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Back to Work for Furloughed State Employees

More than 500 state workers have returned to work after President Obama and the U.S. Congress reached an agreement to end the partial federal shutdown.

Jeff Hentschel, spokesman for the Tennessee Department of Labor, said all furloughed workers are back on the job, but the state is still waiting for word about back pay.

“We are waiting for guidance from the (U.S. Department of Labor) whether these employees will get back pay,” Hentschel said.

The Department of Labor gets 79 percent of its funding from the federal government and the partial federal shutdown delayed federal monies from funding the department.

In all the department sent home 369 employees Monday in addition to the 27 Labor Market Information employees who were furloughed Oct. 9.

Workers in the Department of Human Services and Department of the Military reported to work Friday. DHS idled 112 from Disability Determination Services. DOM furloughed 103.

The state was forced to furlough some federally funded state workers during the shutdown as its surpluses ran dry.

Other departments, like the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, received grant funds and reimbursements in time to continue business as usual.

The TBI, which receives millions in federal grants, was able to meet the U.S. Office of Justice Program’s Oct. 4 deadline so the state’s law enforcement agency remained fully funded.

The federal government partially shutdown Oct. 1 after the U.S. Congress and the president failed to agree on an appropriations bill for fiscal year 2014 or a continuing resolution in the interim.

The impasse resulted in about 800,000 federal employees being furloughed and about 1.3 million were asked to work without pay. It also resulted in a short vacation for several hundred state workers in Tennessee, who were completely or partly funded by the federal government.

Congress passed a continuing resolution on the night of Oct. 16 to reopen the federal government. The resolution will fund the federal government through the middle of January.

State, Counties to Fund GSMNP Operations for Five Days

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is reopening Wednesday morning through the weekend despite the federal government’s partial shutdown.

Noting that “for the Smokies and the people around it, the month of October is the most important time of the year,” Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam announced late Tuesday afternoon that “America’s most visited national park” will stay open at least through midnight Sunday, Oct. 20.

Last week the federal government agreed to let national parks reopen if individual states agreed to pay for their daily operation. Parks in Utah, Colorado, New York, South Dakota and Arizona had reopened as of Tuesday.

After the federal offer, Tennessee and the National Park Service needed to hammer out details – like how much of the park will be opened, who is responsible for what in the park – before the state agreed to pay the $60,000 a day the feds say it cost to run it, Haslam told reporters earlier Tuesday.

Haslam said the State of Tennessee will pay 80 percent in the form of a $240,400 tourism grant to Sevier County with Sevier and Blount counties funding the remaining $60,100 to fully fund operation of the park for five days. In all, $300,500 was sent to NPS to open the park for five days.

If congress can resolve its impasse before Sunday, NPS will refund any money to the state.

“According to the agreement, if the shutdown ends before the money is spent, NPS will refund to the state the unspent balance of the state-donated funds,” said Dave Smith, spokesman for the governor’s office. *

State Sen. Doug Overbey, R-Maryville, is pleased the park will reopen to tourists. The park has been closed to visitors since Oct. 1, which has “had a terrible impact on the park and surrounding communities,” Overbey said.

Overbey said many East Tennessee communities, as well as the state government revenues, have been impacted by the closure of the park with the state losing $300,000 a day in revenue.

“This is (typically) the second highest month for sales tax receipts in the state next to July,” he said, adding the state’s investment in the park will garner high returns in sales tax receipts.

Overbey said he has heard many anecdotes from families who decided against a trip to East Tennessee because the park is closed. “People come to go to the park,” he said. “We have other things to do – lakes, golf courses, attractions – but people want to come to go to the park, especially to see the fall colors and drive through the mountains.”

The federal shutdown has closed national parks across the state, but the Smoky Mountains presents a unique situation because it’s the most visited park in the country, state Sen. Frank Niceley said.

Niceley, a Republican from Strawberry Plains, is also suggesting now is a good time to start talking about Tennessee taking over operation of the park full time. “We need to tell the federal government, ‘If you can’t run it, then we will take it back’,” he said.

The park was created in 1934 and paid for by both federal, state and private funds. Niceley said the people of Tennessee ought to rescind their donation.

“The federal government is out of control with all its borrowing and spending. We need to take it back and run it ourselves,” Niceley said.

An NPS report found that the 9.6 million visitors to GSMNP during 2012 had an economic impact of $818 million in communities surrounding the park in Tennessee and North Carolina.

* Update to original article.

TFA: ATF Delaying ‘Civilian Firearms Transfers’?

Press release from the Tennessee Firearms Association; October 10, 2013:

ATF – servicing the government but ignoring the 2nd Amendment

There are conflicting and unconfirmed reports circulating on the Internet regarding the ATF and whether it will be shutdown, insofar as civilian firearms transfers are concerned, during the partial, if no de minimis, government shutdown. These reports seem to co-exist with the confirmed reports of other government agents banning civilian access to parks and even parts of the ocean.

As stated in U.S. Department of Justice document dated Sept. 30, 2013:

Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF): As a Presidential Appointee, the Director is not subject to furlough. Excepted employees include: all agents in ATF’s field divisions, who conduct the full range of criminal investigations in the firearms, arson, explosives, alcohol and tobacco program areas; Industry Operations Investigators who conduct compliance inspections of Federal firearms and Federal explosives licensees (including those mandated under the Safe Explosives Act), as well as application inspections; and other personnel who collect, review and analyze intelligence data in support of criminal investigations. Headquarters support will be maintained only to the extent necessary to support excepted operations.

National Shooting Sports Foundation reports that “… it should be noted that staffing in the Federal Firearms Licensing Center, Imports Branch and NFA Branch has been reduced, though 83% of ATF personnel remain on the job. The customer service operations staffing is some of the 17% who have been reduced.”

Other sites are reporting that ATF activities involving the processing of civilian forms for National Firearms Act activities are or will be suspended. These forms impact the transfer or manufacture of short barrel rifles, short barrel shotguns and machine guns but only to the extent that they involve civilians. ATF apparently will continue to process forms for government agencies and agents.

What do you expect from a government that uses force to block veterans and civilians from access an open, public area that historically is available to the public 24/7 with no access restrictions?

While this shutdown may be temporary, it will predictably multiply the length of the delays that can be expected when operational funding resumes.

This is just another example of why its critical for citizens across Tennessee and other states to work to restore true effect to the phrase “shall not be infringed”. If your access to weapons that your right to own and acquire is guaranteed by the 2nd Amendment can be “infringed” simply because the government views those rights as subject to regulation by it and because its categorized even then as “non essential”, then something is seriously wrong.

TNDP Responds to TN Senate GOP Criticism of Obama Over Shutdown

Press release from the Tennessee Democratic Party; October 8, 2013:

There is no defense for the small group of politicians in one party in one branch who forced the government to shut down — a despicable decision that’s hurting Tennessee’s economy and our working families. But these Republican politicians have proven time and again they are more interested in winning political arguments than solving our nation’s problems.

SHOT:

TN GOP state senators denounce Obama in shutdown letter
Associated Press // October 8, 2013
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Gov. Bill Haslam and fellow Republicans in the Tennessee General Assembly appear to be at odds about who will be blamed for the shutdown of the federal government.

CHASER:

19 Times Democrats Tried to Negotiate With Republicans
National Journal // October 7, 2013

To hear almost any Republican lawmaker speak in post-shutdown Washington is to hear that Democrats are refusing to negotiate to reopen the government and avert a debt default. It’s a talking point that may be selling well, but it’s only true if you ignore anything that happened before last Monday at about 11 p.m.

Republicans think they’ve hit talking-point gold with the message, as we learned from a candid “hot mic” moment last week when Sen. Rand Paul privately told fellow Kentuckian Mitch McConnell that he didn’t think Democrats had “poll-tested” the “awful” message. ” ‘It’s my way or the highway.’ That’s what he’s saying. Complete surrender, and then we’ll talk to you,” House Speaker John Boehner told ABC News on Sunday.

In a sense, Republicans are right. Democrats view keeping the government open and out of default as Congress’s most basic job, and the characterize anything that threatens that as “ransom,” so they say they’re not willing to come to the table until the government reopens. But, in context, the GOP’s biggest talking point of the shutdown falls apart when you consider that Democrats only started refusing to negotiate after Republicans stopped, the hour before the government shut down a week ago.

For instance, through a Senate Democratic aide, here are all the times since this spring Senate Democrats tried to negotiate with Republicans by sending their budget to a bicameral conference committee. Every time, Republicans blocked the move:

1. 4/23 Senator Reid requested unanimous consent to go to conference, Senator Toomey blocked.

2. 5/6 Senator Reid requested unanimous consent to go to conference, Senator Cruz blocked.

3. 5/7 Senator Murray requested unanimous consent to go to conference, Senator McConnell blocked.

4. 5/8 Senator Warner asked unanimous consent to go to conference, Senator McConnell blocked.

5. 5/9 Senator Murray asked unanimous consent to go to conference, Senator McConnell blocked.

6. 5/14 Senator Warner asked unanimous consent to go to conference, and Senator McConnell blocked.

7. 5/15 Senator Wyden asked unanimous consent to go to conference, and Senator McConnell blocked.

8. 5/16 Senator Murray asked unanimous consent to go to conference, and Senator Lee blocked.

9. 5/21 Senator Murray asked unanimous consent to go to conference, and Senator Paul blocked.

10. 5/22 Senator Kaine asked unanimous consent to go to conference, and Senator Rubio blocked.

11. 5/23 Senator McCaskill asked unanimous consent to go to conference, and Senator Lee blocked.

12. 6/4 Senator Murray asked unanimous consent to go to conference, and Senator Rubio blocked.

13. 6/12 Senator Kaine asked unanimous consent to go to conference, and Senator Lee blocked.

14. 6/19 Senator Murray asked unanimous consent to go to conference, and Senator Toomey blocked.

15. 6/26 Senator Murray requested unanimous consent to go to conference, Senator Cruz blocked.

16. 7/11 Senator Murray requested unanimous consent to go to conference, Senator Marco Rubio blocked.

17. 7/17 Senator Murray requested unanimous consent to go to conference, Senator Mike Lee blocked.

18. 8/1 Senator Durbin requested unanimous consent to go to conference, Senator Marco Rubio blocked.

19. 10/2 Senator Murray requested unanimous consent to go to conference, Senator Toomey blocked.

“For six months I’ve tried to enter into formal budget negotiations with Paul Ryan, only to be repeatedly denied permission to negotiate by Ted Cruz and the tea party,” said Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash. “Now, a week into a government shutdown that he could end at a moment’s notice, Speaker Boehner is simply trying to distract from his constantly changing list of demands.”

The parties flipped positions Monday, the first day of the new fiscal year, when Republicans tried to finally start conference-committee negotiations just minutes before midnight. Democrats balked—”We will not go to conference with a gun to our head,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said on the floor—considering that they had been rebuffed almost 20 times beforer and that Republicans had shown no interest until it was already clear the government was closing. Last week, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor tweeted a picture of a faux conference committee, which included zero Democrats, saying, “We sit ready to negotiate with the Senate.”

Perhaps we could have avoided a shutdown if they had been ready to negotiate before the government ran out of money.

TN Senate GOP Letter to President: Quit Trying to ‘Intimidate Opponents of Obamacare’

Letter from the Tennessee Senate Republican Caucus; October 8, 2013:

President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW
Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear Mr. President,

We write to you to express extreme displeasure in how you are overseeing the budget impasse in Congress known as the “government shutdown.”

Ostensibly, a government shutdown would revolve around saving taxpayer funds. That is not the case in this instance. In fact, your administration seems to be going to great lengths and sparing no expense to sell your particular shutdown narrative.

While the media eagerly accepts this narrative, we in public service know the truth. The IRS is still collecting taxes and the NSA is still compiling metadata. Vital services are still available and essential employees are still getting paid.

There is no government shutdown, merely a slowdown. What’s worse is that public displays of this so-called shutdown appear to be packaged for mass media consumption. Your administration seems to be in the business of selling this “shutdown” as a creation of House Republicans when it is in truth a maneuver by Senate Democrats to save the implementation of your administration’s legislative showpiece.

Witness the barricading of the World War II Memorial in Washington. This is a memorial that, while usually staffed during business hours, is open to the public 24 hours a day. The public “closing” of this memorial and keeping veterans off the grounds by threat of force was a farce. The closing of the D-Day Memorial and 24 other memorials overseas just adds insult to injury.

Tennesseans are well aware of this tactic. Over ten years ago when our state faced a budget crisis, state parks in key legislative districts were closed. This was a last ditch effort by liberals to scare Tennesseans into supporting higher taxes. The Obama administration has similarly shut down federal parks in Tennessee, in some cases blocking roads children need to take to school. This tactic was transparent then and it is transparent now.

Just like the old tax and spenders in Tennessee, the Obama administration hopes to intimidate opponents of Obamacare into capitulating and selling out their constituents – constituents who want the Affordable Care Act repealed and replaced.

Your administration wants us to believe we cannot reduce the budget and we must continue down the path of increasing our debt. Yet the Senate has not passed a budget in over four years and our debt as a percentage of GDP sits at nearly 73%.

We know that the people of Tennessee see through this blatant attempt to manipulate public perception. We hope the rest of the nation sees this “shutdown” not as the folly of Republican intransigence but for what it truly is: a face-saving measure by a President to ram through the implementation of unworkable legislation.

Sincerely,

The Tennessee Senate Republican Caucus

Ramsey in on Obama Administration ‘Shutdown’ Call

Press Release from Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, April 8, 2011:

(Nashville) – Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey (R –Blountville) joined a White House Intergovernmental Affairs briefing call today with top state and local officials from across the country. Representatives of seven federal agencies were on the call covering the fields of Medicaid, transportation, housing, labor, personnel and the environment.

“There are many, many real questions and concerns from state leaders about a possible federal government shutdown,” said Ramsey. “While there still seem to be more questions than answers on how the states will be affected I do appreciate the White House reaching out to keep the lines of communications open.”

Cecilia Muñoz, Director of Intergovernmental Affairs at the White House, opened the call and directed state leaders to a central website http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/contingency-plans. The website will serve as clearinghouse of information on several agencies whose crucial missions interact with the states.

Danny Werfel, Controller of OMB’s Office of Federal Financial Management, stressed that while that there are no “hard and fast rules” on how the states could be affected and that states need to coordinate with their own legal authorities to help prepare for a shutdown.

“I hope Washington, DC gets its act together soon.” said Ramsey. “We know how to balance a budget here in Tennessee and we’re in far better position to survive a disruption than most states. The Obama administration should look to states like Tennessee to see how to avoid a government shutdown.”