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TNGOP: Gov. Jindal Visit Thrusts Memphis into National Spotlight

Press release from the Tennessee Republican Party; March 20, 2015:

Potential Presidential Candidate Touts Success as a Leader, Vision for the Country at TNGOP Event

MEMPHIS, Tenn.—The Tennessee Republican Party today welcomed Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal to the Bluff City for the TNGOP Leadership Series Event. The Governor comes to the Volunteer State riding a wave of conservative enthusiasm after an impressive performance at last month’s Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington.

Tonight’s event features special guest Congressman Stephen Fincher and the Shelby County Republican Party is serving as an honorary host for the Leadership Series event.

Jindal is a potential Republican presidential candidate known for his intellectual prowess and commitment to conservative principles.

TNGOP Chairman Chris Devaney remarked, “We’re proud to welcome a reformer in chief of the caliber of Governor Jindal to Tennessee. As the 2016 election approaches, Americans are looking for a leader who has a track record of enacting conservative reforms and will lead based on Republican principles. Gov. Jindal certainly fits that mold and we’re anxious to hear what he has to say at tonight’s Leadership Series event.”

Gov. Jindal stated, “Thank you Chairman Devaney and the Tennessee Republican Party for having me here today. I’ve been to Tennessee several times, and it’s always great to come to a state that has been a true success story for conservative reform. Tonight, I’ll talk about preserving the American Dream and how Conservative leadership can pave the way forward for our nation and return us to a path of prosperity and security.”

Devaney added, “Tennessee is going to play an important role in determining the next Republican nominee and, I suspect, Gov. Jindal will figure prominently in that discussion.”

Cohen Announces $6.7 M in Federal Public Housing Funds for Memphis

Press release from U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn. 09; February 12, 2015:

[WASHINGTON, DC] – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09) today announced $6,701,299 in federal funds to help improve and modernize public housing facilities in the Ninth District. The Memphis Housing Authority will receive a total of $6,589,736 and the Millington Housing Authority will receive $111,563 in 2015 Capital Fund Program grants from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

“Quality, affordable housing is crucial as Memphians work to pull themselves out of the recession,” said Congressman Cohen. “Many of these housing units are in need of large-scale improvements, including repairing roofs, replacing old plumbing or electrical rewiring. The infusion of these federal funds will help the Memphis and Millington Housing Authorities make further investments that will make public housing more sustainable.”

This announcement is part of nearly $1.8 billion in public housing grants awarded nationwide, and more than $47.6 million awarded statewide in Tennessee, by HUD today. The Department’s Capital Fund Program provides funding to local public housing agencies to build, repair, modernize, and renovate public housing facilities in their community.

Cohen Announces $7M in Federal Grants to Address Homelessness in Memphis

Press release from U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn. 09; January 26, 2015:

[WASHINGTON, DC] – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09) today announced 34 federal grants totaling $6,909,905 to help local community organizations reduce homelessness in the Ninth District. This funding comes through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Continuum of Care program, which is designed to promote communitywide commitment to the goal of ending homelessness.

“This significant infusion of federal funding will help our communities and our local organizations work together to reduce homelessness in Memphis and improve the lives of individuals and families who are at risk of falling through the cracks,” said Congressman Cohen.

The 34 grants announced today include grants to the Memphis Strong Families Initiative, the organization One Door at a Time, the Beers-Van Gogh Center of Excellence, the Breaking the Cycle Shelter Plus Care nonprofit, and the Memphis Family Shelter. HUD’s Continuum of Care program provides funding to help non-profits, State, and local governments quickly rehouse homeless individuals and their families while minimizing trauma and dislocation. The program also aims to promote self-sufficiency among individuals and families experiencing homelessness.

Cohen Joins Call for Constitutional Amendment to End Influence of Money in Politics

Press release from U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn. 09; January 21, 2015:

Democracy for All Amendment Would Overturn Citizens United and Related Decisions

[WASHINGTON, DC] – On the five-year anniversary of the Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling inCitizens United v. FEC, Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09) joined U.S. Representatives Ted Deutch (FL-21), Donna F. Edwards (MD-04), and Jim McGovern (MA-02) to introduce theDemocracy for All Amendment. This proposed amendment to the United States Constitution would reverse highly controversial Supreme Court decisions like Citizens United v. FEC andMcCutcheon v. FEC, which have given corporations and America’s wealthiest donors a right to buy unlimited influence in our elections.

“With decisions like Citizens United and McCutcheon over the last five years, the Supreme Court has opened the floodgates and made it easier for billionaires and corporations to completely drown middle-class Americans out of the political process,” said Congressman Cohen. “The far-reaching, democracy-damaging consequences of these misguided decisions have made it clear that something needs to change. I am proud to help introduce the Democracy for All Amendment to ensure that every citizen’s right to equally participate in our democracy.”

Sponsored by Senators Tom Udall (D-NM) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) in the U.S. Senate and Reps. Deutch, McGovern, and Edwards in the House of Representatives, the Democracy for All Amendment would reverse Supreme Court decisions like Citizens United by enshrining in the Constitution the right of the American people to enact state and federal laws that regulate spending in public elections.

The Democracy for All Amendment is the end result of extensive collaboration between the House and Senate sponsors of previously proposed constitutional amendments and several grassroots advocacy organizations committed to getting big money out of politics, including Public Citizen, People for the American Way, Free Speech for People, and Common Cause. In addition to overturning recent rulings like Citizens United and McCutcheon, the Democracy for All Amendment also reverses the Supreme Court’s controversial holding in Buckley v. Valeo that money spent in elections is a form of speech protected by the First Amendment.

Background

In 2010, the Supreme Court’s highly controversial, 5-4 ruling in Citizens United v. FEC held that corporations and other private entities – including 501(C) organizations that do not have to disclose their donors – have a First Amendment right to spend unlimited sums of money influencing the outcome of public elections.  In his far-reaching opinion for the 5-4 majority, Justice Kennedy held that any election law that goes beyond preventing quid pro quo, bribery-style corruption between candidates and donors risks violating the First Amendment.

The result of the Citizens United decision has been elections dominated by record-breaking spending by Super PACs and unaccountable outside groups funded by corporations and a tiny, extraordinarily wealthy sliver of the American population. In 2012, the first presidential election cycle following the Citizens United decision, 93 percent of Super PAC funding came from 3,318 donors, amounting to less than .01 percent of the U.S. population. Likewise, the 2014 midterm election cycle was the most expensive in history, with record-shattering spending by outside groups emboldened by Citizens United.

In 2014, the Supreme Court awarded America’s wealthiest donors even more influence in our elections with its 5-4 ruling in McCutcheon v. FEC, which struck down caps limiting how much money a single donor can contribute in federal elections, allowing one individual to give up to $3.6 million to candidates and various fundraising committees per federal election cycle. In addition, Chief Justice John Roberts’ opinion for the majority in McCutcheon went as far as to argue that the influence awarded to donors is not a corrupting quid pro quo transaction, but a First Amendment right.

With elected officials spending more and more of their time raising millions dollars to defend themselves from multimillion smear campaigns from outside groups, it has become harder for everyday Americans living on a budget to be heard in the post-Citizens United era. In addition to concluding that donors receive greater access to legislators than non-donors, several academic studies have now confirmed that elected officials’ growing reliance on large dollar donations have skewed the agenda in Washington towards special interests and away from the priorities of ordinary voters.

Text of the Democracy for All Amendment (H. J. Res. 22)

Section I.  To advance democratic self-government and political equality, and to protect the integrity of government and the electoral process, Congress and the States may regulate and set reasonable limits on the raising and spending of money by candidates and others to influence elections.

Section II.  Congress and the States shall have power to implement and enforce this article by appropriate legislation, and may distinguish between natural persons and corporations or other artificial entities created by law, including by prohibiting such entities from spending money to influence elections.

Section III.  Nothing in this article shall be construed to grant Congress or the States the power to abridge the freedom of the press.

Cohen Named Ranking Member of House Judiciary Subcommittee on Constitution, Civil Justice

Press release from U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn. 09; January 21, 2015:

Congressman hopes to use senior post to vigorously protect civil liberties, prevent police overreach, and fight for voting rights; Congressman also retains seat on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet Subcommittee

[WASHINGTON, DC] – After serving on the House Judiciary Committee since joining Congress in 2007, Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09) was selected today to serve as Ranking Member of the Constitution and Civil Justice Subcommittee for the 114th Congress. The significant post, which Congressman Cohen also held for much of the 113th Congress, gives the Congressman broad jurisdiction over constitutional amendments, constitutional rights, Federal civil rights, ethics in government, medical malpractice and product liability, legal reform generally, and relevant oversight over those issues.

“Throughout both my legal and political careers, my central focus has been the fight to protect our civil rights,” said Congressman Cohen. “It is a compliment to be selected by my colleagues as the lead Democrat on the committee charged with safeguarding the Constitution and protecting our civil liberties. Whether fighting to secure the voting rights that we hold sacred, prevent police overreach and abuse, safeguarding a woman’s right to choose, or bringing justice to those impacted by racially-biased policies like mandatory minimum sentences, I remain committed to doing everything in my power to protect the Constitution and the civil rights of all Americans. I look forward to using this appointment, which I accept with deep humility and great responsibility, to continue the fight for the issues the people of Memphis sent me here for.”

Congressman Cohen, who was recently awarded with a perfect score for his votes on civil rights issues during the 113th Congress, was also selected to serve on the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet. That subcommittee has jurisdiction over patent and trademark laws, as well as regulation of information technology, Administration of U.S. Courts, Federal Rules of Evidence, Civil and Appellate Procedure, and judicial ethics.

Sens. Kyle, Harris to Take Part in Memphis Insure TN Roundtable

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Democratic Caucus; January 20, 2015:

NASHVILLE – Senate Democratic leaders said they hope to learn some of the details of a plan to expand Medicaid in Tennessee at a legislative roundtable on the issue Wednesday in Memphis.

“We know that co-pays and premiums can serve as a barrier to receiving care for the poorest among us,” state Sen. Sara Kyle said. “In many cases, we are talking about families who work but still can’t afford basic necessities. Will they be able to afford the governor’s plan?”

“Under the plan, the state would make direct payments to employers to cover the employee’s share,” Senate Minority Leader Lee Harris said. “How much the state will contribute to these private insurance plans is still unknown, as far as I can tell. Look, we’re going to have to know real soon how much the state will contribute to private insurance plans.

“The incentive effects on this score could be alarming. Employers will have some incentives to reduce their employer coverage to whatever’s not paid for by public resources. I believe the governor’s got a cap on the private insurance subsidy, but I want these issues to be front and center. I’m glad he’s coming to Memphis to answer some of these questions. It’s absolutely the right thing to do. If we’re going to do this – and I hope we do – we have to do it right.”

Sens. Kyle and Harris are set to take part in a roundtable discussion on the Medicaid expansion plan at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Christ Community Health Services Frayser Health Center at 969 Frayser Blvd. in Memphis.

Kyle Seeks AG Opinion on Filling His Senate Vacancy

The Shelby County Democratic Party is preparing to select a nominee to fill the vacancy Memphis Sen. Jim Kyle’s departure from the state Legislature will create. But the outgoing upper-chamber minority leader has concerns about how that process will unfold.

On Friday, Kyle, who is retiring after 31 years in the Senate, requested that the state attorney general issue an opinion that sorts out the legal issues surrounding how to select a nominee to run as his replacement to the General Assembly.

Kyle’s request comes on the heels of Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Roy Herron, a former state senator, telling local party officials that there was confusion about the local caucus process they’ve indicated they will employ to select the nominee. Herron has concerns about the timing of the caucus, who can vote at the caucus, whether the decision would be made by a majority or plurality of votes and whether it would be a public roll-call vote or by secret ballot, according to the Commercial Appeal.

Kyle won a Shelby County judgeship on Aug. 7. and will resign from the Legislature after he’s sworn-in on Aug. 29. However, state law doesn’t provide for a government-run open primary when the timing of a vacancy in the Senate occurs so close to voters going to the polls in November. Instead, officials from the county parties are authorized to choose nominees for the general election ballot.

Democrats such as Sara Kyle, Sen. Kyle’s wife, and former state Sen. Beverly Marrero, who Kyle defeated in the 2012 primary, have expressed interest in the seat. Additionally, current Shelby County Tennessee House members Antonio “2-Shay” Parkinson and G.A. Hardaway, may also be looking to move to the General Assembly’s upper chamber.

Following the GOP-led redistricting in 2011, Marrero and Kyle found themselves opponents in the 2012 Democratic primary. After her primary loss, Marrero told TNReport that she felt “betrayed” by Kyle’s request to Republicans that he be drawn into a race against her instead of State Sen. Brian Kelsey, a Germantown Republican and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Local Governments Going After Saggy Pants-Wearers

Municipalities across the South, most recently in Tennessee, have cited concerns for the health of their residents — among other reasons — in expansions of local public indecency laws to include people whose pants droop well below their waist.

However, although some chiropractors and “posture experts” have warned the public of health issues associated with sagging, there doesn’t appear to be much conclusive evidence in support of that claim.

An ordinance approved June 30 by the City Council of Pikeville suggests evidence exists “that indicates that wearing sagging pants is injurious to the health of the wearer as it causes improper gait.”

According to language in the ordinance, the state public indecency law “allows for some behavior that is considered indecent.” Sagging pants fit the definition, Mayor Phil Cagle told TNReport Monday, although he said the ordinance is meant to give cops authority to arrest people for wearing “anything that’s considered indecent.”

“It wasn’t passed just for saggy britches, we just added that to it because we were getting — some of that looked like it was getting started here, and all you could do is just ask them to pull their pants up,” Cagle said.

He added that the city just wanted to pass a stiffer rule than what the state already has on the books. The only significant difference between the Tennessee Code language and the Pikeville ordinance, which resembles several other laws passed in towns throughout Alabama, Louisiana, FloridaGeorgia and Mississippi, is the inclusion of  an express declaration that  “the exposure of a person’s buttocks, and genital area or undergarments is offensive and indecent.”

Cagle said that they used an ordinance “almost word for word” brought to him by the Pikeville City Attorney from a law previously passed by a Georgia city.

The definition for indecent exposure of undergarments is provided as anyone “wearing pants or skirts more than three inches below the top of the hips.” The ordinance requires a fine of at least $25 for an initial offense, and up to $50 for each subsequent offense.

Cagle said that in the month since the law went into effect, the Pikeville police haven’t had to write a single citation for public indecency. “We haven’t even had to give a warning yet,” he said. The initial passage of the law by Pikeville garnered widespread media attention, including from  The Daily Mail, The Independent, and Huffington Post.

South Pittsburgh’s city council also recently indicated an interest in passing their own legal requirement for higher waistlines when City Commissioner Jimmy Wigfall suggested at a meeting that they could use “some type of ordinance where you can only sag just so low or something.” The City Attorney told commission members that he would review other towns’ ordinances and have something for them at the next meeting, scheduled for Aug. 12.

Although laws targeting sagging have been around since at least 2007, the wording related to “the health of the wearer,” seems to have first appeared in an ordinance passed by the city council of Dublin, Ga., in late 2010.

No source is given in the law for the claim that drooping waistlines can cause injury to the wearer, but Cagle told TNReport that there were studies and articles on the internet that offered the same evidence.

In 2012, the Tennessee General Assembly passed a bill — sponsored in the Senate by Ophelia Ford and in the House by Joe Towns Jr., both Memphis Democrats — that prohibited students from exposing undergarments through sagging, as well as requiring that sports bras be covered if “deemed inappropriate by school officials.” However, specific punishments were not included in the final bill that passed the legislature in 2012. Instead, individual school districts were given the authority to determine punishment for the infraction.

Towns told the Associated Press at the time that he hoped the law would encourage kids to dress better.

Additionally, in April of 2012, an Alabama judge sentenced a man to serve three days in jail for contempt of court for sagging in the courtroom where he was entering a plea on charges of receiving stolen property.

However, there is some question to the constitutionality of laws requiring that a person’s bottoms be a certain distance from their hips. According to Neil Richards, a professor of law at Washington University, these laws don’t fare well when challenged on First Amendment grounds. And the ACLU has been known to challenge similar laws on the basis of the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause.

Challenges to the laws go back several years, including a similar law in Florida that was ruled unconstitutional by a Florida Circuit Court judge in 2008 because of the case’s “limited facts,” after a 17-year-old Riviera Beach boy spent a night in jail on accusations of exposing too much underwear.

Haslam Awards Shelby Co $1.4M in TDOT, TDEC Grants

Press release from the Office of Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam; July 23, 2014:

MEMPHIS – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced five grants totaling more than $1.4 million for Shelby County to make Walker Avenue in the University District more pedestrian friendly, enhance parks and recreation opportunities in Arlington, Collierville and Germantown, and to make the Shelby County Corrections facility more energy efficient.

“These types of projects strengthen our communities,” Haslam said. “Increasing energy efficiencies saves taxpayer dollars, and making our cities more pedestrian-friendly and enhancing our parks and recreation areas improves the lives of Tennesseans. We want Tennessee to continue to be the very best place to live, work and raise a family, and projects like these are key to making that a reality.”

A $458,830 transportation alternative grant from the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) will fund new curbs and gutters at crosswalks, new sidewalks, decorative park benches, bike racks, and pedestrian lighting along Walker Avenue in the University District adjacent to the University of Memphis.

The transportation alternative grant is made possible through a federally funded program formerly known as transportation enhancement and is administered by TDOT. A variety of activities, such as the restoration of historic facilities, bike and pedestrian trails, landscaping and other non-traditional transportation projects, are eligible for grant funds under the federal program.

“Through these grants, TDOT has funded more than $306 million in non-traditional transportation projects,” TDOT Commissioner John Schroer said. “This program has assisted communities all over the state in their efforts to revitalize downtowns, highlight historic areas, provide alternative means of transportation, and increase opportunities for economic development.”

Shelby County is also receiving three Local Park and Recreation Fund (LPRF) grants and a Clean Tennessee Energy Grant from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC).

“From land acquisitions for new municipal parks to renovating and improving existing facilities, these grants help expand recreational opportunities for Tennessee citizens,” TDEC Commissioner Bob Martineau said. “We are always looking for ways to promote environmental awareness and energy efficiency, and these investments in our local communities help improve the quality of life for all Tennesseans.”

A $250,000 LPRF grant will be used to construct athletic fields at the new Forrest Street Park in Arlington.

Another $250,000 LPRF grant will be used for the Wolf River Boulevard Greenbelt Trail in Collierville. Phase I of the project will include a .58 mile trail, two pedestrian bridges, an observation deck for wildlife viewing and educational opportunities, and a small trailhead with four parking spaces and entrance signage.

A $208,000 LPRF grant will be used for a hay barn pavilion at the Bobby Lanier Farm Park in Germantown. The pavilion will offer farm-based education and also serve as an event center.

The LPRF is a 23-year old state program that provides local governments with resources to support development and improvements to local parks, greenways, trails and recreational facilities. Grant recipients were selected through competitive scoring with careful consideration given to the projects that met the selection criteria and expressed the greatest local recreation need. All LPRF grants require a 50 percent match by the recipient.

A $250,000 Clean Tennessee Energy Grant will be used to make the Shelby County Corrections facility more energy efficient and sustainable. Shelby County will add multiple solar thermal systems on housing units to be used as the primary source for heating water instead of natural gas and an ozone laundry system to conserve on both natural gas and water. Inmates will be trained during the installation and maintenance of these products as a re-entry strategy. The estimated long-term savings over a 20-year period for the full project is more than $1.6 million.

Clean Tennessee Energy Grants were established by the Haslam administration in 2012 to fund energy efficiency projects for local governments and municipalities, utilities, and other private and public organizations across Tennessee. These grants support projects designed to reduce air emissions, improve energy efficiency and create cost savings.

TNDP: Akbari Win in Memphis ‘a Rejection of Destructive Tea Party Agenda’

Statement from Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Roy Herron; November 22, 2013:

Memphis — Following the announcement that Democratic candidate, Raumesh Akbari, won the special election race for Tennessee’s open State House District 91 seat, Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Roy Herron released the following statement:

Representative Akbari has won a clear victory, but it’s the people of Memphis who are the real winners. Today Memphis voted for a candidate who is ready to fight for opportunity, fairness and people who work for a living.

Rep. Akbari’s victory is also a rejection of a destructive Tea Party agenda that hurts working families. Memphis voters sent a clear message that they want a representative who will be a problem solver and a strong voice against the extremism at the state capitol.

Following after Speaker Lois DeBerry is a huge challenge, but Rep. Akbari is enormously talented and exceptionally bright. This awesome young woman is worthy of the mission ahead of her and all of Tennessee will benefit from her gifts.