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TN Senate Dems Criticize Deferment of Medical Marijuana Bill to Summer Study

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Democratic Caucus; March 24, 2015:

Any progress is welcome, but very sick Tennesseans will be denied relief

NASHVILLE – Medical marijuana has been proven to be an effective treatment, and Republican efforts to restrict it to only a few patients are cruel and out of step with the majority of Tennesseans, Democrats said.

“There is a mountain of scientific evidence demonstrating that medical marijuana is an effective treatment for a variety of debilitating ailments,” state Rep. Sherry Jones said. “To block treatment for everyone is an insult to the sick and undermines the decisions doctors are qualified to make.”

Legislation sponsored by Rep. Jones, The Medical Cannabis Access Act (HB 561), was sent to summer study. Following polls of Republican primary voters showing majority support, Republicans have filed their own restrictive version.

“Democrats have led the way on this issue,” said state Sen. Sara Kyle, Senate sponsor of the Medical Cannabis Act. “Any progress is welcome, but there are very sick Tennesseans who aren’t getting relief from available medicines. They won’t get help with half measures.”

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.”

General Assembly Dems Urge Restoration of DCS Funding

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Democratic Caucus; April 10, 2013:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – House and Senate Democrats on Wednesday urged Gov. Haslam to restore funding to the Department of Childrens Services for core functions in managing its caseload.

“We have confidence in Commissioner Henry, but he needs the funding and staff to keep DCS moving in the right direction,” state Sen. Lowe Finney said. “Restoring that funding is the right thing to do when the department has had so many problems.”

Gov. Haslam’s budget proposal slashes funding to core services within DCS by more than $1.6 million. The department has come under intense scrutiny after officials admitted it mishandled the investigation of child deaths, and a computer system failed to track children in its care.

“We know that children are dying because of the mismanagement of cases at DCS,” state Rep. Sherry Jones said. “You can’t put a price on those lives, and restoring this funding will prevent needless deaths.

The cuts come at a time when state revenues are exceeding projections. On Friday, state officials reported that $33.1 million in excess tax revenues were collected in March.

“It would be unfair to take away resources while Commissioner Jim Henry works to turn DCS around,” state Rep. Craig Fitzhugh said. “We know our state has the money to restore these cuts. This is a bipartisan issue, and children’s lives are at stake.”

Forrester Touts Dems’ TN Victories

He concedes the Democratic party in Tennessee is in a superminority at the state legislature, but state Democratic Chairman Chip Forrester says he put in place a plan to march the legislature back to Democratic control.

Even so, Forrester, the longtime leader of the state Democratic Party, says that won’t happen overnight.

“We’re very, very excited about the four victories we had in the House,” Forrester said. “To defend all of our incumbents, which we did … we’re very excited about those victories.”

Indeed, Forrester counts Democratic Reps. Charles CurtissMark WindleDavid ShepardSherry Jones and Craig Fitzhugh and others among key wins.

“These are the people that represent our future,” Forrester said. “Even though we’re in the minority, we’ve moved the ball down field.”

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He also pointed to the victory of Metro Councilman Darren Jernigan, the Democrat running against GOP incumbent Jim Gotto in the Davidson County House District 60 race.

“We took Jim Gotto, a right-wing Tea Party nut job, out of office,” Forrester said.

Both the Senate and House Republicans hold supermajorities, which means Republicans can pass any law without a single Democratic voice.

Forrester will be stepping down from his post in January.

Trent Seibert can be reached at trent@TNReport.com on Twitter at @trentseibert or at 615-669-9501.

 

Dems Say GOP Rejecting Local Gov’t Control In Charter Moves

Democrats on Capitol Hill Tuesday accused Republicans of abandoning their mantra of local government control in their handling of a proposed charter school for Nashville.

Fired up over the Haslam administration’s fining Metro schools because its school board rejected the charter school application, Democrats said GOP leaders had adopted for the “big government” mindset they purport to detest. Still, Democrats say they, too, are no stranger to falling back on government oversight.

“I’m not saying there’s not some times when the federal government should step in or the state government should not step in and overrule local government, but they’re doing it on a pretty consistent level up here now when one time that was something they were really opposed to,” said House Democratic Caucus Leader Mike Turner, of Old Hickory, following a press conference with four other local Democratic legislators and candidates.

The state Department of Education last week slapped Metro Nashville Public Schools with what amounts to a $3.4 million fine for ignoring the state Board of Education’s order to approve a charter school application from Arizona-based Great Hearts Academies. The Metro schools board voted twice against the state board’s order to OK the proposal, saying that the school planned for the affluent West End neighborhood lacked a diversity plan.

Members of the minority party — which has little pull on Capitol Hill — said they’d like to see the state continue to meet and work with the school district in hopes of dodging the fine. Joining the press conference were Rep. Sherry Jones, Rep. Brenda Gilmore, Rep. Mike Stewart and Phillip North, a Democratic candidate for state Senate.

Stewart, of Nashville, said he takes issue with how the administration has carried out the charter school law. He said the Legislature never meant to give the state the power to ultimately approve charter schools against a local school district’s will.

But the section in law giving the state such authority predates Haslam and was passed in 2002 when Democrats still had control of the House of Representatives.

According to the Tennessee Charter School Act:

“If the state board finds that the local board’s decision was contrary to the best interests of the pupils, school district, or community, the state board shall remand such decision to the local board of education with written instructions for approval of the charter. The decision of the state board shall be final and not subject to appeal. The (local school district), however, shall be the chartering authority.”

Turner asserts that the Metro school board followed the state law to a “t,” and says the charter school operators never produced a satisfactory diversity plan, as outlined by the state Board of Education.

The state Board seems to disagree. The board sent out a statement backing up the Haslam administration’s decision after news broke of the state fine.

Governor Considers Letting State OK Charter Schools

Gov. Bill Haslam is warming to the idea of establishing a process whereby state education officials bypass local school districts when considering approval of new charter schools.

The governor has for months indicated little interest in the idea, which is a departure from the current system wherein local elected officials determine whether to allow a taxpayer-funded charter school to operate in their district.

But while at the same time cautioning that he hasn’t yet finalized his 2013 legislative agenda, the governor told reporters Tuesday that the idea of state approval has become more palatable to him in wake of Nashville school board officials refusing to permit a charter school that’s already been deemed good-to-go by the state.

After the Metro Nashville Public Schools refused to allow Great Hearts Academies to open a school in the district, the state this week fined Metro schools more than $3 million.

“Prior to this, I don’t think there was a lot of political momentum around it,” Haslam said about assigning a state panel to consider charter school applications. “We’ll have to see what the General Assembly, how they react to that this year. But prior to this, that was not something that was on our agenda at all.”

Haslam said as recently as last month he was not interested in entertaining discussions about letting charter schools apply directly to the state unless he saw widespread rejections of charter schools.

The Department of Education announced Tuesday it would withhold $3.4 million in state funds from Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools in October as a consequence for refusing to approve Great Hearts Academies.

The decision comes as a surprise after Haslam told reporters last month that “threatening to withhold money, that’s not the business we’re in in the state. We’re in the business of educating children.”

He and Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman both said they were in on the decision to punish the school district. The fine is permitted under a state law that gives the commissioner “discretion” to withhold some or all state education funding if the district violates state education law.

Huffman says the local school district “brazenly” violated state law when it twice refused recommendations from the Tennessee Board of Education to usher the Arizona-based Great Hearts charter school into the district. Metro schools had rejected the application, citing concerns that the school wouldn’t conform to racial diversity mandates.

But state law appears to give Tennessee’s education board veto power:

“If the state board finds that the local board’s decision was contrary to the best interests of the pupils, school district or community, the state board shall remand the decision to the local board of education with written instructions for approval of the charter. The grounds upon which the state board of education based a decision to remand the application shall be stated in writing, specifying objective reasons for the decision. The decision of the state board shall be final and not subject to appeal. The LEA, however, shall be the chartering authority.”

Over the last year, Haslam and the Republican-led Legislature stripped away a handful of caps and restrictions on charter schools, paving the way for expansion of the school-choice movement.

Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Dolores Gresham, R-Sommerville, said in a statement the fine was the “correct course to take to demonstrate to the errant members of the school board that you cannot deliberately break the law without consequences.”

Democrats say the move sets an unsettling precedent for local school boards, which they say should have complete control over which charter schools to embrace. However, Rep. Sherry Jones, D-Nashville, stopped short of encouraging school boards across Tennessee to start deciding for themselves which state laws they want to follow or violate.

“I do not endorse anybody breaking the law, but I think this was really an uncalled-for punishment,” Jones said.

House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner, D-Nashville, said if the state wants Great Hearts Academies to open so badly, then it should foot the full bill.

“If the state decides to step in and overrule a local school board’s decision, then the state should be prepared to pick up the cost of funding that local school,” Turner said.

Jones Demands Carr Apology for Rape Comment

Press release from Tennessee State Rep. Sherry Jones, D-Nashville; August 28, 2012:  

NASHVILLE (August 28, 2012) – House Minority Whip Rep. Sherry Jones (D-Nashville) issued the following statement in response to the offensive and sexist remarks made by Rep. Joe Carr (R-Lascassas):

Rep. Joe Carr has shown today what many of the women in the General Assembly have known for a long time—he is completely and totally unfit for office. Claiming that women’s bodies possess the ability to “close themselves off” from pregnancy in cases of violent rape is not only biologically inaccurate, it is offensive to each and every Tennessee woman who has ever been the victim of rape. Tennessee Republicans are continuing their march to the extreme ideological right at the expense of our mothers, daughters, wives and sisters. It’s time for Rep. Joe Carr to apologize for his ignorant remark and for the Tennessee Republicans to end the war on women.

TFA Seeks to Help Duvall Unseat Jones in District 59

Press release from the Tennessee Firearms Association; August 21, 2012: 

TFA has invested a lot of time working this year to start pruning the “Tree of Liberty” which seems to be infested with legislators and elected officials who have their priorities placed with issues other than the Constitution and the protection of the rights of citizens. One of the first to be pruned, with emphasis, was Republican House Caucus leader Debra Maggart. Her astounding defeat is a testament to the resolve of Tennessee’s firearms owners and constitutionally based citizens that those such as her must be purged from the halls of government. However, this is not simply a task to remove legislators but also involves changing the powers within government.

For this reason, it was with welcome excitement that we have started seeing news reports that Rep. Judd Matheny has announced moves to challenge Beth Harwell for the speaker’s office. It is critical when we as firearms owners and constitutional conservatives consider any request for assistance or support of candidates that we be mindful to ask and extract a commitment of where that individual candidate will be on the issue of who they will support for Speaker of the House. That issue and their position on that issue cannot be passed off with an “I do not know yet”. If any candidate cannot at this time commit without qualification to whom he or she would support or oppose as Speaker of the House must be questioned as to whether they have sufficient resolve to make that decision if elected.

Demand of any candidate who seeks your support or vote that they commit without qualification to who he or she will support for Speaker. If you have a candidate who can vote in the caucus for the “wrong” candidate, then consider whether you really want to support them and risk that they will support the “wrong” candidate for any leadership position or whether it would be better to either abstain from support or go one step further and consider their opposition in November.

TFA Life Member Buford Tune is hosting an event this Saturday for Robert Duvall. He has invited all TFA members to this event.

Friends,

As you know, every day we face challenges from many of our elected officials, regardless of Party, to our 2nd Amendment Rights.

I have a very close and dear friend , Councilman Robert Duvall, who has been an outspoken supporter of the 2nd Amendment. Robert is now running for the State Legislature, House District 59, to unseat a person who has never met or voted for a “Right To Bear Arms” bill that was liked or supported, and from a personal point of view NOT stood up for our rights at all to protect ourselves. Also, she has voted consistently to raise taxes or for no tax relief for Tennessee citizens and businesses.

I am inviting you to a small gathering at my business to meet Robert Duvall and hopefully you will assist us in our efforts to send Robert to the State House of Representatives to represent the PEOPLE. To unseat an 18-year very LIBERAL incumbent will take not only “boots on the street”, but $$.

Saturday, August 25th
Time: 10:30 A.M. until 1:00 P.M.
Location: 1645 A Murfreesboro Pike, Nashville, Tennessee
(THE APPS TRAINING OFFICE)
Refreshments will be served.

Sincerely
Buford Tune

Retiring, Defeated Lawmakers on Taxpayer-Funded Getaway

Updated Aug. 7, 2012: Sen. Roy Herron called and said he had planned to attend the conference but decided against it due to a family emergency.

Six Tennessee legislators leaving the General Assembly this year are expected in Chicago this week on what could amount to a taxpayer-funded junket.

Four retiring legislators and two state reps who lost their bids for re-election in last week’s primary have given the state notice they plan to get reimbursed for attending the National Conference of State Legislatures annual summit in the Windy City that began Monday, a trip that could cost as much as than $2,500 in registration, airfare, hotel stay, per diem and cab rides.

They are Rep. Richard Montgomery, R-Sevierville, and Rep. Jeanne Richardson, D-Memphis, who lost their primaries, and retiring lawmakers Sen. Mike Faulk, R-Church Hill; Rep. Bill Harmon, D-Dunlap; Sen. Roy Herron, D-Dresden; and Rep. Jimmy Naifeh, D-Covington.

One of the General Assembly’s highest-ranking Republicans says he trusts that the departing lawmakers have good reasons behind their decisions to make the trip.

“I know it will be beneficial to the others who attend to get the benefit of their wisdom and their years of service,” said Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville. “I think discretion is the better part of valor with these things, and obviously they’ve exercised their discretion and think it’s fine to go. I’m not passing judgment on it.”

Legislators are permitted to let taxpayers foot the bill for out-of-state legislative trips, complete with a per diem, travel and lodging expenses. Even outgoing lawmakers are entitled, said Connie Ridley, director of Tennessee’s office of Legislative Affairs.

“Members of the General Assembly serve as a legislator until the general election in November,” Ridley said in an email. “They are no longer eligible for compensation of any form the evening before the November general election.”

Richardson says she may have lost her primary election, but she still has legislative responsibilities to handle at the conference.

“I signed up because I am one of the representatives, there’s just a couple of us, who represent Tennessee on the Health Committee,” she said. “These are working committees where we share what we’ve done, and find out what other states have done and make policy recommendations for states. So, because I represent Tennessee on the health committee, I still need to come to the meeting.”

Attempts to reach Montgomery for comment were unsuccessful.

A handful of retiring lawmakers are also on the trip, including Naifeh and Faulk, according to their offices. Herron and Harmon’s offices did not respond to requests for comment.

Legislators can collect a $173 per diem each of the four days of the conference, for $692 total. Registration to the NCSL event ranges from $549 to $690, depending on when lawmakers registered for the conference online. Guests were encouraged to reserve rooms in downtown Chicago with rates ranging from $199 to $227 a night if locked in prior to Aug. 1. Lawmakers can also be reimbursed for airfare, which runs about $300 roundtrip, and cab rides, which average between $25 to $42 from the airport to the convention site.

If lawmakers decide against splitting hotels and cab fare, the cost to taxpayers could approach almost $2,500 for the four-day, three-night trip.

But no money has left the taxpayers’ pocket yet, Ridley said. Lawmakers will have to submit receipts to have their travel expenses paid for once they return, although the conference’s registration will be billed directly to the state.

While the practice is legal and learning how other state legislatures are tackling difficult policy issues is valuable, sending outgoing lawmakers on an out-of-town trip is still “questionable,” said Dick Williams, chairman of Tennessee Common Cause, a government accountability advocacy group.

“I have mixed feelings about the appropriateness of those going who will not be coming back, whether by the election or their own choice,” he said. “If they’re going to continue to do something in public life, they could make good public use of that.”

Here are the other 22 lawmakers slated to attend, according to the office of Legislative Administration:

House of Representatives

Rep. Vince Dean, R-East Ridge

Rep. John DeBerry, D-Memphis

Rep. Lois DeBerry, D-Memphis

Rep. Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby

House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley

Rep. Sherry Jones, D-Nashville

Rep. Mark Pody, R-Lebanon

Rep. John Ragan, R-Oak Ridge

Rep. Bob Ramsey, R-Maryville

House Finance Committee Chairman Charles Sargent, R-Franklin

Rep. Johnny Shaw, D-Bolivar

Rep. Mike Sparks, R-Smyrna

Rep. Curry Todd, R-Collierville

Rep. Joe Towns, D-Memphis

Rep. Mike Turner, D-Old Hickory

Senate

Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville

Sen. Ophelia Ford, D-Memphis

Sen. Thelma Harper, D-Nashville

Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle, D-Memphis

Sen. Steve Sutherland, R-Morristown

Sen. Reginald Tate, D-Memphis

Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson

1-2-3, Go! Redistricting Maps Advance

Tweaks to the lines on redrawn Democratic districts in the state House came down to something like a game of Rock-Paper-Scissors.

House lawmakers approved the new maps 67-25-3 Thursday. Speaker Beth Harwell said she had politely encouraged Democrats to throw some votes her party’s way for the sake of bipartisanship appearances.

“I said to (Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner), ‘If we are making these concessions for some of your members, I would appreciate votes from your caucus,’” she said.

That left the #1 and #2 Democrats to figure out who would make Harwell feel appreciated.

“I’d like to think it was a little punitive, maybe, because the discussions were pretty hot and heavy,” Turner, of Old Hickory, said. … “I thought it was worth that to save a couple of our members.”

Turner threw down rock to Leader Craig Fitzhugh’s paper in their session to make sure the speaker got at least one leadership vote from their side. Turner was one of six Democrats who voted in favor of the Republican-drawn maps, while Fitzhugh toed the party line.

“Everybody we had that was paired, we tried to do so something about that,” said Turner, who had been one of the most vocal critics of GOP maps. “In areas where it didn’t impact their members, they decided to give us a couple of those back.”

In the final hours before the map was approved by the chamber, Republicans agreed to make these concessions to preserve incumbent advantage:

  • Separate Democrats Sherry Jones and Mike Stewart, who had been drawn into the same south Nashville district.
  • Return Rep. Eddie Bass, D-Prospect, to the district he represents now. He had been lumped into the same district as Rep. Vance Dennis, R-Savannah.
  • Adjust the lines in the district represented by Harry Tindell, D-Knoxville.

Democrats pitched a handful of other amendments to the maps on the House floor, mainly attempts to make more Shelby County districts represent a greater percentage of minorities. All those attempts failed.

The maps fell “way short on minority representation,” according to Turner, although he said he wanted to talk to the Tennessee Democratic Party, the General Assembly’s Black Caucus and other “interested parties” before deciding whether to challenge the lawsuit in court.

Harwell said the Democratic votes symbolize that the map has bipartisan support.

“Bottom line is, surely it sends a clear message that a majority of the members in this General Assembly is pleased with it, and I think the people of this state will be well represented by this map,” she said. “No one can doubt that we have drawn these lines fairly, that there’s proper representation from each district.”

In the new map, sitting House members who would have to run against other legislators (unless they relocated) are situated in:

  • District 28 in Hamilton County: Tommie Brown, D-Chattanooga, and Joanne Favors, D-Chattanooga
  • District 31 in Sequatchie, Bledsoe, Rhea and part of Roane counties: Jim Cobb, R-Spring City, and Bill Harmon, D-Dunlap
  • District 86 in Shelby County: Barbara Cooper, D-Memphis, and G.A. Hardaway, D-Memphis
  • District 98 in Shelby County: Jeanne Richardson, D-Memphis, and Antonio Parkinson, D-Memphis

The Senate is expected to vote on its maps and OK the House drawings Friday. If approved by both chambers, the maps will go to the governor for his approval.