Press Releases

Chairman Turner Releases Statement on Retirement of Rep. West, Jr.

Press Release from the House Democratic Caucus, Feb. 19, 2010:

NASHVILLE (FEB. 19) – “Today’s announcement allows us the opportunity to reflect on the career of service and accomplishments of my friend, Ben West. I know my friend is doing what he believes is the right thing to do for his family and his future. Ben West, Jr. has served this legislature with honor and respect these past 26 years, but also with a sense of brevity and humility.

Ben and I have talked often in the months since his surgery about the importance of family and making sure we make the most of the time we have on this planet. For over a quarter of a century Ben has given his life to the service of the people of the 60th District and state of Tennessee. He has been a part of a number of state reforms, helped balance budgets year after year, worked with Democrats and Republicans on countless bipartisan efforts, and served as a leader on the issues that matter most.

While I selfishly would like my friend to continue his work as a member of the Tennessee House of Representatives, I know in his heart he is making the right choice. I’m confident that the people of the 60th will elect a new representative who will have the same dedication and commitment to the Democratic values that Ben West, Jr. has shown for nearly three decades.

I, along with all the Caucus, wish our friend the best in his retirement and look forward to enjoying these last months with him as a member of the 106th General Assembly.”

Press Releases

Rep. Ben West Jr. Announces Retirement After 26 Years in Legislature

Press Release from House Democratic Caucus, Feb. 19, 2010:

NASHVILLE (Feb. 19) – “For over a quarter of a century, I have been extremely blessed to have served the great people of the 60th District (Donelson, Hermitage and Antioch in Davidson County TN) in the State’s House of Representatives. I am humbled to have had the tremendous privilege to work with thousands of community residents on numerous community projects. For this opportunity, I am very grateful.

Even though it is difficult to let go of something you love so very much, as I do serving the people, there comes a time when it is the right thing do for both me and my family. My wife, Phyllis and I are looking forward to spending more time with our children and their families; and pursuing other adventures and life goals.

At this time I am announcing my retirement, effective with the election in November 2010.”

Ben West, Jr. was first elected to the Tennessee General Assembly in 1984 and has since been re-elected 13 times to the House of Representatives. Currently, Rep. West serves as a member of the House Transportation Committee and State & Local Government Committee. In addition, he serves on the House Public Safety and Rural Roads Subcommittee, the State Government Subcommittee and the Local Government Subcommittee.

Rep. West is married to Phyllis Duff West. Ben has two daughters and two stepchildren and the couple have nine grandchildren.


Senate OK’s Education Reform Bill

The bill to line Tennessee up for  “Race to the Top” federal education funds was approved in the Senate by a 29-3 vote.

The legislation sets the state up as a stronger competitor for the federal grant by creating an “achievement” school district to adopt failing schools and require teacher evaluations to factor in student test scores.

“I can absolutely guarantee you to 100 percent, if we don’t do this, those children will continue to have an education that is second class in Tennessee,” said Sen. Jim Kyle, D-Memphis, the Senate Democratic leader who sponsored the bill.

The three who voted against the bill included Sens. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet; Thelma Harper, D-Nashville; and Beverly Marrero, D-Memphis.

Objections ranged from a lack of minority representation on a special education commission to invading state sovereignty.

Now that SB7005 has passed the Senate, the body awaits action on it’s partner bill, HB7010 across the hall in the House of Representatives.

House members were caucusing early afternoon and expect to pick up the bill for floor debate beginning at 3:30.

The Senate will be back in session at 6 p.m. to work out any differences between the House and Senate bills if the House version passes.

Liberty and Justice News

Seeking Consensus on Traffic Cameras

Instead of slamming the brakes on red-light traffic cameras, House Transportation Committee members have tentatively agreed to try and hash out a three-part proposal to guide and regulate their use instead.

The rough plan, which includes a series of studies and a possible moratorium on new red light cameras, would give lawmakers more tools – and time – to decide the ultimate role the new technology will play in Tennessee communities.

Still, a number of lawmakers haven’t backed off their basic objections with the red-light cameras, saying both that the photos they take subvert civil liberties and that the private camera-vendors collect too much profit off the issuance of violations.

But the hope is to approve one comprehensive plan and move it through the Legislature, according to Rep. Bill Harmon, D-Dunlap, who chairs the committee.

The panel batted around ideas Wednesday, including a plan by Maryville Republican Rep. Joe McCord to shuffle profits from citations to drivers education or trauma services statewide.

McCord, a vocal opponent of red light cameras, introduced legislation last year banning the technology. He has since dropped the ban, saying he now sees a safety value of the system, but he’s still uncomfortable with how the ticket-generated revenues are divvied up.

Many on the 12-member House Transportation Committee agree that the private traffic-camera service-providers currently have too much unchecked, profit-driven power over motorists.

The vendors capture alleged violations on camera, examine the pictures, cross reference the information with the Department of Motor Vehicles, then mail out the citations. In return, they receive the lion’s share of fines collected.

Harmon wants the state comptroller to take a hard look at the traffic cameras and report back to lawmakers on issues like what impact the systems have on vehicle crashes, the make-up of traffic-camera service contracts, and detail as to how citation revenues are spent.

Harmon also wishes to see the state Department of Transportation conduct an engineering study on each intersection proposed to use a traffic camera, and added he hopes to ban all unmanned speed cameras on state highways.

While many lawmakers on the panel generally seemed supportive of Harmon’s ideas, some still argue the cameras are unconstitutional and an invasion of privacy. “If it intrudes a little, it’s too much,” said Rep. Tony Shipley, a Kingsport Republican.

A study (pdf) by the free-market Tennessee Center for Policy Research released earlier this year argued that traffic-enforcement cameras are unwise, unnecessary and unsafe.

The City of Gallatin collected nearly $1 million in traffic citations linked to the traffic cameras in 2007, according to TCPR’s study. At least 16 Tennessee cities use some sort of traffic camera: Chattanooga, Clarksville, Cleveland, Gallatin, Germantown, Jackson, Jonesborough, Kingsport, Knoxville, Memphis, Morristown, Mount Carmel, Murfreesboro, Oak Ridge, Red Bank and Selmer.

“There’s a lot of money being made here,” said TCPR policy director Justin Owen, an attorney who co-authored the report.

Instead of installing cameras, he says lawmakers should require municipalities to extend the length of the yellow light, giving drivers more time to travel through the intersection instead of stopping short for fear of a traffic ticket.

“The mere presence of the watchful cameras encourages drivers to attempt to stop at yellow lights even if passing through the light would be safer. Coupled with a decrease in yellow light timing, this can readily explain the increase in the number of rear-end collisions that occur at intersections with red light cameras,” stated the TCPR report.

Rep. John Tidwell, an engineer from New Johnsonville, says he’ll push lengthening the yellow light next year.

The Tennessee Association of Chiefs of Police maintains that the cameras help enforce the rules of the road, reduce crashes and generally improve safety, said Maggi Duncan, executive director. The association plans to push for the red light and speed cameras this legislative session.

The committee hopes to formulate an initial legislative proposal at their next meeting on Jan. 11.


Kelsey Wins Senate Seat

Republicans notched another fall 2009 special-election victory last night as former Rep. Brian Kelsey became a senator-elect with a victory over Democrat Adrienne Pakis-Gillon.

Shelby County Election Commission results show Kelsey won decisively over Pakis-Gillon in the low-turnout contest, capturing nearly 75 percent of the vote.

Kelsey, a 31-year-old suburban Memphis attorney, campaigned on creating jobs and opposing  “wasteful government spending” and “government-run health care.”

During the 2009 legislative session Kelsey introduced a constitutional amendment to prohibit the creation of an income tax in Tennessee. The bill did not pass.

In an effort to “take a stand against government-run health care,” Kelsey has also advocated loosening state health-care insurance regulations, which he says will make private medical coverage more affordable.

The results of the election are scheduled to be certified later this month, after which Kelsey will be officially sworn into office.

Kelsey’s lopsided win did nothing to change the partisan make-up of the Senate, however: Republicans still hold control of the chamber, 19-14.

The District 31 seat Kelsey will now occupy was previously held by Republican Paul Stanley, who resigned amidst revelations that he was the target of a blackmail attempt resulting from an adulterous affair he was having with a 22-year-old legislative intern.

Republicans also control the Tennessee House of Representatives, 49-48. Pat Marsh, a Republican from Shelbyville, beat Democrat Ty Cobb in a House special election back in October.

A special election to fill Kelsey’s vacated District 83 House seat is scheduled for Jan. 12 between Democrat Guthrie Castle , Republican Mark White and independent John D. Andreuccetti.