Press Releases

Cohen Joins Opposition to GOP Proposal to Ban Abortions After 20 Weeks

Press release from U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn. 09; January 21, 2015:

[WASHINGTON, DC] – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09) today joined U.S. Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Patty Murray (D-WA), and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and U.S. Representative Alma Adams (D-NC) at a rally this afternoon opposing yet another Republican attempt to subvert the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision and undermine a woman’s constitutional right to make her own health care choices. NARAL Pro-Choice America President Ilyse Hogue and Karen Finney also expressed their opposition to H.R. 36, which would ban abortions before the fetus is legally considered “viable” as determined by the Supreme Court, at today’s rally. Photos of the Congressman at today’s rally are availablehere, and video of the Congressman speaking out against this legislation on the House Floor earlier today is available here.

“Republicans know they can’t get past the Supreme Court’s ruling protecting a woman’s right to choose, so they are trying to go around it by creating an entirely new justification for banning abortion that has never been recognized before,” said Congressman Cohen. “This so-called ‘fetal pain ban’ proposal isn’t about fetal pain; it’s about outlawing abortions and repealing Roe v. Wade. Republicans have rushed this bill through the process without any opportunity to amend it, the legislation doesn’t have a meaningful exception even if the health of the mother is at risk and it would put victims of rape and incest in an impossible position. In timing this bill to coincide with the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, Republicans are transparently using drama messaging to appeal to their base at the expense women’s health and constitutional rights. Women’s rights shouldn’t be theater, they shouldn’t be taken lightly; we have to vote this bill down.”

President Barack Obama has stated that he will veto H.R. 36, which Republican leaders have rushed through the legislative process without an opportunity for amendments, if Congress sends it to his desk. Congressman Cohen decried the Republican effort to bypass regular order and rush the bill through the House at a hearing of the Rules Committee yesterday, video of which is available here. The bill bans abortions after 20 weeks with no meaningful exception to protect a woman’s health. It would would deny care to women in the most desperate of circumstances, force victims of rape and incest to file a police report in order to obtain care, and is a blatant attempt to chip away at a woman’s right to choose.

The bill runs flagrantly afoul of the clear constitutional rule on viability.  While many factors go into determining viability, and it can vary from case to case, it is generally acknowledged as not occurring until around 24 weeks.  The Supreme Court, in Roe v. Wade, struck down pre-viability abortion prohibitions. The Supreme Court has continued to uphold this holding in subsequent cases, but H.R. 36 would prohibit the procedure in many pre-viability situations.

Press Releases

State Prohibits Open-Air Burning for 7 Counties, More Expected

Press release from the Tennessee Department of Agriculture; June 29, 2012:  

NASHVILLE – State Agriculture Commissioner Julius Johnson has issued a burn ban for Cheatham, Dickson, Gibson, Giles, Marshall, Maury and Sumner counties. The burn ban is effective immediately and will remain in place until further notice.

The ban applies to all open-air burning including leaf and woody debris and construction burning, campfires, outdoor grills and other fire activity outside of municipalities where local ordinances apply.

Under state law, the commissioner of agriculture, in consultation with the state forester, has the authority to issue burn bans at the request of county mayors under certain weather conditions. Requests from county mayors for a burn ban are considered in consultation with the state forester based on a number of factors including weather, climate, fire danger, fire occurrence and resource availability.

“We’re working with local officials to take action when requested and where appropriate to reduce the risk to citizens, property and emergency workers,” Johnson said. “With the extremely dry conditions and little prospect for rain anytime soon, we want to encourage the public to use good judgment and to avoid situations that can cause fire, even in areas not covered under a burn ban.”

A violation of a Commissioner of Agriculture Burn Ban is considered reckless burning and is punishable as a Class A misdemeanor which carries a fine of $2,500 and/or up to 11 months 29 days in jail.

The burn ban does not prohibit the use of fireworks. However, citizens should check for local restrictions and are encouraged to attend public displays as an alternative to shooting fireworks themselves for the Fourth of July holiday.

In areas not under a burn ban, the public is asked to refrain from debris burning until significant precipitation is received and to avoid other activities that could cause fire.

State and local firefighters are seeing an increase in fire activity statewide. Major causes include sparks from field equipment and vehicles, escaped debris burns, discarded cigarettes, lightening, campfires, arson and fireworks. Citizens can help support their local fire departments by checking for and following local burn restrictions and quickly reporting any wildfire.

Counties currently under a burn ban, additional fire safety tips and wildfire information can be found on the TDA Division of Forestry’s wildfire prevention website at

Note: A press release from TDA will not necessarily be released for each new county added to the list of the Commissioner of Agriculture Burn Bans. Please check for updated information.

Press Releases

Campfires Banned in State Parks

Press release from Department of Environment & Conservation; June 29, 2012:

NASHVILLE – The Tennessee State Parks system is issuing a temporary ban on backcountry campfires in all state parks due to dry weather conditions that could increase the potential for wildfire hazards. The backcountry campfire ban is effective immediately and will remain in place until further notice.

In coordination with the Department of Agriculture’s Division of Forestry efforts, this burn ban serves as an additional measure to ensure the safety of campers and to protect the parks’ forested areas. Campers will still be able to build campfires and use charcoal to cook their meals, as long as they are inside an appropriate fire ring or designated grill area in designated campground facilities (not in backcountry areas).

“Dry weather conditions continue throughout the state and humidity remains very low,” said Deputy Commissioner Brock Hill. “We want to take every precaution necessary to protect people and land.”

Tennessee State Parks management team encourages all state park visitors to immediately report a fire or what could be a potential fire danger to 911. If a Tennessee State Parks’ office or ranger station is nearby, also report to these appropriate locations.

Tennessee State Parks also offers several basic fire safety tips for park visitors:

  • Use designated areas – Campfires in Tennessee State Parks must be contained within designated grills or fire grates. No backcountry campfires are allowed at this time.
  • Be responsible – Never leave a fire unattended, even for a minute. Don’t allow children and pets near the campfire and never leave them unsupervised. Be aware that smoking poses a fire danger. Do not throw cigarettes on the ground or dispose in a flammable container.
  • Play it safe – Keep a bucket of water and a shovel nearby. Stack extra wood upwind and away from the fire. After lighting, do not discard the match until it is cold.
  • Do it right the first time – Learn how to safely start a fire. Never use flammable liquids to ignite or keep your fire burning. This means avoid gasoline, diesel fuel, lighter fluid and other dangerous fuels.
  • Be aware of your surroundings – Avoid starting a fire underneath low-hanging branches or shrubbery. Fires can often flame higher than you anticipate. Keep your fire away from anything flammable, such as dry grass, tents, paper plates, napkins and camping gear.
  • Watch the weather – Be aware that hot embers can re-ignite the fire if strong winds are present.
  • No fireworks – Fireworks of any kind are prohibited within the Tennessee State Parks system, except public displays approved by Tennessee State Parks officials in partnership with local government.
  • Put it out – Make sure your campfire is completely extinguished before leaving a campsite or before bedtime. Always have on hand things to put out your fire such as water, a shovel and a fire extinguisher.

Tennessee’s 54 state parks offer diverse natural, recreational and cultural experiences for individuals, families or business and professional groups. State park features range from pristine natural areas to 18-hole championship golf courses. For a free brochure about Tennessee State Parks, call toll free at 1-888-867-2757. For additional information, visit our website at


Senate Committee Approves Income Tax Ban

A measure aimed at guaranteeing Tennesseans never have to pay a state income tax is headed to the Senate floor soon, perhaps even later this week.

Senate Joint Resolution 763 cleared the Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee on a 7-3 vote today. It passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Feb. 16.

Under the language of the measure, the Tennessee Constitution would be amended to ensure an income and payroll tax is “forever banned in Tennessee,” said Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, the amendment’s sponsor.

The full text of the amendment, which would alter Article II, Section 28, reads, “The Legislature shall not levy any tax upon personal income or any tax measured by personal income, except that the Legislature may levy a tax upon incomes derived from stocks and bonds that are not taxed ad valorem. The Legislature shall not levy any tax upon payroll or any tax measured by payroll.”

It would replace this sentence: “The Legislature shall have power to levy a tax upon incomes derived from stocks and bonds that are not taxed ad valorem.”

The three “nay” votes came from Democrats, including the chamber’s party leader, Jim Kyle of Memphis, who recently dropped out of the race for governor. Sens. Joe Haynes and Douglas Henry, both from Nashville, also voted against the amendment. Sen. Roy Herron, D-Dresden, voted “yes.”

Kelsey expects relatively smooth sailing on the Senate floor. Already 15 other senators have signed on to the bill besides him, so he only needs one more vote to pass it.

After that, it heads to the House of Representatives.

If both chambers approve of the constitutional amendment, the process will repeat next year — only lawmakers will need to approve it by a two-thirds vote in both houses. If that attempt is successful, the language will be posed to voters on the 2014 general election ballot.

Whether state lawmakers could, legally speaking, impose an income tax on Tennesseans at present is a matter of some debate.

Some, like Kyle, say the constitution already bans an income tax.

“Regardless of how the people vote, one way or the other, we’re still going to have an unconstitutional income tax. This is a political event. This is not a substantive event,” Kyle told committee members. “It’s always good politics to be against and income tax.”

But a 1999 Tennessee Attorney General opinion predicted that a carefully worded income tax proposal could be legal.

The group Tennesseans for Fair Taxation maintains that an income tax is indeed legal, and they advocate for the establishment of one.

The organization’s director, John Stewart, called Kelsey’s attempt to clarify the constitutionality of the issue “obnoxious.”

“They think they have all the answers,” he said of lawmakers who support banning an income tax. “But the truth is they’re not that smart. Nobody’s that smart.”

Two Memphis Democrats, Sen. Reginald Tate and Rep. Johnnie Turner, are proposing the creation of an income tax this year, but neither bill has received a committee hearing.