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House Unanimously Passes ‘Made in Tennessee Act’

Press release from the Tennessee House Democratic Caucus; April 16, 2013:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The House voted unanimously to support Rep. Jason Powell’s “Made in Tennessee Act”. HB718 will help small businesses by creating a Tennessee brand for non-agricultural products made in the state.

“This is a common-sense proposal that will help promote Tennessee products made in my district and across the state,” said State Rep. Jason Powell (D-Nashville). “The small business owners I talked to during the campaign told me they are struggling to compete with cheap products from China. The Made in Tennessee Act will strengthen and promote the Tennessee brand in our state and across the nation.”

The Made in Tennessee Act authorizes the University of Tennessee Center for Industrial Services to use a logo or seal for “Made in Tennessee” products and goods, except for food and agricultural products, that have been processed, fabricated, manufactured or otherwise transformed in Tennessee. The bill builds on the Department of Agriculture’s successful “Pick TN Products” campaign by promoting commerce in Tennessee.

“Tennesseans make some of the best products in the nation,” said Rep. Powell. “The Made in Tennessee brand will make it easier for Tennesseans to support local economic and job growth by supporting locally owned small businesses in our state.”

HB718/SB806 passed the House and Senate unanimously and will go on to Governor Haslam for his signature.

Video of the discussion on the bill is available here: http://youtu.be/Gr1P9ylFyd0

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General Assembly Dems Urge Restoration of DCS Funding

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Democratic Caucus; April 10, 2013:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – House and Senate Democrats on Wednesday urged Gov. Haslam to restore funding to the Department of Childrens Services for core functions in managing its caseload.

“We have confidence in Commissioner Henry, but he needs the funding and staff to keep DCS moving in the right direction,” state Sen. Lowe Finney said. “Restoring that funding is the right thing to do when the department has had so many problems.”

Gov. Haslam’s budget proposal slashes funding to core services within DCS by more than $1.6 million. The department has come under intense scrutiny after officials admitted it mishandled the investigation of child deaths, and a computer system failed to track children in its care.

“We know that children are dying because of the mismanagement of cases at DCS,” state Rep. Sherry Jones said. “You can’t put a price on those lives, and restoring this funding will prevent needless deaths.

The cuts come at a time when state revenues are exceeding projections. On Friday, state officials reported that $33.1 million in excess tax revenues were collected in March.

“It would be unfair to take away resources while Commissioner Jim Henry works to turn DCS around,” state Rep. Craig Fitzhugh said. “We know our state has the money to restore these cuts. This is a bipartisan issue, and children’s lives are at stake.”

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House Dems Oppose Haslam on Workers Comp Changes

Press release from the Tennessee House Democratic Caucus; March 26, 2013:

House democrats join with workers to oppose radical changes to workers’ compensation insurance

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – House Democrats joined with workers from across the state at a rally to oppose the Governor’s proposed changes to the workers’ compensation system in Tennessee.

“Working people in this state are getting rolled over like a freight train by the wealthy special interests who want to use the Republican super-majority to pick the pockets of workers in our state,” said House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner. “This so-called ‘reform’ of the workers’ compensation system does nothing to address the medical costs that are driving up rates, and does everything to balance the books on the backs of injured workers.”

The Governors’ workers’ compensation changes would reduce payments to injured workers and place the appeals process out of the hands of the local judiciary and give it to a new state bureaucracy. The end-result of the proposals will be to make it easier for employers to fire injured workers, resulting in bankruptcy for people who were injured on the job by no fault of their own.

“I voted for workers comp reform a few years back because I thought it was needed for workers and businesses in this state,” said House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh. “But like so many things this year, we are rushing through this bill, we aren’t seriously addressing the actual problems in the workers’ compensation system, and we are creating a new level of bureaucracy in this state. For all those reasons, I will oppose this legislation and I hope my colleagues will too.”

Hundreds of concerned citizens and workers from across the state have called and written to the Governor asking him to reconsider these proposed changes to the workers comp system in Tennessee. Workers advocates are deeply concerned with provisions in the bill that would cut benefits to all injured workers, create a new bureaucracy controlled by the Governor, and will jeopardize workplace safety in the future.

“This is perhaps the worst piece of legislation that I have seen since I’ve been up here in terms of what it does to hurt working families in Tennessee,” said Chairman Turner. “I hope the Governor will listen to the voices of Tennesseans who came out today to oppose this so-called ‘reform’ package, and works to find a way to address the real problems in the state’s workers’ compensation system that does not endanger the livelihood of injured workers.”

HB194 by Leader McCormick (R-Chattanooga) is scheduled to be heard in the Finance, Ways & Means Subcommittee on Wednesday, March 27th.

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House Dems Accuse GOP of Pushing ‘Anti-Local, Anti-Worker’ Legislation

Press release from the Tennessee House Democratic Caucus; March 14, 2013:

Republicans ram through anti-local, anti-worker legislation in race to the bottom for working families

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – House Republicans rammed through legislation this morning that is designed to help wealthy special interests by taking money out of the pockets of working families and eliminating the ability of local elected officials to negotiate local contracts.

“It is absolutely shameful the way Republicans are shutting down debate and shutting out the voice of working men and women in this state,” said House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh. “These are important issues that will have a dramatic impact on local governments for years to come, and we shouldn’t rush it through just because the majority doesn’t like criticism.”

During the debate, Chairman Casada repeatedly complained about not wanting to debate the merits of setting a local prevailing wage, instead wanting to talk solely about how limiting local control of wage and benefit standards will promote his vision of ‘economic freedom’, and his contention that local government is the problem that Republicans are trying to address. Despite numerous representatives having requested the ability to speak on the bill, House Republicans called the question, cut off all debate, and took a vote early.

“Chairman Casada is acting like nothing more than a thief in the night, trying to steal food from the mouths of working people in order to give it back to wealthy special interests,” said House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner. “The level of contempt that this Republican majority has for local governments and working people is simply disgusting.”

HB501 by Chairman Casada strips the authority of local governments to protect against wage theft, and ensure construction workers and contract employees have livable wages and benefits. This legislation is a prelude to HB850 by Rep. Marsh which will weaken state prevailing wage rates and lower standards in government contracts.

Shelby County is currently the only local government that sets a prevailing wage and benefits standard. Rep. Larry Miller sought to exempt Shelby County from this legislation in order to maintain the current standards, however Republicans tabled that amendment.

“We have a situation in Memphis where out-of-state businesses often bid on contracts worth millions of dollars in local taxpayer dollars. Taxpayers in our city have chosen to use that opportunity to ensure that local residents earn a decent living before these out-of-state contractors take profits out of the state,” said Rep. Antonio Parkinson (D-Memphis). “How can we say that it is a good thing for residents of Memphis and Shelby County to have a lower standard of living so that big contractors can take more of their tax dollars out of state?”

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Senate Democrats Suggest Using TN Rainy Day Fund to Offset Sequester Cuts

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

NASHVILLE – With looming sequester cuts threatening everything from Head Start programs to our military personnel, leaders in Tennessee urged Gov. Bill Haslam to use the proposed increase to the state’s rainy day fund to weather the storm.

Tennessee has $356 million in its rainy day fund, with another $100 million to be added in this year’s budget. Using that $100 million to fund vital services instead would save Tennesseans from the pain of Washington’s inaction.
“The fact that Washington is acting irresponsibly does not mean we should allow Tennesseans to suffer,” Senate Democratic Leader Jim Kyle said. “If this isn’t a rainy day I don’t know what is. We’re calling on the governor to reduce the impact of these cuts for the neediest of our citizens.”

Leaders across the state are bracing for impact.

Commander Maj. Gen. James C. McConville of the 101st Airborne Division is concerned about what cuts will mean for Fort Campbell.

“I am deeply concerned about the potential impact that these cuts will have on our civilian employees and military families,” Maj. Gen. McConville said in a statement. “We are doing everything that we can to limit the impact on our teammates and family members.”

The cuts will affect more than active military and government employees. Travelers in Tennessee can expect longer lines at airports with fewer TSA agents and flight delays with fewer air traffic controllers. Visitors to Great Smoky Mountains National Park will be disappointed to find five campgrounds closed, and the businesses that depend on tourism dollars will feel the pinch.

“Losing $14.8 million in public education funding will be devastating to Tennessee’s children,” said Gera Summerford, TEA president and Sevier County math teacher. “Releasing rainy day funds is Governor Haslam’s opportunity to demonstrate that he has the best interest of Tennessee’s students at heart. We cannot allow our students to be the victims of Washington’s inability to avert this financial crisis.”

Of even greater concern is the funding Tennessee stands to lose for its most vulnerable. The loss of $136,000 for programs that prevent violence against women could mean 500 fewer victims being served. The Meals on Wheels program stands to lose $1 million.

“We could see the elimination of Head Start services for 1,200 children across the state. There are seniors who may stop receiving meals,” state Sen. Lowe Finney said. “What’s worse is that the administration has not presented the legislature with a plan to avoid it.”

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Dems Urge GOP to Respect Local Control

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Democratic Caucus; January 9, 2012:

NASHVILLE – Democratic leaders from both chambers joined U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander’s call for less interference from Washington, and hoped state leaders could apply his advice to their dealings with cities and counties.

Sen. Alexander addressed the 108th General Assembly on its second day and said the best thing Washington, D.C. can do for Tennessee is get out of the way.

“(Education) is hard enough to do without a federal employee peering over the shoulder of the local school board,” Sen. Alexander said.

“We could not agree more with Sen. Alexander, and the same is true of state government,” House Democratic leader Craig Fitzhugh said. “We hope members of his party will take his message to heart when they’re making decisions that cities should make at home.”

Republican legislators in Tennessee are expected to file legislation that would allow the state to authorize charter schools over local objections. Hundreds of parents in Nashville have already organized to keep their education decisions local. In past years, Republicans have moved to stop cities from adopting anti-discrimination policies and from raising the minimum wage.

“Republicans applauded Sen. Alexander when he talked about local control, and I hope the governor and the Republican members will heed his advice,” Senate Democratic leader Jim Kyle said.

“We should not substitute our judgment for that which is closest to the people.”

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TNDP: Questionable if TN GOP will Protect Senior Citizen Health Care Benefits

Press release from the Tennessee Democratic Party; August 30, 2012: 

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan aren’t the only Republican politicians with a plan to end Medicare as we know it.

Earlier this year, Tennessee Republicans, including state Rep. Jim Gotto, co-sponsored the Health Care Compact bill (HB0369/SB0326), an extreme measure that endangers the health benefits of 800,000 Tennessee seniors enrolled in Medicare and shifts management of their health care plans to TennCare.

Tennessee seniors now want to know if Republican Senate candidate Steve Dickerson and House candidates Charles Williamson, Ben Claybaker and Robert Duvall will support controversial entitlement reforms such as turning Medicare into a privatized voucher program or the state Republican plan to have TennCare take over Medicare.

“Voters assume Dickerson, Williamson, Claybaker and Duvall will fall in line with party bosses, like Rep. Gotto, who want to end Medicare as we know it and hand the management of their health care plan over to TennCare,” said Brandon Puttbrese of the Tennessee Democratic Party. “If these candidates are supporting the Romney-Ryan ticket, which is pushing for vouchers and empty promises that will swamp Tennessee seniors with increased health care costs, voters have to expect that they won’t stray far from their party’s anti-senior policies.”

Romney, the Republican presidential nominee, has endorsed his running mate’s plan to privatize Medicare through vouchers. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office found the Ryan plan would cut benefits and raise health care costs for seniors by $6,400 each year.

“Tennessee seniors won’t support an extreme plan that puts their current health care coverage at risk — whether it’s Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan or Republicans in Tennessee, there are consequences for endorsing plans that endangers Medicare’s guaranteed benefit or turns the program into a privatized voucher scheme,” said Puttbrese. “It’s time for Davidson County’s G.O.P. candidates — Steve Dickerson, Charles Williamson, Ben Claybaker and Robert Duvall — to be clear with voters and explain whether they support these extreme entitlement reforms that pose a threat to seniors by putting their guaranteed coverage at risk.

 

TENNESSEE REPUBLICAN COMPACT BILL COULD END MEDICARE’S GUARANTEED BENEFIT & FORCE MEDICARE RECIPIENTS INTO TENNCARE

Republican Health Care Compact Bill Would Force 800,000 Tennessee Seniors and 200,000 Disabled Tennesseans into TennCare or a Similar State Program. Under the Republican Health Care Compact Bill (HB0369/SB0326), beginning in FY13-14, the State of Tennessee would take over the federal Medicare program and force enrollees into TennCare or a similar state program. Not only would this be an unprecedented expansion of state government, this bill would increase the state budget by $11,505,596,700.[Capitol.TN.gov, accessed 8/15/12]

Compact’s Block Grant Funding Gap Endangers Medicare’s Guaranteed Benefit at Current Levels and Would Pass Costs onto Seniors. In a release, AARP Utah — another state that has enacted the Health Care Compact law — summarized two of the major problems of the compact, problems that Tennessee would surely face. The AARP stated, “First, the block grant would not keep pace with medical inflation, meaning a loss of hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding to the state, as medical inflation is much higher than ‘cost-of-living’ inflation… Third, the gap between the block grant funds and the actual cost of medical care for the hundreds of thousands of people who are served by Medicaid and Medicare would be shouldered by the low-income, disabled, and senior populations who are beneficiaries.” [AARP.org, 5/2012]

Indiana Republicans Excluded Medicare From Their Health Care Compact Law to Avoid Cuts to Seniors’ Benefits. Governor Mitch Daniels, a Republican, has a very complex position on Indiana’s “Health Care Compact.” Recognizing the that funding for the Health Care Compact is not designed to keep pace with medical inflation, as pointed out by AARP Utah, Indiana’s Republican-controlled legislature amended their “Health Care Compact” bill to exclude Medicare from their compact. [NWI Politics, 2/23/12]

PAUL RYAN’S BUDGET ENDS MEDICARE AS WE KNOW IT AND SHIFTS COSTS ON TO SENIORS

The Ryan Plan Would End Medicare As We Know It And Raise Seniors Health Costs By Thousands Of Dollars Per Year. “The budget resolution developed by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) would make significant changes to Medicare. It would replace Medicare’s current guarantee of coverage with a premium-support voucher, raise the age of eligibility from 65 to 67, and reopen the ‘doughnut hole’ in Medicare’s coverage of prescription drugs. Together, these changes would shift substantial costs to Medicare beneficiaries and (with the simultaneous repeal of health reform) leave many 65- and 66-year olds without any health coverage at all.” [Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, “Medicare in the Ryan Budget,” 3/28/12]

The Ryan Plan Raises The Eligibility Age For Medicare From 65 To 67, And Puts In Place Caps On Spending That Could Shift Costs To Seniors As Health Care Costs Rise. “Under Ryan’s blueprint, the Medicare eligibility age would rise over time beginning in 2023 from 65 to 67. In the future, seniors would be given government assistance to purchase private health-insurance plans or could continue to take part in the current fee-for-service model. Spending would be capped, meaning risks and costs could shift to seniors as health-care costs rise.” [Washington Post, 3/29/12]

The Affordable Care Act Preserves Medicare for the Future. Health reform found $716 billion in savings that didn’t cut Medicare benefits by a dime. These savings are extending the life of Medicare through 2024 by cutting unnecessary subsidies to insurance companies and rooting out waste, fraud and abuse. [FactCheck.org, 8/24/12]

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Senate Dems Question Big Increase in GOP Voter Turnout

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Democratic Caucus; August 29, 2012: 

NASHVILLE – Democratic legislative leaders requested in a letter that state election officials delay plans to certify August primary results after alarming reports of voting machines that defaulted to the Republican primary ballot.

“Voting apparatus should never default to one party or another,” the letter states. “We join citizens around the state who now doubt the outcome of the August elections in Davidson County, and we demand a full investigation. We also demand that plans to certify the election tomorrow be suspended.”

Senate Democratic Leader Jim Kyle, Senate Democratic Caucus Chair Lowe Finney, House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh and House Democratic Caucus Chair Mike Turner sent the letter to Secretary of State Tre Hargett Wednesday. An analysis of August turnout showed a 27 percent increase in Democratic turnout, compared to a 350 percent increase in Republican turnout.

“Frankly, it doesn’t even pass the laugh test,” the letter states.

The complete letter can be found here.

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Senate Dems Want Inquiry Into Statewide Voting Problems

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Democratic Caucus; August 28, 2012: 

NASHVILLE – ­Senate Democrats are calling on Secretary of State Tre Hargett to launch a full inquiry into voting irregularities across the state.

“There are a lot of questions about the integrity of the August primaries, and voters deserve answers,” said Senate Democratic Leader Jim Kyle. “We didn’t have these problems four years ago.”

In Shelby and now Davidson County, there have been reports of voters getting the wrong primary ballot and voting in the wrong district. State election officials have admitted that poll worker training was inadequate. Davidson County officials were advised against using electronic poll books, but used them anyway.

“We need to know why the machines defaulted to a particular party’s ballot,” said Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Lowe Finney. “We need to know who made that decision, and we need to know whether these machines will be used again.”

Democratic leaders called on lawmakers to reconsider the Tennessee Voter Confidence Act, which requires that precincts use optical scanners that produce a paper ballot. The bipartisan law passed unanimously in 2008 but implementation has been delayed.

“People invest considerable time in deciding how to cast their vote, and when they leave the voting booth, they should be confident their vote counted the way they intended,” Sen. Finney said. “I hope state election officials will take these irregularities seriously and conduct a thorough review.”

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Dems Wants Election Problems Addressed

Letter from the Tennessee House Democratic Caucus; August 14, 2012: 

RE: August 2012 Elections

Dear Secretary Hargett:

It is with great concern I write you today. As you are no doubt aware, the elections held on Thursday, August 2nd of this year were plagued with problems ranging from voters not receiving ballots for the correct contests to persons with proper identification not being allowed to vote. These problems were reported across the state and have led many members of the General Assembly to submit the following questions for your review and response:

  1. How many persons were not given a correct ballot and therefore not allowed to vote in their preferred primary or rightful district?
  2. Is their a uniform procedure used at voting locations to insure that voters are aware of and obtain the correct ballot for their primary?
  3. How many persons were denied their right to vote due to issues with identification?

It is essential to the future of our state, and our ability to govern in an honest manner, that the recent problems be identified and addressed in a thorough manner. To deny duly registered voters the right to fully participate in our elections, is unacceptable. We firmly believe that every effort must be made to reveal the cause of the problems with our recent election and hope that your office will lead the way in restoring the integrity of our electoral process.

Best Regards,

Craig Fitzhugh                                  Mike Turner
House Democratic Leader              House Democratic Caucus Chairman

Joe Pitts, State Representative

Barbara Cooper, State Representative

Gary W. Moore, State Representative

Jimmy Naifeh, Speaker Emeritus

Joe Towns, Jr., State Representative

Lois DeBerry, State Representative

Sherry Jones, State Representative

Antonio Parkinson, State Representative

John J. DeBerry, Jr., State Representative

Tommie F. Brown, State Representative

John C. Tidwell, State Representative

Johnnie Turner, State Representative

JoAnne H. Favors, State Representative

Mike Stewart, State Representative

Joe Armstrong, State Representative

Janis Sontany, State Representative

Gary Odom, State Representative

Larry J. Miller, State Representative

Karen Camper, State Representative

Michael R. McDonald, State Representative

G.A. Hardaway, State Representative

Johnny Shaw, State Representative

David Shephard, State Representative