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Overbey Sponsoring Insure TN, Looking Forward to Discussion

Statement from Tennessee Sen. Doug Overbey, R-Maryville; January 30, 2015:

“I accepted the opportunity to sponsor Insure Tennessee in the Senate after meeting with Governor Haslam this week and thoroughly discussing the program with him.  During our conversation, I became convinced that Insure Tennessee is uniquely crafted to meet our specific needs while utilizing conservative principles.  Insure Tennessee brings market principles and individual responsibility to the program.  The program is designed to control health care costs and improve access to many working poor Tennesseans who would otherwise have no access to affordable health insurance.”

“This program is especially important to struggling rural hospitals that lost funding under the Affordable Care Act for treating poor patients who cannot pay.  Unless it is approved, the loss of this funding could lead to the closure of some of our rural hospitals, meaning life and death for citizens in these areas to get to the nearest hospitals in a time of medical crisis.  Those closures would also put more stress on hospitals statewide, placing our healthcare system in jeopardy.”

“I look forward to talking with my colleagues as we begin the special session on Monday about this legislation and how Governor Haslam’s proposal will benefit the citizens of our state.”

Crowe Announces Senate Subcommittee on TennCare, Long-term Care Oversight

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Republican Caucus; December 10, 2013:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Senate Health and Welfare Committee Chairman Rusty Crowe (R-Johnson City) today announced the formation of a Subcommittee on TennCare and Long-Term Care Oversight. The Subcommittee will be chaired by Senator Joey Hensley (R-Hohenwald).

“This subcommittee is charged with reviewing all aspects of TennCare and programs dealing with long-term care in Tennessee,” said Chairman Crowe. “The members of this panel are extremely experienced and knowledgeable. I am confident that these members will provide our committee with excellent insight into these programs as we move into the 2014 legislative session.”

Other members of the subcommittee are veteran lawmakers, Senator Doug Overbey (R-Maryville) and Senator Doug Henry (D-Nashville). The first meeting has been set for December 19 when the panel will hear testimony regarding the state’s CHOICES program, as well as a new payment reform initiative proposed by TennCare. The Subcommittee is scheduled to hear from state health officials, Tennessee Hospital Association, Tennessee Health Care Association and Tennessee Medical Association at the meeting.

“It very important that we continue to monitor these programs, especially in light of changes coming from Washington” added Hensley, who is a physician. “We have a lot of work to do and I look forward to the challenge before us.

The meeting will take place on Thursday, December 19 at 10:00 am in Room 12 of the Legislative Plaza in Nashville.

State, Counties to Fund GSMNP Operations for Five Days

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is reopening Wednesday morning through the weekend despite the federal government’s partial shutdown.

Noting that “for the Smokies and the people around it, the month of October is the most important time of the year,” Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam announced late Tuesday afternoon that “America’s most visited national park” will stay open at least through midnight Sunday, Oct. 20.

Last week the federal government agreed to let national parks reopen if individual states agreed to pay for their daily operation. Parks in Utah, Colorado, New York, South Dakota and Arizona had reopened as of Tuesday.

After the federal offer, Tennessee and the National Park Service needed to hammer out details – like how much of the park will be opened, who is responsible for what in the park – before the state agreed to pay the $60,000 a day the feds say it cost to run it, Haslam told reporters earlier Tuesday.

Haslam said the State of Tennessee will pay 80 percent in the form of a $240,400 tourism grant to Sevier County with Sevier and Blount counties funding the remaining $60,100 to fully fund operation of the park for five days. In all, $300,500 was sent to NPS to open the park for five days.

If congress can resolve its impasse before Sunday, NPS will refund any money to the state.

“According to the agreement, if the shutdown ends before the money is spent, NPS will refund to the state the unspent balance of the state-donated funds,” said Dave Smith, spokesman for the governor’s office. *

State Sen. Doug Overbey, R-Maryville, is pleased the park will reopen to tourists. The park has been closed to visitors since Oct. 1, which has “had a terrible impact on the park and surrounding communities,” Overbey said.

Overbey said many East Tennessee communities, as well as the state government revenues, have been impacted by the closure of the park with the state losing $300,000 a day in revenue.

“This is (typically) the second highest month for sales tax receipts in the state next to July,” he said, adding the state’s investment in the park will garner high returns in sales tax receipts.

Overbey said he has heard many anecdotes from families who decided against a trip to East Tennessee because the park is closed. “People come to go to the park,” he said. “We have other things to do – lakes, golf courses, attractions – but people want to come to go to the park, especially to see the fall colors and drive through the mountains.”

The federal shutdown has closed national parks across the state, but the Smoky Mountains presents a unique situation because it’s the most visited park in the country, state Sen. Frank Niceley said.

Niceley, a Republican from Strawberry Plains, is also suggesting now is a good time to start talking about Tennessee taking over operation of the park full time. “We need to tell the federal government, ‘If you can’t run it, then we will take it back’,” he said.

The park was created in 1934 and paid for by both federal, state and private funds. Niceley said the people of Tennessee ought to rescind their donation.

“The federal government is out of control with all its borrowing and spending. We need to take it back and run it ourselves,” Niceley said.

An NPS report found that the 9.6 million visitors to GSMNP during 2012 had an economic impact of $818 million in communities surrounding the park in Tennessee and North Carolina.

* Update to original article.

Travel Tech: TN Tourism, Travel Threatened by New Tax on Travel Services

Press release from The Travel Technology Association; March 8, 2013:

NASHVILLE, TN, March 8, 2013—In a potential blow to Tennessee travel and tourism, state Senator Doug Overbey and state Representatives Art Swann and Steve McDaniel have sponsored legislation that would impose a new tax on travelers who use the services of online travel companies and brick and mortar travel agents.

The legislation would apply state sales taxes and county and local hotel occupancy taxes to the service fees of traditional and online travel agents that facilitate reservations for Tennessee hotel room transactions. The move would raise prices for consumers and jeopardize Tennessee hotels’ ability to provide competitive travel deals.

The new service tax bills, Senate Bill 212 and House Bill 678, directly contradict decisions made in dozens of states and courts nationwide—including a 2012 decision by the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee—which in recent years have soundly rejected similar travel service taxes as being inapplicable as OTCs do not operate hotels.

State legislatures across the nation—such as those in Virginia, Florida, Texas, Pennsylvania, Utah, Oregon, Missouri, Connecticut, and Massachusetts—have examined adding new travel taxes in recent years, and have overwhelmingly recognized that application of these unconstitutional taxes immediately makes a state less competitive for travel and tourism.

While aimed at out-of-state visitors, this new tax would equally impact Tennessee residents looking to book their in-state travel through online and traditional travel agents.

“Tennessee officials have been conned by special interest groups into thinking it is good public policy to trade a short-term cash grab for long-term economic stability. Passage of S.B. 212 and H.B. 678 will make Tennessee less competitive for tourism dollars. The sponsors might as well title this bills, ‘The Kentucky Tourism Stimulus Act,’” said Simon Gros, Chairman of Travel Tech: the Travel Technology Association.

About Travel Tech

The Travel Technology Association, or Travel Tech, is the association for online travel companies (OTCs) and global distribution systems (GDSs), and is dedicated to connecting consumers and travel providers, eliminating barriers to travel and protecting consumers. Travel Tech’s members include: Amadeus, Expedia, Orbitz Worldwide, Priceline, Travelocity, Travelport and Vegas.com.

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.

Tea Party PAC Endorses Primary Challenger to GOP State Sen. Overbey

Press release from the Tennessee Conservatives Fund; May 30, 2012:

The Tea Party has been credited with helping Republicans achieve large electoral gains in 2010 and they hope to do so again in 2012, but before November is the Republican primary in August where Tea Partiers are looking to clean house on incumbents they believe are unresponsive, big spending and taxing, political insiders.

Leaders of several Tea Parties, 9.12 and similar groups across the state have formed a political action committee called the Tennessee Conservatives Fund (TCF) to focus the money and efforts of the liberty movement on what they say are the best races to replace a liberal incumbent with a constitutional conservative. The first candidate they have endorsed is Scott Hughes, who is running in the Republican primary for State Senate against incumbent Doug Overbey. TCF Executive Director Eric Stamper says, “Most races we’ll support will be in the general election, but some primary races have widespread appeal amongst liberty activists and offer a real opportunity to replace a badly behaving Republican with a great conservative. Scott Hughes challenging Overbey is one such race.” In an email to TCF supporters Stamper called this race “Tennessee’s Dick Lugar moment,” comparing Hughes to the Tea Party-backed candidate who recently unseated incumbent U.S. Senator Dick Lugar in the Indiana Republican primaries.

Scott Hughes is the sole challenger to Overbey, and since no Democrat is running, the winner of the Republican primary is essentially guaranteed the State Senate seat. Hughes, the CFO for Fuse Church in Knoxville and former director of East Tennessee’s largest crisis pregnancy center, is seeking his first term in office. Overbey is an attorney who has served one term in the State Senate and was previously a State Representative for four terms and County Commissioner for two terms.

According to David Nance, president of the Gibson County Patriots and the 8th District Tea Party Coalition, “What has attracted attention from Tea Parties all over the state is Doug Overbey’s voting record, which would make Nancy Pelosi proud. This year Overbey voted against several conservative bills, including one designed to prevent the teaching of homosexuality and gateway sexual activities in public schools and one to allow parents to monitor their children’s online activity. He also walked out of a Senate Judiciary Committee meeting seconds before the vote on the Constitutional Sheriff’s bill, assisting in its failure. Last year Overbey sided with liberal labor unions over collective bargaining and joined with trial lawyers to oppose tort reform. Overbey’s voting record is the most liberal of any Republican legislator I’ve seen.”

Stamper also accuses Overbey of being a “special interest politician” and says, “campaign finance reports show that Overbey accepted 83 separate donations from special interest PACs in the last half of 2011 alone plus dozens more donations from people in industries seeking his favor.” Stamper says the TCF hopes to raise funds to offset that financial advantage. When asked about his own role as director of a PAC, Stamper responds, “The TCF and Tea Parties are like the lobbyists and PACs for the Constitution. Most PACs just exist to benefit their own self-interests, but our PAC is to benefit the state and the nation.”

Other members of the TCF Board of Directors include founders of the Tennessee 9.12 Project and the Tea Parties of Memphis, Chattanooga, Fayette County, Sumner County and Gibson County. The group’s chairman is former State Representative Susan Lynn, who is herself currently running for State Representative in District 57. More information about the Tennessee Conservatives Fund can be found at www.TNConservativesFund.com.

Haslam Lauds Final Passage of ‘Tennessee Civil Justice Act of 2011’

Press Release from the Office of Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, May 20, 2011:

Legislation will help bring predictability and certainty to businesses in state

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today applauded the state House of Representative’s final approval of his Tennessee Civil Justice Act of 2011, sending it to his desk for signature.

The legislation revises the state’s civil justice system to make Tennessee more competitive for new jobs with surrounding states by bringing predictability and certainty to businesses calculating potential litigation risk and cost.

House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, and Rep. Vance Dennis, R-Savannah, led the House version of the legislation, and Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Memphis, Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Collierville, and Sen. Doug Overbey, R-Maryville, guided it in the state Senate. The bill passed out of both houses of the General Assembly with bipartisan support.

“In my first legislative session as governor, I committed to focusing on the several areas – tenure reform, charter schools, lottery scholarship use for summer classes and tort reform – that would have the most significant and immediate impact, and I appreciate the efforts of the sponsors and supporters who helped guide the Civil Justice Act through the legislature,” Haslam said.

“Tennessee has many great attributes going for it as we recruit companies interested in relocating to our state or expanding here, but the global competition for jobs continues to grow,” Haslam added. “This legislation removes one of the few advantages surrounding states had and makes our state even more desirable to businesses as we go out and sell Tennessee as the best place in the Southeast to do business.”

The Tennessee Civil Justice Act is part of Haslam’s strategic legislative package focused on education reform and improvements to Tennessee’s already attractive business climate to help make the state the No. 1 location in the Southeast for high quality jobs.

Haslam’s Tort Reform Plan Advances

The Senate Judiciary Committee kept Gov. Bill Haslam’s tort reform bill on track Tuesday, passing the controversial bill 6-3 along party lines.

The committee considered several amendments and adopted those that were considered friendly by Sen. Mark Norris, R-Collierville, the bill’s sponsor. Norris is carrying the bill for the administration as majority leader in the Senate.

While committee members discussed the amendments, no testimony was taken from people in the audience who had interest in the legislation, unlike the previous week when dramatic testimony included remarks by former U.S. Sen. Fred Thompson, who is lobbying for trial lawyers against the bill.

The amendments approved Tuesday did little to change the thrust of the bill, SB1522. They dealt with issues such as proper venue in a case, allowing for ordinary alteration of records and clarifying other language in the bill. The committee moved to lump four acceptable amendments into one for the purpose of simplification.

Technically, the committee approved the first amendment to the measure that represented the basic changes requested by the Haslam administration from the original version. The latest version of the bill provides for non-economic damages in civil cases to be capped at $750,000, with a $1 million cap applicable in catastrophic cases.

Sen. Doug Overbey, R-Maryville, offered an amendment that would raise the caps on non-economic damages to $1.25 million, rather than the $750,000, and would have raised the $1 million cap in catastrophic cases to $2.5 million.

“I know this would put our state higher (in the level of caps on damages) than some other states, but after a great deal of consideration and listening to the testimony last week, I feel this is an appropriate move,” Overbey said.

The amendment failed, as did two proposals from Sen. Tim Barnes, D-Adams.

Barnes attempted to amend the legislation with a provision that would tie figures in the bill to the consumer price index. Another amendment by Barnes attempted to replace a reference to spinal cord injuries to include language that covered serious brain injuries in the catastrophic case category. Norris said the topic of brain injuries had been given a lot of considerations in talks over the bill.

“It was weighed. It was evaluated, and in the negotiations it was not considered to be a prudent thing to include in this legislation. Because of that, as the sponsor, I consider it to be a hostile amendment,” Norris said.

Haslam initially proposed legislation that had caps on non-economic damages in all cases at $750,000. Later, provisions for catastrophic cases were added that carried a $1.25 million cap, but that figure was later brought down to $1 million as it currently stands.

The tort reform bill is one of the main pieces of legislation proposed by Haslam, who is in his first year in office. It stands alongside education reforms such as teacher tenure changes and loosening limits on charter schools as Haslam priorities. Thus far, Haslam, a Republican, appears to be getting basically what he wants from the Republican-controlled legislature.

The House Judiciary Committee has also passed the tort reform bill. The bill will move to a floor vote in both chambers, after being scheduled by the House and Senate’s calendar committees.

Those voting for the bill Tuesday were Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, Sen. Ken Yager, R-Harriman, Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, the committee chairman, and Overbey. Those opposing the bill were Barnes, Sen. Ophelia Ford, D-Memphis, and Sen. Beverly Marrero, D-Memphis.

Republicans Want To Prioritize Some Home-Visitation Programs

GOP Lawmakers Introduce Legislation to Help Tennessee Families and Save Tennessee Taxpayers

Bill would ensure use of evidence-based home visitation to measure the program’s success, protect taxpayer investment and save public dollars over the long run

Press Release from House Republican Caucus; Feb. 28, 2011:

(February 28, 2011, NASHVILLE) – Citing the effectiveness of evidence-based home visitation programs to strengthen families and put infants on the road to success, Sen. Doug Overbey (R—Maryville), Rep. Glen Casada (R—Franklin), Rep. Debra Maggart (R—Hendersonville) and Rep. Ryan Williams (R—Cookeville) have filed legislation that will require that three-fourths of Tennessee home-visitation dollars be spent on programs proven to deliver results.

“High-quality home visitation programs provide strong support to young mothers, families, and their newborn babies. Many studies demonstrate that mothers in home visiting programs are more likely to deliver healthy babies, are less likely to become involved with the criminal justice system and their children are less likely to suffer child abuse and neglect. By ensuring public dollars are spent on the highest-quality home visiting programs, our state will save money by lowering the impact on some of our most costly social ills,” said Sen. Overbey.

Rep. Williams added, “Home visitation programs are a smart investment. When well implemented and held accountable for results, they help promote responsive and responsible parenting while saving Tennessee taxpayers money. This bill will require public dollars to be prioritized and spent on the most proven, evidence-based programs, which ensures the highest-quality services for Tennessee families and better stewardship of taxpayer money.”

Voluntary home visiting programs match parents facing barriers to success, such as poverty, single motherhood, and teen pregnancy, with trained professionals to provide information and support during pregnancy and throughout their child’s first three years. By helping parents improve their parenting skills and increase parental responsibility, research shows that families and society achieve benefits. Children are safer, healthier, and better prepared to learn and more likely to become successful adults.

The highest-quality home visiting programs have been shown to generate up to a $5.70 return for every $1 invested. The related impacts include:

20 percent reduction in welfare dependence;

79 percent reduction in pre-term births that result in hospitalization and public health costs;

48 percent reduction in child abuse and neglect;

59 percent decrease in juvenile arrests by the age of 15;

83 percent increase in labor force participation among participating mothers by the child’s 4th birthday

HB1213/SB0909 requires that 50 percent of funds expended for in-home visitation programs be expended on evidence-based programs for the fiscal year 2011-2012 and 75 percent for each year thereafter and specifies research methods that show a program is evidence-based.

Judiciary Committee Passes Elect-the-AG Amendment

The Senate moved closer to changing the state Constitution by calling for the popular election of the attorney general in a Senate Judiciary Committee vote Tuesday.

The committee voted 5-4, basically along party lines, although one Republican, Sen. Doug Overbey of Maryville, voted against the measure. Overbey has also voted against such a move in the past.

The resolution moves to the Senate Finance Ways and Means Committee.

The resolution passed in the Senate last year but failed in the House. Its prospects of advancement are seen as heightened by the makeup of the current Legislature, where Republicans advocating the move — or something similar — hold a substantial majority.

Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, sponsored the resolution, which would make the attorney general the only other state officeholder other than governor to be elected statewide.

Beavers’ contention is that the attorney general is currently appointed in a process that is “twice removed” from the will of the people.

The state’s attorney general is appointed by the state Supreme Court. But the impact of the controversial Tennessee Plan, where appellate judges are chosen by the governor from a nominating commission, has altered the debate on the attorney general.

Critics of the current system insist the Tennessee Plan, which subjects Supreme Court judges to retention elections, means the Supreme Court is not duly elected. Merits of the Tennessee Plan itself are also at issue in the current Legislature.

Beavers believes chances for success on the attorney general resolution are good.

“I have confidence that it will pass again in the Senate and a lot of confidence it will pass the House this time,” Beavers said after Tuesday’s vote.

Changing the Constitution is a long process. In order to be approved, both the current Legislature and the next Legislature must pass the measure — by simple majority in the current General Assembly and by a two-thirds vote in the next one. Only then can the issue be put to voters in a referendum in the same year as the next gubernatorial election. So it would be 2014 before the voters could decide.

Some of the enthusiasm for a change appears to lie in the fact Tennessee’s current attorney general, Robert Cooper, has not followed the wishes of Republicans in the Legislature on requests like challenging the federal health care act and for not filing a friend of the court brief on behalf of Tennessee in support of Arizona on immigration law.

Beavers said Tuesday she has heard from Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Cornelia Clark that the court does not take a position on the resolution.

Overbey said he believes he is upholding conservative values by opposing the resolution.

“I am a conservative, and to me the conservative approach is the traditional approach,” Overbey said after Tuesday’s vote. “I think the true conservative approach is to look at tradition and say this has been the Tennessee tradition. It’s what has been in the Constitution since 1870.”

Overbey said the people who have served as attorney general have performed well and rendered good service to the state.

Beavers also objects to the nature of the relationship between the attorney general and the Supreme Court, since the attorney general argues cases before the same people who appoint the attorney general.

Sen. Beverly Marrero, D-Memphis, pointed out in the committee meeting that there has been no corruption in the attorney general’s performance under the current system.

Allan Ramsaur, executive director of the Tennessee Bar Association, told the committee the current system is the least political and most objective possible. He said an elected official in the position would be subject to political pressures.