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House Limits Local Authority on Wage-Setting Mandates

Despite a rather testy exchange between the two parties’ caucus chairs about the “Tennessee Wage Protection Act” on the House floor Thursday, the bill passed 66-27-1 and heads for the Senate committee process beginning next week.

The chamber’s approval moves House Bill 501 one stop closer to ending a four-year battle to prohibit cities and counties from setting wages, family leave and insurance benefits that private businesses must offer employees as a condition of obtaining local-government contracts or operating in the jurisdiction.

“These are issues best left up to the state and federal governments, not local government,” Republican Caucus Chair Glen Casada said.

If the bill becomes law, it would nullify regulations passed in Nashville and Shelby County requiring businesses contracting with those governments to offer a certain level of wages and benefits to employees.

“Once again we have a piece of legislation that will tie the hands of the local government. You are preventing them from being able to negotiate good contracts,” said Democratic Rep. Larry Miller, whose amendment to exempt his home of Memphis and Shelby County was tabled.

The issue of prevailing wages brought Democratic Caucus Chair Mike Turner to the floor. He grilled Casada on whether he knew what a prevailing wage was, and a touchy back and forth ensued.

According to the bill, when awarding contracts local governments cannot “require a prevailing wage be paid in excess of the wages established by the prevailing wage commission for state highway construction projects in accordance with title (state law) or the Tennessee occupational wages prepared annually by the department of labor and workforce development, employment security division, labor market information for state building projects.”

Rep. Antonio Parkinson, of Memphis, questioned the differences in the costs of living in Shelby County and Crockett County, population 14,500, and suggested the local officials there know what’s best for their workers.

Casada fired back: “If a local government, and I’m not going to use any names, mandates 30 bucks an hour for a construction job, that drives up the cost of that construction, and it causes that entity go further in debt. In turn, that causes taxes to go up on the taxpayers of that community. This bill is an attempt to stop that.”

Parkinson complained of the hypocrisy he perceives in the Republican-run Legislature dictating mandates on local governments when often GOP lawmakers criticize federal intervention in state affairs.

“When the federal government puts things on us that take away personal freedom or economic freedom, that’s wrong,” Casada replied. “When local government does the same invasion on local folks, it’s up to us to protect the citizens of the state.”

House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick got in the last word before the vote. Decisions made by local governments reach beyond their jurisdictional boundaries, he said.

“Big cities affect the whole state. They don’t just affect their city limits,” the fifth-term Republican from Hixson said. “They are economic generators for the surrounding counties. That alone is reason enough not to let them set up some little people’s republic in some city in the state of Tennessee.”

The vote went mostly along partisan lines. Republicans siding with Democrats against the bill included Mark Pody of Lebanon and David Alexander of Winchester. Joining them was Kent Williams, an independent. Charles Curtiss of Sparta was the only Democrat to vote in favor of HB501.

Amelia Morrison Hipps may be reached at amhipps@capitolnewstn.com, on Twitter @CapitolNews_TN or at 615-442-8667. 

Lynn’s Ethics Bill Calls for More Disclosure by Lawmakers

Saying more openness is needed on the part of Tennessee policymakers, Rep. Susan Lynn has introduced legislation that would require the disclosure of all real property they own other than their primary home.

The Mt. Juliet Republican’s HB 1063 would require all elected and certain appointed public officials, such as those on local and regional planning commissions or state boards, to disclose any real property owned by them, their spouses or any minor children living at home.

“Back in 2006, when we did the ethics reform, we wanted this to be part of the disclosure and simply couldn’t get it done at that time,” said Lynn, who served in the House for eight years before running for state Sen. Mae Beavers’ seat and losing in 2010.

“Leaving the Legislature for two years, like I did, you start thinking about the things you wish you’d done or could have done, and this was one of those things.”

Before the 108th General Assembly session began, Lynn, who chairs the Consumer and Human Resources Subcommittee, said she learned of a bill filed by freshman Republican Rep. Kent Calfee of Kingston that called for exempting planning commission members from such disclosure.

“I thought to myself, ‘This is not good,’” Lynn said. “I was getting a lot of Tea Party emails, and they were basically indicting all of us for filing that bill.”

Lynn said she wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt, so she called him and asked why he had filed it.

“He said his county mayor asked him to,” she said, adding that after she explained to Calfee the importance of more disclosure, not less, he withdrew his bill and thanked her for calling him.

Lynn’s bill would require the disclosure of the address of the property and the month and year of its acquisition, but not everyone in the General Assembly is in favor of it.

Many have told her that the information is a matter of public record, and that should be sufficient. Her argument is that since it is public record, “What’s wrong with putting it all in one neat, consolidated place to make that disclosure?”

“I’m not feeling a warm breeze right now from the [Local Government] committee,” said Lynn, who postponed a vote on the bill until March 12. “I really feel like I’m standing out there alone. I know it’s the right thing to do, and I hope they will be amenable.”

She said she would entertain an amendment excepting state legislators from the new disclosure requirement, if it’s the only way to make it a requirement for local government officials.

“I think it’s very important for local government to make this disclosure, especially the planning commission members,” she said. “I think property holdings that one has, especially holdings that they hold for some future opportunity, should be disclosed, [because] maybe they’re in a position to vote on things that will make the opportunity better.”

She said she hopes that it doesn’t come to that, though.

“I hope my colleagues see the big picture. They won’t be in office together forever.”

Amelia Morrison Hipps may be reached at amhipps@capitolnewstn.com, on Twitter @CapitolNews_TN or at 615-442-8667.

Slight Reshuffling Among House Republican Leadership

House Speaker Beth Harwell on Monday won unanimous backing to be the GOP’s nominee for Speaker for a second term. But the party tossed Speaker Pro Tem Judd Matheny from his post in a Republican caucus meeting, replacing him with Rep. Curtis Johnson.

“As far as our caucus is concerned, one of my big roles is to bring our caucus together,” said Johnson, of Clarksville. “We’re going to have differences, we’re going to have constructive criticism … but I think we need to all work together to move our caucus forward.”

Matheny, R-Tullahoma, a Tea Party favorite, was at times critical of other House Republican leaders, and had for a time considered challenging Harwell for speaker.

GOP lawmakers also chose Glen Casada of Franklin to serve as the caucus chairman, a position he held previously before running against Harwell for the speaker’s post in 2010. Casada will take over for Hendersonville Rep. Debra Maggart, who was defeated in the August primary by Courtney Rogers.

“In the 107th General Assembly, we did a lot to change how the Capitol operates internally and created a better environment for job creation throughout the state. Now, it’s time to take the next step,” Casada said in a statement. “Over the next two years, I look forward to leading a solutions-based Caucus that answers the needs of our citizens, creates more opportunity for economic growth, and enhances the educational landscape for our children.”

The caucus also dumped Rep. Curry Todd, of Collierville, from his seat on the powerful Fiscal Review Committee.

Todd, sponsor of Tennessee’s guns-in-bars law, resigned as chairman of the House State and Local Government Committee last year after he was jailed and charged with drunken driving and possession of a handgun while under the influence. He pleaded not guilty, and a trial is set for Nov. 30.

A list of those winning GOP leadership offices can be found by clicking here.

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

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.

 

Turner Hopes Dems Can Capitalize on GOP Rifts

The caucus chairman of the Democrats in Tennessee’s House of Representatives predicts three to six Democratic gains in the House, and perhaps more, if the chips fall their way.

“Any gains we have we will be a victory for us,” Rep. Mike Turner, D-Old Hickory, told TNReport. “I think we can pick off three to six people within reason, and maybe if things go our way nationally a little better we might even get a little higher than that.”

One of the biggest problems Democrats in Tennessee face is at the top of the ticket: President Obama. Indeed, the Democrats’ historic losses in the legislature came with Obama’s popularity in Tennessee sinking to Mariana Trench-like lows. But Turner said that Obama is more popular now than he was in 2010.

“It’s not going to be as bad as it was,” he said, pointing to Obama making significant gains, particularly in Middle Tennessee.

But if Turner’s party doesn’t catch the breaks it needs, he says that Democrats have some built-in advantages — even against a possible Republican supermajority.

“We have more experienced people,” he said. “We know how to govern.”

Republicans need just two more seats to gain a supermajority, which would be 66 seats out of 99.

If the GOP gains a supermajority, fully half of Tennessee House members will have two years or less experience maneuvering through committees and playing hard-ball politics at Legislative Plaza.

The other key advantage, Turner said, is the unity of the Democratic minority.

“Our people will have 32, 33 people back… hopefully a little higher,” he said. “Our people will be solidly behind each other, where (the Republicans) are somewhat separated. You have the traditional Lamar Alexander, Howard Baker, Beth Harwell, Bill Haslam-type Republicans, then they’ve got the very extremist Republicans out there that seem to be pushing the wagon right now and trying to lead them in a direction to the extreme right.”

That creates a split that his caucus can take advantage of, Turner said, and, because of that, “My 30-some-odd Democratic votes is a pretty large block when it comes time to pass some important bills.”

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.

Reagan Administration Economist Arthur Laffer Speaks at GOP Retreat

Economist Arthur Laffer, widely known as the “father of supply-side economics,” spoke to House Republicans during their retreat this week at Tims Ford State Park.

Laffer, a member of President Ronald Reagan’s economic policy team, talked to the group about Tennessee’s economic assets, said Rep. Debra Maggart of Hendersonville, the House Republican Caucus chair.

“Dr. Laffer has a wealth of data, research, knowledge and experience about how the different states compare with one another,” she said.

“One of the focuses he worked on with us was how Tennessee ranks with other states and what makes Tennessee so attractive to people to live here. We’re in a central location, we don’t have a state income tax, we are a right-to-work state, and states like that tend to have favorable economic outcomes.”

In addition to listening to Laffer and other guests, Republicans discussed ways to improve communications with their constituents and various items constituents are concerned about, including reaction from teachers about the state’s new teacher evaluation process, Maggart said.

The retreat, which is held every two years, was paid for with caucus funds, Maggart said.

Maggart didn’t have an exact number of lawmakers who attended the retreat Monday and Tuesday, but she said she had 55 RSVPs committed to attend at least part of the event and that it looked like most of those showed up, including Speaker of the House Beth Harwell and House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick of Chattanooga.

The Republicans have a 64-34-1 majority in the House.

Maggart, who was guarded about sharing what legislators discussed, said the lawmakers did not formally talk about redistricting, a subject of much political speculation. The discussions did include attempts to dramatically reduce the number of bills filed in the Legislature, she said.

“We talked about next year (an election year). I’m not going to unveil what we’re doing,” Maggart said.

Tennessee Republican Party Chairman Chris Devaney has said the state GOP’s goal is to produce a “walkout-proof” majority in the Legislature, meaning enough of a majority that Republicans would have a quorum even without the presence of Democrats in meetings. Republicans have a Senate majority of 20-13. Two more Republican seats in each chamber would be needed to meet Devaney’s goal.

Maggart said the Republicans have been working on their legislative package for next year, although she said she was not ready to unveil that now.

“We’ll be giving that information out when we get it ready,” she said.

Republicans have already been public about at least visiting issues such as changing workers’ compensation laws, oversight of the Court of the Judiciary, halting the extension of unemployment benefits, further monitoring regulations that may hamper business and enacting more tort reform measures next year. But Maggart made clear the party still believes jobs cannot be legislated, a position that puts Republicans at odds with Democrats, who presented a list of jobs bills this year with complaints that they were not seriously considered. Unemployment in the state is 9.8 percent.

Democrats have also scheduled a Jobs Tour for Sept. 19-24, and the state Democratic Party took exception Wednesday to the rosy picture painted by Gov. Bill Haslam and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey about their presentation to the major bond rating agencies in New York.

A release from the Tennessee Democratic Party quoted Chairman Chip Forrester as saying, “This bond rating dog and pony show for Wall Street executives looks obnoxious to the 300,000 Tennesseans who are struggling to find work and provide for their families.”

Maggart maintains that jobs cannot be legislated.

“We’re going to continue to concentrate on paving the way for job creation. The Legislature does not create a single job,” she said. “We want to do what we can to make Tennessee the most attractive state for small businesses to thrive. We want to decrease regulation on small business people.”

Maggart gave the handling of the new photo ID law, requiring photographic identification in order to vote, as an example of how the number of bills filed in the Legislature can be decreased.

“Freshmen didn’t know I was working on it for five or six years, so we can cut down on the number of people filing the same bill,” she said.

Republicans have drawn up a process, spearheaded by Harwell, where lawmakers can consult freely about their bills in a process that normally holds even the filing of legislation as a matter of attorney/client privilege. McCormick has also spoken publicly about reducing the number of bills.

On the teacher evaluations issue, Maggart said members are hearing about it from their districts.

“Teachers are concerned about it. They have questions,” Maggart said. “That was pretty much across the board. I shouldn’t say everyone, but a lot of people had heard from teachers concerned about the process.

“You know it’s going to be a concern because it’s new. It has never been done before. Certainly you’re going to have people who have questions.”

The state adopted a system where teachers will be evaluated based on a formula that relies heavily on classroom observation and student growth under the state’s value-added assessment scores.

Laffer is one of the authors of Rich States, Poor States, released by the American Legislative Exchange Council and issued in its fourth edition this June. Other authors of the book are Stephen Moore, senior economics writer for the Wall Street Journal, and Jonathan Williams, director of the Tax and Fiscal Policy Task Force for ALEC.

“He (Laffer) uses IRS data. That’s such a great data resource, because the IRS knows so much about you. They’ve got your address, know how much you make, how much your deductions are. He has been analyzing people who move, like him, and what the state’s economic status is. Ours is good. People move here from other states,” Maggart said.

“He contrasted all the good things about Tennessee and how we keep moving forward on those things.”

Laffer Associates, an economic research and consulting firm, is in Nashville. An effort Wednesday seeking comment by Laffer on the Republican retreat was unsuccessful.

Other speakers at the retreat included Clint Brewer, assistant commissioner for communications for the Department of Economic and Community Development; a presentation on communications for lawmakers by a consulting firm; and a presentation by Public Opinion Strategies, which handles polling.