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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.

Stewart Criticizes House GOP for Opposition to Federal Expansion of Pre-K in TN

Press release from the Office of Tennessee State Rep. Mike Stewart, D-Nashville; December 19, 2013:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – State Rep. Mike Stewart (D-Nashville) released the following statement following news that the Republican leadership in the House was going to oppose a federally funded expansion of Pre-K in Tennessee:

“Even in these hyper-political times, yesterday’s announcement by House Republican Leaders that they planned to give up $64.3 million in federal tax dollars freely available to expand Pre-K came as a shock and a disappointment.

“Sadly, Tennessee Republicans appear to be taking the lead from their national leaders, like Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who have made a profession of putting their narrow political needs before the good of the nation as a whole. Here we have a program – Pre-K – that has bi-partisan support and that has proven to be highly effective. Here in Nashville, Vanderbilt’s Peabody Research Institute, working with the Tennessee Department of Education’s Division of Curriculum, recently conducted a “rigorous, independent evaluation” of Pre-K in Tennessee. The key finding? “[T[he Tennessee Voluntary Prekindergarten program produces significant improvements in the academic skills generally regarded as important for school readiness compared to the gains made by comparable children who did not participate in the program.”

“At one time, Tennessee leaders, whether Republicans under Governors Lamar Alexander and Don Sundquist or Democrats under Democratic Governors Ned Ray McWherter and Phil Bredesen, would not have thought twice about putting good policy before politics and bringing these millions of dollars in to help our neediest school children. What a disappointment that the same radical spirit that has so undermined our government in Washington is now seeping into Tennessee politics.

“Those of us elected by Tennesseans should remember that these federal funds are our citizens’ tax dollars at work. The money that we send to Washington can either be put to work in Tennessee or put to work in other states. Already this year we’ve seen the Republicans refuse billions of dollars in healthcare funding by refusing to expand Medicaid – a program that is already helping thousands of working families and seniors just over the border in Kentucky. Now they give up millions that would allow over seven thousand Tennessee kids a better start in life. Apparently, handing out our citizens’ money to other states is the New Math among Tennessee Republicans. It doesn’t add up – unless you care more about your radical base than about doing what’s right for Tennessee school children and working families.”

TNHDC: Haslam Letter to HHS Latest ‘Farce’ in ‘Continued Obstruction’ to TennCare Expansion

Press release from the Tennessee House Democratic Caucus; December 10, 2013:

Haslam Letter to Sebelius a Farce
The time to act is now on the Medicaid expansion.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Late yesterday, Governor Haslam released a letter to Health & Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius regarding his continued obstruction of Medicaid expansion in Tennessee.

“The Governor’s letter is simply the latest in a series of farces,” said House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh. “It’s more of the same hand-wringing, ducking and dodging we’ve come to expect from this administration, all in an attempt to absolve themselves of the worst moral and mathematical failure in a generation—denying health care to 330,000 working Tennesseans.”

Governor Haslam’s letter offers no specific proposals, instead laying out a series of complaints and concerns about the overall Affordable Care Act. It offers no details about the so-called “Tennessee Plan,” which the Governor has yet to provide either to the federal government or state legislators.

“Governor Haslam is seeking to offer lower quality care to fewer people and still collect all the money allocated in the Medicaid expansion – that is not something that Secretary Sebelius has the power to authorize, and he knows that,” said House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner. “If Governor Haslam is going to negotiate seriously with CMS on creating a ‘Tennessee Plan,’ it needs to be done in a way that both conforms to federal law and appreciates the economic, fiscal and moral blunder that would result from a decision not to expand Medicaid.”

A hybrid Medicaid expansion plan has already passed the Arkansas legislature and been approved by the federal government. The Arkansas Plan includes cost-sharing components and addresses questions about defining “medically frail” through a questionnaire developed by the state.

“Expanding Medicaid in Tennessee is not an impossible task, but Governor Haslam is doing everything he can to make it one,” said Leader Fitzhugh. “All of the serious questions about creating a hybrid plan have been addressed in the Arkansas Medicaid waiver. Tennesseans don’t have time for the Governor to wait for political cover. The time to act is now.”

The Tennessee General Assembly returns to session on January 14, 2014. Speakers Harwell and Ramsey have pledged to move the session along as quickly as possible, meaning the Governor may only have a few months left before legislators will be gone for the rest of the year. If we do not act by January 1, 2014, Tennessee will begin to lose $2.5 million per day in federal funding.

Amid Looming Budget Issues, Haslam Doubles Down on Tax Cut Rhetoric

Gov. Bill Haslam has acknowledged that decreasing state revenues will make producing a new budget more difficult this year than any other he’s faced since taking office.

But the governor, speaking to a Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce luncheon in Murfreesboro this week, said the tax cuts he’s supported in the past were intended to attract and retain capital in the state, and as such the right thing to do.

“Businesses do look at the taxes they pay — it’s just a fact of life. And so, we’ve worked on making certain that Tennessee stays what it’s historically been: one of the lowest tax states,” Haslam said.

The Tennessee General Assembly has cut about $160 million a year in taxes, Haslam said. The taxes cut include the Hall Income Tax, a 10 percent cut from the grocery tax, the gift tax, which Tennessee was one of only two states with a tax on, and the inheritance tax.

“Prior to this in Tennessee, if you died you paid a penalty for that – beyond the obvious one — and we just didn’t think that was right,” Haslam said.

The shortage in revenue receipts is not from the sales tax, which is “at, or just a little below projections,” but with the state’s franchise and excise tax collections, “which is a little hard for me to explain – to understand, so we’re trying to dive a little deeper with our Revenue Department to see what the miss is there,” Haslam told reporters after the event.

Haslam noted he was worried by national reports showing that holiday weekend sales after Thanksgiving were down a bit. “Obviously, when you live on the sales tax, Thanksgiving weekend is a pretty big deal,” said the governor.

Haslam also touted his administration’s other efforts to produce a more business-friendly climate in the state, despite ongoing criticism from Democratic lawmakers. “The GOP promised that if we gutted worker and consumer protections that we would become an oasis of job creation. Instead, our workers are being left behind in an economic recovery that has led to lower unemployment numbers in most other states,” House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner said in a press release slamming the Haslam administration over the state’s lofty unemployment.

However, Haslam stood by the reforms to tort law and workers compensation that his administration had pushed as helping to make the state “a much more attractive work environment.” The governor suggested that the political source of any economic sluggishness can be traced back to Congress and the president — in particular, the government shutdown and the questions surrounding the Affordable Care Act.

“People invest capital into a market that they have confidence in,” said Haslam, adding that confidence in Washington is low right now.

“So, what we’re trying to do in Tennessee is to provide that predictable environment that people know what they’re investing into. Unfortunately, the situation in Washington makes that very difficult to do, but we honestly think we can do that in Tennessee, and create that environment,” Haslam said.

TN House Dems Hopeful About Haslam Appointment to NGA Health Cmte

Press release from the Tennessee House Democratic Caucus; October 23, 2013:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (October 23, 2013) – In what must be ironic news to the 330,000 Tennesseans waiting for a decision on Medicaid expansion, Governor Bill Haslam was chosen to Chair the National Governors Association’s Health and Human Services Committee along with vice-Chair Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin.

“This could be terrific news for Tennessee,” said House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh. “Six of the ten governors on the task force Governor Haslam was appointed to in May have made the important decision to accept the federally funded Medicaid expansion. Hopefully Governor Haslam will learn from someone like New Mexico’s Republican Governor Susana Martinez who bucked tea party extremists in order to do the right thing for her state’s working poor.”

Governor Haslam is one of five governors in the United States who still claim to be “weighing options” on Medicaid expansion, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Governor Susana Martinez decided earlier this year to expand Medicaid, saying, “[t]he election is over and the Supreme Court has ruled. My job is not to play party politics, but to implement this law in a way that best serves New Mexico.”

“The Governor seems to have struggled with this decision,” said House Democratic Caucus Chair Mike Turner. “Unfortunately, there are hundreds of thousands Tennesseans who are struggling to pay medical bills – having to make the impossible choice between food and the medicine they need. They simply can’t wait any longer for the Governor to finish his internal debate and do what is right for working families in our state.”

Governor Haslam has claimed to be working on a “third way” or “Tennessee Plan” with the federal government that would utilize Medicaid expansion funds for private insurance plans. However, unlike Arkansas which has already begun implementing such a plan, the Governor has not indicated he is closer to making a decision by the January 1st deadline for initial Medicaid expansion funds.

Details on the National Governor’s Association Health and Human Services Committee can be found here: http://www.bizjournals.com/nashville/blog/2013/10/haslam-tapped-to-head-national.html

House Dems Congratulate Akbari on Primary Win

Press release from the Tennessee House Democratic Caucus; October 9, 2013:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (October 9, 2013) – The House Democratic Caucus wishes to congratulate Raumesh Akbari on her victory in the House District 91 Democratic Primary.

“Raumesh Akbari will be a great addition to the House Democratic Caucus later this year,” said House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner. “We are confident that she will win the general election in November and will be a great asset to our caucus going forward.”

Raumesh Akbari led a field of seven candidates in the primary to replace the late Rep. Lois DeBerry, winning with 502 out of 1812 votes cast. The general election will be held on November 21 against one Independent candidate and no Republicans.

“On behalf of our Caucus I congratulate Ms. Akbari on her decisive win last night,” said House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh. “I know that she will represent us well in the General Election next month. We look forward to having her join the House Democrats in Nashville to continue our fight for jobs, education and people.”

House Dems Praise Supreme Court DOMA Decision

Press release from the Tennessee House Democratic Caucus; June 26, 2013:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner and State Rep. Sherry Jones (D-Nashville) are applauding today’s Supreme Court decision which declared DOMA as unconstitutional.

“Today was a victory for the dignity of men and women across the country who wish to enjoy equal protection under the law,” said Rep. Jones. “Most Tennesseans agree that couples in a loving and committed relationship deserve to be treated equally.”

In a poll released by Vanderbilt University, a plurality of Tennesseans showed support for marriage equality or civil unions. According to the poll, 49% favored full marriage rights or civil union protections.

“Polls consistently show that the American people are evolving on the issue of marriage equality,” said Chairman Turner. “This decision is a positive step forward for people who believe that a state should be allowed to recognize all relationships and be treated fairly by the federal government.”

The decision today in U.S. v. Windsor will allow all couples with state recognized marriage licenses the ability to access the more than 1,000 federal benefits these taxpaying citizens were previously denied. In the courts majority opinion, Justice Kennedy wrote that “DOMA is unconstitutional as a deprivation of the liberty of the person protected by the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution.”

TNHDC: GOP Killed School Safety Bill Over ‘Petty Politics’

Press release from the Tennessee House Democratic Caucus; April 22, 2013

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – In an unusual and highly political move, House Republicans led by Chairman Glen Casada (R-Franklin) voted last Thursday to kill HB494 by Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh (D-Ripley); this despite the bill having already passed the State Government, Education, and Finance Ways & Means Committees with a majority of support. The legislation would have helped local law enforcement increase security around school by working with the Tennessee peace officer standards and training commission.

“Republican leadership has put petty politics above the safety of our students,” said Leader Fitzhugh. “This was a good bill that had bi-partisan support throughout the legislative session. Had I known they would take it out on our students and teachers, I would have voted for their budget.”

Under the proposed legislation by Leader Fitzhugh, local schools could have requested that the POST commission initiate a security assessment of each school. Once completed, local governments and LEAs would have had the option to adopt security recommendations. This legislation was introduced in light of Governor Haslam’s declaration that Tennessee couldn’t afford to put a safety resource officer in every school. This bill was a common sense way to increase school safety, without dramatically increasing state or local expenditures.

The House Republicans voted to send this bill back to the Civil Justice Committee, which effectively killed the bill this year, after Leader Fitzhugh and 13 other Democrats voted against the budget. The intent of Republicans to kill the bill became even more clear when three House committees opened up Friday morning to hear bills, but Civil Justice was not one of them. The Senate version passed 32-0 on April 11.

“Republicans leaders warned us about voting against the budget, but I never thought that in the wake of the horrors at Sandy Hook that they’d risk the safety and security of our children and grandchildren just to prove a point,” said Leader Fitzhugh.

Video of the Calendar & Rules Committee hearing on HB494 can be found here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wKySr0HBDUA

Representatives voting to kill the bill: Rep. Glen Casada (R-Franklin), Rep. Jimmy Eldridge (R-Jackson), Rep. Curtis Halford (R-Dyer), Rep. Ryan Haynes (R-Knoxville), Rep. Timothy Hill (R-Blountville), Rep. Jon Lundberg (R-Bristol), Leader Gerald McCormick (R-Chattanooga), Rep. Steve McManus (R-Cordova), Rep. Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville), Rep. Eric Watson (R-Cleveland), Speaker Pro Tem Curtis Johnson (R-Clarksville), Speaker Beth Harwell (R-Nashville).

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

Turner: In 2013 ‘One Major Victory After Another’ in GOP’s ‘War’ on Workers

Press release from the Tennessee House Democratic Caucus; April 12, 2013:

Nashville, Tenn. – The Tennessee State House on Thursday passed a series of bills that will weaken rights and lower wages for Tennessee’s workforce. During the nearly four hour session, House Republicans voted to radically change the state workers’ compensation system and do away with the prevailing wage for construction workers.

“This year has been one major victory after another in the Republican Party’s war on working people in the state of Tennessee,” said House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner. “The wealthy special interests have certainly gotten their money’s worth this year and it will be working families that have to pay the price for their indifference and greed.”

The Governor’s workers’ compensation changes will reduce payouts to injured workers by 1/3, make it easier to fire injured workers, and make it harder for workers to collect legitimate claims. In addition, the new law puts the appeals process out of the hands of local courts and into a new state-appointed bureaucracy underneath the beleaguered Department of Labor. Democrats had requested the Governor delay this legislation in response to the Comptroller audit which showed “internal controls…were ineffective or non-existent” with regard to the state’s unemployment insurance system.

“These are short-sighted changes that will result in more workplace injuries and higher rates of bankruptcy for injured workers,” said Chairman Turner. “All the while, these new changes do nothing to address the higher medical costs in Tennessee which are the reason our workers’ comp rates were higher in the first place.”

Also passing on Thursday was HB850 by Rep. Marsh (R-Shelbyville) which will eliminate prevailing wage protections for construction workers on state contracts. The prevailing wage law was designed to prevent contractors from undercutting competition by driving down wages on workers. If the Governor signs this legislation into law; lower paid and lower skilled workers will be used to complete projects, causing delays and infrastructure problems down the road.

“Working people in this state are being driven down further and further as Republicans try to win a race to the bottom in wages, benefits, and job protections for Tennesseans,” said Chairman Turner. “Unfortunately, many working families in this state won’t realize the damage that has been done until it’s too late.”