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AG Pressed to File Suit Over FCC Broadband Ruling

A trio of prominent Tennessee House Republicans on Tuesday called for the state’s attorney general to challenge the Federal Communications Commission’s recent decision to strike down state restrictions on municipal broadband expansion.

Last week the FCC ruled in favor of the Electric Power Board of Chattanooga and their request to set aside a 1999 Tennessee law limiting municipal electric providers to offering internet services only within their electric footprint.

House Majority Whip Jeremy Durham and House GOP Caucus Chairman Glen Casada, both of Franklin, as well as Dresden Rep. Andy Holt, vice chairman of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, are urging state Attorney General Herbert Slatery to fight back against what they term the FCC’s “unconstitutional violation” of Tennessee’s sovereignty.

The three Republicans are accusing the FCC of having “usurped Tennessee law.”

In a press conference at the state Capitol Tuesday, Durham questioned the legality and appropriateness of “an unelected, federal body…overturn(ing) laws that have been made by the duly elected members of the Tennessee General Assembly.”

“I believe it’s another example of federal overreach. It doesn’t have to be the pen of Barack Obama and an executive order, sometimes it’s these unelected bodies like the FCC,” Durham said.

Whether or not the FCC ruling constitutes “good public policy or bad,” isn’t so much the issue as that the subverting of state laws sets “a very dangerous precedent,” said Durham.

According to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, the decision was made because “some states” have limited competition by designing “thickets of red tape,” and through its action, the commission is “cutting away that red tape consistent with Congress’s instructions to encourage the deployment of broadband.”

EPB officials, though cautious of possible pending litigation, praised the decision last week.

“Many neighbors have been struggling with the economic and educational disadvantages of not having access to broadband services. We are looking for the quickest path forward to help those neighbors join the 21st century information economy,” said Harold DePriest, EPB’s president and CEO, in a press release.

Gov. Bill Haslam told reporters Tuesday he’s still weighing options and mulling the FCC ruling and hadn’t made a decision on if he supports Tennessee appealing. “Before you decide to appeal something, you have to make certain that there’s a reasonable reason to do that,” Haslam said, adding that he’ll be looking to Slatery for guidance on the issue.

Haslam said he recognizes “value” in people gaining access to high-speed Internet if it is otherwise unavailable, but there are also concerns about “the local government subsidizing something that makes it hard for business to compete.”

The General Assembly’s Democrats issued a press release Tuesday afternoon criticizing the governor and lawmakers for working “to limit consumer choice,” instead of supporting the FCC’s decision to expand the choice for Tennesseans.

According to both chambers minority leaders — Memphis Sen. Lee Harris and Rep. Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley — Tennessee consumers “consider the matter settled” with the FCC ruling, and “don’t care so much about these technicalities,” if it means having access to high speed internet service.

Tullahoma Sen. Janice Bowling, a Republican, is pushing legislation this year to let municipal electric companies offer their services to what she called the “under-served or un-served” areas of the state.

Neither chamber has taken action on the bill.

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Legislature Gearing Up for Tax Reform Debate

Tennessee Republicans are flush with even more power in the General Assembly after the 2014 general election, and members of the expanded supermajorities in both dens of the statehouse are sure that one thing’s for certain: there’s no time like the present to talk about tax cuts.

There’s some disagreement, though, about which ones to go after first.

The two biggest targets are the Hall tax on investment earnings and Tennessee’s highest-in-the-country sales tax.

While many of the Volunteer State’s conservative Republicans favor doing away with the Hall tax, some of the party’s legislative leadership have instead made populist arguments in favor chipping away at the state’s sales tax. Over the past several years since losing majority-party status, that’s been a priority as well for Democrats, who charge the tax hits Tennessee’s poor the hardest. And as pitiful as their numbers are in the Legislature, Democrats could play a role in helping shape the discussion, particularly in the House.

While some Republicans have in the past balked at discussing cuts to the state’s general sales tax — or the tax on food — due to fears that its reduction would be a potential step toward enacting a state income tax, Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris said he hopes a recently passed constitutional ban on taxing Tennesseans’ income would change the discussion.

“Every time since I’ve been here we’ve tried to have a discussion about the state’s revenue and expenses, people say ‘Oh, it’s Trojan Horse for the income tax,'” the Collierville Republican told reporters last week. However, the overwhelming passage of Amendment 3 on Nov. 4, a change in the Tennessee Constitution that expressly prohibits the enactment of income taxes at the state or local level, “should silence those critics,” said Norris.

In the wake of two-thirds of Tennessee voters approving the amendment, Republican state Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, filed legislation earlier this month aimed at, over the next three years, entirely phasing out the Hall Income tax — a six percent tax on income received from investments over $1250 a year for individuals making more than $33,000 a year.

In response, Norris and state Rep.Gerald McCormick — the majority leaders in both legislative chambers, who routinely carry legislation for Republican Gov. Bill Haslam — filed a proposal to reduce the state sales tax from 7 percent to 6.75 percent.

Getting rid of the Hall Tax would cut about $260 million from the annual budget. Likewise, McCormick told the Times Free Press, the proposed sales tax cut would reduce annual state revenue by about the same.

Norris referred to his proposal as one of “the bookends” of the greater tax reform discussion.

“The bill was filed, so I filed a bill. Do you want to cut $260 million in revenue for these people, or $260 million revenue for all people? It sort of frames the issue,” Norris said last week.

But while two of the state’s top fiscal conservative groups generally support reducing the tax burden of all Tennesseans’, they’re standing firm on their particular support for specifically doing away with the the Hall tax first — and they say that ought to be lawmakers’ first priority.

Tennessee’s chapter of Americans for Prosperity is “committed to assisting in the repeal of the Hall Income Tax,” said the group’s spokeswoman, Tori Venable. “Repealing this regressive tax will help our state as a whole, not just those who will benefit from the tax cut. The assurance of the Hall Income Tax repeal will help our state recruit more businesses, increasing job growth and economic output,” she wrote in an email to TNReport.

Lindsay Boyd, policy director for the Beacon Center of Tennessee, a 10-year-old Nashville-based free-market think tank, told TNReport via email that, first and foremost, the Hall Tax has to go. It “deters Tennessee families from settling in our state and small business entrepreneurs from investing in our economy,” Boyd said. She added that chipping away at the sales tax is a good idea, but it’s not going to show immediate results and definitely shouldn’t detract from the Hall tax discussion.

“A minuscule cut to the sales tax, as proposed by Rep. McCormick and Sen. Norris, may be a discussion we should resume once we free Tennesseans from the worry of having their hard earned dollars punitively and heftily taxed by the Hall tax on investment income- remembering that 40 percent of those who pay the Hall income tax earn less than $50,000 per year,” Boyd said.

Last session’s House GOP Caucus chairman, Franklin Rep. Glen Casada, told TNReport he favors prioritizing Hall tax elimination. Eliminating it as quickly as possible is an “excellent idea,” he said, because it would attract senior citizens to the state.

“It’s a wise, prudent financial move,” said Casada,who added that it’s unfair to ding people who’ve “played by the rules” and have saved money for retirement — and are not relying on government assistance.

Casada said he favors reducing taxes in general — but wants to begin with getting rid of the Hall tax, “and then start cutting sales tax on food.”

For an alternative perspective — or another tax-cutting idea to add to the mix — look no further than the House majority leader.

McCormick told TNReport this week that he thinks franchise and excise taxes should be looked at too. “I just think we need to look at all of them at the same time, and then decide if we can afford to cut taxes who we want to cut them for,” he said.

McCormick added that he was concerned cutting the Hall tax would “disproportionately” benefit higher income Tennesseans. The Legislature should “look at something that might also help those that are on the bottom rungs of the income levels.”

Haslam has suggested any legislators interested in cutting their constituents taxes should also be looking for cuts to make in state expenses. “I believe in cutting taxes. We’ve cut taxes since we’ve been here. We also believe in balancing the budget. And I think it’s important when you’re talking making any changes to revenue in the state, what are the commensurate changes you’re going to make in the expense structure as well?” Haslam said earlier this month.

AFP: Victories Won Against Common Core in Primary

Press release from Americans for Prosperity – Tennessee; August 13, 2014:

NASHVILLE – Americans for Prosperity-Tennessee (AFP-TN), a grassroots organization that advocates for economic freedom, is continuing its issue campaign on Common Core, which director Andrew Ogles said is a hot-button issue for many in the state.

(Click here to listen to the radio ad running across the state on Common Core.)

AFP- TN state director Andrew Ogles said the following:

“There’s no doubt our issue advocacy campaign to stop Common Core has made an impact. In the last six weeks we’ve spent approximately half a million dollars bringing the issues with Common Core to light, and this is just the beginning. Our support has helped bring together a broader coalition of parents, community leaders, and legislators. Together we can stop Obama’s radical education agenda and stop Common Core.”

The overall defeat of Common Core supporters this legislative cycle shows that the public is indeed opposed to this one-size-fits-all takeover of the education system. For example, the Williamson County school board saw four pro-Common Core school board candidates lose their election bid, three of them being incumbents. State Representative Glen Casada soundly defeated his pro-Common Core opponent. Meanwhile, officials who opposed Common Core remained in office.

“Moderates claimed Common Core would be a non-issue. That claim has been proven false across the state. Conservative legislators like Senator Mae Beavers and Representative Courtney Rogers were able to fend off moderates with Common Core ties,” said Ogles.

AFP-TN has been engaged in educating the public on the problems of Common Core for weeks, and plans to continue ramping up its issue advocacy efforts heading into the legislative session.

Haslam Defends Common Core

With pressure from some Tennessee conservatives mounting against Common Core school standards, Gov. Bill Haslam says he is standing strong in his decision to implement them in the state.

During a press conference Tuesday, Haslam told reporters that he believes joining 44 other states and the District of Columbia in adopting the federal classroom benchmarks will help Tennessee stay economically competitive.

“I feel strongly in this sense: Common Core is about raising the standards and defining the standards so that everybody knows what a third grader should be able to do in math or an eighth grader,” said the Republican governor.

“The most common thing I hear — I’ve talked to five different businesses, literally, in the last week and every one of the them is saying the same thing: ‘We love being here but the prepared workforce that we need is lacking,” Haslam continued. “And that doesn’t just start when you get out of school, it obviously starts earlier and I think part of that is we make certain our third graders are learning the math they need to so that ten years from now these companies aren’t saying ‘we don’t have the workforce that we need.’”

But the new standards, which include various grade-level expectations in math and English, have drawn fierce opposition from some parents and conservative activists in the state. And some high-visibility Republican politicians are increasingly turning their backs on the proposed changes.

Last week, U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais from Tennessee’s 4th Congressional District voiced full-throated disapproval of Common Core implementation. A press release from DesJarlais’s office called the standards “watered down” and “bad policy, implemented unfairly, that achieves mediocrity at the expense of states’ sovereignty and local control.”

There have also been murmurings of disapproval amongst conservative legislators on the state level, too.

Reached by phone Tuesday, state House GOP Caucus Chair Glen Casada told TNReport that many of his members have expressed concern and have “a lot of questions.”

The Franklin lawmaker said it’s too early to comment on specific measures the General Assembly might take next year, but indicated he’s looking for the Haslam administration to provide empirical data that Common Core standards will be beneficial for students and not “just another fad that’s come down the pike.”

Concerns and questions aside, the governor appears to be moving forward with the implementations process. According to a Department of Education press release from June 18, the administration is launching a large-scale, voluntary teacher training program on the new standards and over 32,000 state teachers have signed up.

The release quotes Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman, a Haslam appointee, saying, “The scale of this training marks an unprecedented commitment to equip students with the critical thinking skills necessary to compete. We are dedicated to giving our teachers the support they need to drive toward excellence during this transition.”

House Dems, TEA Blast Huffman’s Teacher Pay Proposal

Proposed changes to the way Tennessee public school teachers are paid have state House Democrats and teachers’ unions bristling.

During a press event at the state Capitol, party leaders on Thursday blasted a proposal from Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration that would alter Tennessee’s minimum teacher salary schedule and, according to opponents, drastically reduce the amount teachers earn over the span of their careers.

State Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman is set to present the plan to State Board of Education Friday, after which the board could vote to approve it.

Critics’ concerns about the plan include the reduction of seniority-based pay categories from the current 21 steps to just four possible raises over the course of a career. There would also be fewer pay increases available for teachers who earn advanced degrees.

Jim Wrye, a representative for the state’s main teachers’ union, the Tennessee Education Association, described the proposal as a “fundamental gutting of that state minimum salary schedule.”

“We think that it’s going to increase inequities,” Wrye told reporters. “We think that it’s going to cause mid-career teachers to see no pay raises for long periods of time.

“Requiring a minimum for a salary has a real way of leveraging [state education] money to make sure that teachers across the state at least make a middle class wage,” he said.

Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh expressed concern during the press conference that the revised pay schedule would make it harder for the state to attract talented teachers. “We break our commitment to teachers by doing this and we really put a chilling effect on recruitment of teachers,” the Ripley Democrat said. “Lord, we don’t pay them enough in the first place…I don’t know that we can get career teachers anymore.”

Fitzhugh also argued that the plan would discourage teachers from pursuing advanced degrees and career development training.

“There will be no more, to a great degree, incentive for teachers to get an advanced degree,” said Fitzhugh. “And what are you saying to our children? That advanced degree is no longer important. Going into higher education on an elevated basis doesn’t matter any more because we don’t even think it matters when your teacher gets a master’s degree or a doctorate degree. We’re not going to pay him or her any more for that.”

But that logic doesn’t quite fly with at least one Republican lawmaker. Reached by phone Thursday, GOP House Caucus Chair Glen Casada of Franklin told TNReport, “I know in the business world, you don’t get paid because you have an M.B.A behind your name.”

Casada said he did have some “reservations” about possible reductions in teachers’ minimum earning potential but echoed the line often touted by Republican education reform advocates that bonuses and raises should be awarded based purely on measured performance rather than experience or education.

Fitzhugh himself addressed that point Thursday. “I’m all for paying for productivity, paying for excellence, but you don’t do that at the expense of teachers, initially, by lowering their pay,” he said.

Legislative Subcommittee Hears from Parents on Textbook Bias

Some conservatives in the Tennessee Legislature are looking to change the way the state approves its public school textbooks.

Amidst recent complaints from parents of liberal and anti-semitic bias in school books, a Joint Government Operations Subcommittee voted Wednesday to effectively put the state’s Textbook Commision on notice, giving them one year to address concerns and propose solutions or face being dissolved in favor of another system.

The Education, Health & General Welfare Subcommittee periodically evaluates certain government entities, including the textbook board, and makes recommendations to either extend or scrap them.

During the subcommittee meeting, Wednesday, members of the State Textbook Commission, which includes educators and administrators, stressed to lawmakers that they evaluate books to make sure they meet educational benchmarks and put out a list of approved options but that school districts make the final purchasing decisions. Members of the Commission estimated that public school districts spend roughly $66 million annually on books in Tennessee.

It was the testimony from members of the public, however, that appeared to have the most impact on committee members’ thinking. Several parents spoke heatedly about what they say is an agenda, present in certain textbooks, that undermines Judeo-Christian and capitalist principles.

Julie West of the group Parents for Truth in Education quoted passages from social studies books that she argued glorified the communist ideologies of Lenin, Stalin and Mao. Laurie Cardoza-Moore, a Christian Zionist activist with the group Proclaiming Justice to the Nations raced through several examples of what she sees as anti-semitic and anti-Israel rhetoric that condones radical Islam and terrorism.

Speaking to reporters following her testimony, Moore questioned the efficacy of the Textbook Commission’s approval process and called for an overhaul of the system.

“We are not wanting our way of life to be jeopardized because of the content that’s provided in this curriculum,” Moor said. “What worldview are [textbooks] being vetted from? Parents from Williamson County and across the state of Tennessee want to know because it doesn’t represent our values.”

Conservatives on the subcommittee emphasized that they didn’t believe the textbook board itself was responsible for perpetuating a bias, suggesting instead that commission in its current form simply didn’t have the resources to do the sort of value-based reviewing that they deemed necessary.

Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada, one of the prime legislators raising the textbook issue, said he sees increased local control and parental involvement in decision-making as the best solution.

“We have to figure out a way so that the locals can reject curriculum that they find biased or not factual,” the Franklin lawmaker told reporters.

Asked where such bias was coming from, Casada said he thought that larger publishing companies that tend to dominate the market are usually based in more liberal parts of the country.

“Most of this is from the large textbooks that are predominantly Eastern Seaboard-based or California-based and they bring their own bias and that’s what we’re being exposed to in Tennessee,” Casada said.

Any final changes to the way the state approves textbooks would ultimately have to come in the form of legislation and pass through the entire general assembly.

Dems Claim Victory in Defeat of Campaign Finance Bill

Press release from the Tennessee House Democratic Caucus; April 18, 2013:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – House Democrats were joined by 13 Republicans and one Independent Republican in voting against legislation by House Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada to change corporate contribution laws. The bill failed 48-41 after nearly an hour of debate.

“The people of Tennessee don’t want this because they know that money corrupts,” said House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner. During the debate on the legislation, Chairman Turner implored his Republican colleagues to side with the people and vote against the bill.

HB643 would have nearly tripled the amount of money political parties and caucuses could give to state candidates. It also removed the requirement that corporations register as PACs. Additionally, the bill would have allowed insurance companies to contribute to political candidates.

Rep. JoAnne Favors (D-Chattanooga) warned that allowing insurance companies to give to candidates during our current health care debate would “give the appearance of being unethical.”

Having failed to receive a majority, the bill now moves back to the Calendar and Rules Committee.
Roll call of the vote available here: http://www.scribd.com/doc/136545701/Roll-Call-on-HB643-by-Casada

Governor’s Workers’ Comp Revamp Chugging Forward

Gov. Bill Haslam’s pro-business workers’ compensation reform legislation sailed through committees in the House and Senate last week and is headed for the next round of hearings in both chambers this week.

Rep. Jimmy Eldridge

Rep. Jimmy Eldridge

Rep. Jimmy Eldridge, chair of the House Consumer and Human Resources Committee, said the “Workers’ Compensation Reform Act of 2013” must pass through four more committees before reaching the House floor.

“I’d like to see this bill go to give all the members of the Tennessee General Assembly on the House side the opportunity to engage in the conversation and good debate on this important piece of legislation,” said the Republican from Jackson.

Despite its passage, it was clear not every member of Eldridge’s committee thinks the bill addresses the issues businesses say are driving costs upward.Tennessee workers' comp bill

“Where we’re messing up is in our medical costs. This bill doesn’t address that at all,” Democratic Caucus Chair Mike Turner told the committee. “I don’t care what they tell you, they’re not telling you the whole truth about this bill.”

House Bill 194 passed the House Consumer and Human Resources Committee along party lines, 7-3. Its companion, SB 200, sailed through the Senate Labor and Commerce Committee, 9-0.

Jeff Bates, managing partner of TA Staffing in Nashville, and Brian Hunt, general manager of Southern Champion Tray in Chattanooga, both addressed the House committee in favor of the reforms.

Bates said 10 percent of the claims his company sees take 75 percent of money paid out for workers’ comp.

“You have to protect the truly injured worker, but at the same time you can’t have lingering claims controlling and bogging down the system to the point where it costs three to four times as much to settle a claim in Tennessee as it does in other states,” Bates said.

Hunt said 70 percent of the injuries at his company are “categorized as strains and sprains. They also account for 79 percent of our compensation dollars.” He noted that over the past five years the company has shelled out indemnity payments totaling nearly $1 million.

Rep. Kevin Brooks, who presented the bill on behalf of House sponsor Rep. Gerald McCormick of Chattanooga, said these issues emerged from a two-year study:

  • Tennessee’s rates are higher than neighboring states.
  • Employees are being harmed by lengthy delays in the current system.
  • Employers and employees are having trouble “navigating what is a complex and difficult workmans’ compensation system.”

Rocky McElhaney, a Nashville attorney who spoke on behalf of the Tennessee Association for Justice, said higher costs were a “red herring” to distract from harm to workers.

Rocky McElhaney

Rocky McElhaney

“Since the 2004 reforms, benefits paid to injured workers in Tennessee have already decreased 41 percent,” McElhaney said. “We’re paying workers less on average than our competing states.”

McElhaney said payments to physicians are actually what’s driving costs. He said state statistics showing how long cases take to adjudicate were skewed because only a sampling of cases were used.

In 2012 cases took 166 days start-to-finish on average, down from 309 days in 2008, McElhaney said, citing data from the Administrative Office of the Courts.

Rep. Glen Casada disputed the claim that the bill is heavily skewed toward employers.

“We as legislators must look at the macro of this, which is when Goodyear leaves, and their number one statement on why they left was workmans’ comp costs,” the Franklin Republican said. “All of a sudden, we’re not looking at dozens, we’re looking at 1,900 that are no longer here in Tennessee working.

“If that were to have a ripple effect, Bridgestone, Nissan – and I could go down the list – all of a sudden thousands of folks that work no longer have jobs in Tennessee. That is my concern.”   

HB 194 goes before the House Government Operations Committee Tuesday. SB 200 goes before the Senate Government Operations Committee Wednesday.

Amelia Morrison Hipps may be reached at amhipps@capitolnewstn.com, on Twitter @CapitolNews_TN or at 615-442-8667.

Haslam Looking to AR for TN Medicaid Expansion Ideas

Gov. Bill Haslam’s health policy specialists are probing into what Arkansas is doing with respect to increasing Medicaid coverage as part of federal Affordable Care Act reform initiatives.

During a press conference last week in Nashville, Tennessee’s Republican chief executive said his administration is “learning some things” from policies being pursued under Obamacare by Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe, a Democrat.

Beebe appears to have secured approval from the Obama administration to funnel federal dollars earmarked for Medicaid expansions into private insurance for those eligible. According to the Washington Post’s “Wonkblog” today, other states considering such an approach are Florida, Ohio, Louisiana and Maine and perhaps even Texas:

We still don’t know the final details of the Arkansas agreement — or whether there is a final agreement. There are questions about whether this option will be more expensive than a traditional Medicaid expansion (the public program tends to cost a few thousand dollars less per enrollee).

What we do know, though, is that there are some very strong opponents of the Obamacare law — ones that have pledged never to expand Medicaid — who suddenly find this option palatable. It has the potential to grow the Medicaid expansion by millions of Americans, edging closer to the pre-Supreme Court version of the health-law’s coverage expansion.

One of the key differences between Arkansas and Tennessee is that The Natural State is partnering with the federal government on creating subsidized health-insurance exchanges. The Volunteer State is not.

Republicans in the Tennessee Legislature are divided between those who want to inoculate Tennessee against Obamacare to the greatest extent possible, and those who’re inclined to defer to Gov. Haslam to prescribe policy treatments that best suit the state’s unique conditions.

“Nobody likes the idea of just a sort of blanket Obamacare expansion, but that’s not what the governor is looking at,” said Mark Norris, the Tennessee Senate majority leader. “He’s real curious about what is happening in Arkansas, with their initiative to use Medicaid dollars for private insurance.”

Norris said he doesn’t anticipate Haslam making any decisions that could potentially put state government over a financial barrel. “He’s doing his due diligence. He’s doing what a good governor ought to do,” said the Republican from Collierville.

Norris added, “I have enough respect for the separation of powers and the three branches of government, and this particular governor, to wait and let him reach his own decision before we jump in and try to preempt something that he may never do anyway.”

However, this week a number of bills sponsored by lawmakers with no patience for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act are potentially coming for votes up in both House and Senate committees.

Senate Bill 666, sponsored by Dolores Gresham, R-Somerville, is scheduled for a hearing in the Commerce and Labor Committee Tuesday. The legislation, according to the official summary on the Legislature’s website, prohibits insurers doing business in Tennessee from participating in any health coverage exchange in the state operated under Obamacare. The bill’s companion measure, House Bill 476 by Republican Vance Dennis of Savannah, is slated for discussion in the lower chamber’s Banking and Insurance subcommittee on Wednesday.

Brian Kelsey, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, told TNReport he favors the uncompromising approach taken recently by the Florida Legislature. Last week the GOP majority there put the brakes on Republican Gov. Rick Scott’s bid to expand his state’s Medicaid program.

“I think that was absolutely the right decision, and my hope is that all of us involved in the issue in Tennessee will also make the right decision to reject the Medicaid expansion,” said Kelsey, a Shelby County Republican. “I don’t think the votes are there to expand Medicaid in either the (Tennessee) Senate or the House, but time will tell.”

Kelsey’s Senate Bill 804 is up for a hearing Tuesday in the Commerce and Labor Committee. The House’s legislation that prohibits Medicaid expansion, HB937, could be discussed Wednesday by lawmakers on the insurance subcommittee.

House GOP Caucus Chairman Glen Casada anticipates Republican lawmakers flatly opposed to Medicaid expansion will start pressing their case in earnest on the Hill this week. In the House of Representatives “there are probably a lot of (Republican) members who are leaning ‘no,’ but they will give the due deference to Gov. Haslam to listen to what he has to say,” said the Franklin Republican.

Nevertheless, Casada said, “I think you will see the House and Senate acting quicker than what the governor is prepared to act.”

House Limits Local Authority on Wage-Setting Mandates

Despite a rather testy exchange between the two parties’ caucus chairs about the “Tennessee Wage Protection Act” on the House floor Thursday, the bill passed 66-27-1 and heads for the Senate committee process beginning next week.

The chamber’s approval moves House Bill 501 one stop closer to ending a four-year battle to prohibit cities and counties from setting wages, family leave and insurance benefits that private businesses must offer employees as a condition of obtaining local-government contracts or operating in the jurisdiction.

“These are issues best left up to the state and federal governments, not local government,” Republican Caucus Chair Glen Casada said.

If the bill becomes law, it would nullify regulations passed in Nashville and Shelby County requiring businesses contracting with those governments to offer a certain level of wages and benefits to employees.

“Once again we have a piece of legislation that will tie the hands of the local government. You are preventing them from being able to negotiate good contracts,” said Democratic Rep. Larry Miller, whose amendment to exempt his home of Memphis and Shelby County was tabled.

The issue of prevailing wages brought Democratic Caucus Chair Mike Turner to the floor. He grilled Casada on whether he knew what a prevailing wage was, and a touchy back and forth ensued.

According to the bill, when awarding contracts local governments cannot “require a prevailing wage be paid in excess of the wages established by the prevailing wage commission for state highway construction projects in accordance with title (state law) or the Tennessee occupational wages prepared annually by the department of labor and workforce development, employment security division, labor market information for state building projects.”

Rep. Antonio Parkinson, of Memphis, questioned the differences in the costs of living in Shelby County and Crockett County, population 14,500, and suggested the local officials there know what’s best for their workers.

Casada fired back: “If a local government, and I’m not going to use any names, mandates 30 bucks an hour for a construction job, that drives up the cost of that construction, and it causes that entity go further in debt. In turn, that causes taxes to go up on the taxpayers of that community. This bill is an attempt to stop that.”

Parkinson complained of the hypocrisy he perceives in the Republican-run Legislature dictating mandates on local governments when often GOP lawmakers criticize federal intervention in state affairs.

“When the federal government puts things on us that take away personal freedom or economic freedom, that’s wrong,” Casada replied. “When local government does the same invasion on local folks, it’s up to us to protect the citizens of the state.”

House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick got in the last word before the vote. Decisions made by local governments reach beyond their jurisdictional boundaries, he said.

“Big cities affect the whole state. They don’t just affect their city limits,” the fifth-term Republican from Hixson said. “They are economic generators for the surrounding counties. That alone is reason enough not to let them set up some little people’s republic in some city in the state of Tennessee.”

The vote went mostly along partisan lines. Republicans siding with Democrats against the bill included Mark Pody of Lebanon and David Alexander of Winchester. Joining them was Kent Williams, an independent. Charles Curtiss of Sparta was the only Democrat to vote in favor of HB501.

Amelia Morrison Hipps may be reached at amhipps@capitolnewstn.com, on Twitter @CapitolNews_TN or at 615-442-8667.