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Cohen Reintroduces Legislation to Collect Data on Police Shootings

Press release from the Office of U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn. 09; January 13, 2015:

Congressman will also introduce legislation requiring police shootings to be prosecuted by independent agency

[WASHINGTON, DC] – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09) today reintroduced his National Statistics on Deadly Force Transparency Act, which would close a loophole in federal law that prevents adequate collection of comprehensive national data regarding justified and unjustified fatal interactions with police. Without accurate and comprehensive data, racial disparities, abuses, and instances of excessive use of force are difficult to identify and unlikely to be fixed.

“Before we can truly address the problem of excessive force used by law enforcement we have to understand the nature of the problem and that begins with accurate data,”said Congressman Cohen. “I am introducing this bill so that our country can do a better job of honestly assessing racial disparities and other problems in our justice system and begin to fix them. It is a step in the right direction and a critical component of the healing process.”

The 1994 Crime Bill requires the Attorney General to collect statistics on the use of excessive force, but the law does not provide any enforcement mechanism nor does it adequately define what “excessive force” is. As a result, the federal government has been unable to gather data from many local police departments and there are no reliable statistics on how often law enforcement uses deadly force. Congressman Cohen’s legislation would incentivize states to require local law enforcement agencies to provide data to the Attorney General on:

  • The date of each instance when deadly force was used;
  • The identifying characteristics of the victim and officer involved, including the race, gender, ethnicity, religion and approximate age of the victim;
  • Any alleged criminal behavior by the victim;
  • An explanation, if any, by the relevant law enforcement agency of why deadly force was used;
  • A copy of any use of deadly force guidelines in effect at the time at the law enforcement agency;
  • The nature of the deadly force used, including whether it involved a firearm; and
  • A description of any non-lethal efforts that were taken before deadly force was used.

This data would be made publicly available, but would not disclose any personally identifying information. Congressman Cohen also plans to introduce legislation this year that would require incidents of deadly force used by police to be investigated and, if need be, prosecuted, by an independent actor. Currently, these cases are rarely prosecuted effectively due to an obvious conflict of interest between local police and the prosecuting District Attorney, who relies on a close working relationship with those same police officers to carry out other prosecutorial duties.

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Fitzhugh Celebrates Fall with New Call for Medicaid Expansion

Press release from the Tennessee House Democratic Caucus; September 23, 2014:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (September 23, 2014) – House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh is celebrating the beginning of fall as a countdown to the release of Governor Haslam’s long-awaited “Tennessee Plan” to expand Medicaid.

To mark the start of the season, Leader Fitzhugh has released a video asking Governor Haslam to make good on his pledge. Transcript to follow:

“Hi, I’m House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh.

“Today marks the beginning of fall. This is the time of year that I look forward to cooler weather, changing leaves and UT Football.

“This year, I’m also looking forward to Governor Haslam’s “Tennessee Plan” for expanding Medicaid. A few weeks back, the Governor promised to submit a plan this fall.

“Well, Governor, fall starts today and the countdown for Medicaid expansion begins anew. I hope the Governor makes good on his promise. Meanwhile, we’ll be back throughout the coming weeks with updates about how the Governor’s dithering affects you, the tax payer.

“Again, I’m House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh. Fall is here and—I truly hope—we can soon say the same thing about the Governor’s Tennessee Plan. Thanks.”

In August, Governor Haslam told reporters that he would probably go to the Department of Health and Human Services with a plan this fall that “makes sense for Tennessee.” Over the past year, House Democrats have implored Governor Haslam to follow the lead of Republican Governors like John Kasich of Ohio and Jan Brewer of Arizona who have put the residents of their state first by accepting federal funds to expand Medicaid.

It has been 545 days since Governor Haslam announced to a joint convention of legislators that he would seek a “Tennessee Plan” to expand Medicaid, and 266 since Tennessee began losing $2.5 million a day in federal funds, costing taxpayers $665,000,000 in lost revenue.

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Reps Camper, Gilmore Join Bi-partisan Group of State Lawmakers Fighting Hunger

Press release from the Tennessee House Democratic Caucus; September 10, 2014:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – State Reps. Karen Camper (D-Memphis) and Brenda Gilmore (D-Nashville) joined with over 200 state leaders from around the country to help pack 32,000 meals for the Alaska Food Bank as part of the Council of State Governments’ service project during their national conference in Anchorage on August 13th.

“I was grateful for the opportunity to work with a bi-partisan group of lawmakers from Tennessee and across the country to help feed those who are hungry,” said Rep. Gilmore. “Now we need to take that same sense of bi-partisanship and caring to find policy solutions that will end hunger in Tennessee and increase access to nutritional foods for everyone.”

September is “Hunger Action Month,” a campaign designed to engage the public on issues related to hunger and nutrition in America. According to statistics provided by Feeding America, Tennessee has over 1.1 million people who are food insecure, with 368,000 of them being children. A food insecure household is one that lacks, at times, access to enough nutritious food for a healthy, active lifestyle.

“No child in the richest nation in the world should ever go to bed hungry or have to skip a meal because their families can’t afford it,” said Rep. Camper. “Every man, woman and child in America should have access to healthy, nutritious and affordable food. I hope all of my fellow Tennesseans will join in making sure we make this goal a reality.”

Those who would like to make a difference during Hunger Action Month are encouraged to contact local agencies responsible for helping to feed the hungry. People in Nashville can contact the Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee (http://secondharvestmidtn.org/) while those in the Memphis area should visit the Mid-South Food Bank (http://www.midsouthfoodbank.org/) to learn more about how they can help end hunger in Tennessee.

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Howell Sworn in to Replace Retiring Watson in House District 22

Press release from the Office of the Speaker of the Tennessee House; September 8, 2014:

(NASHVILLE) — Dan Howell, the former Executive Assistant to the Mayor of Bradley County, was officially sworn in today as the new State Representative for House District 22. Last month, the Bradley County Commission voted for Howell to take office on September 1, filling the remainder of Bradley County Sheriff Eric Watson’s term as State Representative. Howell won the Republican Primary on August 7 and faces no challenge in the November General Election for a full term.

“I am thankful to the voters for casting their ballots for me on August 7, and I am honored the Commission has seen fit to place their confidence in me to take office early in order to assure a smooth transition. Sheriff Watson was a great legislator and I believe he will also be a great sheriff. He set a high standard and I look forward to continuing his tradition of good representation for the people of District 22,” Howell said.

For the past five years, Howell has served Bradley County as Executive Assistant to the County Mayor. He has also served on the Chamber of Commerce Board, the Cleveland/Bradley Greenway Board, and the county Storm Water Advisory Board, as well as directed the county’s Three Star Program.

“I am sincerely looking forward to working with Dan on the issues that matter most to the people of Bradley, Polk, and Meigs Counties and Tennessee,” said Speaker Beth Harwell (R-Nashville). “With this smooth transition, he can get right to work crafting policies for consideration that will bring jobs and prosperity to this state.”

“Tennesseans have some very clear priorities, especially when it comes to private sector job growth, lower taxes, and better education,” continued House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick (R-Chattanooga). “I am honored to call Dan Howell a colleague and look forward to working with him to see these priorities made into reality.”

“Tennesseans chose to send Representative Howell to Nashville to support policies that will strengthen our economy, ensure our budget remains balanced, and fight government waste,” said House Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada (R–Thompson Station). “In his new role as State Representative, I am confident he will accomplish exactly that.”

“Dan Howell is a fellow conservative who will do a great job representing the people of Bradley, Polk, and Meigs Counties. He will be an asset in Nashville and I look forward to working with Representative Howell as Bradley County Sheriff,” said Sheriff Eric Watson.

District 22 covers parts of Bradley County, and all of Polk and Meigs Counties. Representative Dan Howell can be contacted at 615-741-7799, rep.dan.howell@capitol.tn.gov or the address below.

Representative Dan Howell
301 6th Avenue North
Suite 112 War Memorial Building
Nashville, TN 37243

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Haslam, General Assembly Speakers to Convene Education Summit in Nashville

Press release from the office of Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam; September 2, 2014:

Review of Tennessee’s progress, update on current status and discussion on future success

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam joined Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and House Speaker Beth Harwell today to announce that key stakeholders of K-12 education from across the state will come together in Nashville on Thursday, September 18 for Tennessee’s Education Summit: Progress of the Past, Present and Future.

“There is nothing more important to the future of our state than getting education right,” Haslam said. “We are making historic progress in Tennessee, and as part of that progress there has been a lot of change and discussion. This is a chance to review where we’ve been, take a look at where we are today, and make sure we’re planning for where we want to go.”

“The progress our state has made in education over the past few years has been nothing short of remarkable. As the cause of reform continues, it is important to take stock and reflect on our past successes with an eye towards mapping our future progress,” Ramsey said. “It is now more important than ever to ensure we provide our students with a strong, world-class education rooted in Tennessee values. I look forward to this opportunity to listen, learn and discuss how Tennessee can build on its historic gains in education.”

“We need to ensure that Tennessee students are getting the very best education possible, so that they can compete on the global stage,” Harwell said. “One of the most important things we can do as policymakers is facilitate discussions with those stakeholders who are working with our children every day, and determine what progress we have made, and where we can do better. We have made significant progress, but there is more that can be done.”

Participants of the meeting will be educators, administrators, elected officials, business leaders, higher education officials and representatives from advocacy groups including the following:

Achievement School District
Drive to 55 Alliance
Professional Educators of Tennessee
State Collaborative on Reforming Education
Superintendent Study Council
Teach Plus
Tennessee Association for Administrators in Special Education
Tennessee Association of Colleges for Teacher Education
Tennessee Board of Regents
Tennessee Business Roundtable
Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Industry
Tennessee Charter School Center
Tennessee County Services Association
Tennessee Department of Education
Tennessee Education Association
Tennessee Higher Education Commission
Tennessee Independent Colleges and Universities Association
Tennessee Municipal League
Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents
Tennessee Parent-Teacher Association
Tennessee Principals Association
Tennessee School Boards Association
Tennessee State Board of Education
University of Tennessee

Four senators appointed by Ramsey and five House members appointed by Harwell will also participate in the summit.

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Corker Calls House Highway Fund Plan ‘Generational Theft’

Press release from the Office of U.S. Sen. Bob Corker; July 8, 2014:

U.S. Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) today blasted the House Ways and Means Committee’s legislation to temporarily patch the Highway Trust Fund, which funds improvements to roads, bridges and transit systems, by transferring nearly $10 billion from the general fund. The $10 billion transfer is spent within a few months but paid for over 10 years using budget gimmicks.

“This disgraceful practice of borrowing money to cover a few months of spending and paying for it over a decade is nothing more than generational theft,” said Corker. “If Congress believes these transportation projects are important, then Congress should have the courage to pay for it in the same timeframe the money is being spent rather than cowardly throw future generations under the bus. It’s shameful for a nation of our greatness to be handling infrastructure funding the way that we are.”

The federal Highway Trust Fund provides half of the country’s spending on transportation projects and will run dry in August, likely halting the construction of any new transportation projects without action from Congress. This will result in a 50 percent reduction in Tennessee’s transportation budget in 2015 and create a $160 billion hole in state budgets nationwide over the next decade at a time when they can least afford it.

Last month, Corker and Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) announced a bipartisan proposal that would create a long-term, stable funding mechanism for the Highway Trust Fund. For more information on this proposal, click here.

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Stewart Criticizes House GOP for Opposition to Federal Expansion of Pre-K in TN

Press release from the Office of Tennessee State Rep. Mike Stewart, D-Nashville; December 19, 2013:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – State Rep. Mike Stewart (D-Nashville) released the following statement following news that the Republican leadership in the House was going to oppose a federally funded expansion of Pre-K in Tennessee:

“Even in these hyper-political times, yesterday’s announcement by House Republican Leaders that they planned to give up $64.3 million in federal tax dollars freely available to expand Pre-K came as a shock and a disappointment.

“Sadly, Tennessee Republicans appear to be taking the lead from their national leaders, like Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who have made a profession of putting their narrow political needs before the good of the nation as a whole. Here we have a program – Pre-K – that has bi-partisan support and that has proven to be highly effective. Here in Nashville, Vanderbilt’s Peabody Research Institute, working with the Tennessee Department of Education’s Division of Curriculum, recently conducted a “rigorous, independent evaluation” of Pre-K in Tennessee. The key finding? “[T[he Tennessee Voluntary Prekindergarten program produces significant improvements in the academic skills generally regarded as important for school readiness compared to the gains made by comparable children who did not participate in the program.”

“At one time, Tennessee leaders, whether Republicans under Governors Lamar Alexander and Don Sundquist or Democrats under Democratic Governors Ned Ray McWherter and Phil Bredesen, would not have thought twice about putting good policy before politics and bringing these millions of dollars in to help our neediest school children. What a disappointment that the same radical spirit that has so undermined our government in Washington is now seeping into Tennessee politics.

“Those of us elected by Tennesseans should remember that these federal funds are our citizens’ tax dollars at work. The money that we send to Washington can either be put to work in Tennessee or put to work in other states. Already this year we’ve seen the Republicans refuse billions of dollars in healthcare funding by refusing to expand Medicaid – a program that is already helping thousands of working families and seniors just over the border in Kentucky. Now they give up millions that would allow over seven thousand Tennessee kids a better start in life. Apparently, handing out our citizens’ money to other states is the New Math among Tennessee Republicans. It doesn’t add up – unless you care more about your radical base than about doing what’s right for Tennessee school children and working families.”

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TN House Dems Warn of “Fiscal, Moral Disaster” At Years End

Press release from the Tennessee House Democratic Caucus; December 3, 2013:

28 Days until Fiscal and Moral Disaster

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – In 28 days, Tennessee’s Republican leadership is poised to make the greatest fiscal, economic and moral blunder in decades. According to reports in the Tennessean, the Governor’s decision to put politics above policy is already resulting in layoffs and hiring freezes in hospitals across the state – a trend that will only worsen as the full impact of Governor Haslam’s decision goes into effect on January 1, 2014.

“The indifference shown by Governor Haslam and Tennessee’s Republican leaders is truly remarkable given the stakes,” said House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner. “There has never been an easier way for the state of Tennessee to improve the lives of its citizens without having to spend a single dime in state funds for years to come.”

When the 2010 Affordable Care Act was passed, hospitals struck a bargain with the federal government that they would forgo money in the form of reimbursements in order to get more patients through the Medicaid expansion. When the Supreme Court left the decision to expand Medicaid up to the states, it created a fiscal disaster for hospitals in states with political leadership too focused on partisanship to put the needs of their people first.

“This Christmas, Governor Haslam has the opportunity to give thousands of working men and women in Tennessee the best gift possible – longer and healthier lives,” said Chairman Turner. “I understand it will be difficult to get the expansion passed in the legislature, but the Governor owes it to the people of our state to try. If he stands by and does nothing, the hospital closures, the jobs lost, and the premature and preventable deaths of Tennesseans will rest squarely on his shoulders.”

Governor Haslam has claimed to be working on a “Tennessee Plan” with the federal government, however, a waiver that would start the process of adopting the plan has not been requested by the Haslam administration. Said Chairman Turner, “Has Governor Haslam reached out to Tennessee’s Congressional delegation with his ‘plan’ in order to help get the approval of HHS? Does he even have a plan to present?”

“People across this state need to understand that if we do not expand Medicaid, their health care options and jobs may be at risk, even if they have private or employer based insurance,” said Chairman Turner. “How many people in our state must suffer so that the Republican leadership can please its Tea Party base?”

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TN Senate Dems Call Out Haslam for Not Expanding Medicaid With End of CoverTN

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

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Today’s announcement that 15,400 Tennesseans will lose their health insurance follows three missed opportunities by Gov. Bill Haslam to avoid it.

“Governor Haslam has had three opportunities to make the new health law work for the benefit of Tennessee families,” House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh said. “Instead, he neglected his responsibility, and thousands of Tennesseans will lose their health insurance after Christmas.”

Gov. Haslam decided last year that Tennessee would not participate in defining the minimum coverage offered by health insurance policies known as “essential health benefits.” He left it to the federal government. He then opted not to establish a state-run exchange, defaulting to healthcare.gov for the purchase of private health insurance policies. More recently, the Governor has declined to accept federal dollars to expand Medicaid for working families, a program which would provide basic health care services to thousands of working people across the state. Instead, millions of dollars will go to other states.

What’s more, the Governor could decide to continue CoverTN for one year under the ruling from the Department of Commerce and Insurance that allows health care plans not meeting essential health benefits to be extended for one year.

“The Governor has been given multiple opportunities to influence a health care program for the benefit of small businesses and families across Tennessee,” said Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Lowe Finney. “Unfortunately, inaction has only resulted in a loss of coverage, which will only lead to less health care, poorer health and higher premiums for Tennesseans.”

Finney cited a recent study by the RAND Corporation showing that states that did not expand Medicaid were expected to see premiums increase as much as 10 percent for remaining policyholders.

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Gilmore Receives ‘Elected Women in Excellence’ Award

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

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – State Rep. Brenda Gilmore (D-Nashville) was honored with the Elected Women in Excellence Award at the National Foundation of Women Legislators Capital Forum in Washington, DC. Rep. Gilmore was one of only ten legislators in the nation to receive the honor.

“I am honored to receive this award from such a prestigious organization dedicated to helping women legislators be the best public servants they can be,” said Rep. Gilmore. “My goal has always been to be the advocate and representative my constituents deserve, and I am humbled to have been recognized for these efforts.”

Rep. Gilmore received the award on Thursday, November 21st at the NFWL Capital Forum. The conference also celebrated the 75th anniversary of the establishment of the National Order of Women Legislators.

About the National Federation of Women Legislators:

The mission of the National Foundation for Women Legislators (NFWL) is to provide strategic resources to women leaders for leadership development and effective governance through conferences, seminars, education materials, professional and personal relationships, and networking at both the state and federal levels.

NFWL is a non-partisan 501c-3, educational foundation. Its membership consists of members of the National Order of Women Legislators (all current and former women elected officials), corporate leadership, and association members.