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Odom Praises Nashville Police Chief for Addressing Domestic Violence Issues

Press release from the Tennessee House Democratic Caucus; June 18, 2014: 

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – State Representative Gary Odom (D-Nashville) has released the following statement praising Nashville Police Chief Steve Anderson for his work in trying to protect victims of domestic violence and exposing problems in the courts:

“I want to thank Chief Anderson for exposing serious problems in a system that is supposed to protect domestic violence victims. Nashvillians all over have had their faith in the justice system of our city shaken after seeing the utter failure the court to protect victims of domestic violence.

“While I fully support the efforts by Judge Higgins and Chief Anderson to address these problems internally, we have to do everything in our power to ensure that this behavior does not happen again. I am working now on legislation that will take the discretion to release domestic abusers early from the hands of judges and require that those arrested for domestic violence serve a mandatory 12 hour cooling-off period with no exceptions. I pledge to introduce that legislation before the start of session next year.

“Victims of domestic violence all too often live in a state of constant fear. It is sickening that this court has failed to do everything in its power to ensure that no harm would come of a woman brave enough to stand up to her attacker and call the police.

“I am proud to stand with Chief Anderson and promise to support him in whatever way I can to restore confidence in our criminal justice system.”

Throughout his career, ensuring the safety of domestic violence victims has been a priority of Rep. Odom’s. This year, he co-sponsored the “Survivor’s Safety Bill,” which requires persons convicted of a second, third, or subsequent domestic assault involving bodily injury to serve the minimum sentence day for day and consecutively.

In addition, Rep. Odom has sponsored legislation to require the Administrative Office of the Courts to keep statistics on domestic violence, require that orders of protection be entered in the Tennessee Crime Information System, and worked to prohibit the disclosure and identification of domestic violence shelter locations in the service of process and court proceedings.

Charter School Authorizer Keeps Moving in House, Snagged Up in Senate

A bill that would create an independent state government authorizer for charter schools in certain parts of Tennessee scored another victory in the state House Wednesday, clearing the chamber’s Finance, Ways & Means Committee on a voice vote.

After undergoing several tweaks as it moved through the committee system, the version of House Bill 702 that passed Wednesday would put in place a governor-and-legislature-appointed panel with the power to override Local Education Agencies who deny charter school applications in counties that have at least one designated “priority school.”

There are currently 83 such schools in the state in five different counties.

House Democrats, who have consistently opposed the proposed charter authorizer, raised several concerns to Republican sponsor Mark White during discussion on the bill including infringement of local control and the fiscal implications for school districts.

House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley introduced an amendment that would have capped the dollar amount LEA’s would be forced to pay to support state-authorized schools but it was quickly shot down by the majority-Republican committee.

Nashville Democrat Gary Odom subsequently took issue, arguing that the committee was ignoring their duty to consider all financial implications of the measure.

“This appeals mechanism has the opportunity to impact, financially, school systems because they’re going to be mandated to turn over funding to charter schools,” Odom said. “This committee is chorred with dealing with fiscal impact on state governments as well as local governments…we just voted down an amendment that was going to try to cap local government expenditures, as part of their operating costs, on charter schools…This is an unfunded mandate.”

But Committee Chairman Charles Michael Sargent, R-Franklin promptly shut down discussion, saying “I would have a response to that but I’m not getting into a running debate.”

While it was unlikely that the bill would have faced difficulty on the House side, the fate of its Senate companion is less clear. After facing tough questions from fellow Republicans on the Senate Finance, Ways & Means Committee Tuesday, sponsor Dolores Gresham of Somerville pulled the bill to the bottom of the agenda and it has yet to resurface.

TNReport was unable to reach Gresham for comment.

Odom Still Optimistic

Rep. Gary Odom says he doesn’t expect members of the House Democratic Caucus to hold him responsible for the party’s devastating losses in the midterm elections.

“I think the caucus members know what I did at the election. They know what happened,” said Odom, who is seeking re-election Wednesday to another term as his party’s floor leader.

He’s facing a challenge from Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley, who chaired the powerful Finance, Ways and Means committee last session, and Memphis Rep. John DeBerry Jr., who leads the Black Caucus.

Last month, Democrats lost almost a third of their representation in the House, surrendering a 64-34-1 majority to the Tennessee GOP.

But as far as the campaign, how he would have comported himself or conducted the party’s political affairs over the past year, there’s not much Odom says he would have done differently.

“I racked my brain to come up with some notion, some idea. We failed at getting a good message out, but I think we had a good message, and we tried to get it out. I just don’t think anybody was listening,” he said.

National politics drove this election, Odom said. He added that he and other members were featured in campaign ads tying them to President Obama and then-U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

The new breakdown in the House cripples the caucus’ ability to check Republican-backed initiatives on the floor. But despite his party’s waning influence as an agenda-setting force in Tennessee politics, Odom says Democrats will still energetically attempt to shape, influence and nudge policy at every opportunity.

“This is a time where yes, we suffered a lot of losses as far as our Democratic caucus. We lost 14 seats, but that doesn’t change the agenda,” he said.

Education, job growth and providing additional aid for flood victims top Odom’s list of issues on which Democrats can make their voices heard.

“We’re going to work on things that are good for Tennessee. If it’s a Republican idea, if it’s a Democratic idea, it shouldn’t matter,” he said.

And while he’s never been known to pass up opportunities to lock horns with Republicans on the House floor, Odom says he hasn’t ever made it a practice to go out of his way to pick partisan fights.

“I always want to be cooperative, but sometimes there are just fundamental differences that need to be demonstrated, that need to be explained,” he said.

Odom, a two-time caucus leader, expressed confidence going into Wednesday’s party leadership election: “I’m as optimistic as I am in entering any election. I have a record and just like any incumbent has a record, you are going to be judged on that.”

Candidates Emerge For Top House Democrat

Contenders for the Democratic Leader in the House of Representatives are beginning to make their candidacies known.

Among the candidates for House minority leader are Rep. John DeBerry, Jr., of Memphis, who chairs the Children and Family Affairs Committee; Rep. Craig Fitzhugh, of Ripley, who chairs the House Finance Ways and Means Committee, and acts as the party’s budget guru; and two-term Democratic Leader Gary Odom, of Nashville.

According to Odom’s office, the caucus will vote in its new leadership team on Dec. 15, although the place and time is yet to be determined.

It’s been about a month since Republicans embarrassed Democrats by gaining 14 seats in the House and stomping out their hopes for retaining some level of influence in the chamber. Republican leaders vow to control the House without Democratic Party support since it now holds a nearly two-to-one majority, 64-34-1.

Fitzhugh sent letters to members of his caucus last week announcing his plans to run for minority leader. Here’s what it said:

Tennessee lost some excellent public servants in the November election. The talents of Eddie, Jim, Les, Dennis, Henry, Stratton, Kent, Ty, George, Mark, Butch and Judy will be missed by our Caucus and our state. It is imperative that we regroup, learn from the election, and move forward with a vision for the future. After much thought and consideration and discussion with many of you, I have decided to place my name in consideration for the position of Democratic Leader.

I believe you know me so I won’t attempt to campaign in this letter except commit to each of you that I will do my best to bring us together, clearly and strongly articulate our positions and work tirelessly to support and promote our Democratic principles. We have unprecedented challenges ahead and I will do everything I can to help us meet them. We must regain our voice and our majority.

I look forward to talking with you before the selection and ask that you give me a call… if you need me.

Our Caucus is a special group of people and I wish you the very best. I am proud to know each of you and consider you my friend. I wish you the very best throughout the holiday season.

Sincerely,

Craig Fitzhugh

State Representative

Early Bird Gets the Bill

With six weeks until lawmakers flood back into the Capitol, a handful of bills have already been filed for introduction in the 2011 legislative session, mostly thanks to Sen. Mark Norris.

The Senate Republican leader from Collierville filed five bills this month, all but one dealing with redistricting, a process that requires lawmakers to redraw legislative districts every decade after the U.S. Census numbers are in.

His grouping of bills generally “(clarify) provisions concerning districts, terms and vacancies prior to November 2012 elections,” according to bill summaries.

New lines must be approved before the 2012 election, although Norris says he could see lawmakers begin the redistricting process in late spring.

Norris’ fifth bill ties the income limit to qualify for a property tax freeze to the the average income level for elderly people as calculated in the new census numbers.

Sen. Douglas Henry, a Nashville Democrat, popped in a few bills of his own extending sales tax rebates to flood victims. House Democrat Leader Gary Odom of Nashville and Rep. Gary Moore, D-Joelton, are listed as co-sponsors. House Democrat Caucus Chairman Mike Turner, D-Nashville, introduced his own version of that bill, too.

During the last two-year legislative session, the House and Senate churned out nearly 4,000 bills each, although many pieces of legislation were taken up by both chambers. About 1,200 of them became law.

Presumed House Speaker-to-be Beth Harwell indicated in a press conference earlier this month that she’s not opposed to the idea of limiting the number of bills lawmakers can file. In keeping with the spirit of her smaller-is-better philosophy of state governance, Harwell indicated she’s opposed to bills that further burden or restrict the private behavior of citizens and businesses.

“Certainly if we’ve heard anything from the public, it’s that they don’t want a lot of more regulations and mandates on their lives,” said Harwell. “So I think that would serve our caucus well to look at not introducing a lot of legislation this session.”

“For the most part, what I’ve seen of Republican legislators is that they are conservative on that anyway,” she added. “Again, this is not the party of more government regulations, this is the party of less government regulations. So, I think you will see some restraint on the part of Republican leaders.”

Services for Rep. Ulysses Jones Jr. to be Held Sunday and Monday

Press Release from House Democratic Leader Gary Odom; Nov. 12, 2010:

House Democratic Leader Gary Odom (D-Nashville) on Home Going Services for Representative Ulysses Jones Jr.:

“A celebration of the life of State Representative Ulysses Jones will be held on Monday, November 14 in Memphis. Representative John DeBerry has released the following schedule for the Services:

Home Going Services for State Representative Ulysses Jones Jr.

Wake/Visitation
Sunday, November 14, 2010
Middle Baptist Church
4982 Knight Arnold Road
(901) 332-4799
3 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Visitation
Monday, November 15, 2010
Hope Presbyterian: 8500 Walnut Grove
10 a.m. to 12 p.m.

Funeral Service
Monday, November 15, 2010
Hope Presbyterian: 8500 Walnut Grove
12 p.m.

Representative Ulysses Jones Jr. served his district and the State of Tennessee in an honorable and effective manner for the past twenty four years. Ulysses and I were both elected in the 1986 legislative class and he will be greatly missed. He was a great public servant and a true pleasure to be around. I know that this will be a great celebration of the life of the man, the legislator, the father and friend.”

Odom Blames Democrat Losses On Frustration With Washington

Statement from House Democratic Leader Gary Odom, D-Nashville; Nov. 3, 2010: 

“House Democrats lost 14 seats in yesterday’s election. Most of those defeats came in state house districts within the fourth, sixth and eighth Congressional Districts where Republican Congressional candidates won by large margins. It is clear that Tennessee voters are angry. While I believe that anger is primarily directed at our Federal Government and our nation’s economic problems, it is clear that our Democratic candidates for state legislative seats could not overcome the Republican momentum. Democrats in the Tennessee House of Representatives are committed to working on the issues important to the citizens of our state: attracting new jobs, improving education opportunities for all Tennesseans, and maintaining fiscal discipline in state government.

I also want to offer my congratulations to Governor-Elect Haslam and each newly elected member of the Tennessee House of Representatives. It is my great honor to serve in the Tennessee General Assembly and it is my intention to work in a bi-partisan manner with Governor-Elect Haslam and all members of the next General Assembly in order to address the challenges facing our state.”

Odom Pushes Tax Exemption for Flood Victims

Press Release from House Minority Leader Gary Odom, D-Nashville, May 14, 2010:

Tax relief through September on appliances, building materials

(Nashville) — House Democratic Leader Gary Odom proposed a measure Friday that would provide for tax exemptions on appliances and building materials for families who suffered flood damage earlier this month.

Tennesseans that qualify for Federal Emergency Management Agency assistance authorized by President Barack Obama, under the measure, could buy appliances and building materials tax free through September.

“After several meetings with constituents, I believe that this is absolutely necessary in providing relief for our citizens that were devastated by the recent flooding disaster,” said Odom (D-Nashville). “It is the least we can do to help our neighbors and friends get back on their feet.”

This measure would not have a negative effect on the budget because the sales tax collected on appliances and building materials bought by flooding victims would not have been collected in the first place if it weren’t for the recent disaster, Odom said.

The proposal will be under consideration in the coming weeks as the state Legislature wraps up the budgeting process for the year.

“I’m going to be working with my colleagues in the coming days to put together the votes to make this a reality for those who have lost so much here in our state,” Odom said.

Voter-Roll Reform Heads to Governor

A measure that changes why a county election administrator can clean out voter rolls — purportedly aimed at minimizing the chances of a so-called political “witch hunt” — passed both chambers of the Tennessee Legislature overwhelmingly last week.

If signed by the governor, voters cannot be purged from the local voter rolls for minor mistakes on their registration forms after an office accepts the document and adds them to the rolls. A voter can only be removed if he or she knowingly provides false information on the form or uses a false signature.

Supporters of the legislation feared some people — particularly Democratic voters — were being removed from the rolls over innocent mistakes when filling out the form. Those individuals would then be unable to vote.

“The purpose of this legislation is to make sure citizens can rely on the local offices where they register to vote, (that) once they have completed a voter registration form and submit it…that they know they are registered to vote,” said Rep. Gary Odom, a Nashville Democrat and sponsor of the bill.

The measure emerged because Democrats feared Republican election administrators were using minor errors voters made on registration forms to target Democrat voters for removal from election rolls.

After the GOP gained control of the Legislature, about three dozen counties replaced their county election administrators with Republican appointees, as allowed by state law. Democrats suddenly on the outside looking in became frightened their partisan constituents would be unfairly ousted from the voter rolls by overzealous new election administrators.

Odom pointed specifically to Benton County, where almost 20 percent of the county’s voters received letters earlier this year saying their voter registration was invalid and they would have to re-register.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation officials are now looking into the claims and deciding whether to launch a full investigation, as requested by Odom, who is also the leading Democrat in the state House of Representatives.

Benton County Election Administrator Mark Ward denied Odom’s claims before the committee, saying his county’s rolls were not alphabetized when he took office, as required by state law, and the person he hired to alphabetize the rolls noticed a number of “discrepancies.” Ward said he purged the rolls at the guidance of Secretary of State Tre Hargett, a former Republican House leader who took office last year.

House Bill 3456, as initially drafted, would’ve only allowed a county election administrator to purge voters on the second year after a U.S. Census.

As passed, it now requires a Democrat and Republican member of each county election commission to periodically review voter registration forms to see if registrants are properly filling out the documents — a suggestion added by Rep. Bill Dunn, a Knoxville Republican and former House Republican leader himself. Dunn said the requirement would “add another level of accountability” in county election offices.

The measure passed 93-1 in the House and 32-0 in the Senate.

Tempers Flare Over ‘Smart’ Crime Bill

Partisan acrimony boiled up on the floor of the House of Representatives on Monday when an East Tennessee Republican tried to alter a bill Democrats have been carefully crafting and claiming as a core element of their legislative agenda this session.

The proposed “Smart on Crime” bill, HB2813, would take away the discretion of Tennessee judges to sentence certain first-time perpetrators of “non-violent property offenses,” typically involving damages of less than $1,000, to jail terms. Instead, judges would sentence them to “community corrections, probation, pre-trial diversion or judicial diversion.”

At the same time, the proposed legislation would require that the more serious crime of armed robbery be added to a list of offenses for which the possibility of early release from prison is diminished.

“To make prison space available to ensure that these violent offenders serve a sentence of sufficient length to remove them as a threat to society and to deter others from committing these offenses, it is in the public’s best interest that certain non-violent property offenders currently serving prison sentences for less serious offenses be given alternative sentences not involving incarceration,” according to the bill. “By doing so, the property offenders are able to work in order to pay restitution to the victims of their crimes without threatening public safety thereby permitting longer sentences for those offenders who do threaten public safety.”

But during House debate on the bill Monday night, Rep. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough, proposed an amendment to remove several offenses — shoplifting, passing forged checks, burglary from a motor vehicle and burning personal property — from the list of 19 crimes for which a judge couldn’t sentence an offender to jail time.

“I like a good part of this legislation, but I also think that if you do any of these four things…you should serve time,” said Hill.

Democratic Party Leader Gary Odom, the chief House sponsor of the legislation, became visibly agitated when responding to Hill and the proposed amendment.

Odom expressed disappointment that Hill hadn’t raised his objections earlier and didn’t “(think) enough to bring the concerns or the proposed amendment to me so I could speak with (Hill) about it.” He also accused Hill of “misrepresenting what the judge can do with these situations.”

“This bill does not give anybody a get-out-of-jail-free card,” said Odom. “There is no reduction in sentencing under this bill. The time that someone would be in the custody of the Department of Corrections would remain the same for all these personal property crimes, most of them less than $1,000 in value. What this would do, though, is move them to a different location where they pay their debt to society.”

Odom also said Hill’s amendment would “destroy the legislation” by throwing the fiscal impact estimations of the bill out of whack.

According to the Fiscal Note for HB2813, Tennessee is averaging 1,012 prison admissions a year for the lower-level property offenses defined in the bill. On average over the past 10 years, 669 people have been sentenced each year for aggravated robbery.

In sum, the state would incur additional new costs of about $10 million for the additional incarceration under the terms of the bill.

Odom said the drafters of the bill calculated that moving the small-time property criminals to community corrections and diversion programs would cost the state only five dollars a day instead of $65 a day. By doing that, he added, armed robbers could begin serving roughly six years in jail, up from from the current average of 2.4 years.

“We got up to 74 percent of the minimum sentence (for armed robbers),” said Odom. “All of our other violent crimes in the state, you serve 85 percent. And we couldn’t get all the way, but if you start picking and choosing, you are going to destroy the balance we have in this bill.”

Hill was unmoved.

“Everyone in the state would agree that people that commit the violent crimes that you’re seeking to have serve more of their sentence time — we want them to serve that sentence time,” he said. “That being said, I’m also not interested in a get-out-of-jail-free card. But I also see this as having strong potential to just not going to jail at all.”

Odom made a motion to table Hill’s amendment, but that effort failed on a 47-50 vote, largely along party lines. Only Dennis E. Roach, R-Rutledge and Curry Todd, R-Collierville, left GOP ranks to vote in favor of tabling the amendment. Memphis Democrats John J. DeBerry and Ulysses Jones, Jr. joined with Republicans in opposing Odom’s motion, as did Mark Maddox, D-Dresden. Speaker Kent Williams, the lone “Carter County Republican” in the legislative body, voted against tabling the amendment.

A vote on the actual bill was postponed until later this week.

Andrea Zelinski shot video and contributed reporting for this story.