ll sit this one out – at least for now.

Cooper’s office said expending time and effort investigating the legal complexities of the health care legislation under discussion in Washington, D.C., before its details are fully settled and finalized, “would not be an appropriate or effective use of this office’s resources.”

“Until we know what the bill as enacted says and when its provisions take effect, any such analysis is premature,” read a statement from Sharon Curtis-Flair, Cooper’s spokeswoman.

However, Rep. Susan Lynn — one of two House lawmakers publicly asking Cooper to start crafting legal defenses against federal impositions — also plans soon to introduce state legislation confronting measures and mandates in the health care revamp that she believes outstrip their constitutionality.

Lynn wants the Tennessee Constitution amended “to clarify the people of the state will never be mandated by the government to purchase a product,” including health insurance.

“I am very concerned about this overreaching of federal powers. If these unconstitutional issues…are allowed to pass or they go unchallenged, there will absolutely be no limits left on the federal government,” said the Mt. Juliet Republican, who chairs the House Government Operations Committee.

Tennessee is one of several states gearing up to possibly take on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, a health care overhaul approved by the U.S. Senate on Christmas Eve. At issue in addition to its constitutionality is the bill’s cost and a controversial political compromise that helped get it passed.

On Tuesday, Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum, a Republican, took issue with the health care legislation, questioning whether it’s legal to charge people a tax or penalty for lacking health insurance.

In a letter sent this week, he urged fellow attorneys general across the country to help launch a “full review” of that mandate’s constitutionality and pinpoint legal options states can use to block federal directives they find objectionable.

Lawmakers in 15 states have filed bills or constitutional amendments attempting to halt the health care package, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Officials in at least 11 other states are reportedly considering doing the same.

Tennessee isn’t on that list yet, but Lynn and Rep. Debra Young Maggart, R-Hendersonville, say they’re determined to thwart the new federal mandates.

The two state representatives asked Cooper just before Christmas if he’d begin prepping a legal case against the health care legislation, citing a violation of Tenth Amendment state sovereignty protections.

Demands for Washington to heed the Tenth Amendment have dramatically intensified among conservatives following the election of President Barack Obama, and opposition to expanded federal control over health care has galvanized protesters at Tea Party rallies around the country throughout 2009.

Lynn, who is running for state Senate in 2010, helped pass a resolution last spring reiterating Tennessee as a sovereign state and denouncing federal legislative overreach. She says Democratic-led health care reform efforts, which include an estimated $1.4 billion price tag, are an unfunded and ultimately unlawful mandate on the states.

“We see this as a violation of equal protection of the law, an affront to our sovereignty, and as a breach of the U.S. Constitution,” she said.

Gov. Phil Bredesen, a Democrat, has expressed concern in the past on the price of the pending health care reform effort as well. His office declined to comment on whether the attorney general should commit to building an arsenal of legal arguments to try and block the legislation.