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Haynes Ends Career in TN House, Now Takes Over TNGOP

Press Release from the Republican Party of Tennessee, April 22, 2015:

Haynes: A Session of Success Concludes

109th General Assembly’s First Half Concludes with Major Conservative Accomplishments

NASHVILLE, Tenn.—With the final debate over, the 109th General Assembly has concluded its work for the first regular session. The closing comes with a number of legislative victories Republicans can be proud of.

“We’ve just witnessed a session of success,” stated Tennessee Republican Party Chairman Ryan Haynes. “Whether it is the conservative fiscal stewardship of our state, educational reforms that keep us on the path of achievement, or a number of bills to enhance the freedom Tennesseans expect—our state is moving ahead. Governor Haslam continues to show why he’s garnered the reputation of a dynamic reformer-in-chief and together, with Lieutenant Governor Ramsey and Speaker Harwell, the leadership of our state has never been stronger.”

  • The Republican-led General Assembly passed a fiscally responsible balanced budget that cut taxes, placed over $70 million into the Rainy Day fund, all while funding continued improvements for education and Tennessee’s business-friendly environment.
  • Working with parents, teachers, and administrators, the GOP started the effort to put in place Tennessee-specific education standards.
  • Tennessee Reconnect was created, a visionary program set forth by Gov. Haslam, to help adults enter higher education so they may gain new skills, advance in their careers, and complete a degree or credential.
  • Additionally, while making targeted investments, Republican leaders were able to cut the Hall Income Tax for seniors 65 and older.
  • Haynes concluded, “I am proud of the work our leaders and my colleagues put in on behalf of all Tennesseans. We’ve proven, once again, our state is a model for how to govern in a responsible, conservative fashion while answering the needs of our citizens.”

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Bill to Make Bible TN’s ‘State Book’ Hits Impasse

After passing the Tennessee House of Representatives on a close vote, a controversial effort to make the Holy Bible the official state book looks to have have died for the year in the Senate.

Senate Majority Leader Republican Mark Norris of Collierville, who had been indicating strong opposition to the measure for some time, successfully won a motion on Thursday to send it back to the upper-chamber Judiciary Committee, which has been closed for the year. The vote was 22-9.

Barring the unlikely event that the committee is reopened, which Judiciary Chairman Brian Kelsey of Germantown said he opposes, the bill won’t likely come up again until 2016.

Norris said he made the motion in response to an opinion issued earlier this week by Tennessee Attorney General Herb Slatery, who declared that designating the Bible as an official state symbol would violate both the federal and state constitutions. Slatery noted that both documents “prohibit governmental establishment of religion.”

The Senate sponsor of the Bible bill, Republican Steve Southerland of Morristown, attempted to refute some of the points offered in the attorney general’s opinion. However, Norris countered that any substantive discussions about a measure’s constitutionality or legality should occur first in the Judiciary Committee, which never had occasion to consider the bill prior to it coming to the floor.

A similar effort to send the House’s version of the Bible-as-state-book bill back to committee for the same reason failed in the lower chamber Wednesday. The House went on to approve the bill 55-38.

The GOP speakers of both chambers of the General Assembly, as well Republican Gov. Bill Haslam, have expressed opposition to the Bible push.

After the vote to send the measure back to committee, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey of Sullivan County issued the following statement in support of the action:

“No text is more sacred than the Holy Bible. I believe that the Old Testament is the inspired word of God and that the New Testament is the literal word of God. I believe that God’s only son, Jesus Christ, died for our sins, rose from the dead and ascended to heaven. But our nation was built on a foundation of religious liberty that cannot be ignored. Attorney General Slatery’s recent opinion raises serious questions about the constitutionality of this bill. I am a Christian, but I am also a constitutionalist and a conservative. It would be fiscally irresponsible to put the state in a position to have to spend tax dollars defending a largely symbolic piece of legislation. We don’t need to put the Bible beside salamanders, tulip poplars and ‘Rocky Top’ in the Tennessee Blue Book to appreciate its importance to our state. Sending the bill back to judiciary for further review is the best course of action under the circumstances. The Bible is my official book but it need not be the official book of the state of Tennessee.”

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Elect-the-AG Amendment Alive in Legislature

The Tennessee Legislature is once again seriously considering whether to ask voters if the state’s attorney general should be chosen by the people.

Under the current selection method, the person who serves in the position is appointed by the Supreme Court.

Senate Joint Resolution 63 seeks to amend Article VI, Section 5 of the Tennessee Constitution to require that “beginning with the November 2020 general election, and every six years thereafter, an attorney general and reporter for the state shall be popularly elected by the qualified voters of the state and shall hold office for a term of six years and until a successor is elected and qualified.”

The vote on SJR63 was 23-9-1. Notably, Republican Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey Voted against it. Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, and Minority Leader Lee Harris, D-Memphis, voted in favor.

Also voting yes was Republican Mark Green of Clarksville, who in the past has advocated for transferring AG-selection authority to the Legislature. Green said a popularly elected attorney general is “the next best alternative.”

“The will of the people needs to be heard,” said Green.

elcting ag vote senate 2015 april 14The measure wouldn’t appear on the ballot until 2018 if it were to win final approval from the Legislature.

Tennessee’s current attorney general, Herbert Slatery, was appointed to an eight-year term last year. His term expires 2022.

Tennessee is the only state in the nation in which the government’s chief legal officer is selected by the state’s high court.

Forty-three states popularly elect their attorney general, and the rest have some form or combination of gubernatorial or legislative appointment.

Numerous efforts over the years to alter the current process have come up short in Tennessee’s lengthy process of amending the state constitution, the last step of which is putting the question before the electorate in a statewide referendum.

As with past attempts, the latest elect-the-AG push is sponsored in the Senate by Mae Beavers, a Republican from Mt. Juliet.

“Our state is tied for dead last in the number of statewide elected officials,” Beavers said, referring to the governor and two United States senators. “We have only three people who are elected statewide. It is time we let the citizens have more of a say in their government.”

Beavers squared off during floor debate against the Senate’s most vocal opponent of changing the current system, Doug Overbey of Maryville.

Both hit upon points they’ve made on multiple occasions when the issue has come up before.

Overbey noted that he’s so familiar with the talking points that “it puts me in mind of the 1993 movie ‘Groundhog Day’ starring Bill Murray, where Bill Murray’s character was in a time loop, repeating the same thing, day after day after day.”

“This issue has been before the General Assembly as far back as I can remember, and it has never advanced to the ballot, and for good reason,” he said. “That’s why it seems to me we are in a time loop repeating the same thing year after year after year.”

Overbey went on to say Tennessee’s current system “has worked and continues to work since the adoption of the 1870 constitution.”

“I would submit that we only change what has been in place when it no longer works,” said Overbey, who himself submitted an application to become the state’s more powerful lawyer last summer but was passed over by the Supreme Court in favor of Slatery.

Overbey added that he believes the current system has produced a long line of attorneys general who proved themselves independent and untainted by higher-office political ambitions and partisan agendas.

By contrast, Beavers argued that the office of attorney general isn’t as institutionally autonomous as supporters of the system plan like to claim.

“I am not trying to disparage our current attorney general, who I believe to be a fine lawyer, however let’s not fool ourselves,” she said. “Our AG was chosen by some judges who he himself interviewed and helped put on the bench. So don’t tell me that there are no politics in the current system.”

Prior to becoming attorney general, Slatery served as chief legal counsel to Gov. Bill Haslam. In that role he was charged with advising the governor on appointments to the Tennessee Supreme Court, which included Justices Holly Kirby in 2013 and Jeffrey Bivins last spring. Both were on the high court when the five justices tapped Slatery to become attorney general last September.

GOP Leader Norris said good points can be made both for and against the attorney general becoming a popularly elected position in state government — and voters are capable of sorting those arguments out for themselves.

“What can’t be denied is that the people should have their right to vote,” said Norris. “The debate begins here again today, but it will continue. Let the people decide.”

Any effort to amend Tennessee’s founding document must win simple majority support in both the House of Representatives and the Senate during one two year session — and then two-thirds majority support in the next two-year session. Afterward, it goes to the people for a vote.

A House version of SJR63 died in committee this year, but can be brought up again next year.

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TN State Police Announce Arrest of Rap Star Nelly After Bus Search Turns Up Pot, Meth, Guns

Press Release from the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security, April 11, 2015:

Tennessee State Trooper Arrests Hip-Hop Artist “Nelly” in Putnam County

NASHVILLE — A Tennessee state trooper arrested internationally known hip-hop artist “Nelly” on felony drug charges in Putnam County on Saturday morning.

Nelly, whose real name is Cornell Haynes, was charged with felony possession of drugs, simple possession of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia.

At approximately 9:20 a.m. on Saturday, Trooper Michael Loftis stopped a Prevost motor coach bus on Interstate 40 near the 275 mile marker for failure to display a U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and International Fuel Tax Association (IFTA) sticker on the vehicle. The investigating trooper planned to conduct an inspection on the bus when he noticed an odor of marijuana emitting from the vehicle.

Trooper Loftis, assisted by THP Sgt. Donald Jennings, then conducted a probable cause search of the bus. The troopers discovered in the sleeper area a plastic bag that contained five colored crystal-type rocks that tested positive for methamphetamine, as well as a small amount of marijuana and other drug paraphernalia. Further investigation revealed approximately 100 small Ziploc bags that are commonly associated with the sale of narcotics and numerous handguns, including a gold-plated 50-caliber Desert Eagle pistol, a 45-caliber Tarus pistol, and a 500 magnum Smith and Wesson.

The bus was occupied by six subjects, one of whom was identified as Brian Jones, 44, of St. Louis, Missouri. Mr. Jones, a convicted felon, was also in possession of a handgun and was charged accordingly.

Nelly, 40, also of St. Louis, Missouri and Jones, who were traveling to St. Louis when the traffic stop occurred, were transported to the Putnam County Jail.

The weapons and drugs were seized in accordance with state law.

Booking photos may be obtained from the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office.

The Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security’s (www.TN.Gov/safety) mission is to serve, secure, and protect the people of Tennessee.

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Corker Rattles Foreign Policy Saber at NRA Rally

Helping kick off the National Rifle Association’s three-day annual conference Friday, Bob Corker told the crowd of thousands from across the country gathered at Nashville’s sprawling Music City Center that he’s confident his support for gun rights is beyond reproach.

“I don’t have to tout my Second Amendment record, I have a record to prove it,” said Tennessee’s junior United States senator. “I don’t have to tout it, OK.”

Corker was at one time hinting he might make a run at the White House himself, but decided against it. For that reason, Corker told the NRA crowd, he expected to be “the most relaxed public official that will address you.”

And instead of talking about gun rights, Corker spent the bulk of his five minute speech touting his top political priorities of the moment: Preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons and arming the Republican Party with a presidential candidate who’ll win the White House in 2016.

Corker indicated that both issues will be central targets of his attention over the year ahead.

The chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Corker said he wants to see “a negotiated agreement” with Iran “that will stand the test of time and ensure that the greatest exporter of terrorism does not get a nuclear weapon.”

Iran asserts that its nuclear program is only for energy, not arms.

Corker then praised the 10 or so GOP presidential candidates in attendance at the convention for understanding “the best way for peace is through strength — security through strength.”

“All of them know that — they are all good people,” said Corker.

Notably absent from the Republican presidential candidate speakers’ lineup at the NRA confab is Rand Paul, the United States senator from Kentucky who announced his bid this week.

“I am thrilled with the talent the commitment the principles that these candidates all stand on, and you will help decide which one of these will be out presidential nominee on the Republican side,” said Corker. “I just ask that as you go through this process and as we together decide which of them is the best nominee, that when that is over, we all together will absolutely assure that the next person who to occupy the White House in 2016 is a Republican.”

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Senate Minority Leader Credits Dems for Jamming Up ‘Guns-in-Parks’ Prior to NRA Convention

Press Release from the Tennessee Senate Democratic Caucus, April 10, 2015:

NRA Can’t Have Guns in TN Parks; Democrats successfully delay guns in parks past NRA convention

NASHVILLE – As the NRA convention begins today, its members won’t be allowed to carry weapons in Tennessee parks, thanks to Democratic efforts to delay legislation aimed at pleasing special interests.

Republicans scrambled in the past few weeks to pass a guns-in-parks bill as a welcome to the National Rifle Association convention.

“It seems to me that this time around the NRA not only tried to dictate the terms of legislation, but also the timing of it,” Sen. Harris said. “This is a terrible way to make public policy. The good news is that the NRA and other interest groups were not allowed to hijack the legislative process, and our cities – for now – can still take measures to keep their parks safe.

“That’s not just a win for Democrats. It’s a win for Nashville and folks tired of the special interests driving government.”

SB 1171 takes away a city’s ability to prohibit weapons in public parks. With different versions having passed in the Senate and House, the legislation must come before the Senate again, after the NRA convention.

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Guns-in-Parks Bill May Lose Pack-in-Plaza Amendment

The state House of Representatives on Monday night rejected granting Tennesseans who are licensed to carry firearms express permission to pack a piece “on the grounds of the state capitol or the surrounding capitol complex.”

The lower chamber voted 75-17 to scrap the provision. All those who voted against eliminating the come-strapped-to-the-Statehouse amendment were Democrats — it being a Democrat-proposed idea to start with.

Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Jeff Yarbro of Nashville came up with the notion on April 1 as a political ploy to try and make Republicans look hypocritical for wanting to shoot down local bans on guns — even while state lawmakers themselves do their business in a place where firearms are prohibited.

The main aim of the Republican-backed legislation outlined in House Bill 995 and Senate Bill 1171 is to override local no-exception proscriptions against gun-possession in municipal or county parks, campgrounds and other public outdoor recreation areas.

Republicans, though, called Yarbro’s bluff. The GOP-dominated Senate voted 28-0 to load his amendment into the bill, thus granting permit-holders exemption not just from gun-free zone in local parks, but at the Capitol as well.

House Republicans, however, signaled they’re in no mood to abet the freshman senator’s gambit. “Obviously, it was not offered in a constructive fashion,” Republican Speaker Beth Harwell said of the Yarbro amendment.

The lower chamber’s sponsor of the guns-in-parks legislation, Mike Harrison of Rogersville, agreed. “We’re not playing games with this,” he told TNReport.

Asked if rejecting the amendment then indeed does open Republicans to charges of hypocrisy, Harrison responded, “Well, that’s something that needs to be addressed in its own bill, not at the late last hour. If people are interested in that, they need to bring a bill next year.”

The legislation now moves back to the Senate, where the upper chamber must decide whether to go along with the House’s decision to discharge the pistols-at-the-Plaza amendment. Should the senators stick to their guns, the measure would go to a “conference committee,” where the target would be to reconcile the House and Senate versions.

Republican Gov. Bill Haslam reiterated Monday that he’s no fan of the legislation with or without the carry-at-the-Capitol provision. However, he stopped short of promising a veto.

“One of the reasons we don’t ever say what we’re going to do on a bill is they can and do change along the way,” said the governor.

Haslam added that he’d like to get some input on the issues involved from the state attorney general’s office, including legal counsel on confusion that’s cropped up over whether the local gun bans that the state is overriding would go back in effect if schools were using the property in question.

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April 2 TN News Digest

This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.

Advanced plastics manufacturer expanding to Knoxville (Associated Press)
An advanced plastics manufacturer is opening a new manufacturing facility in Knox County that’s expected to create more than 200 jobs. Gov. Bill Haslam and Economic and Community Development Commissioner Randy Boyd announced this week that Hicks Plastics plans to invest $10.4 million to expand its operations to Knoxville, Tennessee. Hicks Plastics produces automotive lighting components, specializing in molded and vacuum metalized lighting components. Officials say the company is expanding its manufacturing operations from Michigan to Knoxville in order to be closer to SL Tennessee, which manufactures and produces head lamps and tail lamps for the automotive market.

Hicks Plastics creating 202 jobs in Knoxville (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Pare)
Hicks Plastics, a maker of automotive lighting components, plans to create 202 jobs, investing $10.4 million in a Knoxville plant, officials said Wednesday. The company is to begin producing its components in July and become fully operational by December, according to the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development. “Through companies like Hicks Plastics, we will continue to strengthen our supplier network and provide opportunities for growth in our communities,” said Randy Boyd, the department’s commissioner.

Free tuition at Portland tech school on the way (Tennessean/Yankova)
A Portland couple is looking to take advantage of a program that will offer free continuing education at Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology campuses statewide this fall. Barry Empson plans to enroll in free courses this fall at the new Portland TCAT campus. The free classes are part of the newly-launched Tennessee Reconnect grant that will cover eligible adults’ tuition to all programs TCAT campuses statewide offer starting this fall. “It’s a second-chance opportunity to improve the lives of Tennessee citizens,” TCAT Assistant Director Jerry King said. “It will also provide the state with a well-educated and well-trained, quality workforce, which could increase standards of living tremendously.”

Montgomery County to receive funding for additional judge (Leaf Chronicle)
A fifth trial judge for the 19th Judicial District covering Montgomery and Robertson counties will help ease the ever-expanding civil and criminal caseload, but might also require the county to ante up for additional support staff in the coming budget season. State House Speaker Pro Tem Curtis Johnson (R-Clarksville) announced Tuesday that a local circuit court judge will be added in the 19th Judicial District. The funding for the additional judge will be included in Gov. Bill Haslam’s annual budget, unveiled Tuesday. “I sincerely appreciate the governor recognizing the need for an additional judge in our region,” said Johnson in prepared comments.

Earthquake rattles Mo. bootheel, West Tennessee (Commercial Appeal)
A magnitude 4.0 earthquake rattled the Missouri bootheel late Wednesday night, and was felt as far south as the Memphis area, the USGS said. The quake struck at 10:51 p.m. and was centered near Steele, Mo., in the extreme southeast corner of Missouri. USGS received dozens of reports from people who said they felt the quake in West Tennessee and surrounding states. The reports ranged as far north as Carbondale, Ill. and as far south as DeSoto County, Miss.

Earthquake in Missouri felt in Memphis (Tennessean)
A magnitude 4.0 earthquake rattled the Missouri bootheel Wednesday night, and was felt as far south as the Memphis area, the USGS said. The Memphis Commercial Appeal reported that the quake struck at 10:51 p.m. and was centered near Steele, Mo. According to the Commercial Appeal, the USGS received dozens of reports from people who said they felt the quake in West Tennessee and surrounding states. Reports ranged as far north as Carbondale, Ill., and as far south as DeSoto County, Miss.

National Weather Service confirms earthquake (Jackson Sun)
Many readers throughout West Tennessee reported feeling a shaking sensation at about 10:55 p.m. Wednesday night. The National Weather Service in Memphis posted this tweet at 11:20 p.m., confirming an earthquake in southeast Missouri. “Initial reports confirm an earthquake near the MO Bootheel. Gathering details, but per @USGS, a 4.0 was registered. All prelim. info” On The Jackson Sun’s Facebook page, readers from towns including Jackson, Medina, Milan, McKenzie, Martin, Henderson, Oakfield all said they felt the shaking sensation.

April raises awareness as Child Abuse Prevention Month (WBBJ-TV)
April is deemed Child Abuse Prevention Month, and local officials including those at the Carl Perkins Center of Humboldt are stepping up to promote awareness. Officials looking out for the safety of children in Gibson county and all of West Tennessee, say staying aware is often what’s most important. “We absolutely want to make them aware that it’s here — it’s right here in our back door, in our front door all around us, and we want to make them aware of the signs to look for and aware of the resources we have,” said Bett Jewell, interim director of the Carl Perkins Center of Gibson County.

Local businesses participate in Child Abuse Prevention Month (Leaf Chronicle)
More than 175 businesses across Tennessee are participating in Child Abuse Prevention Month, as proclaimed by Governor Bill Haslam, as part of Prevent Child Abuse Tennessee’s (PCAT’s) Pinwheels for Prevention® campaign. PCAT and its community partners are stepping up campaign activities during April in recognition of National Child Abuse Prevention Month. In support of local campaign efforts, PCAT and partners are planting pinwheel gardens around the state, providing educational materials for parents and advocates, and broadcasting public service announcements to highlight the fact that investing in effective prevention is less costly to society, and to individuals, than trying to fix things later.

Tennessee says it is collecting unemployment overpayments (Associated Press)
Tennessee Department of Labor officials say they are continuing to collect millions of dollars of unemployment benefits that were improperly paid out. This comes after a scathing audit by the Tennessee comptroller’s office that said prisoners, state employees and at least one dead person have been on the rolls of those receiving unemployment benefits in Tennessee, in spite of repeated warnings that the state was improperly paying out tens of millions of dollars in jobless claims. The comptroller’s audit said the unemployment benefit system made overpayments of $98 million in the past six years. It estimated a backlog of payments could balloon that figure to $171 million.

Packing in Plaza: Senate votes to let weapons into legislative chambers (TFP/Sher)
Over the past six years, Republicans in Tennessee’s General Assembly have expanded handgun permit holders’ rights to go armed in restaurants, bars and state parks and to stash weapons in their vehicles on privately owned parking lots. But it may be a Senate Democrat who goes down in history for giving permit-holders the right to go armed in the place where lawmakers spend much of their time: the state Capitol. Sen. Jeff Yarbro, D-Nashville, was trying Tuesday to block a Republican bill taking away cities’ and counties’ authority to ban permit-holders from carrying firearms in public parks, playgrounds and ball fields. His solution? An amendment to let permit holders — 500,000 Tennesseans have one — go armed in the Capitol, Legislative Plaza and the War Memorial Building, which house committee hearings rooms and lawmakers’ offices, as well as other areas of the Capitol complex.

Tennessee Senate Votes To Let Guns Into State Capitol (WPLN-Radio Nashville)
Guns could soon be allowed inside the Tennessee Capitol. The state Senate voted this morning to add the statehouse to a measure, House Bill 995, that would allow guns in all parks in Tennessee. Sen. Jeff Yarbro (D-Nashville) suggested the amendment to bring attention to the “hypocrisy” of allowing guns around children, yet not lawmakers. But Republicans called his bluff and approved it. “If we’re going to pass a law that requires local governments to have guns in their parks, then we should apply the same standard to ourselves.”

Bill to allow handguns in parks gets Senate OK (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Locker)
The state Senate approved a bill Wednesday to allow handgun-carry permit holders to go armed in local parks in Tennessee despite the objections of the local governments that operate them. The Senate approved the bill 26-7 but added an amendment to allow permit holders to carry guns in the State Capitol, Legislative Plaza and War Memorial Building, where lawmakers’ offices and hearing rooms are housed and where guns are currently banned. Security checkpoints and metal detectors at those buildings frequently create long lines for admission. The bill won House approval Monday but the amendment forces the bill to return there for either concurrence or rejection of the amendment.

Crowe votes to allow guns in parks (Johnson City Press)
State Sen. Rusty Crowe, R-Johnson City, was among those who voted in the majority Wednesday to re-establish the right for handgun permit-holders to carry the weapons in local parks. The bill passed on the Senate floor in a 26-7 vote and will have to go back to the House for confirmation — a bill also tagged with an amendment allowing permit holders to bring their loaded weapons into the state capitol and capitol complex. “I think we all know that whether or not we prohibit guns in parks or allow the ‘good guys,’ our legally permitted citizens, to carry in parks, the ‘bad guys’ are going to carry in parks without regard for signs or the law,” Crowe told the Press following the morning vote.

Immigrant advocates tout tuition bill’s progress (Tennessean/Tamburin)
A bill that could make college more affordable for some of Tennessee’s undocumented students is making slow but steady progress in the General Assembly, and advocates say support is growing. The legislation, which would allow some undocumented high school students to pay in-state tuition at a public college in Tennessee, has won approval from committees in the Senate and the House since it was introduced in February. Along the way, Democrats and Republicans have signed on to co-sponsor the bill. “More legislators are jumping on board every day,” said Eben Cathey, spokesman for the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition.

Bill to regulate Tennessee abortion clinics advances (Tennessean/Wadhwani)
A bill to regulate and inspect all abortion clinics in Tennessee is headed for a vote in the House. The measure proposed by Republican Rep. Susan Lynn of Mt. Juliet would require facilities in which more than 50 abortions are performed annually to be licensed as ambulatory surgical treatment centers — a requirement that includes a long list of building, medical, staff and inspection specifications. Lynn said the measure was designed to protect women’s health by further regulating an invasive procedure, but opponents questioned whether the intent was to limit abortion access.

Abortion bills moving through Legislature (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Locker)
Abortion bills are moving in the Legislature. The House Health Committee recommended approval of a bill Wednesday to step up regulation of doctors’ offices where 50 or more abortions a year are performed. House Bill 1368 requires those offices to be licensed as ambulatory surgical treatment centers, subject to a higher level of state inspection and regulation. It now heads for a House floor vote, likely next week. The bill is also awaiting review in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Abortion-rights opponents and supporters differ in their views of the bill.

Anti-Abortion Legislation Finds Little Resistance (Memphis Daily News)
Buoyed by passage of Amendment 1 last fall, legislation restricting abortions is starting to roll – with relative ease – through the General Assembly. Rep. Susan Lynn, R-Mt. Juliet, and Rep. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough, began the push recently with measures backed by Gov. Bill Haslam, House Speaker Beth Harwell, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and the Republican ranks. Their bills couldn’t even draw enough resistance to require a roll-call vote. Amendment 1’s passage in November 2014 gives the Legislature authority to enact, amend or repeal abortion laws, not limited to circumstances dealing with pregnancy from rape or incest or when the mother’s life is endangered.

Legislature passes ‘aggressive panhandling’ bill (News-Sentinel/Locker)
The state House of Representatives gave final legislative approval Wednesday to a bill establishing “aggressive panhandling” as a new misdemeanor criminal offense in Tennessee. If Gov. Bill Haslam signs it into law as expected, a person could be charged with aggressive panhandling for soliciting a donation of money or goods in any of the following ways: Intentionally touching the person being solicited without the person’s consent. Intentionally obstructing the path of the person or the vehicle of the person being solicited. Following a person walking away from solicitation unless that person has indicated he or she wishes to make a donation.

Lawmakers Move Ahead With Plan To Make The Bible Tenn’s Official Book (WPLN)
Despite some hesitancy from lawmakers, a plan to make the Bible the official book of Tennessee is moving ahead. Rep. Jerry Sexton (R-Bean Station) said polling done by supporters of his bill shows a majority of Tennesseans agrees the Bible should be the official book. Most people, he added, believe it would be constitutional. But Rep. Bob Ramsey (R-Maryville) said making the Bible a state symbol seems to diminish it. He noted it would be listed alongside “Rocky Top,” one of the state’s official songs. It includes lyrics that celebrate moonshining and killing a “stranger.” “It somehow breaks my heart,” he said. The proposal, House Bill 615, squeaked out of the House State Government Subcommittee on a 2-1 vote, with two other lawmakers abstained.

Bill to ban passengers from drinking in vehicles fails (Associated Press)
The latest effort to make it a crime to have open alcohol containers in vehicles driving on Tennessee roads has failed in a House committee. It’s already illegal in Tennessee to consume alcoholic beverages while driving, but that law does not extend to passengers. The perennial legislation sponsored by Republican Rep. Jon Lundberg of Bristol was defeated on a voice vote in the State Government Committee on Tuesday. This year’s version would have included exemptions for chauffeur-driven cars, motor homes and other commercial vehicles.

Repeal ‘Tennessee Whiskey’ law sent to full House panel (Associated Press)
A bill to repeal a state law that sets requirements for which spirits can me marked as “Tennessee Whiskey” is poised for full committee votes in both the House and Senate next week. With a quorum of three members present on Wednesday, the House State Government Subcommittee advanced the measure sponsored by Republican Rep. Bill Sanderson Kenton on a voice vote. The law was passed in 2013 at the behest Jack Daniel’s, which argues it establishes minimum quality standards. It requires whiskey to be filtered through charcoal and aged in unused barrels in order to be sold as Tennessee Whiskey.

Fight To Define ‘Tennessee Whiskey’ Draws In Koch Brothers Group (WPLN)
An effort to widen the state’s narrow definition of “Tennessee whiskey” is gaining strength, and it’s drawn in a surprising ally: the libertarian group Americans for Prosperity. Lawmakers are debating a measure that would repeal the definition they put on the book just two years ago. The law has favored a few distillers — most notably Jack Daniel’s — while makers ranging from George Dickel to upstart micro-distillers have complained the restrictions are unfair. This year, the Koch brothers-backed Americans for Prosperity has joined the fight to create a new definition. State director Andrew Ogles says it’s OK for lawmakers to try to define the Tennessee whiskey brand, just not in a way that cuts off competition.

Why Watson voted against insurance for low-income Tennesseans (TFP/Sher)
Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, says he voted against Insure Tennessee on Tuesday because “spending even more money to grow our Medicaid rolls may be good politics, but is not policy that taxpayers expect.” Watson was among seven GOP lawmakers on the Senate Commerce Committee who voted against efforts to revive Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposal to use federal Medicaid dollars to extend health insurance coverage to an estimated 280,000 low-income Tennesseans. It failed on a 7-2 vote with a ninth member abstaining. As a member of the Senate Health Committee, Watson also voted against the resolution last week, but the resolution authorizing Haslam to proceed with the plan utilizing federal funds made available under President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act nonetheless passed its first hurdle.

Tennessee GOP senator gives obscene response to protester (AP/Schelzig)
A state senator who has drawn the ire of supporters of Gov. Bill Haslam’s Insure Tennessee proposal called a protester an obscene name in a video posted to YouTube. The video captures an exchange between a protester and Sen. Todd Gardenhire of Chattanooga at the legislative office complex Tuesday. A voice repeatedly asks the senator whether he would give up his state health insurance after contributing to the defeat of the measure to extend health insurance to 280,000 low-income Tennesseans. The Chattanooga Times Free Press reported that the video was taken by Trae Haggard of East Ridge, who was on the Hill to demonstrate in support of Insure Tennessee. “I was shocked he called a constituent that,” Haggard told the newspaper. Gardenhire said he was upset because he had been followed to a restroom by the protester. “When a guy follows you to the bathroom shouting and screaming at you, and you’re trying to do your business … He’s lucky I only called him by his first name,” Gardenhire said.

Sumner leaders fire off on guns-in-parks bill (Tennessean/Yankova)
Sumner County officials have mixed feelings about legislation repealing local bans on guns in parks that was approved this week by the state legislature. State law currently allows people with valid handgun permits to bring guns into any park, unless a local ordinance bans that. This bill, sponsored by Rep. Mike Harrison, R-Rogersville, invalidates any such existing local laws, in places such as Hendersonville and Portland. “This bill today isn’t meant to … decriminalize aggression. It’s not meant to decriminalize those who would commit such heinous acts. It’s not about aggression; it’s about protection,” Rep. Tilman Goins, R-Morristown, speaking for Harrison, said Monday.

Metro Schools gets 13 charter school applications (Tennessean/Gonzalez)
Metro Nashville Public Schools received 13 charter school applications Wednesday after receiving 18 letters of intent in February. The majority of the applications are from companies the district is working with, including LEAD Public Schools, KIPP Nashville, Knowledge Academy and Rocketship. LEAD submitted four of those applications and Rocketship submitted another three. The district will need to assess the strength of each application. And ultimately, the Metro Schools Board of Education will decide whether to approve a charter to operate in the system. The district plans to provide recommendations to the board on June 16, and the board will vote on the individual applications on June 23, according to Alan Coverstone, Metro Schools executive director of innovation.

 

OPINION

Editorial: Insure Tennessee supporters learn hard political lesson (Tennessean)
All the singing and praying in the world couldn’t deliver a Holy Week miracle for Insure Tennessee supporters. They had packed Legislative Plaza — a purple T-shirt-clad group filled with compassion and good intentions far too large for all to fit in the committee room where the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee met Tuesday afternoon. Hymns like “Wade in the Water” and “We Shall Overcome” resonated through the hallways as they waited for senators to hear the arguments and vote on a resolution to extend health coverage to nearly 300,000 working-poor Tennesseans. The result: A resounding rejection.

Times Editorial: State’s GOP always had a cover plan for Insure Tennessee (TFP)
Take a look at the State of Tennessee’s official online Newsroom & Media Center — news.tn.gov. To find anything about TennCare or Insure Tennessee — which failed to get a fair vote again this week — you’ll be scrolling down to Feb. 2. Never mind that Insure Tennessee has since then been in the news often and, in fact, been rejected not once but twice by committees of the Legislature — effectively killing a program that would use federal taxes we’ve already paid for our working poor’s health care without the measure ever getting a full Tennessee General Assembly vote.

The news-clips will resume on Saturday, April 4, 2015.

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TN Ag Dept Encouraging Farmers to Pursue Further Education

Press release from the Tennessee Department of Agriculture; January 8, 2015:

NASHVILLE—With an eye to enhancing the state’s agricultural industry and increasing farmers’ capacity to produce, the Tennessee Department of Agriculture is encouraging farmers to continue their education through University of Tennessee Extension.

“Learning is critical to improving and advancing Tennessee agriculture,” Agriculture Commissioner Julius Johnson said. “These educational opportunities help producers to maximize efficiency in their operations and assure that best practices will be used to the benefit of the entire industry.”

Producers who wish to qualify for 50 percent cost share funding through the Tennessee Agricultural Enhancement Program (TAEP) can fulfill educational requirements by participating in UT advanced continuing education opportunities.

A schedule detailing current certification renewal deadlines by program is available at www.tn.gov/taep under Master Certification Information in the TAEP News section.

For agricultural, natural resources and community economic development programs, visit UT Extension’s webpage https://extension.tennessee.edu/Pages/ANR-CED.aspx. Click on the link to Livestock and Forage Systems for more information about beef and dairy educational programs.

All dairy producers with Tennessee Milk Quality Initiative (TQMI) certificates must recertify by participating in the UT Master Dairy Producer Program. However, TAEP will still accept current TQMI certificates through May 1, 2015.

The new advanced master certificates will qualify a producer for 50 percent cost share for a period of three years following the date printed on the certificate. Producers must participate in continuing education programs on a three year rotation. The exception is dairy, which is an annual certification based on fewer class hours each year. Applications for 2015 TAEP cost share programs are expected to be available in April.

The Tennessee Agricultural Enhancement Program was established in 2005 by the Tennessee General Assembly and has been fully funded by Gov. Bill Haslam through a portion of the state’s cigarette sales tax. TDA administers the program to assist qualifying producers with cost share funds of up to 50 percent on farm improvement projects to increase efficiency and farm income. A UT study shows that for every TAEP dollar invested, nearly $4 is generated in additional economic activity in local communities.

For more information, visit www.tn.gov/taep or call the TAEP general information line at 1-800-342-8206.

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Bridgestone Celebrates Groundbreaking for 30-Story HQ in Downtown Nashville

Press Release from Bridgestone Americas, Inc., Jan7, 2014:

NASHVILLE, Tenn., Jan. 7, 2015  — Bridgestone Americas, Inc., a subsidiary of Bridgestone Corporation, the world’s largest tire and rubber company, celebrated the groundbreaking for its new 30-story, more than $200 million headquarters to be located in the SoBro area of downtown Nashville. When completed in mid-to-late 2017, the new facility will house more than 1,700 employees – 1,100 currently in Nashville and 600 new jobs from three out-of-state business units being relocated to the city.

“Today is an historic day for our company, for Nashville and for Tennessee,” said Gary Garfield, CEO and President of Bridgestone Americas. “We proudly call Nashville home and are very eager to welcome our teammates from out-of-state as soon as possible. The leadership and support of the State and City are to be applauded for reaching this groundbreaking milestone – it marks the next step in our journey to shape tomorrow together.”

Garfield was joined at the groundbreaking event by Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam; Tennessee Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bill Hagerty; Nashville Mayor Karl Dean; Highwoods Properties President and CEO Ed Fritsch and Bridgestone executives and team representatives from the employee units to be relocated to Nashville.

“Today is an exciting day for the continued partnership we share with Bridgestone,” Haslam said. “This is a company that could choose to do business anywhere in the world, and they chose Tennessee. We want to congratulate Bridgestone on its latest achievement, and I look forward to continuing to work together to make Tennessee the No. 1 location in the Southeast for high quality jobs.”

The business units moving to the new headquarters represent world-leading tire brands; the world’s largest automotive retail and service operations; a worldwide leader in commercial roofing and building products; and a global leader in vehicle and equipment air spring technology.

“Earlier this week, Tennessee became the first state in the nation to be awarded back-to-back honors for ‘State of the Year’ for economic development. A feat of this magnitude is achieved and further solidified with the help of globally renowned companies like Bridgestone that do business and flourish in our state,” Hagerty said. “I applaud Bridgestone for breaking ground on its corporate headquarters today and for its continued investment in our state. I wish the company much success and look forward to growing our partnership in the future.”

Dean said, “We’re very fortunate to have companies like Bridgestone Americas doing business here in our city. We couldn’t ask for a better corporate citizen than Bridgestone, which is an important partner in so many of the causes we believe in as a community.”

The planned 514,000-square-foot headquarters building will be located at 4th Avenue South and Demonbreun Street. Bridgestone Americas selected Highwoods Properties (NYSE: HIW), to develop the Company’s new headquarters. Global architecture firm Perkins + Will has been retained by Highwoods and Bridgestone to design the new facility, including the interior. These design elements are expected to be LEED-certified at the Gold level and reflect best practices in workplace space design. Brasfield & Gorrie is the building contractor and has already begun site preparations. The facility is intended to be primarily single-tenant office occupied. Upon completion it will stand among the largest and tallest corporate headquarters buildings in Nashville.

“We are excited to begin development of this signature high-rise headquarters which will become a defining element of downtownNashville’s skyline,” said Fritsch. “The Highwoods investment of $200 million in this project underscores our continuing commitment toNashville and our strong belief in its long-term growth and prosperity. We are also appreciative to have the opportunity to work with the great people at Bridgestone Americas who have been extremely collaborative with Highwoods and the entire design and construction team.”

Bridgestone has outgrown its current leased headquarters facility on Marriott Drive near Nashville International Airport. With its lease expiring in late 2017, the Company launched an extensive search for a new headquarters location to support future growth. Nashvilleand the new property were selected after a nationwide search by a Bridgestone team that included leaders from multiple business units and functional areas, as well as the retained support of commercial real estate services and investment firm CBRE Group, Inc.

“Bridgestone combining its operations to downtown Nashville is one of the largest relocations to a city center from the suburbs in the United States and is a testament to the dynamic environment of the City of Nashville,” said Todd Lippman, Vice Chairman of CBRE, who represented the company along with Ken Leiser, Senior Vice President of CBRE.

The new headquarters will be home to Bridgestone Americas’ corporate staff and supporting functions, as well as Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations, LLC; Bridgestone Retail Operations, LLC; Firestone Building Products Company, LLC; and Firestone Industrial Products Company, LLC.

About Bridgestone Americas, Inc.:

Nashville, Tenn.-based Bridgestone Americas, Inc. (BSAM) is the U.S. subsidiary of Bridgestone Corporation, the world’s largest tire and rubber company. BSAM and its subsidiaries develop, manufacture and market a wide range of Bridgestone, Firestone and associate brand tires to address the needs of a broad range of customers, including consumers, automotive and commercial vehicle original equipment manufacturers, and those in the agricultural, forestry and mining industries. The companies are also engaged in retreading operations throughout the Western Hemisphere and produce air springs, roofing materials, and industrial fibers and textiles. The BSAM family of companies also operates the world’s largest chain of automotive tire and service centers. Guided by its One Team,One Planet message, the company is dedicated to achieving a positive environmental impact in all of the communities it calls home.