Categories
Education NewsTracker

Casada Looks Forward to Quizzing Textbook Commission

Rep. Glen Casada says he has a lot of questions for the State Textbook Commission due to what he calls “biased” material in the social studies books currently being used by Tennessee schoolchildren.

The Joint Subcommittee of Government Operations is scheduled to meet Wednesday with and review the governor-appointed panel and decide whether it should continue to exist, or whether reforms of some sort are warranted. Casada, the House GOP caucus chairman, said the discussion should prove interesting.

“The chairman of the committee, Sen. Mike Bell, is going to allow parents from across the state to give testimony as to the bias they see in their textbooks in their home counties,” said Casada. Bell is a Republican from Riceville.

Casada, who serves with Bell on the committee, said he doesn’t at this point have any preconceived ideas about what should happen after the meeting. He said he’s “just curious as to what the Textbook Commission is going to say,” that he’s hoping for answers to “allegations” that some textbooks public schools are using in Tennessee are ideologically prejudiced against capitalism and Western Culture.

Casada said he has reviewed two social studies textbooks and both “put in bad light the free-market system.”

“There are dozens, and I mean literally dozens, of examples of bias,” he said. “For example, there’s a question that’s just stated as a fact that capitalism is one of the causes of poverty. Well, that’s insane. Capitalism is what gets us out of poverty. It’s socialism that puts us in poverty. Yet no where in this textbook is that example given.”

Additionally, Casada takes issue with the books’ depiction of “foreign despots,” such as Mao Tse Tung. Casada said the communist dictator “is uplifted as a man who brought education and health care to his people in China.”

“But nowhere in that page when they talk about the Cultural Revolution do they mention the millions of people he killed,” said Casada.

Tennessee law requires representatives from most state agencies to appear before the Legislature periodically to justify their work and why the agency or commission is still needed. Casada said he finds selection of the textbook commission unusual because, unlike with other boards and commissions, there’s no involvement of the Legislature.

Categories
Featured NewsTracker

Pody Questions State’s Contract to Outsource Motor Pool

An inquiry into contract outsourcing for the management of the state’s motor pool to Enterprise Rent-A-Car has left one state representative with more questions than answers.

And those answers may not come for another month Mark Pody, who sits on the legislature’s Joint Fiscal Review Committee, told TNReport.com.

Rep. Pody had said on Monday that he’d been told by state Department of General Services staff to expect more specific answers Tuesday. However, that didn’t happen, he said.

“I believe they’re giving me general information where I want more specific information, and I want to see where it’s documented and backed up,” said the Republican from Lebanon.

“Everything has been postponed until they come up in Fiscal Review to review the contracts next month,” Pody told TNReport.com Tuesday afternoon.

Fiscal Review is one of a handful of General Assembly committees that meet year-round. The committee convenes on the second Monday of each month. The next meeting will be July 8.

“I’m not comfortable with the stuff they’ve given me already,” said Pody, who is in his second term. “I’ve got to make them tell me why they believe it’s one way and the contract clearly says its something different.”

Pody, who owns a small company specializing in financial planning, said he was made aware of the contract — which he calls “not good business” — by Nashville’s NewsChannel 5 Chief Investigative Reporter Phil Williams.

“We want transparency in government that we know that our taxpayer dollar is being spent wisely, openly and everybody can follow through,” he told TNReport.com, something he doesn’t feel is happening with the Enterprise contract.

“I just see what’s in the contract and what’s being done is two separate entities. I’m not getting the answers that I’m looking for yet.”

Since Gov. Bill Haslam was elected to office in 2010, General Services Commissioner Steve Cates, a Brentwood developer, has overseen the transfer of certain state jobs and services to private companies,

Among these transfers was the state motor pool in 2011 when the Department of General Services decided to outsource the program to Enterprise and its car-sharing program called WeCar.

Around the same time, former Enterprise executive Kathleen Hansen was hired by Cates to head the department’s motor vehicle management division

According to a General Services’ internal memo, the state contract was not put out for bid for three reasons. First, the General Services memo seeking approval stated that “there is insufficient time to create the Request for Information, hold a pre-bid, create an Event, solicit bids, evaluate bids and award a contract by Jan. 1, 2012.”

Second, the memo stated that, “The rental of cars has not been solicited by the Purchasing Division in the past; therefore it does not have experience in developing the specifications.”

Lastly, the memo stated the state would it “piggy-back” on the “University of Tennessee’s WeCar” program, which was put out for public bid.

However, a statement submitted to NewsChannel 5 Investigates reads: “The University of Tennessee does not have a WeCar program,” but instead has a rental discount program with Enterprise for university employees and alumni only.

The UT motor pool has not been outsourced.

This statement, as well as the fact that the state’s contract calls for a fleet of 80 vehicles, but as of Tuesday only had 56 cars in it, causes Pody grave concern.

“The contract clearly calls for a minimum of 80 cars, and that’s what the state’s suppose to be paying for on a monthly basis,” Pody told TNReport.com Tuesday. “As of today, there’s only 56, and I cannot find any documentation where Enterprise or anybody else has agreed that we only pay for 56.

“There’s no paper trail to verify it. There’s just not. I don’t want us to get a bill at some point when this contract ends that says, ‘You’ve been paying now for $6 and the difference is some 20 cars.”

Additionally, Pody said while the “contract specifically calls for hourly rates in three separate spots,” General Services tells him there is no hourly rate. Instead, the state pays the daily rate of $31.33 and a weekly rate of $184.85, $26.60 more than the state of Oklahoma’s rate of $158.35.

Pody said he intends to ask his questions at the next Fiscal Review Committee meeting so he can go on record as having asked them in a public meeting.

Specifically, he wants to see the paper trail regarding the reduction of the fleet size, as well as written documentation explaining how much this has saved the state versus operating its own motor pool. He also wants a detailed explanation regarding the discrepancies between the UT statement and that of General Services regarding the “piggy-back” of the university’s contract.

Pody said he hopes to have some answers next week, well before the next Fiscal Review Committee meeting.

“It’s just me. I’ve got a month to finish getting my stuff together before they come before Fiscal Review,” he said.

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

Categories
Liberty and Justice NewsTracker

DA, Sheriff Criticize Animal-Cruelty Reporting Measure

While Gov. Bill Haslam weighs his options regarding legislation sitting on his desk that opponents have dubbed the “Ag Gag” bill, the chorus of condemnation continues to grow.

Earlier this week two prominent Tennessee crime-fighters told TNReport they have concerns about the bill from a policing standpoint. The state’s longest serving district attorney as well as the president of the Tennessee Sheriff’s Association are saying the legislation is flawed to such degree that enforcement and prosecutions would be problematic if it becomes law.

The bill, sponsored in the state House by Andy Holt, R-Dresden, and in the Senate by Somerville Republican Dolores Gresham, requires anyone “who intentionally” films or photographs animal abuse “for the purpose of documenting the offense” to hand the material over to law enforcement within 48 hours.

It passed handily in the Senate, but by only one vote in the House of Representatives. Both chambers are dominated by the GOP. The governor is also a Republican.

District Attorney General Tommy Thompson, Jr. of the 15th Judicial District called the legislation “an obstruction to justice.”

“This bill is more an industry protection act. It’s a way to prevent people from finding out, because you have to get the trust of the people who are doing it,” said Thompson, a Democrat who for 36 years has served as chief criminal prosecutor for Wilson, Trousdale, Smith, Macon and Jackson counties.

“The people who are doing it are smarter with the law than a lot of the people who are enforcing it,” he added. “They aren’t going to do anything where you can see them until you gain their trust.”

However, a spokeswoman for the Tennessee Farm Bureau, which supports the legislation, told TNReport the measure has been unfairly characterized by media and opponents.

Noting that the bill was initially titled the “Livestock Protection Act” by one of the sponsors, Farm Bureau Executive Vice President Rhedona Rose said the purpose and intent of it is to protect the animals and stop the abuse of the animals. Calling it “Ag Gag” misrepresents what the bill in fact does, she said, which is require people who knowingly witness and record animal abuse to promptly report it to law enforcement officials who can then take steps to stop it immediately.

Rose also pointed to Tennessee’s relatively high score on an Animal Legal Defense Fund assessment of all 50 states’ laws relating to animal treatment as evidence of “how strong we are in dealing with animal abusers.”

“I think the farm community is very frustrated that because of a few bad actors, the entire agriculture farm community is getting a black eye,” Rose said. “They are ready to deal with those who are in fact causing that image and feel like that folks that have proof of that image and knowingly and intentionally go out and capture the proof of that image, they could get it to law enforcement to be dealt with quickly.”

Nevertheless, vocal opponents of the measure, including Republicans like Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris and House Consumer and Human Resources Subcommittee Chairwoman Susan Lynn, have said the bill seems more like a thinly veiled effort to stifle the activities of animal rights activists — that the legislation would in effect “gag” them in the interest of protecting ag and livestock producers.

Thompson, the district attorney, said putting together enough evidence for a prosecution to occur would in fact require more than just one recorded instance of animal abuse. He compared the undercover operations of documenting animal abuse to undercover drug operations.

“If the drug task force had to report their buys within two days, first of all, you would never have enough informants who could get in like that,” he said. “Secondly, if you have to report within two days, the person comes to court and says, ‘That was just the first time I ever did it. I made a mistake. I’m sorry,’ and he may be the biggest drug dealer in town.”

Thompson, who also raises cattle, said the drug task force always tries to do three or four buys from a dealer so they can’t claim it was a casual sale when they come to court.

“You can’t just stand there and take pictures in two days,” said Thompson. “You have to work awhile and let them trust you before you get in position to where the real abuse is going on.”

Thompson added that the bill “doesn’t really have any teeth to it, because anything that is a Class C misdemeanor by fine only gets moved to the bottom of the priority list for law enforcement. There’s so much more important stuff going on.”

Putnam County Sheriff David K. Andrews pretty much agreed with Thompson that the bill has no real teeth and that capturing a one-time incident is basically futile.

“There’s no jail time to it. If a judge issues a pick-up on someone, law enforcement is going to make an effort to pick that person up. But then when you pick him up, what do you do with him?” said Andrews, who last summer was elected to lead the Tennessee Sheriff’s Association.

“If he can’t pay it and won’t pay it, what are you going to do? You can’t put him in jail.”

While the Sheriff’s Association has not taken an official active role in the legislation, Andrews said he used to work undercover and that if you buy drugs from someone just one time, “you might as well not go to court.

“They’re going to say, ‘Well, judge, I really just done this the one time. I was coerced or this or that.’ It sort of takes the teeth out of your prosecution,” Andrews said.

The governor is awaiting an opinion on the bill’s constitutionality from the state attorney general before deciding whether to signs it, veto it or let it become law without is endorsement.

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

Categories
Liberty and Justice

‘Ag-Gag’ on Guv’s Desk; AG Yet to Opine

Rep. Mike Stewart, who voted against the so-called “ag-gag” bill, is still waiting for an Attorney General’s opinion on the constitutionality of the legislation, which arrived on Gov. Bill Haslam’s desk only just at the end of last week.

Haslam has until May 15 to veto it, sign it or let it become law automatically without his endorsement.

The bill, sponsored in the state House by Andy Holt, R-Dresden, and in the Senate by Somerville Republican Dolores Gresham, requires anyone who films or photographs animal abuse to hand the material over to law enforcement within 48 hours. The Legislation passed both chambers last month.

Even though the bill passed the House on April 17, its last hurdle in the General Assembly, the speakers of the two chambers did not sign it until May 1.

Kara Owen, deputy chief of staff for communications and policy for House Speaker Rep. Beth Harwell, said it was a logistics issue. She said it was not uncommon when there are so many bills that pass the last few days of the session for there to be a delay in having them engrossed and sent to the proper speaker’s office for his or her signature.

On the day the bill passed the House, Stewart, a Democrat, asked for a state attorney general’s opinion “to see if it violates the first amendment as it relates to freedom of the press and how it will affect the proprietary rights to their work product such as video or photographs taken as part of the undercover investigation.”

As of Tuesday morning, no opinion had been issued by Attorney General Robert Cooper’s office. However, the Nashville legislator’s assistant Delano Brent said she did receive an email from the AG’s office that stated an opinion could be issued by Friday.

Supporters contend that the measure is meant to encourage whistleblowers to come forward and stop illegal treatment of animals as quickly as possible. Critics, however, argue that it is actually an industry protection law, created to stop journalists and animal rights groups from gathering enough evidence to prove cases of continuing abuse.

Holt told TNReport on the legislative session’s final day that after discussing the measure with Haslam, he’s confident that it would become law. He also defended the intentions behind the legislation, charging that the Humane Society of the U.S. was demonizing it to raise money.

“The truest intent of this bill is to protect animals – especially from ongoing investigations like we’ve seen many times in the past from HSUS,” Holt said. “This is a radical animal activist group that raises literally hundreds of millions of dollars.”

Rep. Susan Lynn, a Republican, voted against the bill saying it violates free speech and that it criminalizes those who are seeking to stop animal abuse. On the day of the House vote, Lynn said the bill “is coercion by government of the worst kind.”

Lynn said she talked to Haslam before the last session and asked him to wait before signing it until the Attorney General opinion had come back.

The Mt. Juliet representative also noted that the bill did not go through the House Judiciary Committee after the criminal statute was added to it as an amendment in the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee. She said that move was wrong.

Opponents to the bill include lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, the HSUS, as well as celebrities like Carrie Underwood, Emmylou Harris and Ellen DeGeneres. On Friday, members of the Clergy for Justice faith community delivered a letter to Haslam urging him not to sign it.

Last week, the governor said he had not made up his mind how he will proceed with the legislation. He said he sympathizes with farmers, while also understanding the arguments against it.

While the bill passed in the Senate 22-9, it passed in the House 50-43-2 on a razor’s edge. One vote less and it would have failed for lack of majority, making an override of a veto unlikely.

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

John Klein Wilson contributed to this story.

 

 

Categories
Business and Economy Featured NewsTracker

Workers’ Comp Overhaul Signed, Takes Effect Summer 2014

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has signed the workers’ compensation reform legislation his administration pushed through the state’s General Assembly.

Haslam on Monday put official gubernatorial endorsement to Senate Bill 200, “The Tennessee Workers’ Compensation Reform Act.” The bill swept through both chambers of the General Assembly, largely following a GOP-dominated party-line trek.

The American Insurance Association was quick to issue a press release applauding Haslam after the signing of the bill. “AIA applauds Gov. Haslam for signing SB 200 into law and for his continued leadership throughout the legislative process,” said Ron Jackson, AIA Southeast region vice president. “The Act is the right approach to providing much needed reform to Tennessee’s workers’ compensation system.”

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The new law will make the Volunteer State the 48th to no long adjudicate workers’ comp claims in court. Instead, the law creates a new state agency with the Department of Labor and Workforce Development, whose administrator will be chosen by the governor.

In anticipation of the July 1,2014 effective date, certain portions of the law go into effect immediately, such as those for the adoption of rules and the appointment of personnel to staff the new agency.

Rep. Kevin Brooks presented House Bill 194 to the lower chamber on behalf of House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, the bill’s prime sponsor.

Brooks predicted that the primary gains for employees will be fewer delays, better medical treatment, claim processes that are easier to follow and support from the workers’ comp division when problems arise. Gains for employers include cost reductions, predictability and more efficient claim handling, said the Bradley County Republican.

Democrats, who fought the bill throughout its movement in the General Assembly, complained that the legislation does not address the medical costs associated with workers’ comp. Opponents claimed that the high cost of health care is the reason Tennessee’s costs continue to rise, while those in the surrounding eight states continue to fall.

Following the House session, where members concurred with the Senate version, before passing 68-24, Democratic Leader Rep. Craig Fitzhugh told TNReport.com “people think it’s going to be reform, but it’s really not.”

“I’m afraid we’ll see it in a year or two and have to do something else with it. I don’t think this is going to turn out to be something very positive,” said the nine-term representative from Ripley.

Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, carried the bill in the Senate, where it passed 28-2 with little discussion.

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

Categories
Featured Tax and Budget

Governor Signs Measure Paring Down Per Diem

Tennessee lawmakers living within a 50-mile radius of the Capitol can expect to see their daily lodging allowances drop in a couple years.

Gov. Bill Haslam signed House Bill 80 into law Friday. It won’t impact sitting legislators — only those elected in 2014 forward. The provisions of the bill cover 25 Middle Tennessee House districts and nine Senate districts.

The final House vote was 77-16, with 20 members whose districts will be affected voting in favor of the legislation. Of the 15 Democrats who voted against the change, only four of them will be affected. The other six Democrats whose districts are impacted voted yes, while all of the 12 Republicans voted yes. Rep. Brenda Gilmore, D-Nashville, did not vote at all. (See Votes by Legislators Affected by Per Diem box below.)

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Gilmore was paid $13,215.85. Of the House districts that will be impacted, that was the highest in travel and per diem expenses in 2012.(See chart below for how much affected representatives received in cumulative travel and per diem expenses in 2012.)

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Of all the Senate districts to be affected, Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, had the highest travel and per diem expenses at almost $15,000. Sen. Douglas Henry of Nashville, who has served for 42 years in the Senate, received $8,953.62, but the veteran Democrat returns all of his expense payments back to the state, according to Legislative Administration’s website. (See chart below for how much affected senators received in cumulative travel and per diem expenses in 2012.)

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According to the new law’s fiscal note, HB80 would save the state $253,616, based on figures from in 2012, when 33 legislators lived within 50 miles of the Capitol. The savings will come primarily from the ineligibility of lawmakers whose primary residence is within a 50-mile radius of the Capitol to automatically receive $107 a day for a hotel room. Instead, they will receive receive mileage reimbursement at 46 cents a mile.

In addition, legislators who live within Davidson County will be able to calculate their round-trip mileage to the Capitol and receive reimbursement for it, something they are currently unable to do.

Unlike current statute, which allows the 34 lawmakers affected to receive mileage for only one round-trip per week, the new statute would apply to each legislative day in Nashville or any day, except Friday, that the lawmaker participates in any other activity in Nashville, but would be limited to one round trip per day.

All legislators will continue to receive $66 per day for meals and incidentals.

There are two methods for logging their legislative time in order to receive their allowed expenses.  One is by attending committee meetings or legislative sessions in the House or Senate, which records this attendance automatically. The other method is filling out paperwork with the details of what they did that day. These documents must receive approval from the House or Senate speaker.

Lawmakers who live within the 50-mile radius will still be allowed to stay overnight and be paid the $107 for lodging – provided they receive prior approval from the speaker of their respective chamber.

For more on the history of this issue, which dates back more than five years, go to TNReport.com and search the archives using the phrase “per diem.”

To find out your legislators’ per diems, as well as mileage payments and travel spending, go to the Legislative Administration website. While some legislators may not claim the allowance for every day they work, it will give you a rough idea. The online data goes back to 2009.

If you’re not sure who your representative or senator is, type in your address at this “Find My Legislator” database, and you’ll find out.

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

Categories
NewsTracker Transparency and Elections

Applause, Cheers Send Annexation Bill to Governor

Applause and cheers went up in both the House and Senate Friday afternoon when Senate Bill 279 dealing with annexation passed by a vote of 59-32, sending the legislation to Gov. Bill Haslam’s desk.

Sent to a conference committee earlier in the day because of the differences between amendments filed by the sponsors in the Senate and House – Speaker Pro Tempore Sen. Bo Watson in the Senate and freshman Rep. Mike Carter – the House spent almost 35 minutes debating the conference committee report before approving it.

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The earlier Senate vote was unanimous.

The original intent of SB 279 was to require that local voters directly sign off on annexations before a city could move to absorb more land into its taxing jurisdiction. The final version is completely different.

“This bill is certainly not what I started with you,” said Carter, a former Hamilton County General Sessions Judge. “Realizing that there are good cities that provide utilities and provide the necessaries that they bill for, realizing those cities exists, I said, ‘Wait a minute. I cannot let my need in one area adversely affect the entire state.’ That began the process that resulted in these modifications.”

The final legislation does three things:

  • It places a moratorium on any annexation by ordinance of residential or farm land not finalized by April 15, 2013 through May 15, 2015;
  • It provides county commissions the opportunity to opt out of the moratorium by a simple majority vote, “if the city is going to suffer substantial and demonstrable financial injury,” and,
  • It sends the legislation to the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations for a “a comprehensive review and evaluation of the efficacy of state policies,” and those findings are to be reported back to both legislative bodies by Jan. 14, 2014.

“This bill has been amended down to the very bare bones,” said the Republican from Ooltewah, who added that the moratorium only applies to residential and farm land and does not affect any commercial, industrial, retail properties, nor any roadways necessary to get there.

Opposition arose from both sides of the aisle. Reasons given against the legislation were wide ranging.

Rep. Joe Pitts, D-Clarksville, said his county wanted out of the bill because they felt it was “punitive to put the moratorium on us when there was no problem to solve.”

Rep. William Lambert, R-Cottontown, expressed concern that the moratorium will cost Sumner County jobs, while Rep. Johnny Show, D-Bolivar, said at the local level “somebody could have a mean streak and just decide that they want to do something to mess us up.”

However, one mind was changed from wishing to opt out his county. Rep. Tillman Goins, R-Morristown, had asked on Thursday that Hamblen County be opted out. However, he changed his mind due the change to a simple majority vote in the conference committee report.

“I have confidence in my local elected officials that they’re going to do the right thing to not impede any kind of growth in my community at the expense of their own elections,” he said.

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

Categories
Featured

Some Teachers Could Carry Guns Under Bill Passed by Legislature

Legislation drafted by Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration that would give local boards of education the authority to allow certain teachers to carry firearms into the classroom heads to his desk for his signature.

House Bill 6 passed the Senate 27-6 on Thursday, with Republican Sen. Brian Kelsey joining Democrats in voting no.

Kelsey is chairman of the Senate Judicial Committee, where the “comprehensive” amendment that rewrote the bill was drafted. The House signed off on the new version later in the day.

The legislation would allows teachers or staff members who meet four criteria to carry a firearm of any kind onto a school campus – provided the person receives written authorization from the director of schools and the school’s principal. (See criteria list below.)

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Once the person has met all of the requirements and receives permission, the director of schools has 10 days to notify the head of the appropriate local law enforcement agency information about this individual. These are the only individuals who will know which teachers or staff members are carrying, an issue with critics of the bill.

“I truly believe your constituents who have children in school would like to know if the teacher has a gun in the classroom,” said Sen. Jim Kyle, D-Memphis.

Republican Sen. Mark Green, who came up with the amendment in committee, disagreed.

“A person who is intent on assaulting a school, one of the best pieces of information that person could have is where guns are in the school and where they’re located,” said the senator from Clarksville. “Keeping that information private protects the students in that school.”

However, each year the director of schools will be required to submit a report to the two chambers’ chief clerks a report containing just the number of schools and persons participating.

Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, questioned whether or not the amendment placed any restrictions on the type of guns a school employee may legally carry.

“No, it did not. It simply mentions firearms,” Kelsey said.

“So a teacher could carry an AK-47 or an Uzi fully automatic if they so chose?” Campfield asked.

“Yes, the language drafted by the administration would allow a teacher to carry an AK-47 in the school,” the Germantown senator replied.

“Far be it from me to stand in the way of the governor,” Campfield said.

Campfield, who ended up voting for the bill, also noted that currently there are currently only about 100 teachers throughout the state who might meet the qualifications to carry a gun to school.

“I support the concept of this, but I really think it’s so watered down and weak, it really doesn’t do any of the goals that we all have,” he said. “And actually by shutting off all information to find out if its successful or not, we’ve neutered it about as much as it can be neutered.”

In his closing remarks, Kelsey said, “You’re not really providing true safety to anybody with this type of approach that’s half-hearted at best. If we’re truly are concerned about safety in our schools, then we’re going to have to suck it up and pay for it.”

Just before the vote, Sen. Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains, who sponsored the legislation in the upper chamber, noted that the amended bill “represents the consensus language from the governor, the Department of Education, the Department of Commerce and Insurance, the Sheriff’s Association, the school boards and the Chiefs of Police. Now if that many people can agree on this, it can’t be all bad.”

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

Categories
Featured NewsTracker

Conference Committee Looms for Annexation Bill

A conference committee appears to be in the immediate future for annexation legislation that started out very simple and has morphed into two very different bills in the state House and Senate.

The original intent of Senate Bill 279 was to require that local voters directly sign off on annexations before a city could move to absorb more land into its taxing jurisdiction. However, separate amendments filed by their respective GOP sponsors – Speaker Pro Tempore Sen. Bo Watson in the Senate and freshman Rep. Mike Carter in the House – have it at odds.

Thursday, Carter got his version of SB 279 through the House by a vote of 78-16.

Watson moved his version off the Senate floor Wednesday with an all-Republican vote of 27-0. Democratic senators simply refused to vote.

But because differences between the Housr and Senate versions, a conference committee will likely convene Friday to work out the differences, according to Watson.

“It will come back to the Senate, and we’ll take a look at it,” the Hixson lawmaker told TNReport after the House vote. “They allowed some counties to opt-out. We debated against that pretty vigorously in the Senate, so I don’t think that’s something the Senate can accept. Opting out is an easy way of getting the Legislature to take the pressure off of local government.”

In the Senate, the so-called “amendment that makes the bill” would place a moratorium on residential or agricultural annexations by ordinance from April 1, 2013 to May 1, 2014. County commissions would be allowed to vote one time to extend the start date – as long as they pass it with a two-thirds majority.

The House’s legislation keeps the moratorium, but allows the county commissions to extend the start date via a simple majority vote.

In addition, the House allowed 12 counties to opt out of the mandate, despite warnings former Carter, a former Hamilton County General Sessions Court judge, that for the measure to withstand constitutional scrutiny, the Legislature must “apply the law statewide.”

Carter argued that a “rational basis” must underpin a county’s opt-out request, not merely political expedience. The Republican from Ooltewah added that the House measure does provide for opt-out if  a local jurisdiction “is going to suffer substantial and demonstrable financial injury.”

Both versions refer the bill to the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations for “a comprehensive review and evaluation of the efficacy of state policies,” and that the findings are to be reported back to both legislative bodies by Jan. 14, 2014.

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

Categories
Liberty and Justice NewsTracker

Controversial Livestock Abuse Legislation Passes House, Goes to Governor

After almost two hours of debate, a contentious livestock-abuse reporting bill cleared the state House of Representatives Wednesday with the minimal vote necessary for a chamber majority, 50-42-2.

The legislation requires individuals who record cruelty to livestock to submit those unedited images to law enforcement within 48 hours or face being charged with a Class C misdemeanor.

Tennessee Code Annotated defines livestock as “all equine as well as animals which are being raised primarily for use as food or fiber for human utilization or consumption, including, but not limited to, cattle, sheep, swine, and goats.” The bill does not apply to dogs, cats or chickens, although some argued it should.

Passage in the House was a hard-fought battle on the part of House Bill 1191 sponsor, Rep. Andy Holt, who has argued from the beginning that the purpose of the bill is stop animal abuse as soon as possible.

“How long do you think an animal should have to suffer before the perpetrator is brought to justice?” the Republican from Dresden asked in his closing remarks before the vote. “I particularly believe we should bring that individual to justice as quickly as possible. Others, who oppose this bill, feel like four, five, six months is appropriate, and I completely and wholeheartedly disagree.”

Holt said nothing in the bill would prohibit a person investigating a suspected livestock abuse situation from continuing that investigation after he had turned in the video tape or photographs of the first incident recorded.

Delaying law enforcement while individuals or animal rights groups built cases through continued documentation of abuse was only one argument against the bill, which was bipartisan in its criticism.

The most contentious argument came from Republican Rep. Vance Dennis, who argued that the bill is “unenforceable because you can’t arrest someone for the crime you’re creating.” 

“You cannot arrest for a fine-only misdemeanor. You can cite for not coming to court, but if the person doesn’t come to court, you have no means of enforcement, “ said Dennis, an attorney from Savannah.

Rep. Susan Lynn, R-Mt. Juliet, argued that by attaching a criminal offense to the legislation, “This bill is coercion by government of the worst kind.”

Other arguments raised in the House were much the same as those raised in the Senate on Tuesday, where the legislation passed 22-9, with four Republicans joining five Democrats in voting no.

Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris brought an amendment that would have rewritten the bill and would have required “any person who has knowledge of or observes” an animal being abused to report it to law enforcement immediately.

However, Senate Bill 1248 sponsor Sen. Delores Gresham moved successfully to kill Norris’ effort, which was tabled on a 17-10 vote.

“Obviously, it’s not the attempt of the sponsor of the bill to make every citizen who might find themselves in a situation where they might observe this to make them a criminal. But indeed that’s essentially what this bill does,” said Gresham, a Republican from Somerville, about the Norris amendment.

Norris, a Republican from Collierville, shot back, “Either you’re opposed to animal abuse or you’re not, and that’s why this amendment is designed to get to the root of the problem. The sponsor says she doesn’t want to criminalize animal abuse in general, just the filming of it. If you see abuse, you need to report it, whether you’re filming it or not.”

Sen. Charlotte Burks, D-Monterey, rose in support of the bill because, “As a farmer, I’ve got livestock, and sometimes people don’t understand the proper handling of livestock. … It could be misunderstood and it could waste a lot of our DA’s time.”

Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, again cited the link between those who commit animal abuse at an early age and those who commit child and/or spousal abuse as an adult.

Equally as passionate in favor of the bill, Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, expressed outrage at the United States Humane Society for holding the video of soring of a Tennessee walking horse in Collierville for four months before releasing it in May 2012.

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