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Harper, DCS Chief to Hold Forum on Woodland Hills Escape

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Democratic Caucus; September 5, 2014:

NASHVILLE – State Sen. Thelma Harper and Department of Children’s Services Commissioner Jim Henry will host a community forum to discuss public safety concerns following the escape of 32 teens from the Woodland Hills Youth Development Center.

“We want to be sure that we are doing everything we can at Woodland Hills to ensure not just the well-being of the young men in custody, but also safety of the neighbors who are concerned by recent events,” state Sen. Thelma Harper said.

Commissioner Jim Henry will answer questions from members of the community.

“We want the neighbors to be safe, and we want them to understand the work we do,” Commissioner Henry said. “It is just as important for us to hear what the neighbors have to say.”

The event will be held at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 9 at the Northwest YMCA at 3700 Ashland City Highway.

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

First the Trail of Tears, Now This

If an innocuous-seeming piece of legislation passed Thursday by the Tennessee Senate ultimately proves responsible for launching the state down a corpse-strewn path toward totalitarian dystopia, Sen. Thelma Harper will at least be able to say she didn’t sit silently by When They Came For The Lobbyists.

The Nashville Democrat registered her strong opposition to SB 237 on the Senate floor during discussion of the measure, which would prohibit departing state board or commission members “from lobbying for any organization that had business activities with that board, for a period of one year,” according to sponsor Bo Watson, R-Hixon.

The bill would additionally require anyone serving on a board or commission to “terminate all employment and business association as a lobbyist with any entity whose business endeavors or professional activities are regulated or overseen by such state board, commission or other governmental entity.” Also, no one “who is a member of a state board, commission or other governmental entity shall be permitted to register or otherwise serve as a lobbyist…for any entity whose business endeavors or professional activities are regulated or overseen by such state board, commission or other governmental entity during the person’s period of service as a member.”

Sen. Harper said she senses evil in SB 237’s banal statutory language. “I think what we see is genocide, as it relates to who we want to serve, and who is eligible to serve,” she said.

Continued Harper:

What you are finding is public people who work with the PTA after while will not be able to serve on some of these boards and commissions, simply because they lobby for PTA issues, or Boy Scout or Girl Scout issues. I think we have just (focused) in on certain groups: Those who have the knowledge of what goes on in a certain industry. They know more about about what’s going on in their industry than many of us will ever have the opportunity to read. So, I take it as a cut below the belt.

The measure passed 22-9-1. It has yet to get a hearing in the House.

At least one of Sen. Harper’s chambermates is shaking his head over Harper’s latest use of loaded imagery to highlight her displeasure with relatively mundane legislative action.

On his blog, Knoxville Republican Stacey Campfield — who characterized Watson’s legislation as little more than a “cooling off” provision — indicated he thought it “incredible” that Harper would so casually employ a term generally understood to denote the systematic destruction or extermination of a racial or cultural group.

This isn’t the first time Sen. Campfield — himself no stranger to eye-rolling and scorn from colleagues and political detractors — has said he’s been taken aback and put off by one of Harper’s grim metaphors.

Back in August, Campfield was presiding over a joint Senate-House committee examining various problems and mission failures within the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission when he reminded the panel’s lawmakers that there was a time-limit for asking questions of ABC’s staff on hand to testify. Harper, who chafed at being told how long she could speak, suggested to Campfield that it seemed “you want to put nooses around our necks to keep us from talking.”

Campfield said later he thought Harper’s comment was “a little over the top.”