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TN Senate Dems Denounce Legislation Targeting Federal Pre-K Funds for Davidson, Shelby Counties

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Democratic Caucus; February 25, 2015:

NASHVILLE – New pre-K classrooms in Davidson and Shelby counties could be in jeopardy if legislation in committee today passes the General Assembly.

“We know that early childhood education makes a tremendous difference in a child’s life,” state Rep. Antonio Parkinson said. “This legislation would target our state’s two largest school systems and take us a step backward because lawmakers want to make a political point.”

The Shelby County School Consortium and Metro Nashville Public Schools announced in October they will receive $70 million in federal funds for new pre-K classrooms. Whie the legislation is targeted at pre-K, it could have larger implications for local funding. HB 159 would require the state to back out of an agreement to receive federal funding earmarked for a county if the state did not apply on behalf of all local governments.

It will be heard in the House Local Government Subcommittee at 1:30 p.m. today.

“We need to see more pre-K classrooms in every county in Tennessee, but this legislation is not the way to do it,” Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Jeff Yarbro said. “Instead, this legislation would impose a one-size-fits-all approach that doesn’t reflect the needs and opportunities of different communities.”

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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.”

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Press Releases

Responses to Gov. Haslam’s State of the State Address

Press release from Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville; February 9, 2015:

Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey (R-Blountville) made the statement below following Governor Bill Haslam’s State of the State address:

“Governor Haslam has delivered yet another outstanding State of the State address setting an agenda that will continue to make Tennessee the best state in the union to live, work and raise a family. Four years of conservative governance has brought Tennesseans more jobs, lower taxes and smaller and more efficient government. We have accomplished much together in the past four years, but there is still much left to do. I particularly appreciate Governor Haslam’s continued focus on education reform building upon Tennessee’s strong record of improvement. I look forward to working with Governor Haslam as we reward good teachers and lift our expectations up to a true Tennessee standard that challenges and prepares students for the high quality jobs of the future.”

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

Sen. Yarbro confident Insure Tennessee will be reintroduced

NASHVILLE – Members of the Senate Democratic Caucus released the following statements in response to Gov. Bill Haslam’s state of the state address:

“Making health care affordable for everyone is the most important issue facing our state,” Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Jeff Yarbro said. “We need the governor and common sense legislators of both parties to come together around a plan. I am confident that Insure Tennessee will be reintroduced during this session.”

“Our state is making extraordinary gains in education, and I would be very troubled to see that progress stop over one party’s partisan political objections,” Senate Minority Leader Lee Harris said. “We need to continue to support the highest standards for our students and keep up the progress we’ve made.”

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

Looks for more middle-class outward approach

Nashville, TN: House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh (D-Ripley) issued the following statement following Governor Haslam’s State of the State speech:

“Though I am pleased to hear our teachers are finally getting the raise they were promised last year, I didn’t hear much about helping the working people of our state just a week after this body denied them health care. We’re still not talking about paid family leave, overtime compensation, and parental involvement in schools. Democrats think we need a more middle-class outward approach and that’s what you’ll see from us over the next few weeks.”

 

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TN Senate Dems: Following Insure TN Defeat, Charity Care Ramps Up

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Democratic Caucus; February 6, 2015:

NASHVILLE – Following the defeat of Insure Tennessee in the state Senate, a Remote Area Medical clinic plans to treat more than 1,000 people this weekend who can’t afford health insurance.

“The legislature killed Insure Tennessee without offering any alternatives for the uninsured,” state Sen. Jeff Yarbro said. “It’s shameful that thousands of Tennesseans, many of whom work full-time, have no choice but to rely on charity care. We owe it to them to put politics aside and find a real solution to the challenges they face.”

Based in Tennessee, the Remote Area Clinic was inspired by its founder’s personal experience treating patients in the world’s most inaccessible regions, where people are devastated by what would have been simple or minor illnesses in more advanced cultures. The clinic plans to treat patients in Tennessee at various locations over 11 weekends this year.

A clinic will be held in Knoxville Saturday and Sunday at the Jacob Building at 3301 E. Magnolia Ave.

Last year’s clinic in Knoxville was the subject of a segment on The Daily Show.

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Yarbro: Democrats Will Continue to Make Case for Medicaid Expansion

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Democratic Caucus; February 4, 2015:

“This conversation is not over. Democrats will continue to make the case.”

NASHVILLE –State Sen. Jeff Yarbro, the Democratic member of the Senate Health Committee, released the following statement on today’s vote ending the prospect of passage for Insure Tennessee during the extraordinary session:

“Lawmakers have spent two years trying to find a solution to expand access to health care in our state, but it took only two days for the legislature to vote it down,” state Sen. Jeff Yarbro said. “It’s disheartening that seven Senators can make this decision for 6.5 million Tennesseans.”

“This conversation isn’t over,” Sen. Yarbro said. “Democrats will continue to make the case for expanding access to affordable health insurance in Tennessee. We will continue to work with the governor and with common-sense members of both parties to move past politics and do what’s right for Tennesseans.”

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Yarbro Urges Support for Insure TN

Letter from Tennessee Sen. Jeff Yarbro, D-Nashville; February 2, 2015:

In just over an hour, the 109th General Assembly will convene in a special session called by the governor to consider his Insure Tennessee plan.

After the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the section of the Affordable Care Act mandating the expansion of Medicaid, states have had the option to expand Medicaid on their own, initially funded 100% by the federal government. Unfortunately, Tennessee has not expanded Medicaid, which has left hundreds of thousands needlessly without insurance, cost Tennessee almost $1 billion, and led to lost jobs and closed hospitals.

The governor has still not agreed to seek an expansion of Medicaid. His Insure Tennessee plan, however, would extend insurance coverage to a large portion of Tennessee’s uninsured population, many of whom work full-time but still can’t afford insurance. You can read more about the Governor’s plan here.

I talked with so many of you on the campaign trail about how important it is for Tennesseans to have coverage they can count on and afford. While Insure Tennessee may not be perfect, it’s a common sense solution that will benefit the people of Tennessee. And so, I’m going to support it this week.

Over the last month, there has been widespread support for Insure Tennessee from all corners. The governor’s plan has the support of the business community and organized labor.The health care community – our hospitals, phsycians and advocates – overwhelmingly supports this plan, as has virtually every editorial page in the state. Regardless of whether they are Democrats or Republicans, reasonable people across this state know that we cannot afford to do nothing.

This plan will lead to more people in Tennessee with affordable health coverage. It will save jobs and make it less likely that hospitals will close. And it will not increase the tax burden of Tennesseans, who are already paying the federal taxes that support this program. It’s a no-brainer.

You will hear opponents this week rail against this as Obamacare, but you likely will not hear them provide a serious alternative. You will read media clips about the Governor’s political capital and the support among his own party. But this week can’t just be about politics. This is serious business for the people of our state, and we as members of the legislature must treat this as a problem to solve rather than as a political game to win or lose.

I ask that you follow what’s happening in the legislature this week. (You can watch the proceedings online here). And, get involved. Make your voice heard with legislators from across the state.

It’s time now for the legislature to get to work.

Best,

Jeff

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Mancini: TN Democrats Keeping Busy With Launch of 109th General Assembly

Press release from Tennessee Democratic Party Chairwoman Mary Mancini; January 22, 2015:

Last week Tennessee Democrats helped to gavel in the 109th Tennessee General Assembly and they’ve been busy:

  • Senator Jeff Yarbro (D-Nashville), wrote an op-ed for the Tennessean (which you can read here) in which he puts Governor Haslam’s election to a second term in perspective:

    “Despite cruising to re-election with 70 percent of the vote, Gov. Haslam received… 300,000 fewer votes than Gov. Bredesen did in his…landslide re-election in 2006. In fact, fewer Tennesseans voted to re-elect Gov. Haslam than the number who voted for President Barack Obama in 2012 or 2008…

    …when you do the math, Gov. Haslam’s 70 percent victory represented just over 20 percent of eligible voters…

    By virtue of the election outcomes, Gov. Haslam and the Republican supermajority have the right to govern. But when the votes that elected them come from only 29.1 percent of the eligible voters — and even less for those legislators essentially elected in partisan primaries — it is clear that most Tennesseans have not given them a mandate to lead.”

  • Tennessee State Representatives Raumesh Akbari (D-Memphis) & Brenda Gilmore (D-Nashville) were sworn in as 2015 State Directors with Women In Government. They were elected by their peers. (Read more from Nashville Pride by clicking here.)
  • The Tennessee House Caucus celebrated MLK, Jr. day with this truth: “49 years after Dr. King uttered these words, we’re still fighting for a living wage for regular people. This ‪MLK day tell legislators it’s time for a state minimum wage.
  • ​And finally, members of the Tennessee Senate Caucus (Yarbro, Kyle & Harris) abstained from voting for the reelection of Ron Ramsey as Senate Speaker and Lieutenant Governor. (Read more from Humphrey on the Hill by clicking here.)
  • I’m hitting the road! ​Look for our “Listening Tour” announcement next week.
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Tallies Change, Result Doesn’t: Henry Edges Yarbro

In the fifth and probably final vote total, Davidson County election officials announced Tuesday that state Sen. Douglas Henry won this month’s primary election with 17 more votes than his challenger, Jeff Yarbro.

The recount revealed that three of the 235 absentee votes had previously been miscounted in Yarbro’s favor, according to the county election administrator.

The newest vote tally is the result of a Yarbro-requested recount that the Tennessee Democratic Party approved Monday to double check which candidate won after several changes to the vote totals.

Yarbro, a 33-year-old attorney and first-time candidate for state Senate, said that while he was disappointed with the results, he was satisfied that the outcome was arrived at fairly.

“This is obviously an election that was decided by a very small margin, and I think that the process that happened on election night was one that had to be turned together pretty quickly. But it looks that they did as good as a job as they could under the circumstances,” he said.

Yarbro pledged to support Henry, a state senator who has held the position for 40 years.

Bob Thomas, an attorney and campaign finance chairman for the Henry campaign, said he was frustrated with the changing vote totals, but obviously pleased with the outcome.

“It takes a little diligence to get it accurate and I think that, perhaps, the rush for results may not always be conducive to accuracy. And I think this recount has demonstrated that accuracy is much more important than the rush to get results,” he said.

Davidson County elections employees spent about three hours Tuesday recounting 235 absentee ballots and retabulating vote totals from primary election day’s voting machines.

Yarbro ultimately lost 5,734 votes to 5,717 votes. He’d trailed Henry by 11 votes last week after county election officials discovered a voting machine with totals that hadn’t been added on election day.

The vote totals changed four times since the Aug. 4 primary election.

Ray Barrett, Davidson County elections administrator, said despite the shifting totals, he’s confident that Tuesday’s results are accurate, adding he’s “sorry that some bad numbers got out there.”

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Democratic Chair Faults GOP for Election Foul-Ups

The leader of the Tennessee Democratic Party says he’s concerned with all the mistakes and inconsistencies that arose in the primary elections the state and local governments administered earlier this month.

And legislative Republicans are mostly to blame for the snafus, Chip Forrester told reporters at the Capitol Wednesday.

The problems could potentially have been avoided by requiring that votes be recorded on paper ballots and entered into a scanner — instead of almost entirely on computer systems, the party chairman suggested.

“We would probably not necessarily be in this situation with some certainly if we had that,” he said. “And it is a disappointment that Republicans have not seen that this is a tool that will be useful for counting votes accurately and properly in the election process.”

Under the Tennessee Voter Confidence Act, passed in 2008, counties were supposed to have purchased ballots and optical scanning voting machines to fully embrace the new ballot-counting practice by November.

Driven by Republicans who said in January that cash-strapped counties lacked the money during an economic downturn to buy new equipment, the Legislature voted to delay implementation until 2012.

The delay-measure, HB614, easily passed both chambers with a combined House-Senate vote of 95-30 — with 29 Democrats and one Republican against it.

The Voter Confidence Act also required the state use advanced ballot-counting technology that hadn’t yet been developed, said state Sen. Bill Ketron, who sponsored the legislation to stall the law’s start date. He said he didn’t want to make counties “throw out the machines they bough a few short years ago” to buy new ones.

“The delay was to wait until 2012 to give the manufacturers of the machines time to catch up,” said the Murfreesboro Republican. “I think everybody who voted for (the act) thought those machines would be here, but they’re not.”

The new process is meant to create additional set of checks and balances to verify all votes cast are counted in each election, he said.

Several races in this month’s primary election ended with razor-thin margins, giving the slightest ballot-counting discrepancies the potential to change the outcome of a contest.

Case in point is the Nashville state Senate race between incumbent Sen. Douglas Henry and his challenger Jeff Yarbro.

Tallies last left the senator 11 votes ahead of Yarbro, although the unofficial vote totals have changed four times since election day.

The Democratic Party’s executive committee will decide Monday night, after Davidson County certifies the election results, whether to request a recount.

Other electoral rough patches included Davidson County officials discovering a voting machine that had never been counted, a missed early-election voting day in Rutherford County and a previous election’s votes loaded into Shelby County voting machines.

Even if the Legislature hadn’t postponed the new requirements, Tennessee Secretary of State officials maintain, these kinds of mistakes still could have happened.

“In every election there is the potential for mistakes to be made, particularly human error,” said Blake Fontenay. “Even if you moved to paper ballots, you’d still have the potential for issues to arise.”

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Dems To Consider Henry-Yarbro Recount

Statement from Tennessee Democratic Party; Aug. 18, 2010:

TNDP Chair Chip Forrester Statement Concerning Requested Recount Of Primary Election Between State Sen. Doug Henry and Mr. Jeff Yarbro.

“Sen. Henry and Mr. Yarbro met this morning to discuss Mr. Yarbro’s request for a recount. At the end of that discussion, a procedure was proposed and agreed to by Mr. Yarbro regarding a recount of the election. Sen. Henry does not oppose the procedure.

“As part of that procedure, I will convene a meeting of our executive committee, which also serves as our state Primary Board, at 6 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 23, at the Freedom Room of the Tennessee Democratic Party headquarters.

“During the meeting, the Primary Board will consider the proposal and whether we should order the Davidson County Election Commission to conduct a recount.”