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Press Releases

TSLA’s ‘Heritage Project’ Finalist for National Award

Press release from the office of Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett; February 19, 2015:

A program launched by the Tennessee State Library and Archives (TSLA) to produce short documentaries of the people, places and events that make Tennessee distinctive is one of four finalists for a national award. TSLA’s Tennessee State Heritage Project is in the running for the National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS) IDEAS Award.

IDEAS is an acronym for “innovation, dedication, excellence and achievement in service.” The award is given annually to one department of state in recognition of an outstanding program or achievement.

The Heritage Project was launched in 2013 to produce short video documentaries on topics of historical interest in Tennessee. The initial documentary focused on the history of the Tennessee State Capitol, while the project’s second documentary focused on the career of Sen. Douglas Henry, who until his recent retirement was the longest-serving member of the Tennessee General Assembly.

“I congratulate our staff at the State Library and Archives whose tremendous work on the Heritage Project is being nationally recognized,” Secretary of State Tre Hargett said. “These documentaries will complement the vast collection of documents and online resources available at TSLA. It is a great honor to be be among the deserving finalists for the IDEAS Award.”

“NASS members are thrilled that we are once again able to showcase the diverse array of secretary of state office functions through this association award,” said NASS President Elaine Marshall, who also co-chairs the NASS Awards Committee. “We are looking forward to our summer conference in Maine, where the finalist offices can showcase their innovative approaches to governing.”

NASS is the oldest, nonpartisan professional organization of public officials in the United States. Members represent the 50 states, the District of Columbia, American Samoa and Puerto Rico. NASS serves as a medium for the exchange of information between its members and fosters cooperation in the development of public policy.

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NewsTracker Transparency and Elections

Following Primary, Alexander Emphasizes Moderate Credentials

Having sufficiently stressed his conservative credentials to stave off a Tea-Party challenge from his right, U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander is looking now to win support among moderate liberals and centrists.

The two-term incumbent has released what he hopes will be a growing list of endorsements he’s picked up from the ranks of Democrats and independents.

Included in what he’s calling “Tennesseans for Alexander” are Democratic notables like former U.S. Rep. John Tanner and the longest-serving member of the Tennessee General Assembly, state Sen. Douglas Henry.

Also on the list are several current or former mayors, as well as former University of Tennessee Football Coach Johnny Majors and Rochelle Stevens, an Olympic gold medalist.

Alexander’s Tea Party-backed primary opponent, state Rep. Joe Carr, criticized Alexander as being too moderate.

During his campaign Alexander did his best to highlight his conservative endorsements and credentials, as well as his opposition to President Barack Obama‘s policies.

Now, though, Alexander looks to be shifting toward his “consensus-building politics” mode.

Not everybody who bought into Alexander before is buying in this time, though.

Alexander’s Democratic opponent in the November general election, Gordon Ball, a Knoxville attorney, has previously allowed his name to appear on a “Tennesseans for Alexander” list, a decision that Ball now calls “a huge mistake.”

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Press Releases

Alexander Announces First Round of Democrat, Independent Supporters

Press release from the Campaign for Lamar Alexander for U.S. Senate; August 10, 2014:

First round of Democrats and Independents includes former Congressman John Tanner, seven former or current mayors, former UT football Coach Johnny Majors, an Olympic Gold Medalist and numerous civic and political leaders from across the state

NASHVILLE – The Alexander for Senate campaign today announced the first round of “Tennesseans for Alexander,” a list of Democrats and Independents statewide who are supporting Lamar Alexander’s re-election to the U.S. Senate this fall.

“Every time I’ve run for office I’ve done my best to earn the support of Democrats and Independents as well as Republicans, because it is my job to represent all Tennesseans once I am elected,” Alexander said. “My goal is to get results, and that means working with people who know how to help solve problems for Tennessee and for our country.”

During his 2008 re-election campaign, Alexander announced two rounds of “Tennesseans for Alexander,” totaling more than 50 members. This year’s first round includes 30 members.

Former Congressman John Tanner, a Democrat who represented the 8th Congressional District from 1989 to 2011 and was in the Tennessee General Assembly from 1976 to 1988, joined the group this year. Tanner said he is supporting Alexander after years of working together on roads, the Northwest Tennessee Regional Port Authority and other issues.

“There are times in this business when friendships and loyalties should be more important than politics, and this is one of those times,” Tanner said. “Lamar Alexander has always been a friend and loyal to my old district, helping us do everything we needed to do to be successful and bring jobs to rural West Tennessee.”

This year’s list is geographically balanced across East, Middle and West Tennessee and also includes seven current or former mayors, an Olympic gold medalist, former University of Tennessee Coach Johnny Majors and numerous civic and political leaders. The list includes:

East Tennessee

  • Oak Ridge Mayor Tom Beehan
  • Etta Clark, Eastman executive from Kingsport
  • Jim Hall of Chattanooga, aide to former Gov. Ned McWherter and chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board during the Clinton administration
  • Jack Fishman, Morristown-based business man, civic leader and newspaper publisher
  • Former University of Tennessee President Joe Johnson
  • Former Chattanooga Mayor Jon Kinsey
  • Johnny Majors, former University of Tennessee football coach
  • Former State Senator Carl Moore of Bristol
  • Former Knox County Mayor Tommy Schumpert

Middle Tennessee

  • Steve Bogard, Nashville songwriter
  • Dave Cooley, deputy and chief of staff to former Gov. Phil Bredesen
  • Aubrey Harwell, prominent Nashville attorney
  • State Senator Doug Henry, longest-serving member of the Tennessee General Assembly
  • Patsy Mathews, political activist and widow of former U.S. Senator Harlan Mathews
  • Linda Peak Schacht, Nashville university professor and former aide to President Jimmy Carter and former Senate Majority Leader Robert Byrd
  • James Pratt, former staffer to former U.S. Senator Jim Sasser
  • Former Nashville Mayor Bill Purcell
  • Fate Thomas, Jr. of Nashville, who recently resurrected the Sure Shot Rabbit Hunter’s Supper, a gathering for Middle Tennessee politicians founded by his father, the late Sheriff Fate Thomas
  • Anna Windrow, Nashville business woman, former aide to former Lt. Gov. Frank Gorrell, former Senator Jim Sasser and former Gov. Phil Bredesen
  • Emily Wiseman, former executive director of the Tennessee Commission on Aging

West Tennessee

  • Laura Adams, executive director of Shelby Farms Park
  • Former State Supreme Court Judge George Brown, the first African American to serve on the court, appointed by then-Gov. Alexander
  • Brenda Duckett, Memphis business woman and community education activist
  • Jackson Mayor Jerry Gist
  • Bishop William Graves of Memphis, former senior bishop of Christian Methodist Episcopal Church and former member of the Tennessee Valley Authority board
  • Former Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton
  • Cato Johnson, Memphis hospital executive
  • Former Shelby County Mayor Bill Morris
  • Rochelle Stevens, Memphis business woman and Olympic gold medalist
  • Former Congressman John Tanner

The Alexander campaign is chaired by Congressman Jimmy Duncan, with co-chairmen Governor Bill Haslam, U.S. Senator Bob Corker, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, Speaker Beth Harwell, as well as Congressmen Blackburn, Roe, Black, Fincher, and Fleischmann.

The campaign’s Honorary Co-Chairmen include former U.S. Senators Howard Baker (1925-2014), Bill Brock, Bill Frist and Fred Thompson, as well as former Governors Winfield Dunn and Don Sundquist.
Serving as Honorary Co-Chairs of the Statewide Committee to Elect Lamar Alexander are all 13 living former state Republican Party chairs.

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Press Releases

Finney Requests Hearing on DCS Progress

Press release from the Office of State Sen. Lowe Finney, D-Jackson; October 17, 2013:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Department of Children’s Services Commissioner Jim Henry will appear before the Senate Health & Welfare Committee in December to provide an update on the department.

State Sen. Lowe Finney requested the committee meeting in a letter to the committee chairman in June. The legislature, which adjourned in April, is not scheduled to reconvene until January. The meeting will give lawmakers and the general public an update on any improvements that have taken place in the department, as well as any new issues that have arisen since the Commissioner last addressed the committee on March 26.

“I want to thank Commissioner Henry for his stewardship of the department and total transparency since becoming Commissioner in February,” Sen. Finney said. “We as lawmakers want to do everything we can to help him make DCS an effective state agency and safe and helpful caregiver to the children of Tennessee.

“The public is rightfully concerned about the children in state custody and how we can best address their needs, whether it be with improved technology for case managers or better tools for law enforcement. This update is critical to the legislature’s efforts to keep children safe and healthy.”

The hearing will be held at 9 a.m. Thursday, Dec. 19.

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Press Releases

TNHDC Thank Sen. Henry for Long Years of Service in General Assembly

Statement from the Tennessee House Democratic Caucus; May 8, 2013:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Tennessee House Democratic Caucus released the following statement on the news that Sen. Douglas Henry (D-21) will end his many years of service as a legislator after next year.

“Sen. Douglas Henry is the type of legislator we all aspire to be.

“Through numerous administrations and changes in leadership, Sen. Henry has remained a stalwart advocate for fiscal responsibility and Tennessee values.

“There is no greater champion for the State of Tennessee than Sen. Henry. He maintains a great affection for this great state which shines through in everything he does.

“While his decision means he will no longer serve as a legislator after this session, we are confident that he will maintain a leadership role in the Democratic Party and the State of Tennessee for many years to come.

“We thank Sen. Henry for his many years of dedicated service to our party and the people of Tennessee. We wish him all the best in his future endeavors.”

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NewsTracker Tax and Budget

Senate Passes Tax Cut on Groceries, Henry Talks Fancy Cheese

A bill aimed at easing the pain at Tennessee’s grocery checkout lanes is headed to the governor’s desk for approval.

Senate Bill 199, sponsored by Majority Leader Mark Norris of Collierville, would reduce retail sales tax on food from 5.25 percent to 5 percent. The measure passed the state Senate almost unanimously Monday.

The sole “no” vote came from elder Nashville Democrat Douglas Henry, who applauded the financial relief the bill would give to low-income Tennesseans but argued the importance of revenue from the tax and lamented that the break would also apply to wealthier residents, himself included, when buying luxury items.

“This is the best tax we got, it pays for everything,” Henry told the chamber. “When you give it back to poor people, that’s good. But you also give back to rich people. I buy imported Swiss cheese because I like to eat it. You’re lowering taxes on my cheese as well as the poor man’s Velveeta”

The legislation has already cleared the House and would go into effect on July 1, pending Gov. Bill Haslam’s signature.

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Press Releases

2 Veterans Courts Receive Grants from TN Legal Education Commission

Press release from the Tennessee Courts System; April 8, 2013:

Two Tennessee veterans courts are the recipients of $40,000 in total grants from the Tennessee Commission on Continuing Legal Education & Specialization. The move is a result of an ongoing effort on several fronts to address the issues facing veterans and service members, particularly in light of the ongoing drawdown.

The Tennessee General Assembly recently passed a resolution urging the Tennessee Supreme Court to educate Tennessee’s judges regarding the importance of justice-involved veterans and service members and to take appropriate measures to support the creation of new veterans treatment courts and dockets in the state.

Rep. John Ragan, R-Oak Ridge; Sen. Douglas Henry, D-Nashville; and Sen. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge all have been instrumental in supporting efforts to champion veterans treatment courts in Tennessee. These funds will further those efforts.

The CLE Commission has earmarked a total of $100,000 for use as an incentive for courts throughout the state to seek education, training, and administrative support for these specialized courts and dockets serving veterans.

“Our organization is privileged to have the opportunity to support local courts and communities in providing these much-needed services to local veterans,” said Judy Bond-McKissack, Executive Director of the CLE Commission.

Veterans courts are specialized problem-solving courts that go beyond traditional judicial methods. They are long-term, judicially supervised, multi-phase courts designed to assist persons who have served (or are currently serving) in the military, who have been charged with a criminal offense, who are at high risk for reoffending absent intensive intervention, and who have significant mental health and/or substance abuse issues. Essentially, a veterans treatment court is a veteran-specific hybrid of a drug treatment court and a mental health treatment court.

In 2012, at the request of the Tennessee General Assembly, the Administrative Office of the Courts conducted an extensive study regarding the feasibility of creating a statewide system of veterans treatment courts.

The AOC found that allowing individual courts flexibility in handling the needs of the community was key to the success of the courts. The study went on to say that the most effective and cost-efficient method of assisting the largest number of men and women who have served this country is to permit each judicial district to incorporate the veteran-specific services into the court system’s existing framework, including the existing drug and mental health treatment courts.

“The Judiciary of the State of Tennessee is especially committed to seeking solutions for those within the criminal justice system who have given a portion of their lives to the service of their country,” said Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Gary R. Wade.

The Supreme Court, with the encouragement of the General Assembly, recently launched a task force charged with creating a veterans court model for future use in trial and general sessions courts throughout the state. Many of the members of the task force are judges who are active members of the National Guard.

Montgomery and Shelby counties are the only two Tennessee counties that have a freestanding veterans treatment court, and each will receive $20,000 from the CLE Commission to support training, operating and administrative costs.

“The CLE Commission believes this funding provides the support that is much needed to further the efforts of these very important segments of our judiciary,” said Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Cornelia A. Clark, who serves as the Supreme Court’s liaison to the commission.

The Tennessee Commission on Continuing Legal Education & Specialization monitors CLE requirements and administers the specialization program for attorneys in the state of Tennessee. The funds are from administrative and non-compliance fees the commission has collected over several years. Members of the commission are appointed by the Tennessee Supreme Court.

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Environment and Natural Resources NewsTracker Transparency and Elections

Senate Approves ‘Repealer’ to Root Out Bad Laws, Regs

Legislation to create a state Office of the Repealer passed the Senate 30-1-1 Thursday, while the House version still has a couple of committee hurdles to clear next week.

The Repealer’s job would be to go through Tennessee code and make recommendations to the Legislature on laws, rules and regulations that need to be repealed or modified because they are no longer relevant, overly burdensome or outdated.

Democratic Sen. Jim Kyle of Memphis cast the only no vote and was the only one to speak out against the legislation. Fellow Democrat, Sen. Douglas Henry of Nashville, abstained.

“Simply to explain my vote, it is somewhat ironic that we’re creating an office to try to find duplicitous government agencies and rules when its creation duplicates the work of the Government Operations Committee,” Kyle said.

“To create another branch of government to do exactly what we’re already doing is doubling up and spending money that doesn’t need to be spent,” he continued.

According to Sen. Jack Johnson, sponsor of SB595, there is no fiscal note attached to the legislation, as the position will fill an existing vacant position within the Secretary of State’s office.

Responding to Kyle’s argument, the Franklin Republican said,“There is no single individual in all of state government whose sole responsibility is to try and shrink the green books.” Johnson was referring to the bound issues of the Tennessee Code Annotated.

Johnson said he thinks it “entirely reasonable that we dedicate a single position to meet with our business owners, to meet with citizens across the state, who have to interact with state government day in and day out, and identify things that we don’t need anymore.”

Answering to the Secretary of State, the Repealer would be required to set up an online system to receive recommendations from the public, which he or she would be required to take into consideration. 

The bill sets up the post for four years, “at which time such position will cease to exist.”

Sen. Mike Bell, a Republican from Riceville who chairs the Senate Government Operations Committee, offered a single amendment that passed on a voice vote. The amendment adds both chambers’ government operations committees to the list of those receiving recommendations from the Repealer, as well as quarterly updates of his or her actions.

HB 500 is on the House Finance, Ways & Means Subcommittee’s calendar for Wed., April 3.

Amelia Morrison Hipps may be reached at amhipps@capitolnewstn.com, on Twitter @CapitolNews_TN or at 615-442-8667.

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Liberty and Justice

Effort to Expel Tent-Dwellers from TN Statehouse Plaza Passes Senate

A bill requiring that Occupy Nashville protesters break camp on War Memorial Plaza passed the Senate Thursday, 21 to 9. The legislation is in need now of only one more formalizing vote in the House before heading to the desk of Gov. Bill Haslam.

Known as the Equal Access to Public Property Act of 2012, the proposed new law states that camping will be prohibited on any state-owned public property not designated as a campground. It also defines camping as erecting any temporary structure, or laying down bedding materials for the purposes of sleeping.

An amendment on the bill also states that “camping” includes cooking activities and storing of personal belongings, as well as engaging in digging.

Some lawmakers believe the measure’s language is too open-ended.

Sen. Roy Herron, D-Dresden, who said he originally expected to vote for the bill, argued against the bill, saying its language is too broad and subject to on-the-spot interpretation. It might cause a law-abiding citizen — like, for example, a hunter in a duck blind warming up some food to eat on public lands — to unintentionally commit a crime, he said.

Other critics voiced disapproval of the bill on grounds that it restricts the fundamental right to assemble for peaceful protest.

“If it were not for protest in this country, we would not have had a civil rights movement, we would not have had people have the opportunity to gain the rights that should have always been afforded to them, the Vietnam War might still be going on if it weren’t for a certain number of protesters,” said Sen. Beverly Marrero, D-Memphis.

Two other Memphis Democrats, Jim Kyle and Ophelia Ford, expressed similar views. “I would just like to briefly remind everyone in this senate, that this country was created out of civil unrest,” Kyle said. “And I would only say to you that if the government silences civil unrest, it’ll find itself with uncivil unrest.”

Sen. Douglas Henry, D-Nashville, also opposed the bill and suggested that creating a regulation, instead of writing a law to deal with this problem, is preferable.

“If you put this into statute, and something comes up – times change, situations change – it takes another public act to amend it,” Henry said, and explained that a regulation is easier to remove or change than a law.

Sen. Dolores Gresham, R-Somerville, sponsor of the legislation, defended the bill, saying it has nothing to do with limiting constitutionally protected freedoms. The only intent is to help ensure public land “be managed responsibly for everyone,” she said.

Although the Senate conformed to the House Bill, HB 2638, it also amended the bill to incorporate a severability clause. Even though the substance of the bill wasn’t changed Thursday from the House’s version passed earlier this month by a wide margin, the bill now needs one more vote of approval from the House.

After it goes to Gov. Haslam and he signs it, Ramsey said he expects that there will be a short grace-period to allow anyone still camped out on the plaza time to remove themselves and their belongings.

“We want to be reasonable about this — to give some warning to the people that are permanently camped on the legislative plaza, to say you have a week, 10 days, whatever the administration decides, to get off or you will be removed,” said Ramsey. “I think that’s being very reasonable.”

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Featured News Tax and Budget

Senate Dems Considered Walkout to Protest Budget Vote

Senate Republicans appeared to be barreling toward a vote to approve a $30.8 billion budget Thursday night — until Senate Democrats caucused.

The result: no budget vote in the Senate on Thursday.

Democrats simply weren’t in the mood to be rushed on the matter, as could be heard in the hallway outside the third-floor conference room at Legislative Plaza where they were meeting.

At one point, Sen. Joe Haynes, D-Nashville, said the Republicans couldn’t pass the budget without the Democrats present on the Senate floor.

“They can’t convene the session without us,” Haynes was heard telling his colleagues. “They can’t get a quorum.”

There was audible disagreement between Haynes and Sen. Douglas Henry, D-Nashville, on such a suggestion. But Haynes was forceful.

“We’ve got to be unanimous,” Haynes said. “You’ve got to use the ammunition you’ve got. If you don’t do that, then you give up.”

Again Henry disagreed.

The Finance Ways and Means Committee passed Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s amended budget proposal with Democratic support Thursday afternoon. The Republican plan appeared to be to move back to business on the Senate floor, where the Senate could hand the House an approved budget bill overnight. Both Democrats and Republicans announced they would caucus before heading to the Senate floor.

But while the notion of refusing Republicans a quorum was quashed in the Democratic caucus, there was broad agreement among the Democrats that they did not want to act so swiftly after the committee vote.

There was talk that the right approach was simply to tell the Republican leadership that the Democrats wanted more time to digest the budget proposal. Sen. Lowe Finney, D-Jackson, the Democratic caucus chairman, had that conversation with Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, according to a Democratic aide.

The biggest hangup appears to be the Democrats’ desire for an extension of unemployment benefits, an item that accounts for about $3.1 million for state and local government, a small figure considering the size of the bill. From most accounts, Haslam is agreeable to the extension if the Legislature wants to cover it.

But the item is not in the Senate plan, and Senate Republicans do not appear to be willing to go along with the extension. Approximately 28,000 Tennesseans would be eligible for the extensions of 20 weeks of benefits if it were approved.

The purpose of the caucus meeting was to have Bill Bradley, budget director from the Department of Finance and Administration, brief members who are not on the finance committee about Haslam’s amended budget proposal. Mark Cate, special assistant to Haslam, was in the meeting to represent the governor.

Bradley gave the caucus members much of the same outline he had given committee members earlier in the day. The finance committee proceedings were marked by numerous stops and starts on the budget, while the committee considered other items on the calendar along the way.

After Bradley and Cate left the caucus conference room, a question could be heard in the Democrats’ discussion: “Why are we rushing?”

“This is a $30 billion bill,” said Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga, making the point that the bill didn’t need such a quick vote.

At one point, Berke cautioned his colleagues that a member of the media was outside the door. That didn’t stop the discussion.

There were comings and goings. Bradley returned at one point for further conversation with the members. Haynes left the room momentarily for a cell-phone conversation. Finney left the room at one point and upon return mentioned to the reporter that the proceedings had him hungry for jelly beans, showing two handfuls. Sen. Roy Herron, D-Dresden, sat and chatted with the reporter. The door to the conference room was open during the whole meeting.

The chain of events underscored what has become a common circumstance in the Legislature and its overwhelmingly Republican majority after last fall’s elections. Republicans hold a 20-13 majority in the Senate and a 64-34-1 majority in the House.

Democrats’ frustration with their distinct minority status has been noticeable in many ways, including Haynes’ passion about using whatever ammunition the Democrats can claim.

The long day of discussion had all the appearances that the Senate was headed toward a budget vote Thursday night. As Democrats finally made their way to the Senate floor, where Republicans were already gathered, Ramsey made the announcement that there would be no budget vote Thursday.