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Press Releases

Haslam, House Leaders Release Statements on State Rep. Lois DeBerry’s Passing

Statement from the Office of Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam; July 28, 2013:

“Coming in as a new governor, Lois quickly became one of my favorite people on Capitol Hill because of her wit, charm and dedication to her constituents. Lois was a history maker, a wonderful woman, a great legislator and a true friend. I will miss her.” — Gov. Bill Haslam.

Statement from the Office of Tennessee Speaker of the House Beth Harwell; July 28, 2013:

“Lois DeBerry dedicated her life to service. From the Civil Rights Movement, to becoming the first female African-American Speaker Pro Tempore, Lois always made public service a priority. The impact she has had on this great state, the lives of countless Tennesseans, and people all across the country is astounding. She certainly made her mark on history, and it was an honor to know her and serve alongside her in Tennessee General Assembly. I valued our friendship, and will deeply miss her sage advice, and her remarkable sprit and smile. Her dedication to children’s issues, women’s issues, and criminal justice reform have resulted in a better Tennessee. My thoughts and prayers are with her family.” — Speaker Beth Harwell

“Lois DeBerry was my friend and my mentor. From my first day on the hill in 1994, she was someone I could turn to in every situation. She taught me the importance of working across party lines to get things done for the state, but also to never be afraid to stand up for a cause–even if sometimes you stand alone. Lois was a fighter. She always fought and fought hardest for children. She fought for those on the margins of society and for the city of Memphis which she loved so dearly. Most recently she waged a courageous battle against cancer, inspiring everyone with her upbeat attitude and her determination to survive. I loved Lois DeBerry. Her absence will leave a hole in the House that no one can fill; we are a better state for the service she provided. God rest her soul and be with her family during this difficult time.” — Leader Craig Fitzhugh

Statement from the Office of Tennessee House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick; July 28, 2013:

“I am deeply saddened to learn of the death of Speaker Pro Tempore Emeritus Lois DeBerry, a legendary figure in Tennessee political history. I had the distinct privilege to serve with Lois in the House of Representatives for 9 years, and I enjoyed our friendship. Her knowledge, experience, and delightful personality will surely be missed. My thoughts and prayers are with her family during this difficult time” — Majority Leader Gerald McCormick

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Press Releases

Tickle Named to State Museum Commission

Press release from the Office of Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey; June 27, 2013:

(June 27, 2013, NASHVILLE) – Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey (R-Blountville) and Speaker Beth Harwell (R-Nashville) today announced the appointment of John D. “Spike” Tickle II to the Douglas Henry State Museum Commission.

“The Tennessee State Museum is an invaluable cultural and historical resource for the state of Tennessee,” said Lt. Governor Ramsey. “Capturing Tennessee’s rich and vibrant history for future generations is important work. Spike Tickle’s unique perspective and experience will aid this commission greatly as it continues to fulfill its mission year after year. I am grateful he has agreed to serve.”

“Our state museum is a true treasure. I’m grateful that an individual like Mr.Tickle has agreed to help strengthen our state’s curation of history,” said Speaker Harwell. “I am confident he will be a strong asset for the museum.”

A graduate of the University of Tennessee’s School of Engineering, Mr. Tickle is currently on the board of directors of the Strongwell Corporation and serves as the managing director of Three Horse Investments, LLC.

A strong believer in education, Spike and his wife, Lisa, established the Spike Tickle STEM Engineering Fellowship Endowment at the University of Tennessee. The endowment is intended to attract outstanding graduate students to both the College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Engineering.

The Douglas Henry State Museum Commission was created in 2009 to oversee operations and establish the strategic direction of the state museum, with an emphasis on the educational and cultural enrichment of the citizens of the state. The mission of the commission is to work to ensure that the citizens of this state have access and exposure to museum collections and to promote the educational and cultural enrichment of citizens of the state.

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Education Featured NewsTracker

General Assembly Wraps Up, Major Ed Items Left Undone

The GOP-run Tennessee Legislature called it a year Friday, closing up shop on the earliest date in over two decades.

And in typical fashion, the ebbing hours of the session were a whirl of harried debate and last-minute spatting between the House and Senate.

One of the big items on the Tennessee General Assembly’s education agenda for the year was unceremoniously tossed aside in the waning hours of the session with signs that the proposal failed as a result of a legislative game of chicken between chambers.

The so-called “charter authorizer” bill aimed to give the state the power to overrule local school districts if they decided to reject an applications for new charter schools in their area.

Pushed for heavily by charter school supporters, the bill initially called for the creation of an independent, state-appointed panel to hear such appeals. But after facing some resistance in Senate committees, it was watered down significantly, moving the authorizing power under the State Board of Education.

House Bill 702, sponsored by Memphis Republican Mark White, had strong support in the lower chamber throughout the committee process and was a priority item for House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville.

But the Senate version, carried by Education Committee Chair Dolores Gresham, R-Somerville, always appeared to be a tougher sell in the upper chamber and there were whispers, Friday, that Republican Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey of Blountville was delaying action on the bill as a way to press the House to pass one of his legislative priorities, a plan for judicial redistricting in the state.

That bill, SB780, failed spectacularly in the House Friday afternoon by a vote of 66-28 and Gresham subsequently took her bill off notice.

Questioned by reporters following the session if the failure of the two bills was related, Ramsey replied obliquely, “Somewhat, that’s about it. It wasn’t retaliation. I thought the judicial redistricting bill should pass and it didn’t, so that’s where we are.”

The failed charter authorizer bill is one of a few big-ticket pieces of education legislation that didn’t make it out of the Assembly this year. Earlier in the session, Gov. Bill Haslam abandoned a plan to give public school children vouchers to pay tuition at private schools after fellow Republicans in the Legislature insisted on trying to broaden the program beyond the governor’s liking.

At a post-session press event, Haslam mentioned both proposals saying “The two things I was, personally, most disappointed in, would be the voucher bill and the charter authorizer.”

“I do think it’s important, particularly the charter authorizer” Haslam continued. “A lot of the great charter operators we’re trying to attract to Tennessee—they’re not going to come invest all the time unless they know that they have a realistic chance of getting approved and so that’s been, I think, a key motivation for me in having the charter authorizer passed.”

The governor suggested he’d like to see both issues taken up again when the Legislature reconvenes in January 2014.

Mark Engler contributed to this story.

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Featured Tax and Budget

TN Legislature Forging Ahead with Plan to Finish by Week’s End

The final countdown to the end of Tennessee’s current legislative session appeared to have begun in earnest Wednesday. The Senate approving their version of the state budget and the House Republican Caucus voted to finish their business by Friday afternoon instead of continuing into next week.

The Senate budget, crafted by the Haslam administration and guided through the chamber by Majority Leader Mark Norris of Collierville, coasted through with the support of the GOP supermajority.

Democrats in the Senate were vocal in their opposition to some aspects of the roughly $32 million package, or, more accurately, to nearly $2 million that wasn’t being spent.

Memphis Democrat Jim Kyle expressed frustration with the fellow senators following the floor session, telling reporters “we’re leaving $1.9 million and we’re refusing to appropriate it, which means the money goes into a fund the governor will then spend next year, as opposed to…very worthwhile projects.”

“We’re not funding them for reasons that the majority would not ever explain,” Kyle continued. “We’re saying we’re not going to feed people we could be feeding… we’re not going to provide healthcare, we’re not going to provide social services for people who have been receiving it.”

Norris characterized the decision to hold back a portion of funds as “ the most prudent course of action to follow.”

The House passed the budget bill 82-14. Lower-chamber Democrats tried to amend it to leave open the possibility of snatching up federal Medicaid-expansion dollars under the Affordable Care Act, but Republicans shot that effort down.

A first-term House GOP lawmaker, James Van Huss of Jonesborough, tried to delay a vote on the budget until Thursday, saying he hadn’t had time to absorb all its details. But that request died as well on a 54-36 vote.

A member of Harwell’s staff estimated for TNReport that upwards of 50 items remain left to consider.

Senate Majority Leader Norris told reporters Wednesday that he is confident the upper chamber can finish its business by the end of the week as well.

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Press Releases

General Assembly Approves Bills Aimed at Eliminating Uneccesary Laws

Press release from the Office of the Speaker of the Tennessee House Beth Harwell; April 10, 2013:

NASHVILLE – Three bills that seek to eliminate dozens of unnecessary Tennessee laws have been approved by the Tennessee General Assembly and are now headed to the Governor for his signature. The bills are a result of a summer project that saw House research analysts and legal staff examine portions of the Tennessee Code Annotated relative to their expertise and draft proposals to eliminate laws that were determined to be antiquated or unnecessary.

Speaker Harwell asked Representatives Joe Carr (R-Lascassas), Sheila Butt (R-Columbia), and Susan Lynn (R-Mt. Juliet) to guide the legislation through the legislative process on her behalf.

“One thing we hear from our constituents consistently is that there are too many laws on the books,” said Speaker Harwell. “I directed our staff to review our laws with the purpose of identifying archaic, unnecessary, and outdated language in an effort to ‘clean up the code.’ I sincerely appreciate the hard work of our House research team and legal staff. They spent several months poring over our laws and these three bills were the result.”

“I was proud to carry this legislation on behalf of Speaker Harwell. We promised Tennesseans we would work to reform government, and these bills do just that,” said Representative Joe Carr.

House Bills 325, 396, and 890 eliminate dozens of laws relating to transportation, finance, and commerce. In several cases, the bills also clarify certain language or delete repetitive or conflicting laws. Statutes pertaining to programs that have since been abolished by the federal government, reports that were assigned to come from entities that no longer exist, and several instances of repetitive language are examples of laws slated to be eliminated.

Representative Sheila Butt added, “After years of writing and rewriting laws, many simply become redundant, while others were severely outdated. This effort, which we hope to continue, will streamline our laws and make them easier to interpret.”

“This effort will bring clarity and simplicity to some of our laws in Tennessee,” said Representative Susan Lynn. “I am proud of the work we have done, and the broad support of all three bills in both the House and Senate is appreciated.”

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Press Releases

MTSU Names Harwell ‘Distinguished Friend’

Press release from Middle Tennessee State University; March 21, 2013:

Trailblazing state House Speaker Beth Harwell took a few moments before receiving a special award from MTSU on March 21 to share stories of other women who blazed a trail across Tennessee in the past three-plus centuries.

Pennsylvania native Harwell, who is in her 12th year of representing the 56th District that includes part of Davidson County and Nashville, discussed the historical roles played by Charlotte Robertson and Sarah Polk, the influence of former Rep. Harry Burns’ mother in the 19th amendment giving women the right to vote, three-time Olympic gold medalist Wilma Rudolph overcoming polio as a child and University of Tennessee-Knoxville Hall of Fame coach Pat Summitt’s rise to success.

MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee then presented Harwell with the second Distinguished Friend of the University Honors College Award for Distinguished Service to the State of Tennessee. The event was held in the Paul W. Martin Sr. Honors Building.

“We could not have a far better candidate for this award,” McPhee said in introducing Harwell.

He added that he worked with her and other legislators in the last couple of years, particularly regarding the $147 million science building currently under construction on the south side of campus.

Harwell, the first female speaker of the House of Representatives in Tennessee and in the Southeast, invited the audience to her legislative office, where she said the award “will be permanently on display.”

After signing the Honors College’s Book of Town and Gown at the request of her friend Dr. Philip Phillips, interim associate honors dean, Harwell said during a reception that the recognition “came at a very nice time. It’s an honor to be here during (National) Women’s History Month.

“This university has done so much to promote women, to make sure young women are educated and in the workforce, to employ a lot of women faculty members and administrators,” she continued, “so it’s an honor to be recognized by a university I hold in such high esteem. You’re not only growing in quantity, you’re also growing in quality. I’m just so impressed (with MTSU).”

The first recipient of the college’s “Distinguished Friend Award” was Turkish entrepreneur and humanitarian Celal “Uncle Celal” Afsar in 2011.

The University Honors College was formally established in 1998 after 25 years of success as an honors program. Its purpose it to provide an exceptional undergraduate education to a small but diverse MTSU student population.
Honors College Dean John Vile said the program “began under the auspices of another trail-blazing woman, Dr. June Hall McCash, in 1973.”

Harwell served as a commencement speaker during MTSU’s fall 2012 morning ceremony. Holding degrees from Lipscomb and Vanderbilt universities and George Peabody College, she is a proponent for K-12 and higher education.

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Press Releases

TFA Accuses ‘Establishment’ GOP of Dismantling TN Constitution

Press release from the Tennessee Firearms Association; March 19, 2013:

Tennessee Constitution under full attack by Establishment Republicans…

Increasingly, the evidence is coming into the “sunshine” that Establishment Republicans, like Haslam, Ramsey and Harwell, are working hard to impair, infringe or destroy our rights as citizens under the Tennessee and united states Constitutions. This attack is not limited to their assault on the 2nd Amendment or the 10th Amendment.

We have seen laws passed with the fanfare of these Establishment Republicans that reduce your ability to get reasonably compensated if you are injured or die in a job related accident – and more are pending. We have seen laws passed that impose serious limits on what a jury or a judge can award as factual damages if you are injured – thereby violating the constitutional separation of powers. We have seen laws passed that provide special protections to the Establishment Republican’s “masters” in insurance and medical fields but which do not apply equally to all citizens (i.e., due process violations). We have seen laws passed merely because of political correctness which violate the fundamental right of freewill.

We have seen issues arise such as Sen. Beavers’ and Rep. Butt’s bill under the 10th and 2nd Amendments to push back on the federal government but those bills were resisted at the apparent mandate of leadership through the “mouth” of leadership loyalists like Sen. Brian Kelsey and Sen. John Stevens or Rep. Vance Dennis. We can not let it be forgotten that legislators like Kelsey, Stevens, Overbey, Dennis and others would rather surrender all rights under the constitutions than to draw a line in the sand as a matter of state sovereignty and tell the federal government – which is our servant – NO MORE.

Last week, we have seen yet another Establishment Republican / RINO leadership attack on our rights. The attack comes in the form of SJR2. SJR2 is a move by Establishment Republicans to deny us as citizens our rights to elect – truly elect – our appellate and Supreme Court judges in Tennessee pursuant to the plain language of the Constitution. This is CRITICAL because if the legislature and the governor have in fact turned against us and our rights under the Bill of Rights then it may be that the courts – as the checks and balances against the other two branches of government – will become the battleground for protecting our rights under the Constitution. For that option to be effective, courts, as the Founders intended, should be accountable to the people through the election process. Establishment Republicans seek to destroy the separation of powers and change the constitution so that the courts – the third co-equal branch – are selected and appointed by the governor and the legislature rather than the people. If so, then to whom do YOU think the courts will be accountable when there are constitutional challenges to the acts of the governor or the legislature?

When SJR2 was on the House floor last Thursday, several Republicans (not in leadership) wanted to speak against the evil plan to destroy yet more rights of the citizens. Here is the report of Rep. Courtney Rogers who was prepared to speak against destroying the rights of the people to select the third branch of government:

On the House Floor:

Last update I wrote about SJR2, the resolution that proposes to make a new method of judicial selection constitutional that still deprives you of your right to vote for your supreme and inferior court justices. I concede that it is better than what is in place now — because it does transfer the power of selection from a committee that is entirely unaccountable to you, directly to both the Governor (power of appointment) and the legislature (power of confirmation). My objection is that it consolidates more power in the hands of government rather than restoring that power to yours. Why do I write about this again? I am doing so because of what transpired on the house floor when SJR2 was introduced for its third and final reading. The significance of the third reading is that this is when a proposed constitutional amendment is discussed and then voted on. It must pass by a two-thirds vote — to be placed on the ballot to be voted on by the people to accept or reject. We spent nearly 30 minutes on the floor debating whether a license plate should be illuminated or not when your headlights are on. When SJR2 was brought up, there were literally two seconds from introduction to the slam of the gavel. There was absolutely no discussion on an issue of this level of importance. I was going to speak from a different view — not the view of the legal community, which is very much heard in the halls downtown, but from the view of an average citizen — which is heard not so much. Rep. Rick Womick had also planned to speak. We both had our hands up — I stood up — even shouted, but the gavel beat me. It was like the Geico commercial where Mutombo (from the Congo that last played for the Houston Rockets), slams a box of cereal out of the hands of the kid trying to throw it in the shopping cart and then waves his finger at him. Whether the house majority agrees or disagrees — whether you agree or disagree with the amendment is not the issue at present. You should insist that thoughtful deliberation on issues such as this be permitted — regardless as to whether or not the ‘votes are there’ or regardless as to how much time could be saved. Intent can neither be confirmed nor denied (i.e. did they not want discussion for fear it wouldn’t pass?) — so I must stick with fact. The fact is, no discussion was permitted. I find it entirely unacceptable — as should you.

Each legislator has an equal vote, an equal right to be heard, to oppose, to support, to amend and to debate on any legislation on the floor. However, with Republican Super Majorities, those who would stand to support and defend the rights of the citizens against the nefarious desires of Establishment Republican leadership are discouraged or disallowed from speaking. They are intimidated by their party leadership. They are taken to the “woodshed.” They are called “fringe.” The interests of their constituents are ignored, suppressed and marginalized. Those citizens and districts which have elected constitutional conservatives are essentially disenfranchised as citizens by leadership.

To preserve and protect the Constitution —

Haslam must be reformed or he must go.

Ramsey must be reformed or he must go.

Harwell must be reformed or she must go.

Finally, we must “de-select” many incumbents who gladly drink the Kool-Aid of the Establishment Republicans and replace those who put “party first” with constitutional stewards who will put the constitutions and the people ahead of the “cocaine” offered to them in the context of partisan position and perceived power by the existing leadership of the Establishment Republican party.

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Featured NewsTracker

Harwell’s Bid to Limit Bills Filled with Exemptions

A proposal from House Speaker Beth Harwell to limit to 10 the number of bills each lawmaker can sponsor during the legislative session comes with plenty of loopholes — and those loopholes are starting to stir debate.

One of the biggest loopholes deals with Gov. Bill Haslam. He is potentially exempted from the 10-bill-limit and can ask for as many bills as he likes.

“It increases the power of the executive branch,” said Bob Rochelle, who’s currently a Democratic nominee for the state Registry of Election Finance.

Rochelle, who served in the Tennessee Senate from 1982 to 2002, was known as a particularly skilled parliamentary tactician. “It reduces the power of the legislators,” he said.

Senate GOP Caucus Chairman Bill Ketron also raised concerns about ceding too much power to the executive branch. “I’m not saying this governor will take advantage of that,” said the Murfreesboro Republican. “But what about the next governor? Or the next?”

Other proposed exemptions in the 10-bill cap include:

+ Bills dealing with cities and counties

+ Sunset bills

+ Memorializing or congratulatory resolutions that are not referred to a standing committee

+ Resolutions confirming appointments or authorizing charitable events

+ Resolutions that are procedural in nature that are not referred to a standing committee

Harwell’s office defended granting the governor and his staff special latitude under the measure.

“Much of the legislation presented by the administration has more to do with the nuts and bolts of running state government, and is necessary to the process,” Harwell spokeswoman Kara Owen told TNReport in a statement. “Further, we certainly want to allow members the latitude to use their ten bills for their districts’ priorities, so we feel the exemption to Administration is needed.”

Both Rochelle and Ketron said they understand the desire to  curtail the number of bills. Indeed, in the past both have tried  — unsuccessfully — to put a limit on the number of bills filed each legislative session.

And both Rochelle, Ketron and many more say that reducing the number of bills means less red tape, less staff time used — at the end of the day less costly to taxpayers.

“I know she has good intentions,” said Rochelle said of Harwell.

Ketron said he gets where Harwell’s coming from. When Ketron was crafting his bill-reduction proposal years ago, it was the price-tag to the taxpayer he was chiefly thinking about.

“I was looking at it from an economic standpoint,” he said. “How can we cut down the cost?”

In Tennessee, with each bill a financial statement is crafted showing how much will this legislation cost the taxpayer. Sometime the bill is in the millions of dollars; sometimes it is zero. But each time a state expert has to calculate the cost — and that adds up to big bucks, considering many of these bills never pass committee and see the light of day.

“Every single bill has a fiscal note,” said Owen. “It does mean savings, no doubt about it.”

House Caucus Chairman Glen Casada, R-Franklin, agreed. Filing so many bills is “a frivolous waste of money,” he said.

He also said the move will will lead to better legislation, since lawmakers will have fewer bills to shepherd and over which to gain an expertise.

“We have members who file 90, 100 bills,” Casada said. “It’s impossible to carry that number of bills and do a good job.”

But concerns simmer below the surface.

Since the potential changes were announced last week, lobbyists have been scrambling to find sponsors for the bills their clients may want. If the number of bills do become capped, some special interests may not be able to get legislation favorable to them through the General Assembly.

“The immediate impact was that the bigger, more successful lobbyists starting calling,” prominent legislators who are known to get bills passed, “saying ‘save me one spot, two spots, three spots.’” Ketron said.

“I have heard they are scrambling to the go-to legislators,” Jim Brown, lobbyist for the Tennessee branch of the National Federation of Independent Business, said of his fellow lobbyists. “They are working much harder and much earlier to prepare for the session.”
Ketron also raised the spectre of something more worrisome that might come from a bill limit: ethics issues — something that the Tennessee legislature is no stranger to.

Ketron suggested that, with a bill limit, lawmakers who are skilled at getting legislation through the General Assembly may become the subject of campaign-contribution bidding wars from big-monied special interests who want to make sure their bills get through the legislature.

Even worse, Ketron said, non-profit organizations who can’t pony up campaign cash — and who may need the most help from the legislature — may be left out in the cold.

“Are they going to be blocked out?” Ketron asked. “I’m not saying it will happen, but it’s something that needs to be brought up and debated.”

It’s not surprising there is controversy over limiting bills — and the controversy is not limited to Tennessee.

Legislatures across the US have struggled with the overwhelming number of bills and tried to find ways to deal with it, according to a study by the National Council of State Legislators.

Colorado legislators, for example, have a limit of 5 bills per year — although they can go to a special committee to plea for additional legislation.

In the Florida House of Representatives, members are limited to 6 bills during the legislative session, but a two-thirds vote from the House can waive the limit.

And members of the Montana Legislature can request an unlimited number of bills before December 5.  After that date, a member may file up to 7 bills or resolutions — but unused requests by one member may be granted to another member.

And it’s not that bill filing limits are unheard of in Tennessee, either. Members of the Tennessee state Senate, for example, can file as many bills as they like before the legislative session — but are limited to 9 once the session begins, according to 2012 rules.

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

Categories
Press Releases

Speaker Harwell Proposes House Rule Changes

Press release from Tennessee Speaker of the House Beth Harwell; December 19, 2012:

NASHVILLE – Speaker Beth Harwell (R-Nashville) today announced she is recommending changes to the Tennessee House of Representatives internal rules that will make the governmental process more efficient and save taxpayer money. The changes follow an effort two years ago to streamline operations.

“Tennessee taxpayers have entrusted us with the task of governing–something I take very seriously,” Harwell stated. “These changes reflect the will of Tennesseans: that state government operates efficiently and effectively while saving money. These changes also reflect the will of the body. After surveying the members of the last General Assembly, we have incorporated some of their suggestions as well. While Congress remains mired in partisan gridlock and continues to waste time, the state legislature is working toward better government.”

The changes include:

  • Restructuring the committee system to balance the workload of each;
  • Adopting the annual ethics resolution into the House Rules which will ensure the body is abiding by an ethics policy from the first day;
  • Limiting the number of bills filed to 10 per member annually which will encourage members to prioritize;
  • Reaffirming that each member vote for only him or herself;
  • And deleting the requirement that every document be printed to reduce the amount of paper used in committee and for floor sessions.

Harwell noted the committee restructuring, bill limits, and paperless measures are among those that will, in the long run, save the Tennessee taxpayer money.

“The new committee system will balance the workloads of each committee, ensuring that they are as efficient as possible. Bill limits will reduce duplication and ensure each member prioritizes their issues. I am seeking to eliminate the requirement that every document we produce as a body be printed in effort for us to adapt to the technology available and reduce the enormous amount of paper used each year. Each of these measures together ensure a more efficient, effective, and accessible government. This will also give us more time for thoughtful, deliberate analysis on each piece of legislation—which is something Tennesseans expect and deserve.”

The proposed recommendations will be taken up by the House Rules Committee, which will be appointed by the Speaker in January.

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Featured Health Care

Haslam Rejects State-Run Exchange

Siding with Tea Party activists and GOP lawmakers, Gov. Bill Haslam said Monday that Tennessee would not run its own insurance exchange under the federal health care law.

But Haslam said he wasn’t bowing to political pressure.

“Believe me, the politics haven’t changed,” the Republican governor said after a speech at a Rotary Club of Nashville luncheon at the Wildhorse Saloon on Second Avenue. “I knew what the politics were of this decision seven or eight months ago. I can assure you: while we listen to everybody, in the end we made what we think is the right decision.”

Haslam said that as late as Friday he would have considered moving forward with a state-run exchange if federal officials “could soothe some of our fears.”

If Haslam had said yes to a state-run exchange, he would have been the only southern Republican governor so far to have done so.

But politics, Haslam said, “had zero to do with our decision.”

Until Haslam’s decision, a debate had been raging in Tennessee over whether state officials should support the federal health insurance exchanges outlined in President Obama’s healthcare overhaul or disavow state-level cooperation and let federal officials run the exchange.

The Tea Party held a rally last week urging Haslam to ‘Just Say No’ to Tennessee taking ownership of an exchange. Few if any GOP legislators have expressed any willingness to support a state-run exchange.

“As caucus chairman I helped get six new guys elected to the Senate, and the first bullet point on all their mail pieces was that they could not vote for or support Obamacare,” Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, told TNReport last week. “So you can’t expect them to come back in January and vote for it.”

Sen. Ken Yager, R-Harriman, said he had little choice but to fight against a state-run exchange if he was interested in staying on the right side of popular opinion in his district.

“The overwhelming majority of my constituents is opposed to it,” said Yager.

The exchanges are supposed to be up and running by Jan. 1, 2014.

Haslam did say it’s possible that Tennessee might be able to take over its exchange at some point in the future.

“To work together with [the federal government] in this way we have to be convinced that they are literally ready to do it,” Haslam said. “In the last two or three weeks since the original deadline they gave us, they’ve issued us … 800-plus pages of rules — and those are just drafts. So just think about what that means: That was after the original deadline, they’ve given us 800 pages of something that was passed two years ago.

“I’m not being political. I honestly think they don’t have this planned out.”

Republicans legislative leaders applauded Haslam’s decision.

“It would be dereliction of our duty as public servants to take on as a partner a federal government that is clearly out of its depth,” Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, posted on Facebook. “I’m proud to stand with Governor Haslam as we continue to find ways to minimize the impact of this insidious federal law on the citizens of Tennessee.”

And House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, said in a statement: “As I have stated many times before, I am vehemently opposed to Obamacare and the mandates that come along with it. The decisions regarding health care are best left to each Tennessean and their doctor—not a massive bureaucracy that is sure to send this country further into debt.”

Democrats chided Haslam for foregoing the state-run exchange.

“I’m disappointed to see the Governor pandering to the far right of his party rather than doing what is best for the people of Tennessee,” House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh said in a statement. “I would hate to know that I had a 70 percent approval rating statewide and couldn’t get my own party to support my initiatives.”

See the letter Gov. Bill Haslam wrote to Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius by clicking here.

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