Press Releases

CAIR Urges TN Legislature to Drop ‘No-Go Zone’ Bill

Press release from the Council on American-Islamic Relations; March 3, 2015:

WASHINGTON, March 3, 2015 — The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, today said it is calling on the Tennessee state legislature to drop consideration of an Islamophobic “no-go zone” bill (SB 1040/HB 1141) that “will inevitably be used to vilify the state’s Muslim community.”

In a letter sent to the chairman of the Tennessee Senate Judiciary Committee and the chairman of the House Civil Justice Committee,CAIR Government Affairs Manager Robert McCaw wrote in part:

“This bias-motivated bill offers a solution to a problem that does not exist and is championed by an individual whose animosity toward the Tennessee Muslim community is well-documented. . .

“To be clear, no-go zones are a discredited and universally-mocked claim that Muslims in Europe have set up so-called zones that people of other faiths and police are not allowed to enter. It is a waste of the Tennessee General Assembly’s time and the tax payer’s money to legislate on an issue that has been made-up for the purpose of promoting Islamophobia and fear of Muslim communities.

“In January, Fox News was forced to apologize several times on-air for a similar ‘no-go zone’ claim made by self-proclaimed terrorism ‘expert’ Steven Emerson. Emerson is a notorious Islamophobe who has made a career out of promoting anti-Muslim conspiracy theories. . .

“Senator Ketron, the original sponsor of the bill, has a well-documented history of supporting anti-Muslim legislation and making biased comments that have drawn negative attention to the Tennessee General Assembly. Among his many anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim statements and initiatives he is best known for:

  • In 2013, Senator Ketron promoted another non-existent anti-Muslim controversy when he raised concerns that a mop sink in the state capitol building might actually be a facility for Muslim religious ablutions. . .
  • In 2012, Senator Ketron introduced The Putting Tennessee First Act. According to The Tennessean, Senator Ketron introduced the bill after “A conservative group … warned of the growing influence of Islam” and that it “would limit how many legal immigrants charter schools can hire,” which drew opposition from many charter school and immigrant groups. . .
  • In 2011, Sen. Ketron introduced Senate Bill 1028, the Material Support to Designated Entities Act. As introduced it would have essentially made it illegal to be a Muslim and outlawed the practice of Islam in the state of Tennessee.

“. . .The bill is built upon an anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim premise that has been thoroughly dismissed and only serves to stigmatize an entire religious community. Withdrawing consideration of the bill is the right and responsible thing to do.”

Read the entire CAIR letter:

CAIR recently called on Republican Party leaders in Tennessee to repudiate a racist comment posted on Facebook by a state lawmaker.

Video: CAIR Asks Tennessee GOP to Repudiate Lawmaker’s Racist Facebook Post

The racist post was in response to a recent CAIR open letter to potential Republican presidential candidates urging them to reject Islamophobia and to reach out to American Muslim voters.

SEE: CAIR Letter Urges GOP Presidential Candidates to Engage Muslim Voters, Reject Islamophobia

CAIR is America’s largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization. Its mission is to enhance the understanding of Islam, encourage dialogue, protect civil liberties, empower American Muslims, and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding.

Press Releases

TN Senate Dems Fret About Impact of Anti-Exchange Bill

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Democratic Caucus; February 24, 2015:

Legislation would ensure Supreme Court ruling strips people of health care

NASHVILLE – Weeks after a committee denied a full vote on Insure Tennessee, a new piece of legislation will be heard in committee today that could take health insurance away from 229,000 people who already have it.

“This legislation addresses a hypothetical scenario, but it could have very real consequences for a lot of Tennesseans,” Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Jeff Yarbro said. “It would be tragic for Tennesseans to lose the security of health insurance just to prove an ideological point.”

While Insure Tennessee would have covered people who earn between 100-138% of the federal poverty level, others who earn between 138-400% of the federal poverty level receive tax credits to buy insurance on the federal exchange.

SB 72 is on the calendar for today’s 1:30 p.m. meeting of the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee. It seeks to prohibit Tennessee from establishing a state exchange if the U.S. Supreme Court rules in King v. Burwell that Tennesseans who purchase insurance on the exchange are ineligible for federal tax credits. For most of the 229,000 Tennesseans who used the federal exchange to purchase insurance, this legislation would effectively eliminate their health care coverage. A ruling could come as early as this summer.

Under the Affordable Care Act, Tennesseans are receiving more than $700 million in federal tax subsidies that would vanish if the Supreme Court rules against the Obama administration. Notably, the proponents of SB 72 signed onto an amicus brief with the court, arguing that Tennesseans should not receive tax credits and cost assistance.

“It’s hard to believe we’re now starting a process to take insurance away from hundreds of thousands of people who already have it,” Senate Minority Leader Lee Harris said. “I hope someone wakes me up from this. This is a nightmare.”

Press Releases

TMEPA Calls on General Assembly to Strike Down Municipal Broadband Restrictions

Press release from the Tennessee Municipal Electric Power Association; February 23, 2015:

Municipal Electric Broadband Service Restricted, Unable to Offer Fastest Service in the Country to Those Who Want It

BRENTWOOD, Tennessee – The Tennessee Municipal Electric Power Association (TMEPA) is seeking to end Tennessee’s constraint on municipal electric broadband so that communities can choose their internet providers and to give more Tennesseans access to the fastest broadband speeds in the country.

TMEPA consists of the state’s 60 municipal systems which serve 2.1 million homes and businesses, or 70% of Tennessee’s electric customers. TMEPA is supporting legislation (SB1134/HB1303) that removes the current limitation on municipal electric broadband providers that restricts broadband service to just its electric service territory. This change in the law would allow municipal electric broadband to expand to more areas where it is needed if those communities want it.

“High-speed broadband is the next utility of the 21st century, and municipal electric broadband should be allowed to be an option for more communities across Tennessee,” said Jeremy Elrod, Director of Government Relations for TMEPA.

Today’s world has made high-speed broadband vital infrastructure that drives local economies, promotes economic development, increases educational opportunities and outcomes, increases regional and global competitiveness, and allows more opportunities for telemedicine, telework, and a better quality of life. Communities with fast internet service become attractive for private investment, and communities without it are unable to provide the modern services that businesses and consumers need and want.

“With the critical need for more and better access to high-speed broadband, a community should have every option available to it as it tries to meet its needs,” said Elrod. “Just as a city decides for itself how to offer electric or water services, it should be able to decide for itself what kind of broadband service it wants.”

Across the state there is a vast difference in available internet speeds. Nearly half of rural Tennesseans still lack access to 25 megabits per second broadband, the FCC’s new broadband standard, and many have little to no internet connectivity at all. Conversely, municipal electric systems have made Tennessee the leader in the nation in per capita availability to gigabit speed broadband with 1 in 10 Tennesseans having access to the fastest speeds in the country. All Tennessee consumers and businesses have access to electric service, but not all have access to the new necessity of high-speed broadband.

Tennessee’s municipal electric broadband providers use fiber optic cable to deliver broadband services. This state of the art connection makes its capable to provide the fastest internet speeds available in the country, 1 gigabit per second. The high capacity of fiber gives additional benefits to consumers and businesses such as freedom from data caps and internet speeds that are the same whether downloading or uploading data.

Because fiber is the fastest, most reliable way, and most secure way to transmit data, many Tennessee municipal electric systems are already installing fiber optic systems for its smart grid capabilities. The result is millions of dollars invested in a smart grid that increases system reliability, reduces outage times, and helps to keep electric rates competitive for everyone. Given the ability to use its fiber system for more purposes, a municipal electric system can develop innovative solutions to meet its community’s broadband needs.

“Our members value one thing above all: serving their communities,” said Mike Vinson, Executive Director of TMEPA. “In today’s world that’s more than just keeping electric service affordable and reliable, it now includes providing other services like high-speed broadband. Tennessee’s municipal electric systems strive to meet their community’s needs.”

Municipal electric systems were established in the early 20th century as a locally controlled and governed means of delivering electricity to those in need of the new necessity of electric power. This “public power model” helped electrify the state and make it attractive because of its affordable and reliable power.

“The 21st century version of electrification is high speed broadband, providing the same benefits in both eras: access to modern utilities for more people across the state decided at a local level,” says Vinson. “Just as local electric systems did then, municipal electric broadband helps to spur job creation, encourages innovation, and is a driver for economic growth, all by bringing modern services to their communities.”


Additional Information:

Current Municipal Electric Broadband Providers
(g) – offers gigabit speeds * – beginning service ** – offer gigabit speeds soon

  • Bristol (g)
  • Chattanooga (g)
  • Clarksville (g)
  • Columbia
  • Erwin *
  • Jackson **
  • Morristown (g)
  • Pulaski
  • Tullahoma (g)

To view testimony on what some of Tennessee’s broadband needs look like, visit the General Assembly’s website to watch the February 10 meeting of Senate Commerce and Labor Committee which held a hearing on the topic.

Press Releases

TN Senate Dems: Haslam’s Longevity Pay Cut Won’t Improve State Workforce

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Democratic Caucus; February 19, 2015:

NASHVILLE – Gov. Bill Haslam’s plan to slash longevity pay takes money out of state employees’ paychecks without doing anything to improve our state workforce, Senate Minority Leader Lee Harris said.

“The governor seems to propose taking part of these employee paychecks, using that part to create a pool of money, and giving it right back to the same employees and calling the process a raise,” Sen. Lee Harris said. “That’s not what most people in the private sector would call a raise. There’s got to be some way to give our top performers in government a real raise without the subterfuge.”

The governor’s plan to eliminate longevity pay would end the $100 raises workers receive for each year after three years of service. In lean budget years, it may be the only increase employees receive to keep up with cost of living.

“Some employees have worked and earned these paychecks for decades,” Sen. Harris said. “These paychecks are not bonuses. They are, more or less, part of our employees’ salaries. These employees depend on the income and had no reason to believe it was in jeopardy.”

Featured Liberty and Justice NewsTracker

NSA Data-Collection Targeted by State Legislation

The U.S. National Security Agency claims that the broad surveillance powers it has assumed are necessary to protect Americans against terrorist attacks. But some Tennessee lawmakers are backing legislation to prevent state-run service providers and facilities from in any way aiding in warrantless data-collection by the federal government.

The Tennessee Fourth Amendment Protection Act (HB0679/SB0782) — sponsored by Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, and Republican Jonesborough Reps. Micah van Huss and Matthew Hill — would prevent the state or any of its subdivisions from assisting or otherwise providing “material support or resources to enable or facilitate” the gathering of an individual’s data by the NSA without a judge’s approval.

The legislation was conceived by a privacy rights advocacy group called the Off Now Coalition, whose aim is to “shut down the surveillance state.” It is designed to help protect against the NSA’s domestic data-collection program revealed in 2013 by whistleblower Edward Snowden. The Tennessee legislation represents part of a broader national strategy by activists to gain regional leverage against the NSA where political efforts in Washington, D.C. have largely come up short.

y-12 billboards 1940sThe proposed legislation in the Tennessee statehouse doesn’t include a definition for “material support.” However, argues that because “the spy agency needs resources like water and electricity” and “cannot operate its facilities without these essential resources,” state or municipally owned utilities fall into the category. Partnerships between NSA and state higher education institutions would be blocked, as would use of federal warrantless data by state agencies.

The Multiprogram Research Facility is a part of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, which is run by a collaboration between the University of Tennessee and the Battelle Memorial Institute.

The NSA is using the facility to produce a supercomputer capable of sifting “through enormous quantities of data – for example, all the phone numbers dialed in the United States every day,” according to James Bamford, an investigative journalist who covers national security and intelligence-gathering issues.

If passed, Tennessee’s Fourth Amendment Protection Act would also prevent law enforcement here from using any NSA-collected data in court.

Fourth Amendment Protection Acts have been introduced in 13 states. None have yet won approval.

A more narrowly written Electronic Data Privacy Act has become law in Utah and New Hampshire. The American Civil Liberties Union lauded Utah’s passage of the legislation last year.

A somewhat similarly worded Fourth Amendment Protection Act was also filed in Tennessee last session, sponsored by state Rep. Andy Holt, R-Dresden and former Knoxville Republican state Sen. Stacey Campfield. However, it died in committees.

The aim of the 2014 legislation was to resist the NSA in its attempts to collect private, personal communications between Americans, Holt said. “It is disturbing to me to think that every conversation, whether that is a telephone call, a text message or an email, may potentially…be used against me at some point by the federal government, and I am not comfortable about that,” Holt said during a hearing on the measure last spring.

Even though the legislation failed in 2014, U.S. government spying on Americans appears to be a matter of concern that crosses party lines in the Legislature.

“The NSA’s attempt to collect data on American citizens is just a complete outrage,” Democratic Rep. Mike Stewart, a Nashville attorney and now chairman of the House minority-party caucus, said last year. “There is no reason in this country ever for people to be collecting information that is private without a warrant.”

Press Releases

Mancini Praises State Democratic Legislators’ Renewal of Push for Medicaid Expansion

Press release from Tennessee Democratic Party Chair Mary Mancini; February 12, 2015:

After Republicans such as Sen. Todd Gardenhire (R-Chattanooga-has his choice of two health care plans) and Sen. Kerry Roberts (R- Springfield-defended his vote based on false information) tried to kill Insure Tennessee last week in a special legislative session and thereby deny 300,000 hardworking Tennesseans access to affordable health care, Democrats introduced two bills and two resolutions today that will keep Insure Tennessee alive:

“State Senator Jeff Yarbro (D-Nashville)…has introduced two senate joint resolutions and one bill…The first resolution would allow Republican Gov. Bill Haslam to pursue his Insure Tennessee proposal in the regular General Assembly session. The second aims to authorize full expansion of the state’s Medicaid program, according to a news release….Yarbro’s bill (SB 885) would repeal legislation passed last year that would require the governor to get the General Assembly’s approval before expanding the state’s Medicaid population under the Affordable Care Act….”Democratic lawmakers agree this issue is too important to let drop just because the governor’s own party let him down,” House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Stewart (D-Nashvillle) said…”We are committed to finding a way to bring affordable health care to Tennesseans.” State Sen. Lee Harris (D-Memphis) also filed a bill Thursday to make part-time state employees eligible for the same health insurance plans available to state lawmakers.” (Read more...)

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Press Releases

Gilmore Elected Chair of TN Black Caucus of State Legislators

Press release from the Tennessee House Democratic Caucus; February 12, 2015:

State Representative Brenda Gilmore has been elected Chairman of the Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators. Representative Gilmore is serving her fifth term in the Tennessee House representing District 54 in Davidson County. Prior to that, she spent 8 years on the Nashville Metro Council. Gilmore says, “It is a great honor to be elected Chair of this historic body that has worked tirelessly for Tennesseans. “ Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Stewart noted Gilmore’s own tireless leadership in all her endeavors. Chairman Stewart said, “Representative Gilmore has brought a great deal of drive and energy to the State House and I believe that she will bring that same focus to the leadership of the Tennessee Black Caucus”.

Representative Gilmore serves on the House Business and Utilities Committee, the House Finance Ways and Means Committee, the House Business and Utilities Subcommittee and the Joint Fiscal Review Committee. She was also previously Vice-Chair of the Tennessee Black Caucus. Nationally, she serves as State Director for Women in Government, Executive Committee of the National Black Caucus of State Legislators (NBCSL) and Chair-elect of the Women’s Network, National Caucus of State Legislators (NCSL) and Executive Board of National Caucus of Environmental Legislators. Additionally, she has worked with the NAACP, the League of Women Voters, the Nashville Women Political Caucus and is a member of Delta Sigma Theta sorority.

On the personal side, Gilmore is a proud graduate of Tennessee State University and received a Master of Human Resource Development degree from Vanderbilt University. She is married with one child and is a member of Mt. Zion Baptist Church.

Press Releases

Senate Education Cmte. Approves Kelsey’s Voucher Bill

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Republican Caucus; February 11, 2015:

NASHVILLE – The Senate Education Committee today approved legislation sponsored by Senator Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) calling for Opportunity Scholarships for students eligible for free and reduced lunch within districts containing a school in the bottom five percent of academic achievement.   The “Tennessee Choice and Opportunity Scholarship Act” mirrors legislation proposed by Governor Bill Haslam last year that was passed by the Senate but stalled in the House.

“Equal Opportunity Scholarships provide impoverished children with hope for a better education and choice in the school they attend,” said Senator Brian Kelsey.  “Children should not be forced to attend a failing school just because they live in a certain neighborhood.”

Under Senate Bill 122, approximately $6,500 of the scholarships would be offered to low-income students to attend the school of their parents’ choice. The scholarship program would be capped at 5,000 students in year one, 7,500 in year two, 10,000 in year three, and 20,000 in year four and thereafter.   If those caps are not reached each year, scholarships would be offered to other low-income children in those counties in which a school in the bottom 5 percent of schools is located.

“This is an idea whose time has come,” added Kelsey, who first introduced the idea in the Tennessee legislature ten years ago.  “The parents of these children deserve more choices, and their children deserve more options to receive a quality education.”

The bill is sponsored by House Education Administration and Planning Committee Chairman Harry Brooks (R-Knoxville) in the House of Representatives.

Senator Kelsey represents Cordova, East Memphis, and Germantown.  He serves as a member of the Senate Education Committee and as Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Press Releases

TNDP: In ‘Overt Snub’ to Haslam, Ramsey Rigged Health Committee to Kill ‘Insure TN’

Press release from the Tennessee Democratic Party; February 9, 2015:

Ongoing Power Struggle Between Ramsey and Gov. Haslam Threatens Tennesseans’ Lives

Nashville, Tenn. (February 9, 2015) – In an overt snub to Governor Bill Haslam, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey stacked the State Senate’s Health and Welfare Committee with “no” votes to kill Insure Tennessee, the Governor’s proposed health care plan.

Rather than working with his own party’s Governor on his top legislative priority and providing hardworking Tennesseans with access to quality, affordable health care, Ramsey rigged the Senate Health and Welfare Committee by removing three health care professionals and the bill’s sponsor and replacing them with hand-picking vocal opponents of Insure Tennessee [see attached graphic]. If he had allowed the duly appointed standing Health and Welfare Committee to remain intact and rule on the proposal, Insure Tennessee would have likely passed by at least a 6-3 vote. Ramsey’s crass power play ensured the death of Insure Tennessee.

The result of Ramsey’s rigged committee:

  • The lives of approximately 280,000 working Tennesseans are now in danger as they will continue to go without health care.
  • Billions of dollars of taxpayer money will be lost – money that hardworking Tennesseans have already paid in taxes will now flow to other states to pay for their health care.
  • As many as one-third of the state’s hospitals remain in danger of closing, resulting in thousands of lost jobs and endangering rural Tennesseans, who will have to drive several counties away in order to receive emergency care.
  • Businesses will avoid those regions of our state where there is no hospital.

Also to be noted is that six of the seven Republican senators who voted to kill Insure Tennessee accept and benefit from health care coverage provided to them by their employer – the state of Tennessee.

It is the height of hypocrisy to not only accept taxpayer-funded health coverage while denying it to others, but also to pretend that the legislative process was fair when it was rigged from the beginning.

Senate Health & Welfare Comparison
Press Releases

Rep. Terry Partnering With Central Magnet School Students in M’Boro to Sponsor Legislation

Press release from the Tennessee House Republican Caucus; February 9, 2015:

(NASHVILLE) — State Representative Bryan Terry, MD, is looking to get more youth involvement in politics. To do so, he has partnered with students at Central Magnet School to co-sponsor legislation this session. Mr. Allen Nichols instructs a class at Central Magnet entitled Contemporary Issues. The class focuses on teaching students about the constitution, as well as, debating current topics and issues.

One of the assignments for the students was to volunteer on a political campaign. Said Bryan Terry, “Before school started, several of the students helped during my primary. When classes began, students were asked as an assignment to volunteer on various campaigns. I had probably twenty or so Central Magnet students get involved in my campaign in some capacity.”

After the campaign, Dr. Terry thought about how he could pay back Mr. Nichols and his students and get them further involved in the legislative process. Dr. Terry reached out to Mr. Nichols with the idea of presenting the class with some legislative ideas that he looked to sponsor. If the Contemporary Issues classes could debate the issues and choose a topic, then Dr. Terry would sponsor or co-sponsor the legislation and keep the class up to date on the legislation.

Mr. Nichols had this to say: “I have the pleasure of teaching high school seniors contemporary issues. In our class, students get involved in citizenship by volunteering for local campaigns and simulating legislative sessions over real proposed bills. This year has been most exciting with an election and a new legislative session for the Tennessee General Assembly. Students enthusiastically debated several bills that are being brought up in Nashville. As a result of our class time devoted to current legislation, these students are more in tune to proposals that will have an impact on them and their families. While they had differing views from across the political spectrum, students appreciated the opportunity and are already seeking new opportunities for additional bills.”

In deference to the class and Mr. Nichols, Dr. Terry said he would not make public the students’ choice nor their comments. However, he did have this to say: “There was spirited debate on the issues with one topic appearing to generate an overwhelming positive response. As the legislation goes through the process, I will keep Mr. Nichols and the class informed on the status of the bill. As legislators, we must reach out to the youth and encourage their involvement in government. Article one, section one of the Tennessee Constitution says that the power is inherent in the people. It is one of my goals to help empower constituents and the youth through self-governance. I appreciate their enthusiasm and participation.”

The Tennessee General Assembly’s regular session begins on February 9 with the bill filing deadline set for February 12. Rep. Bryan Terry’s office can be reached at 615-741-2180 or via email at .