Press Releases

Turner: Workers Comp Reform ‘Breaking’ System, Not Fixing It

Press release from the Tennessee House Democratic Caucus; March 12, 2013:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The House Consumer and Human Resources passed HB194, the workers compensation reform package, on a 7-3 party-line vote. During the hearing, House Democratic Chairman Mike Turner criticized the supporters of this legislation for “fixing” the workers compensation system on the backs of injured workers in our state.

“This so-called “reform” is nothing more than an outright assault on the safety and financial security of working families in our state,” said Chairman Turner. “We are not fixing a broken system; we are breaking a system that works for the people of Tennessee.”

Studies show that under our current system, 77% of the costs of workers compensation goes to doctors and medical facilities; however, the plan only addresses the 23% that is left to workers by reducing payouts and making it harder for employees to initiate compensation claims. Additionally, the bill removes the appeals process from the jurisdiction of local courts and into an appointed board.

“’When are we going to do something for the working people in this state?’” asked Chairman Turner at during the hearing. Calling out the special interests who are pushing this bill, Chairman Turner said they have “no regard for the people of Tennessee” and are becoming “poverty pimps” by pushing a legislative package that does nothing but hurt the working men and women of our state.

In addition to workers advocates, representatives of firefighters also opposed this legislation on the grounds that it could allow for firefighters to be denied legitimate resulting from injuries suffered while protecting lives.
The legislation also passed the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee and will be heard in both the House and Senate Government Operations Committees next week.

Press Releases

House Dems Oppose New State Charter Authorizer Proposal

Press release from the Tennessee House Democratic Caucus; March 5, 2013:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – State Representatives are speaking out against a new statewide charter authorizer moving through the House which threatens to blow a hole in local education budgets and risks weakening high standards for charter schools in our state. The new proposal, which drastically alters a plan which passed through the House Education Subcommittee on February 12, creates an unelected nine member panel appointed by the Governor and the Speakers of the House and Senate.

This new bureaucracy would have complete authority to approve charter schools in local school districts, without input from local elected officials who would be required to come up with the funds to pay for them. Supporters of the legislation have refused lawmakers’ request to put in place a ten percent cap on the portion of a local school budget that could be controlled by this new unelected charter panel.

“Republicans are rushing through a bill which will have a dramatic impact on local taxpayers in Davidson County and across the state,” said House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner. “This law amounts to nothing more than an unfunded mandate which will blow a hole in local budgets, potentially forcing tax increases to pay for charter schools that weren’t good enough to pass local scrutiny.”

The Davidson County delegation met earlier today with supporters of the bill to address their concerns about this legislation, and the impact it will have on their local government. However, many left the meeting with more questions and concerns than they went in with.

“What they are saying is $70 million is not enough,” noted Metro Councilmember and State Rep. Bo Mitchell (D-50). “We asked, ‘will you at least limit this unelected board’s control to ten percent of our school budget?’ The answer was flat no. Every taxpayer in this county should be extremely alarmed.”

“Apparently, the bill’s backers want more than ten percent of our school budget – that is just incredible,” said Rep. Darren Jernigan (D-60). “Make no mistake about it; if that is the plan, we are in for another tax increase which will hurt the people I was elected to represent – that is something I cannot support.”

Davidson County lawmakers are concerned that this new legislation is part of an overall effort to defund public schools, and put special interest groups in charge of our education system in Tennessee.

“Clearly the charter associations envision a large scale takeover of the Metro School budget,” said Rep. Sherry Jones (D-59). “We don’t need a group of unelected special interest representatives making unchecked decisions that will hurt taxpayers and children in our schools.”

“This new ‘charter panel’ is designed to silence the voice of parents and taxpayers in a local school district,” said Rep. Mike Stewart (D-52). “Taxpayers will have no recourse to reign in this unelected body if they don’t like how their money is being spent, or if a local government has to raise taxes to accommodate this mandate.”

Press Releases

Fitzhugh Seeks Compromise Through Amendments on ‘Guns in Parking Lots’

Press release from the Tennessee House Democratic Caucus; February 27, 2013:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh was joined today by members of the House Democratic Caucus at a press conference to discuss upcoming amendments to HB118, the ‘Guns in Parking Lots’ bill sponsored by Rep. Faison in the House and Speaker Ramsey in the Senate.

“We know the majority wants to pass this bill and pass it quickly,” said Leader Fitzhugh. “It’s made a mad dash through the Senate and the House, in some cases coming out of committee in less than six minutes. That’s why we’re here today previewing the amendments and laying out our concerns.”

Leader Fitzhugh has introduced seven amendments to the bill. These amendments would protect private property rights and promote public safety while still preserving the rights of handgun permit holders to carry their firearms with them.

  • Amendment 7—Posting – Amendment rewrites the bill. Under this amendment, handgun carry permit holders are permitted to carry their gun anywhere in the state, unless otherwise posted.
  • Amendment 8—Kyle Amendment – Directs the department of safety to develop a procedure whereby businesses may seek a waiver from this bill.
  • Amendment 9 – Classifies as “verbal assault” an altercation in which a person makes reference to a gun stored in a car on or near the parking area of the property. This would be a class E felony if a gun is not subsequently found in the referenced vehicle and a class D felony if a gun is subsequently found in the referenced vehicle.
  • Amendment 10 – States that long-term parking areas—defined here as a parking lot designed for cars to be left for 36 or more hours—are not subject to this bill and instead preserves the right of the property owner to post.
  • Amendment number 11—Education – Exempts elementary schools, colleges and universities, vocational and technology centers, pre-schools and daycares from the bill.
  • Amendment 12—People – Exempts state prisons, local jails, alcohol and drug treatment centers, mental health institutions, hospitals and nursing homes from the bill.
  • Amendment 13—Jobs – Exempts unemployment offices from the bill.

“We are very concerned with the preoccupation the majority party has with guns,” said Leader Fitzhugh. “We still have high unemployment, a huge decision looming on health care and radical changes coming left and right to our education system, yet the majority party has chosen to make this their top priority and marquee issue. There is a fundamental disconnect between the majority party and the people of Tennessee.”

Press Releases

TN House Dems ‘Cautiously Optimistic’ After DCS Chief Resignation

Press release from the Tennessee House Democratic Caucus; February 5, 2013:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee House Democrats are cautiously optimistic that the Department of Children’s Services is ready to turn the corner on past failures with the announcement of a new interim head of the Department.

“I want to thank Commissioner O’Day for stepping aside in order to begin the process of restoring confidence in the Department of Children’s Services,” said House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner. “This is a great opportunity to move forward with reforming DCS and ensuring the safety of children in state custody.”

House Democrats have been pressing for answers related to the deaths of numerous children who were under the supervision of DCS. Rep. Sherry Jones has been a leading advocate in the House for accountability from Commissioner O’Day and the Department of Children’s Services.

“While I am happy to see Governor Haslam finally coming around to addressing our concerns about DCS, this announcement is long past due,” said Rep. Sherry Jones. “While I hope to have a good working relationship with Interim Commissioner Jim Henry, there are still many questions that need to be answered about the administration of DCS over the past two years.”

Rep. Jones has filed legislation (HB516) that would create a joint Department of Children’s Services Oversight Committee to ensure that the children in DCS custody are not placed in harm’s way.

Press Releases

Dems Ask, ‘Where’s the Freedom’ in Health Freedom Act?

Press Release from the House Democratic Caucus, March 8, 2011:

Initiatives to help seniors, chronically ill, children defeated by GOP Democratic amendments to improve Republican health care bill denied Monday

(Nashville) – Democrats attempted unsuccessfully Monday to oppose pre-existing condition requirements on insurance for children, to oppose monetary limits on lifetime coverage for the chronically ill, to support better prescription-drug coverage for seniors and to support insurance for college students until their 26th birthdays.

These initiatives were defeated by the Republican majority, who opposed the changes to the GOP-sponsored “Tennessee Healthcare Freedom Act.”

“This bill, which speaks to Tennessee’s policies regarding national healthcare, could have been a vehicle to lay out some sound principles for our children, seniors, college students and chronically ill,” said House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner (D-Old Hickory). “Unfortunately, the sponsors of this bill ignored the needs and rights of these folks.

“It’s really a shame. Where is the ‘freedom’ in being subjected to unfair insurance practices that affect our most vulnerable?

Votes were taken on four amendments proposed by House Democrats that would have declared the pubic policy of Tennessee as the following:

narrowing the “donut hole” in Medicare prescription drug coverage for seniors extending the coverage of adult children up to the age of 26 eliminating lifetime limits on the dollar value of health insurance abolishing pre-existing-condition requirements of children.

“I think the amendments showed some positive public policy for this state, and I hate that they were not put on this bill,” said House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh (D-Ripley).

Press Releases

Tennesee House Democratic Caucus Praises Legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Press Release from Tennessee House Democratic Caucus, Jan. 17, 2011:

NASHVILLE — On this day, it is a great honor to remember the legacy of Dr. King. He was a champion of civility; he embodied the spirit of equality, the ideal of Democratic action, determination and achievement without the need for violence.

He taught us that he had been to “The Mountaintop” and that all Americans were to love each other and care for another and take pride in being a part of something special: America. On behalf of the Tennessee House Democratic Caucus we say, Thank you Dr. King.

Press Releases

Senate Dems Re-Elect Kyle To Top Spot

Press Release from Senate Democratic Caucus; Dec. 15, 2010:

NASHVILLE – The Tennessee Senate Democratic Caucus re-elected Sen. Lowe Finney of Jackson as Caucus Chairman and Sen. Jim Kyle of Memphis as Democratic Leader on Wednesday.

“I am honored by the trust that my fellow caucus members have placed in me, and I am ready to go to work for the people of Tennessee,” Finney said. “Now more than ever, we need to focus on job creation, education and economic development throughout the state.”

Finney has sponsored landmark legislation to expand home health care to thousands of Tennessee seniors, and co-sponsored the creation of a Teacher Professional Development Fund as part of the state’s successful Race to the Top application. He was re-elected to a second term in November.

Kyle has served as Democratic Leader since 2005. In that time, Kyle has sponsored six responsible, balanced budgets that have guided Tennessee through the worst of the national recession while maintaining vital services. Kyle also sponsored the state’s Race to the Top legislation that secured more than $500 million in federal dollars for Tennessee education.

Sen. Andy Berke of Chattanooga was elected Caucus Vice Chairman, and Sen. Beverly Marrero of Memphis was chosen as Secretary/Treasurer.

“We have a strong group of leaders in our caucus from all three Grand Divisions who represent both rural and urban areas,” Kyle said. “I am looking forward to working with our colleagues in the House to promote a legislative package that puts Tennesseans first.”


Odom Still Optimistic

Rep. Gary Odom says he doesn’t expect members of the House Democratic Caucus to hold him responsible for the party’s devastating losses in the midterm elections.

“I think the caucus members know what I did at the election. They know what happened,” said Odom, who is seeking re-election Wednesday to another term as his party’s floor leader.

He’s facing a challenge from Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley, who chaired the powerful Finance, Ways and Means committee last session, and Memphis Rep. John DeBerry Jr., who leads the Black Caucus.

Last month, Democrats lost almost a third of their representation in the House, surrendering a 64-34-1 majority to the Tennessee GOP.

But as far as the campaign, how he would have comported himself or conducted the party’s political affairs over the past year, there’s not much Odom says he would have done differently.

“I racked my brain to come up with some notion, some idea. We failed at getting a good message out, but I think we had a good message, and we tried to get it out. I just don’t think anybody was listening,” he said.

National politics drove this election, Odom said. He added that he and other members were featured in campaign ads tying them to President Obama and then-U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

The new breakdown in the House cripples the caucus’ ability to check Republican-backed initiatives on the floor. But despite his party’s waning influence as an agenda-setting force in Tennessee politics, Odom says Democrats will still energetically attempt to shape, influence and nudge policy at every opportunity.

“This is a time where yes, we suffered a lot of losses as far as our Democratic caucus. We lost 14 seats, but that doesn’t change the agenda,” he said.

Education, job growth and providing additional aid for flood victims top Odom’s list of issues on which Democrats can make their voices heard.

“We’re going to work on things that are good for Tennessee. If it’s a Republican idea, if it’s a Democratic idea, it shouldn’t matter,” he said.

And while he’s never been known to pass up opportunities to lock horns with Republicans on the House floor, Odom says he hasn’t ever made it a practice to go out of his way to pick partisan fights.

“I always want to be cooperative, but sometimes there are just fundamental differences that need to be demonstrated, that need to be explained,” he said.

Odom, a two-time caucus leader, expressed confidence going into Wednesday’s party leadership election: “I’m as optimistic as I am in entering any election. I have a record and just like any incumbent has a record, you are going to be judged on that.”


Turner Wants Temporary Halt to State ‘Earmarks’

Rep. Mike Turner, the state House Democratic Caucus chairman who won a slim victory in his District 51 re-election bid last month, says he received one message voters were sending, loud and clear: Wasteful government spending must stop.

The firefighter from Old Hickory has a plan designed to make Republicans put legislative walk to their campaign talk, and place a statutory lid on district-level pork-barrel spending.

Turner told reporters Monday he’ll file a bill in the 2011 session that would institute a two-year halt on legislative earmarks, the projects carved out by lawmakers for their home districts and sometimes added to unrelated bills.

“Their people said no mandates, so we’re going to probably put legislation forward that says you can’t have a budget amendment, you’re not going to be able to amend your fish hatchery in,” said Turner, referring to a controversial trout-rearing facility in Independent House Speaker Kent Williams’ district that was included in Democratic budget proposals, but was eventually removed.

While hashing out the state budget back in June, lawmakers haggled into the wee hours of the last legislative day over special projects, community improvements, property-upgrades and other tax-financed goodies and giveaways that incumbents could later take credit for hand-delivering to the folks back home.

Turner has yet to introduce the bill. He made the his comments Monday after leaving a Democratic caucus meeting on Capitol Hill. The Legislature will convene after lawmakers are sworn in Jan. 11, 2011.

(CORRECTION: The video caption to the clip originally posted misidentified Turner’s caucus membership; He is the Democratic Caucus chairman. TNReport apologizes for the error.)

Press Releases

Senate Dems Attack Campfield, Say He’s Out of Touch on Pre-K

Press Release from Senate Democratic Caucus; Aug. 18, 2010:

Campfield at Odds with East Tennesseans’ Support of Early Childhood Education

KNOXVILLE – In repeatedly making erroneous and misleading comments about Tennessee’s highly successful pre-K program, Rep. Stacey Campfield (R-Knoxville), the Republican nominee for State Senate District 7, has proven himself out of step with the community he wants to represent and the colleagues he hopes to join.

“Representative Campfield seems to have little to no idea what pre-K programs do, how they are funded or their role in education,” said Sen. Andy Berke (D-Chattanooga), Secretary of the Senate Education Committee and a member of the Joint Committee on Education Oversight. “His opposition to pre-K shows a lack of interest in how we bring jobs to Tennessee in both the short and long run.”

Campfield has long been an opponent of the pre-K program, which has proven highly successful in preparing students for early elementary school classes. The program is supported by The Tennessee Chamber of Commerce & Industry and the Tennessee Business Roundtable, and the Knoxville Chamber of Commerce features pre-K in publications encouraging people to move to the city.

The reforms and strategies implemented through the state’s successful pre-K program were also crucial to Tennessee winning $501 million in federal education Race to the Top funds.

Campfield attacked pre-K in an August 15 entry on his blog, erroneously claiming that Gov. Phil Bredesen “continues to raid the lottery scholarship fund to pay for a program that has repeatedly proven to be without long term value. The pre K program.”

Campfield apparently failed to pay attention while voting for the budget, which provides that pre-K is paid for entirely out of the state’s general fund. Instead, he writes erroneously that, “the governors (sic) Pre K program … continues to be funded by the lottery scholarship fund.”

But Campfield doesn’t just get the facts wrong about pre-K and education. He continues to hold a position contrary to that of his Knoxville-area Republican colleagues in the Senate, including Sen. Jamie Woodson, who is listed as a champion of pre-K expansion by advocacy group pre[k]now, a campaign of the Pew Center on the States.

“Senator Jamie Woodson is [then-]Chair of the Education Committee and a rising leader of the Tennessee General Assembly,” states “Her support for the sizable pre-k expansions of 2005 and 2006 are widely credited with helping the initiatives become reality.”

Sen. Doug Overbey (R-Maryville) has also shown his support for pre-K, saying in a pre[k]now publication that early education programs in his district were in heavy demand. Sen. Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge), as chair of the Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee, has overseen the passage of four budgets including pre-K since 2007.

Even Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Haslam, Knoxville’s mayor, has said he supports the continued funding of pre-K, especially in his home county.

“I would hate to see the pre-K that’s in place now cut, because I think you do have some very effective models, and this is one of them,” Haslam told in an April 27, 2010 report.

The overwhelming support for pre-K from business interests and his Knoxville Republican colleagues doesn’t seem to affect Rep. Campfield’s position. Instead, Campfield has repeatedly ignored his mistakes about the issue and has even lashed out at sitting senators.

“For Representative Campfield, it’s easier to get the facts wrong and argue than hear from community leaders on critical matters like education,” Berke said. “I worry that when we face tough choices in the future, Stacey Campfield just isn’t going to take the time to listen to anyone but himself.”

Knoxville businessman Randy Walker is the Democratic nominee opposing Campfield in District 7. He supports early childhood education and wants to continue the successful pre-K program established by Gov. Phil Bredesen.