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‘Small Business Advocate’ Bill On Way To Guv’s Desk

Press Release from Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville; June 9, 2010:

Ramsey Bill Will Require Departments Work With Small Business Advocate

(Nashville) – Legislation sponsored by Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey (R-Blountville) to create a small business advocate within state government has passed the House of Representatives by an overwhelming bipartisan majority. The law requires each state department to appoint a liaison to the small business advocate to resolve problems caused by excessive government regulation. The bill will now be sent to Governor Bredesen to be signed into law.

“Small businesses create the vast majority of jobs in our state and nation,” said Lt. Governor Ramsey. “Government should not interfere with their growth and should look for ways to make that growth easier. This legislation ensures that small business has a partner in state government and makes every state department accountable to Tennessee’s job creators.”

Under this law, each department and agency in state government that has any regulatory authority over business activity would appoint a person from existing personnel to serve as a contact person for the small business advocate when the advocate has an issue or question concerning the department or agency.

The small business advocate will report annually to the Senate Commerce, Labor and Agriculture committee and the Commerce committee of the House of Representatives to evaluate the activities of department and agency personnel, including a rating of the responsiveness to small business owners’ concerns. This bill also requires that the small business advocate prepare an annual report on the advocate’s activities, findings and recommendations to the governor, members of the general assembly and to the heads of affected state departments and agencies.

Traffic Camera Debate Revived, Vote Delayed

Attempts Tuesday and Thursday by numerous House members to attach amendments dealing with traffic cameras has slowed the progress of a bill originally meant to expand the services automobile clubs can legally provide.

Rep. Charles Curtiss, the Sparta Republican who is sponsoring the HB 2875, has resisted efforts to allow most of the amendments offered to be attached to the bill, but members continue to try to add traffic camera amendments to the bill. The parade of amendments led Curtiss today to put off consideration of the bill on the House floor for a second time this week.

So far, members have tried to attach roughly 10 amendments on to the bill relating to traffic cameras, but the only one that has successfully been attached up to this point has been an amendment sponsored by Rep. Joe McCord, R-Maryville. His amendment, approved on a vote of 86-7, prohibits the placement of traffic cameras on highways receiving state funding unless the location of the camera is approved by a county or municipal legislative body on two readings, caps fines at $50, and prohibits charging for court costs unless the ticket is actually challenged in courts. It also puts a ceiling of $50 on late fees per ticket.

McCord said he originally wanted to go farther, but that after talking with several members, they “felt local governments would be adequately responsible for the expansion and accountable to the public” with the amendment.

The move by McCord came just over two weeks after a compromise traffic camera regulation bill that had been gaining traction in the House was killed by a Senate committee. Members on that committee complained that they had not been part of the talks to shape the compromise House bill.

The House later defeated an amendment that would have put an outright ban on traffic cameras in the state.

That amendment was brought by a sheriff’s deputy, Rep. Charles Faulkner. A Republican from Luttrell, Faulkner said “if they were utilized for public safety, they would be in school zones…not on a four-lane stretch of highway in the middle of nowhere. They are using these things for revenue-generators, and that’s it.”

His amendment was defeated after Curtiss said he was afraid the amendment would cause the Senate to kill his bill.

The bill was soon thereafter delayed during debate of an amendment sponsored by House Republican leader Jason Mumpower of Bristol.

That amendment would have dealt with one traffic camera specifically near a town of about 1,000 that Mumpower said “sucked out…over a quarter million dollars a month” from the economy of East Tennessee, with more than half of that money going to the company that runs the camera, which is partially foreign owned.

“It’s not only sucking it out of Sullivan County, and it’s not only sucking it out of Tennessee, but it’s sucking it out of the United States,” Mumpower said, later adding that the tickets take money out local residents’ pockets and discourages tourists from returning to the area.

When other members indicated they would like to come forward with similar amendments, Curtiss asked that the bill be put off until Monday night before a vote could be taken on Mumpower’s amendment.

Haslam Wants Review Of State Government

Press Release from Bill Haslam for Governor, April 14, 2010:

Will Eliminate Waste, Set Priorities, Improve Efficiency, Effectiveness

MEMPHIS – Republican gubernatorial candidate and Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam announced today plans to launch a top-to-bottom review of state government immediately upon taking office if he is elected Tennessee’s next governor.

This comprehensive review will be used to eliminate waste and find savings to help overcome projected budget gaps, improve efficiency and effectiveness throughout state government, and set measurable goals for the purpose of furthering the state’s priorities. Chief among these priorities will be making Tennessee the No. 1 state in the Southeast for high quality jobs.

“Times are tough, and the next governor will face a state budget situation more difficult than any in modern memory,” Haslam said. “However, the last thing we need to do is raise taxes or create new ones. I am 100 percent opposed to a state income tax, and raising a sales tax that is already the highest average combined state and local rate in the nation is also definitely off the table. The next governor must be prepared to restructure state government.”

As governor, Mayor Haslam will appoint and then lead a taskforce made up of state and local government officials, Tennessee business leaders, and other key stakeholders and experts from around the state who will spearhead the effort to review state government and develop a roadmap for its restructuring.

“It’s critical that this be done right. While the budget situation awaiting the next governor will certainly be challenging, we have to view this as an opportunity to fundamentally rethink the role of state government and make things better for the future,” Haslam continued.

“A top-to-bottom review is the first step on the road to a leaner and more efficient, effective, and accountable state government. We must set priorities and be prepared to make tough decisions,” said Haslam. “Given my experience as a successful business leader and Mayor of a large city, I am ready to take on this challenge.”

Bill Haslam is the two-term Mayor of Knoxville, re-elected in 2007 with 87% of the vote. A hardworking, conservative public servant, he led Knoxville to become one of the top ten metropolitan areas for business and expansion, while reducing the city’s debt, tripling the rainy day fund, and bringing property taxes to the lowest rate in 50 years. An executive leader with a proven record of success, he helped grow his family’s small business from 800 employees into one of Tennessee’s largest companies with 14,000 employees. His combination of executive and public service experience makes him uniquely qualified to be Tennessee’s next Governor.

Bill and Crissy Haslam have two daughters, Annie and Leigh, and a son, Will, who resides in Knoxville with his wife, Hannah. For more information on Bill Haslam, please visit www.BillHaslam.com.

Lawmakers Pass Abortion ‘Coercion’ Signage Requirement

Both chambers of the Tennessee General Assembly Wednesday passed legislation mandating that abortion providers post signs in their facilities declaring it illegal to force a woman into terminating a pregnancy.

However, the language in the two bills must still be reconciled before it can go to the governor.

A violation of the proposed law would result in a $2,500 fine against the facility for each day the signs are not posted and an abortion was performed at the facility. In addition, a physician would be subject to a $1,000 fine for each day he or she conducted an abortion and the signs were not posted.

The penalties would not apply if the abortion was performed in order to save the life of a pregnant woman.

The Senate passed SB 3812, sponsored by Jack Johnson, R-Franklin, on a vote of 28-2. The House passed its version, sponsored by Susan Lynn, R-Mt. Juliet, on a vote of 87-8.

Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga and Beverley Marrero, D-Memphis voted against the bill in the Senate. Casting votes against the House version were Democrats Karen Camper, Jeanne Richardson and Johnnie Turner of Memphis;  JoAnne Favors, D-Chattanooga, and Nashville Democrats Sherry Jones, Mary Pruitt, Janis Baird Sontany and Mike Stewart.

While coercing or forcing a woman to have an abortion is currently illegal, supporters of the measure said the signs are needed because not all women considering an abortion know about the current law.

“A recent survey that was published by the Medical Science Monitor, which is an interdisciplinary medical journal, reported that up to 64 percent of women who received abortions were in some way influenced or coerced into having that abortion,” Johnson said on the floor of the Senate.

No one spoke in opposition to the legislation in either chamber, but during committee hearings, some legislators questioned the need for the legislation.

Rep. Sherry Jones, D-Nashville, for example, unsuccessfully attempted to tack on an amendment to the bill while it was in committee that would also make it illegal to coerce a woman out of having an abortion.

“If we honestly want to protect women and we want to be fair to women and we want to do what’s best for women…the sign should read you can’t be coerced either way, period,” she said during a hearing earlier this month.

The version passed by the House includes a provision not in the Senate bill — which Lynn characterized as a technical amendment — that would clean up the code in reference to juvenile laws, she said.

Under legislative rules, the bill now goes back to the Senate. If the Senate agrees to adopt the changes made by the House, the bill will go the governor’s desk. If they refuse to accept the changes, the bill will go to a joint conference committee to iron out the differences.

Lydia Lenker, spokeswoman for Gov. Phil Bredesen, said in an email that the Gov. Phil Bredesen wouldn’t indicate his opinion of the legislation while it is “still in play in the legislature.”

‘Health Freedom Act’ Advances to Full Committee

A bill seeking to direct the Tennessee attorney general to challenge recently enacted federal health care legislation is on the move in the state House of Representatives.

The “Tennessee Health Freedom Act” cleared the Industrial Impact Subcommittee on a voice vote. It’ll likely get a hearing in the Commerce Committee next week.

The measure has already been approved by the Tennessee Senate.

It would also require that the state attorney general defend Tennesseans against fines or other punishment by the federal government for refusing to purchase insurance as directed by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that Congress passed and President Obama signed earlier this month.

Already 14 states have indicated their intention to challenge the constitutionality of parts of the federal health care overhaul.

Like last week when the bill first appeared before the panel of House lawmakers, anti-ObamaCare protesters filled the committee room and spilled out into the hallway at Legislative Plaza during the hearing.

The bill, HB3433, is sponsored by Riceville Republican Mike Bell. The primary sponsor in the Senate was Mae Beavers, Mt. Juliet.

Rep. Bell Moves ‘Tennessee Health Freedom Act’ Forward

Press Release by Rep. Mike Bell, R-Riceville; March 31, 2010:

(March 31, 2010, NASHVILLE) – Representative Mike Bell (R-Riceville) today was successful in moving the “Tennessee Health Freedom Act” out of a House subcommittee, which is aimed at protecting the right of an individual to purchase—and the right of doctors to provide—lawful medical services without penalty. The bill would also require the state Attorney General to take the necessary steps to defend these rights.

“I have heard from people from Mountain City to Memphis who are in support of this bill,” said Rep. Bell. “They are tired and frustrated with Washington turning a deaf ear to their fears and concerns. ‘The ‘Tennessee Health Freedom Act’ will protect citizens from the heavy hand of the federal government,” explained Representative Bell.

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

“Ultimately, the bill signed into law by the President is a one-size-fits-all solution to a very complex system,” said Representative Bell. “This bill will allow people to make their own decisions about something that should be very personal: their healthcare.”

An amendment was adopted to put the bill in line with the Senate version, which has already passed with an overwhelming majority. Having now passed the House Industrial Impact Subcommittee, the bill will next be presented in the House Commerce Committee on Tuesday, April 6th at 9:15 a.m.

‘Smart On Crime’ Bill Clears House Finance Committee

Press Release from House Democratic Leader Rep. Gary Odom, D-Nashville; March 30, 2010:

Armed Robbery Penalty More Than Doubled

(Nashville) — House Democratic Leader Gary Odom passed a long-overdue measure through the House Finance Committee Tuesday that will more than double the minimum time served for armed robbers.

“The unanimous vote today by the House Finance Committee ensures that this bill will be funded without additional cost to taxpayers,” said Odom (D-Nashville).

The bill doesn’t cost taxpayers because it is written to require that non-violent felons serve sentences in very extensive community corrections programs, under which they would pay restitution to their victims. By requiring these persons to serve in these programs, the measure would free up cells for the most violent criminals in society.

The bill, inspired by a West Nashville constituent held at gunpoint by a criminal who pleaded guilty to earlier armed robbery charges, will more than double the minimum amount of time served for aggravated robbery.

“A constituent came to me and said: ‘Gary this guy pointed a gun at me and robbed me in broad daylight in my yard. I was angry when I learned that he had done it before and should have still been in jail,’” Odom said.

The violent offender in the West Nashville case, under this legislation, would have served six of the eight years sentenced instead of only 2.4 years, Odom said.

The bill has been endorsed by the chiefs of police in the four major Tennessee cities, in all three grand divisions. Nashville Police Chief Ronal Serpas says the bill will increase public safety and that it is “smart on crime.”

Odom plans to have the bill on the floor of the House by next week. The bill also moved forward in the Senate Tuesday afternoon, unanimously passing the Judiciary Committee.

New Teacher Evaluation Criteria Coming This Summer

Members of the panel charged with reforming the job evaluation processes for thousands of Tennessee teachers and principals are aiming to establish those new guidelines by August.

The Teacher Evaluation Advisory Committee will decide exactly what factors will matter under a new set of teacher evaluations lawmakers approved in a special session earlier this year as part of the governor’s push for federal “Race to the Top” education grant monies.

Stronger emphasis will now be placed on student test scores — about 50 percent of a teacher’s yearly job evaluation will be based on the achievement data. Prior to the Legislature adopting the new system earlier this year, it was illegal for school officials to track individual student testing trends to rate a teacher’s job performance.

Now, per the wishes of the governor and a solid bipartisan majority of lawmakers, 35 percent of a teacher’s yearly evaluation must rely on standardized test-based Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System, also known as TVAAS. That data shows student growth from year to year.

Another 15 percent would come from other types of student data, including other test scores.

The rest hasn’t been decided — and that’s what the teachers, superintendents, business owners, public policy officials and politicians who make up the panel will have to figure out. They’ll also have to decide how to evaluate teachers who can’t be measured by test scores, such as art or music teachers, kindergarten and first grade teachers, and principals.

That’s actually a pretty tight turnaround for the 15-member committee, Al Mance, executive director for the Tennessee Education Association, said of the August deadline.

“I hope they won’t be discouraged,” said Mance, adding that he’s concerned about the number of decisions the committee members will have to make within the next few months.

The group will also need to devise a way to inform and train educators across the state on how to perform the new yearly evaluations.

“We want our evaluations to mean something,” said Kenny Heaton, who teaches Family and Consumer Sciences at Cloudland High School in Roan Mountain. “It’s got to have teeth.”

Lawmakers decided to redo the current evaluation system to help polish the state’s application for the Obama Administration’s push to “help prepare America’s students to graduate ready for college and career, and enable them to out-compete any worker, anywhere in the world.”

“America will not succeed in the 21st century unless we do a far better job of educating our sons and daughters,” the president declared last summer. “I am issuing a challenge to our nation’s governors and school boards, principals and teachers, businesses and non-profits, parents and students: if you set and enforce rigorous and challenging standards and assessments; if you put outstanding teachers at the front of the classroom; if you turn around failing schools – your state can win a Race to the Top grant that will not only help students outcompete workers around the world, but let them fulfill their God-given potential.”

The program rewards states for using innovative ways to improve education and included an emphasis on using student data.

Earlier this year the feds announced that Tennessee had earned a spot among 16 finalists for a cut of $4.35 billion in bonus education dollars. State education officials testified in Washington this month about dedicating itself to reforms — such as the new teacher evaluations — hoping to convince decision makers to send the money their way.

A final decision from Washington is due out in April, although the U.S. Department of Education hasn’t said how many states it will offer the grant to. If Tennessee is not chosen, it can reapply in June.

Tennessee’s new teacher evaluations will go into effect for the 2011 school year, whether or not the state wins the federal grant money.

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

Senate Committee OKs Berke’s Bill Against Foreign Nuclear Waste

Press Release from Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga, March 23, 2010:

Bill to prohibit downblending passes Environment Committee 5-4

NASHVILLE – A Senate committee Tuesday passed a bill sponsored by Sen. Andy Berke (D-Chattanooga) to stop 20,000 tons of foreign nuclear waste from potentially being stranded in Tennessee by prohibiting nuclear waste “downblending.”

“We’re one step closer to ensuring that Tennessee doesn’t become the world’s nuclear dumping ground,” Berke said. “I applaud the members of the Senate Environment Committee who placed the safety of Tennessee families ahead of the financial interests of one Utah-based nuclear waste company.”

The Senate Environment, Conservation and Tourism Committee passed the bill 5-4 on Tuesday, meaning the bill likely will move soon to the Senate floor. The House version is in subcommittee.

Under the bill (SB2735/HB2826), Tennessee would prohibit nuclear waste downblending, which involves mixing highly toxic and radioactive “Class B and C” waste with less harmful “Class A” waste in an attempt to classify the waste as Class A.

A Utah-based nuclear waste company is applying to downblend nuclear waste at its Oak Ridge facility. At the same time, the company wants to import 20,000 tons of Italian radioactive waste into its Oak Ridge facility.

No state in the country allows downblending. If the Italian radioactive waste is downblended in Oak Ridge, no disposal site in the United States will accept the waste – meaning it could be stuck in Tennessee for good.

Downblending is not supported by the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and Tennessee already prohibits similar processes in its clean water and hazardous waste programs. Research has shown that blended waste would have a radiation dose 465 times greater than federal regulations for Class A waste.

“Tennesseans deserve lawmakers who will fight to protect their families from dangerous nuclear waste,” Berke said. “I’m not going to sit back and let Tennessee become the world’s nuclear dumpster.”

Gibbons Disappointed With House Health Care Vote

Press Release from Bill Gibbons for Governor, March 21, 2010:

Memphis, TN – Shelby County District Attorney General Bill Gibbons, also a candidate for Tennessee governor, today released this statement in response to the U.S. House vote on health care:

“The U.S. House of Representatives has acted irresponsibly by enacting a so-called health care reform bill that imposes huge unfunded mandates on state governments. If this legislation ultimately becomes law, it will take state funding away from job development projects, our schools, and public safety. It is incredible that a majority of the House acted in such a careless fashion.”

Bill Gibbons, a Republican, is the Shelby County District Attorney General, serving as the top state law enforcement official in Tennessee’s largest jurisdiction. He entered the governor’s race on January 4, 2009. For more information on Bill Gibbons, visit his campaign website at www.Gibbons2010.com.