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Carr Campaign Touts Five More Endorsements from State Legislators

Press release from the campaign for Joe Carr for U.S. Senate; July 2, 2014:

NASHVILLE, TN – The Joe Carr for Senate campaign today announced the endorsements of Tennessee State Senators Jim Summerville (R-Dickson) and Stacey Campfield (R-Knoxville) and State Representatives Richard Floyd (R-Chattanooga), David Alexander (R-Winchester), and Kelly Keisling (R-Byrdstown).

“Lamar Alexander has chosen to support an amnesty agenda driven by Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi and LaRaza at the expense of Tennessee’s working families,” stated Rep. David Alexander on behalf of the group of Legislators. “Look at the growing crisis on our southern border today, and we know exactly where that agenda has gotten us. We need a strong conservative like Joe Carr to go to Washington to do what he has done in the Tennessee State House – fight to enforce the rule of law.”

“I have always believed that this is a campaign that will be won or lost at the grassroots level and to have this kind of support from so many of my colleagues in the State Legislature tells me that something special is happening on the ground here in Tennessee,” said Carr. “Lamar Alexander thinks he can hide from his record, refuse to debate, and that somehow the people here in Tennessee won’t hold him accountable for choosing 11 million illegal immigrants over them – he’s setting himself up for a Dave Brat-like surprise.”

  • Senator Summerville represents the 25th Senatorial District covering Cheatham, Dickson, Hickman, Humphreys and Robertson Counties.
  • Senator Campfield represents the 7th Senatorial District covering part of Knox County.
  • Representative Floyd represents the 27th House District covering part of Hamilton County.
  • Representative Alexander represents the 39th House District covering Franklin, Moore and Marion Counties.
  • Representative Keisling represents the 38th House District covering Clay County and part of Fentress, Macon, Pickett and Scott Counties.

They join a growing list of TN state legislators who are backing Carr’s bid for Senate. In recent weeks, the campaign has announced the endorsement of:

  1. Senator Hensley (R-Hohenwald)
  2. Senator Niceley (R-Strawberry Plains)
  3. Rep. Hill (R-Jonesborough)
  4. Rep. Holt (R-Dresden)
  5. Rep. Sanderson (R-Kenton)
  6. Rep. Shipley (R-Kingsport)
  7. Rep. Van Huss (R- Jonesborough)
  8. Rep. Wirgau (R-Buchanan), Butt (R-Columbia)
  9. Rep. Matheny (R-Tullahoma)
  10. Rep. Pody (R-Lebanon)
  11. Rep. Rogers (R-Goodlettsville)
  12. Rep. Sparks (R-Smyrna)
  13. Rep. Spivey (R-Lewisburg)
  14. Rep. Womick (R-Rockvale)

Lawmakers Taking Wait-and-See Approach to Common Core

The Tennessee Senate Education Committee on Friday wrapped up two days of hearings on the the new nationwide education-standards blueprint that’s been drawing attention around the country.

The committee, chaired by Somerville Republican Dolores Gresham, didn’t take any definitive action, but promised a formal written review of the Common Core Standards plan in Tennessee.

Common Core is all but certain to remain on the political radar going into the 2014 state legislative session as the Tennessee Department of Education and local school districts continue implementing various program elements.

“These hearings have met the goal that we set, and that was to bring us some enlightenment on the whole subject of the Common Core State Standards,” said Gresham at the close of Friday’s meeting. “It will be our job now to soberly reflect on what we have heard, and then put together a report that will go to the full Senate in January.”

Gov. Bill Haslam’s education commissioner, Kevin Huffman, defended Common Core and Tennessee’s participation in it. Applying standards to Tennessee students that are aligned with standards used to assess students across the country will work to their long-term advantage, he suggested.

“Tennessee students are as smart and as capable as students anywhere in the country, and…when we give them the right challenges and opportunities, they rise to those challenges,” Huffman said.

Tennessee, one of 45 states to take up the standards, adopted Common Core in 2010, and has been gradually shifting its education standards to full implementation over the past three years.

Those testifying included teachers, administrators, business leaders, politicians and representatives from nonprofit organizations. The issues discussed ranged from concerns about student privacy and “data mining” to concern over selection of appropriate reading materials.

A Republican state senator from Georgia, William Ligon of St. Simons Island, testified before the committee about his state’s experience with Common Core. Ligon said he’s been pushing Georgia to ditch the initiative because citizens don’t seem to have a lot of say in how it is carried out or what students are asked to learn through it.

One worry voiced frequently during the hearing was the prospect of added Common Core costs to local Tennessee school districts. Ligon argued Georgia taxpayers are very likely paying more for education as a result of the program, but there’s actually no official Common Core fiscal evaluation by the state government.

“(Common Core) was brought to Georgia without any review of the cost,” Ligon said. “In our hearings held last January in our state senate, I specifically asked our Department of Education, ‘Where is your cost analysis?’ And they had none.

“The only estimate of costs have come from nonprofits, such as the Pioneer Institute, and they concluded that Georgia would be spending about $225 million on professional development, $100 million for textbooks and $275 million on technology,” Ligon continued. “One of the things that we found was is that our cost to administer standardized tests went from $11 per student to $33 per student, if your school system had the technology and the broadband to administer these tests online.”

The written test could be purchased for $40 per student, if the school was unable to administer the tests online due to technological restrictions, Ligon said.

Huffman downplayed any potential cost increases. The Tennessee General Assembly appropriated $51 million in funds last year to provide aid for local school districts with “technology readiness,” he said, adding that technological advancements are needed to help Tennessee students achieve more, and be better prepared for secondary education and the workforce.

Huffman told reporters new assessment tests across the state will raise costs $1 million to $5 million more “than if we had to do TCAP covering the same subject areas.”

Common Core Hearings Commence

The Tennessee Senate Education Committee held its first day of hearings Thursday on the controversial new nationwide Common Core Standards reform initiative.

Education Committee Chairwoman Dolores Gresham, a Somerville Republican, said her aim with the hearings is to sort through the worries people of various ideological perspectives have been increasingly expressing about Common Core, which was conceived in 2009 by the National Governor’s Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers.

“Over the course of the last several months, many legitimate concerns have been raised about the Common Core State Standards, and many have arisen to praise the standards,” Gresham said. “More than this, the level of trust of Tennessee citizens in their federal government is at an all-time low. Around the world people are concerned with the amount of data the federal government is tracking, and the concerns about the data being collected on our children are at an all-time high. The process which led the State Board of Education to adopt the standards, as well as their exact content must be examined, and reexamined.”

Gresham characterized the Education Committee’s effort as “a fact-finding hearing.” Discussion of the standards is intended “to enlighten our understanding, not provoke animosity,” she said.

Common Core Standards have been both hailed as the next big thing in education reform as well as criticized on both the left and right.

Conservative detractors of Common Core grumble that it constitutes yet another example of improper federal interference in state affairs. They complain that the Obama administration has essentially mandated that states adopt the “voluntary” Common Core standards by making adherence to the them a requirement for federal education grants, as well as issuance of No-Child-Left-Behind waivers.

Some liberals grouse that the standards seem too complex and difficult, and that there’s no certainty they’re going to do anything to improve public-school learning environments.

Common Core State Standards are intended to “provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them,” according to the initiative’s mission statement on its website. The standards have been created “to be robust and relevant to the real world,” and to reflect “the knowledge and skills” needed for success in further education and careers, the statement continues.

To Gov. Bill Haslam, who is a strong supporter of Common Core, its about “about setting the standards” for what children should know by a certain grade, regardless of geographic location.

“I think Common Core is about helping everybody understand, ‘Ok, here’s what a fifth grader should know in math skills, or here’s what an eighth grader should know in reading comprehension.’ So, for that reason we think it’s really important,” Haslam told reporters after reading to kids as part of his “Imagination Library Week.” Thursday morning at the Wayne Reed Christian Childcare Center.

The first day of the Senate Education Committee hearings went by with little in the way of debate or denunciation. Thursday’s meeting consisted of opening remarks, rules for the hearing and a reading through of the standards, with questions from committee members.

Day two, Friday, is scheduled for testimonies on various aspects of the standards — such as cost, data and assessments, as well as personal perspectives and views on the standards themselves – by members of the Tennessee Department of Education, educators and various other individuals and organizations.

The Common Core Standards, which fall into two broad categories of Math and English Language Arts, were read almost in their entirety at the hearing, and the committee members piped in with questions over the course of the reading.

The questions asked by committee members ranged from when students would learn to use calculators and keyboards to whether students would be required to learn calculus or read and write cursive. Reoccurring questions cropped up around the differences between the new standards and those previously in place.

An explanation of the differences between Common Core and the state’s previous set of educational standards was initially requested by State Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville.

The Common Core Standards change the structure of Tennessee’s education standards by reducing the number of criteria which had to be met under the Tennessee Diploma Project, while raising the standards of the criteria that must be met, explained Emily Barton, the assistant commissioner for curriculum and instruction.

Additionally, the issue of whether or not the standards provide any kind of guidelines as far as curriculum and appropriate text materials for the various grades arose on several occasions.

State Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, asked Barton if the selection of reading materials and curriculum would be left entirely to local education agencies, with no state oversight.

“You might have somebody in Bradley County decide to use…Gone with the Wind, and somebody in Hamilton County decide, well, we need to look at a collection of Playboy magazines,” Gardenhire suggested. “Is there a criteria for value that the state has?”

State law requires that local school boards adopt the textbooks that will be used in their community’s schools, Barton explained.

“The selection of textbooks is not the same as the standards themselves, but I will happily answer that the statute of the state places ultimate selection authority of textbooks in the local community,” Barton said.

The Senate Education Committee will be holding hearings sometime this fall to review the state’s textbook selection process, Gresham added.

The second portion of the hearings is scheduled to begin 9 AM, Friday.

Campfield Wrestles With Higher Ed Officials Over UT’s ‘Sex Week,’ Liberal Lecturers

Members of the state Senate Higher Education Subcommittee were at the Capitol for a hearing Thursday and Knoxville Republican Stacey Campfield seized the opportunity to spar with administrators from the state’s public university systems over how schools allocate student activities money.

Top on the agenda for Campfield, an outspoken social conservative who seems to never stray far from the limelight, was the so-called “Sex-Week” put on by student groups at the University of Tennessee Knoxville back in March.

The event, which included talks and events related to sexuality and reproductive health, was organized by student groups and initially received funding from the university’s student activities budget, but after Campfield and other conservative lawmakers cried foul, that money was pulled.

Still, the senator challenged representatives from the UT system and the Tennessee Board of Regents Thursday to explain their reasoning for initially approving what he characterized as “obscenity.”

Beyond the specifics of Sex Week, Campfield, who also sits on the state Senate’s full Education Committee, charged that the state’s public universities displayed a liberal bias in the speakers and events they funded on campus. Campfield read aloud a list of dozens of speakers that student groups had brought to UT campuses in the past three years, claiming that only one was conservative.

“I hate to say it but I’m not seeing much diversity there,” Campfield said. “I’m seeing a whole bunch of left. Except for maybe one person three years ago you had the former chairman of the RNC speak…that was the only one I could find who was clearly, I would say, right-leaning.”

“Looking at the facts of all the speakers, I’m saying there’s probably some content bias,” he continued.

Yet beyond the list of guest speakers, Campfield couldn’t offer evidence that schools discriminated against or denied funding to right-leaning student groups.

For their part, university officials maintained that their policies for allocating money aren’t based on the content or political leaning of groups or speakers.

University of Tennessee President Joe Dipietro told reporters after the hearing that student groups of all stripes are treated equally in the UT system.

“We have a process for them to be recognized as an registered organizations,”Dipietro said. ”We have a diverse population of people around our universities, both conservative and liberal.”

After spending close to an hour and a half on the issue, the subcommittee ended with a resolution to recommend that the full Senate Education Committee consider imposing policy changes during next year’s legislative session.

Facing Uncertain Floor Vote, Campfield Pulls TANF Bill

It’s back to the lab this summer for lightning-rod state Sen. Stacey Campfield and his contentious welfare-for-grades bill.

The Knoxville Republican faced hecklers with signs as well as singing children and clergy gathered outside the state Senate chamber Thursday, there to show opposition to Campfield’s Senate Bill 132.

The atmosphere inside the upper chamber was more subdued, but Campfield still received pushback from lawmakers, including several GOP senators, who said they could not get behind the bill in current form. Apparently recognizing that the measure could go down if brought to a vote, Campfield instead asked the chamber to send it back to committee for special study during the assembly’s summer recess.

The legislation, sponsored on the House side by Savannah Republican Vance Dennis, would withhold up to a third of a parent’s state cash benefits under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program if their child failed to meet grade-level requirements. Benefits would be reinstated if a parent took one of a handful of different actions including attending parenting classes, participating in two parent-teacher conferences in the year or enrolling their student in tutoring.

According to the Tennessee Department of Human Services, roughly 53,000 families receive TANF benefits, with a mother and two children getting an average of $185 per month.

Critics, including many Democrats in the state Legislature, argue that the bill unfairly targets poor families and places an undue burden on students. But during floor discussion on the bill, Campfield stressed that TANF benefits are already contingent upon recipients maintaining a “personal responsibility plan” that includes work or school attendance. Campfield said his plan would help encourage parental involvement but wouldn’t create any new, burdensome requirements.

“I think we can all agree that the top ticket to break the chair of poverty is education,” Campfield told fellow lawmakers. “Linking benefits to a parent doing some absolutely minimal things to help in their child’s performance in school is showing incredible results in over 40 countries. What my bill will do, as amended, is put some absolute minimum responsibilities on the parents to be involved in their child’s education.”

“The goal is to encourage parents to do what they should already be doing,” he continued. “These aren’t high bars.”

A handful of lawmakers rose to back the legislation including Janice Bowling, R-Tullahoma, who said the plan wasn’t punishment for low-income parents. It is rather a form of “discipline,” said the former special education teacher, and it “may be painful for a small season but it yields a good fruit, and the fruit of discipline will be the personal responsibility of breaking that cycle of poverty and allowing those children to know that the parent is involved and does care.”

But a number of other Republicans were not convinced.

Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris of Collierville told Campfield the legislation made him “queasy.”He added, “You can say withholding the money from the parents doesn’t harm the child but you’re fooling yourself.”

Todd Gardenhire was even more blunt, telling the chamber ““You can’t legislate parental responsibility, I don’t care what you do.” The Chattanooga Republican also raised concerns about unintended consequences of the bill that could directly impact children.

“That kid is going to come home and his parent or the boyfriend of the mother is gonna beat the dog doo doo out of him when he gets home for taking away their 20 bucks, and that’s just what’s gonna happen,” Gardenhire said, referring to the potential lost cash benefits.

Norris and Gardenhire were joined by Republicans Ken Yager of Harriman, Doug Overbey of Maryville, Becky Duncan Massey of Knoxville, Mark Green of Clarksville and Steven Dickerson of Nashville, all of whom commended Campfield for attempting to take on an important issue, but who said they would vote no if the bill came to a vote.

Thanking his colleagues for their input, Campfield suggested that he would like to return with a resolution to refer the measure to the appropriate committees for further consideration.

While “summer study” can often imply that a bill is being sent out to pasture, never to be seen again, an ad hoc panel formed from members of the Senate’s Education and Health & Welfare committees has been specifically suggested as a discussion venue for hashing out a policy compromise before the measure is brought back up next year.

For his part, Campfield appeared confident, telling reporters after the floor session “I think it’s a first big step, a lot of positive feedback actually. I like to think there’s enough to hopefully move us forward in a good direction over the summer.”

Clergy for Justice Declare ‘Victory’ after Campfield Withdraws TANF Bill

Press release from Clergy for Justice; April 11, 2013:

Clergy for Justice Declares Victory “For Now” as Campfield Withdraws “Starve the Children” Bill; Comes After Author of Bill Runs from Child Who He Dismissed as a “Prop” as She Tried to Explain How Bill Hurts Kids

Thursday, April 11, 2013 – A group of almost 100 citizens, thirty ministers, a children’s choir, a mother and her daughter all came to the state capitol today to deliver over 2,500 signatures and a message to State Senator Stacy Campfield, Republican of Knoxville:

“Don’t starve the children,” said Aamiria Fetuga, the eight year old daughter of Rasheedat Fetuga.

“My daughter came home with tears in her eyes after playing with a couple of friends whose parents receive government assistance to ask me if we our power would be turned off if she didn’t pass her test this week,” said Fetuga, Director of Gideon’s Army which is a grassroots organization that advocates on behalf of children. “As a mother that was heartbreaking and then to have Sen. Campfield just dismiss her and her concerns as a ‘prop’ was just a slap in our face.”

Campfield, whose bills have recently become fodder for late night comedians nationally, condescendingly spoke to the girl and her mother saying that if her mother was “decent parent” she didn’t have anything worry about.

Link to video of Sen. Campfield, Child Encounter

“This goes against everything that people of faith believe,” said Kathy Chambers, Organizer for Clergy for Justice. “It casts judgment solely on lower income families and implies that only their children are struggling in school, thus only those families should be held accountable for their children’s academic performance.”

“Jesus calls those who follow him to feed those who are hungry (Matthew 25:35),” said Rev. Matthew Kelly of Arlington United Methodist Church. “If we as a society take food out of the mouths of those who are already struggling, when we know that children who are undernourished have greater difficulty in the classroom, then we are loudly and clearly saying “no” to the call of Jesus to care for those whom our world has identified as ‘the least of these.’”
“We acknowledge that parents play an integral role in student achievement, but they are not the sole influencer of their child’s performance,” said Taylor Hummell, Acting Nashville City Director for Stand for Children. “This bill is based on the incorrect assumption that parental involvement is the only factor that determines student outcomes.”

The event, which featured a Children’s Choir that sang “Jesus Loves the Little Children” outside the Senate chamber as Sen. Campfield’s “Starve the Children” bill was withdrawn.

Campfield Not Backing Down on TANF Bill

State Sen. Stacey Campfield says he’s moving forward with a controversial bill that would tie some state benefits for poor families to their children’s school performance, despite objections raised by Gov. Bill Haslam.

The Knoxville Republican lawmaker told TNReport that he plans to bring Senate Bill 132 up in the Senate floor Thursday, saying he isn’t convinced by what the Haslam administration called “philosophical” concerns about the legislation.

“I’m waiting to hear their legitimate objections,” Campfield said. “I talked to the governor about it and really he just said it sends a bad message but, you know, sometimes we have to think about the future generations instead of the immediate political ramifications. What’s been portrayed a lot of times about this legislation sure may sound bad in the media, but the reality of the bill is that it helps kids get out of poverty.”

Campfield’s measure, carried on the House side by Savannah Republican Vance Dennis, would lower the amount of Temporary Assistance to Needy Families payments by up to 30 percent if a child fails to pass to the next grade. Parents could prevent the reductions by attending two parent-teacher conferences during the school year, taking an eight-hour parenting class or enrolling their child in a tutoring program or summer school.

The bill’s sponsors argue that it will encourage parental involvement in students’ academic progress. But the governor, himself a Republican, has said that he’s not sure cutting benefits is the right way to address the issue.

“My concern has been (that) whenever we want to have a cause-and-effect, we want to make certain that there really is a direct link there in the relationship,” Haslam told reporters Monday. “I think that there are too many other reasons that could cause a child to struggle in school beyond just a parent’s lack of involvement. Parents’ involvement is a key, and we all think that. And we’re all working hard to have more parental involvement in children’s education. But to have that direct link there, when there are so many other factors, is worrisome to me.”

The proposal has also sparked much harsher criticism, especially from Democratic legislators, and even earned a bit of national television mockery on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. The Tennessee House Democratic Caucus has dubbed the plan the “Starve the Children Bill” and Caucus Chairman Mike Turner of Old Hickory called it “bigotry” during a press event Tuesday.

A spokeswoman with the Tennessee Department of Human Services told the House Government Operations Committee during a discussion on the bill April 9 that about 53,000 families in the state receive TANF payments. The maximum benefit for a single mother with two children is $185 per month.

During the same meeting, Memphis Democrat Johnnie Turner compared that monthly benefit figure to the $173 Tennessee lawmakers make as a “per diem,” arguing that legislators might not fully appreciate how much of an impact the money has for the state’s poorest families.

“Why would we only penalize the poorest—$185? That’s how much we make a day,” Turner said. “Do these parents care about their children? Yes. Do they want them to get a better education than they did? Yes. But there are circumstances that they cannot overcome…They love their kids, they’re doing the best that they can, so we’re going to penalize the child, ultimately who is the victim.”

The Government Operations Committee ultimately voted 8-4 along partisan lines to give the legislation a positive recommendation. The House version is next set to be considered by the lower chamber’s Finance, Ways & Means committee.

Gov. Haslam has suggested that, should the measure pass both chambers, it might be a candidate for veto.

Amelia Morrison Hipps and Mark Todd Engler contributed to this story

Bills Easing Helmet Requirement, Increasing Seatbelt Fines Advance in Senate

Bikers over 25 who have met safety requirements would be able to ride sans helmet, under a bill that advanced Thursday at the Capitol.

The Senate Transportation Committee also voted to bump up the fine for not wearing a seatbelt, from $10 to $50.

The helmet bill, SB548, sponsored by Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, would allow older bikers to ride helmet-free if they meet minimum insurance requirements and complete a qualified safety course, as well as pay a $50 fee to the state.

The committee approved the measure to ease helmet restrictions by a vote of 6-3.

Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, questioned whether the insurance requirements were high enough considering the cost of “traumatic brain injuries,” and speculated that the state may have to cover long-term health costs of those injured in an accident while not wearing a helmet.

Sen. Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains, disagreed that any fiscal issues applied to the legislation.

“It’s obvious that if you’re not wearing a helmet, you’re in the morgue,” Niceley said. “That’s bad, that’s terrible, but that’s not something where we need to worry about dollars here. We can’t worry about that side of it.”

“It makes the undertakers money, but it saves the state money,” he added.

Sen. Bill Ketron said his seatbelt bill, SB 847, is needed to promote safety.

With the second lowest fine in the country for not wearing a seatbelt, Tennessee saw a decline of 4 percent in seatbelt use over the year 2011, the Murfreesboro Republican said.

Conversely, Ketron said, Washington state has the highest fine in the nation and the highest percentage of seatbelt usage.

“I know some people don’t like wearing them, but it is our law,” Ketron said.

Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, said she thinks that people should be able to take care of themselves in situations like this without a law to guide them. Beavers said an increase in seatbelt enforcement would distract law enforcement from more important issues.

The committee approved the bill, 5-4.

Both bills have their next hearings in the Senate Finance committee.

The House bill to reduce the helmet restrictions for motorcyclists has already passed the House Transportation committee. The House version of the seatbelt bill is still awaiting a hearing.

Campfield Bill Would Link Student Attendance, Performance to Gov’t Benefits for Parents

Saying his intention is to try a new way to “break the cycle of poverty,” Knoxville Sen. Stacey Campfield has introduced sure-to-be-controversial legislation tying a low-income child’s educational progress to the aid his or her parents receive from the state.

A member of the Senate Education Committee, Campfield told TNReport.com recently that his aim is to place “more accountability on people who are on government benefits.”

Senate Bill 132 would establish mechanisms for reducing Temporary Assistance to Needy Families payments for TANF recipients whose children fail to maintain satisfactory progress in school. According to the Tennessee Legislature’s website, the bill doesn’t yet have a House sponsor.

“Right now, the only top ticket out is education for people in poverty,” said Campfield, a Republican who served three terms in the Tennessee House of Representatives before winning his state Senate seat in 2010. “And what we have a lot of times are people in poverty who don’t care if their kids graduate, go to school or not.”

Campfield noted that state government has over the past couple years shouldered teachers with more responsibility for ensuring Tennessee’s public school children show marked improvement. Parents of under-performing kids need to share the load, he said. “We have to have parents who say it’s important that my kid goes to school,” said Campfield.

Last year the Legislature nearly unanimously passed a bill that established a pilot program geared toward encouraging greater parental involvement in a student’s academics, particularly in poorly performing schools.  Sponsored by Rep. Antonio Parkinson, D-Memphis, and Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, the legislation launched a system for parents of young children in the state’s worst schools to grade themselves on the direction and discipline the child gets at home.

In Campfield’s view, more can be done. In particular, parents on welfare need to be on the hook for kids who chronically play hookey, he said. If a child misses a lot of days, doesn’t take classwork seriously or quits school all together, “then it should come back on the parents.”

“There has to be some accountability,” Campfield said. “We’re not going to keep paying for you to have kids who are quitting school and repeating the cycle of poverty generation after generation.” He said it is not acceptable for children to say, “‘Well, my parents never graduated and they’re doing OK, so why should I graduate?’

“We’ve just got to break that,” said Campfield.

Amelia Hipps and Mark Engler contributed to this report.

TNReport.com is a nonprofit news service supported by generous donors like you!

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