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Business and Economy Featured Liberty and Justice NewsTracker

AG Pressed to File Suit Over FCC Broadband Ruling

A trio of prominent Tennessee House Republicans on Tuesday called for the state’s attorney general to challenge the Federal Communications Commission’s recent decision to strike down state restrictions on municipal broadband expansion.

Last week the FCC ruled in favor of the Electric Power Board of Chattanooga and their request to set aside a 1999 Tennessee law limiting municipal electric providers to offering internet services only within their electric footprint.

House Majority Whip Jeremy Durham and House GOP Caucus Chairman Glen Casada, both of Franklin, as well as Dresden Rep. Andy Holt, vice chairman of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, are urging state Attorney General Herbert Slatery to fight back against what they term the FCC’s “unconstitutional violation” of Tennessee’s sovereignty.

The three Republicans are accusing the FCC of having “usurped Tennessee law.”

In a press conference at the state Capitol Tuesday, Durham questioned the legality and appropriateness of “an unelected, federal body…overturn(ing) laws that have been made by the duly elected members of the Tennessee General Assembly.”

“I believe it’s another example of federal overreach. It doesn’t have to be the pen of Barack Obama and an executive order, sometimes it’s these unelected bodies like the FCC,” Durham said.

Whether or not the FCC ruling constitutes “good public policy or bad,” isn’t so much the issue as that the subverting of state laws sets “a very dangerous precedent,” said Durham.

According to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, the decision was made because “some states” have limited competition by designing “thickets of red tape,” and through its action, the commission is “cutting away that red tape consistent with Congress’s instructions to encourage the deployment of broadband.”

EPB officials, though cautious of possible pending litigation, praised the decision last week.

“Many neighbors have been struggling with the economic and educational disadvantages of not having access to broadband services. We are looking for the quickest path forward to help those neighbors join the 21st century information economy,” said Harold DePriest, EPB’s president and CEO, in a press release.

Gov. Bill Haslam told reporters Tuesday he’s still weighing options and mulling the FCC ruling and hadn’t made a decision on if he supports Tennessee appealing. “Before you decide to appeal something, you have to make certain that there’s a reasonable reason to do that,” Haslam said, adding that he’ll be looking to Slatery for guidance on the issue.

Haslam said he recognizes “value” in people gaining access to high-speed Internet if it is otherwise unavailable, but there are also concerns about “the local government subsidizing something that makes it hard for business to compete.”

The General Assembly’s Democrats issued a press release Tuesday afternoon criticizing the governor and lawmakers for working “to limit consumer choice,” instead of supporting the FCC’s decision to expand the choice for Tennesseans.

According to both chambers minority leaders — Memphis Sen. Lee Harris and Rep. Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley — Tennessee consumers “consider the matter settled” with the FCC ruling, and “don’t care so much about these technicalities,” if it means having access to high speed internet service.

Tullahoma Sen. Janice Bowling, a Republican, is pushing legislation this year to let municipal electric companies offer their services to what she called the “under-served or un-served” areas of the state.

Neither chamber has taken action on the bill.

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[gview file=”https://tnreport.com/wp-content/blogs.dir/3/files/2015/03/Slatery-FCC-Letter.pdf”]

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Press Releases

Green, Durham Introduce Bill to Create ‘Free-market Alternative’ to Worker’s Comp

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Republican Caucus; February 12, 2015:

The Tennessee Option will help employees return to work, create economic development opportunities

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Senator Mark Green (R-Clarksville), a physician and Vice-Chairman of the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee, and Representative Jeremy Durham (R-Franklin), House Majority Whip, today introduced a bill to create the Tennessee Option, a free market alternative to state-mandated workers’ compensation insurance. Sen. Jack Johnson, Chairman of the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee, is co-sponsoring the Senate bill. Rep. Glen Casada (R-Thompson Station), Chairman of the House Republican Caucus, is co-sponsoring the version in the House of Representatives.

 

“The core focus of the Tennessee Option is to help injured employees get back to work faster. Making that happen requires good benefits, strong communication, and will lead to higher employee satisfaction,” said Sen. Green. “An Option will also give job creators a way to save more than 50% on workers’ comp costs, so they can invest in growth and more employees.”

The Tennessee Option will create an alternative way for employers to provide traditional workers’ compensation benefits – medical, wage replacement, etc. – under an injury benefit plan. Sen. Green’s said the bill eliminates the need for volumes of statutes, paperwork, and litigated decisions, while still delivering employee protections and accountability. Employers using an Option in the two states that currently allow it – Texas and Oklahoma – see improved employee satisfaction following an injury and lower program costs, which creates economic development opportunities.

“We will cut red tape for Tennessee businesses with the Tennessee Option. That is reason alone to pass the legislation,” said Rep. Jeremy Durham. “If we want to make Tennessee a better place to work and live, we have to take bold steps like this to help employers while still protecting employees.”

Oklahoma passed Option legislation in 2013, and Texas has allowed alternative injury benefit programs for more than 100 years. Texas employers using the Option have saved billions of dollars while increasing employee satisfaction and return-to-work rates. The Tennessee Option will not replace workers’ comp; instead, it will act as a competitive pressure on the system to produce better outcomes for the true stakeholders – employees and their employers.

“We have the opportunity here to help Tennessee employees, Tennessee employers, and Tennessee economic development,” Green concluded. “I look at the Tennessee Option as a way to set our state apart when companies are looking to locate here and create hundreds or thousands of jobs, because that’s why I was elected – to get Tennessee back to work.”

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Press Releases

Kelsey Releases Open Letter from County GOP Chairmen Opposed to Insure TN

Press release from Tennessee Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown; February, 2, 2015:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Sen. Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) and Rep. Jeremy Durham (R-Franklin) today will accept a letter from a statewide coalition of conservative leaders and activists who oppose Medicaid expansion. Sen. Brian Kelsey stated, “Republican opposition to Obamacare Medicaid expansion is gaining momentum. These county party chairmen reflect the grassroots Republican opposition that is taking hold in the legislature.” Kelsey and Durham will discuss the open letter on behalf of the legislature at a press conference today at 10:30 am, scheduled for Hearing Room LP30.

Signatories to the letter include current chairs and party members from counties served by rural hospitals, such as West Tennessee Healthcare in Weakley County. Signatories also include persons recently included on a list of circulated by supporters of Medicaid expansion who did not intend to support the governor’s proposal. Party chairs signing the letter:

  • Rachel Welch–Chairman, Putnam County Republican Party
  • Gayle Jones–Chairman, Giles County Republican Party
  • Barry Hutcherson–Chairman, Chester County Republican Party
  • Chris Thompson–Chairman, Pickett County Republican Party
  • Dolores DiGeatano, MD–Chairman, Fayette County Republican Party
  • David Baldovin–Chairman, Moore county Republican Party
  • Sue Jackson–Chairman, Obion County Republican Party
  • Daniel Williams–Chairman, Carroll County Republican Party
  • Ben Nixon–Chairman, Warren County Republican Party
  • Harold Kemp–Chairman, Macon County Republican Party
  • Constance Hightower–Chairman, Hamblen County Republican Party
  • Debbie Baldwin–Chairman, Benton County Republican Party
  • Judi Swilling–Chairman, Claiborne County Republican Party
  • Jimmy Knight–Chairman, Union County Republican Party
  • Fred Ellis–Chairman, Lincoln County Republican Party
  • Ken Coppinger–Chairman, Rhea County Republican Party
  • Richard Swink–Chairman, Robertson County Republican Party
  • Ronald Wayne King–Chairman, Scott County Republican Party
  • Robert Dunham–Chairman, White County Republican Party

An excerpt from the letter reads, “As conservatives in our communities, we have worked hard to elect leaders we trust will uphold our values of shrinking government, imposing less taxes and costs on businesses and individuals, and embracing a free market.

“We reject ObamaCare’s Medicaid expansion. And we need you to stand strong on these principles in the coming special session.” A copy of the letter is attached.

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Dear Legislators:

As conservatives in our communities, we have worked hard to elect leaders we trust will uphold our values of shrinking government, imposing less taxes and costs on businesses and individuals, and embracing a free market.

We reject ObamaCare’s Medicaid expansion. And we need you to stand strong on these principles in the coming special session.

Although Governor Haslam originally opposed Obamacare, it appears he has chosen to abandon those principles now that he is safely in his second term. His proposal for Insure Tennessee is no more than expansion of Obamacare by another name.

Nearly 9 in 10 Tennesseans eligible for Medicaid expansion are working-age adults without dependent children to support, according to the Urban Institute. Instead of adding a whole new generation onto welfare programs like Medicaid, we need to get working-age adults working again. Our state deserves a clear path to jobs and prosperity―not an ObamaCare Medicaid expansion like Insure Tennessee.

We are also concerned about how this ObamaCare Medicaid expansion is funded. In particular, $716 billion will be cut from Medicare in order to pay for the Medicaid expansion and other parts of the law, according to The Heritage Foundation. Medicaid expansion breaks the Medicare promise we made 50 years ago. And if other state Medicaid expansions are any indication, Medicaid costs will skyrocket―putting Tennessee seniors at further risk.

We are all aware of the mess that TennCare created and the difficulty our state had when we had to end the program and kick 350,000 Tennesseans off the Medicaid rolls.

Governor Haslam’s “two year pilot program” reeks of the same issues that we had less than a decade ago. Tennessee should not make the same mistake again.

We reject the ObamaCare Medicaid expansion known as Insure Tennessee. On behalf of many local Republicans oppose this expansion, we urge you to do what’s right for Tennessee and stand strong against this proposal.

Sincerely,

Tennessee Republican Party Chairs

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Press Releases

Kelsey Files Bill to Block TN From ‘Operating Any Obamacare Exchanges’

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Republican Caucus; January 15, 2015:

(NASHVILLE), January 15, 2015 – Senator Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) and Representative Jeremy Durham (R-Franklin) today filed legislation that would prevent individuals and businesses in Tennessee from being assessed fees under Obamacare if the U.S. Supreme Court rules in favor of the plaintiffs in the case of King v. Burwell.  The Supreme Court is expected to hear oral arguments on the case in March which, in effect, challenges the administration’s regulations on citizens in states which did not set up state healthcare exchanges in conjunction with the federal act.

“This bill will stop the IRS from penalizing Tennesseans for not signing up for Obamacare,” said Senator Kelsey.  “It also prevents Tennessee from operating any Obamacare exchanges in the future.”

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit claim that the section of the law authorizing the government to distribute tax credits and assess penalties applies only when states choose to run their healthcare exchanges.  The law does not explicitly state that the tax credits and penalties apply when the federal government runs the exchange.  Tennessee is one of the 25 states that have chosen to force the federal government to run its exchange.  Senate bill 72 would prohibit Tennessee from running the exchange in the future if the plaintiffs receive a favorable ruling the case.  A decision on the case is expected by in June after the Tennessee General Assembly has adjourned.

“The Supreme Court could overturn half of Obamacare, and this bill will prepare our citizens for that,” Durham concluded.

A draft of the bill is available at: http://www.capitol.tn.gov/Bills/109/Bill/SB0072.pdf

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NewsTracker Transparency and Elections

Bill to Block College IDs for Voting Draws Dem Doubts

Questions from Democrats about the true intent of legislation drafted to clarify Tennessee’s voter ID law peppered discussion in a House committee Tuesday.

The legislation would have allowed voters to use college IDs as a form of accepted identification. The bill would rewrite a section of the current code that blocks their use. In HB 229’s original language, college IDs were simply not mentioned.

Rep. Jeremy DurhamJeremy Durham

However, that changed with freshman Rep. Jeremy Durham’s amendment that “basically just eliminates the college IDs part of the bill,” Durham told the Local Government Committee. “I think it’s good public policy to make sure the right people are voting.”

The amendment drew a slew of questions from Democratic committee members as to the true intent of the bill.

Rep. Bo Mitchell, of Nashville, made the argument that state-funded institutions of higher learning are “part of the state of Tennessee” because they receive funding from the state.

“There’s plenty of people who get direct money from the state, but I don’t want them to write down on a napkin who’s qualified to vote,” Durham, R-Franklin, said.

Rep. Larry Miller, of Memphis, was one of three Democratic members to ask either Durham or House sponsor Rep. Susan Lynn, R-Mt. Juliet, if they could describe any “real-world occurrences” where students had committed fraud using college IDs to vote. Neither could provide an example.

When Rep. Mike Stewart, of Nashville, asked Durham for an example of a problem with college IDs, Durham said, “I suppose that the real problem is if we stick with just state and federal, I think that’s better than having 20, 30 different forms of ID from all these different state-funded universities.”

Rep. Antonio Parkinson, of Memphis, questioned what effect the bill may have on a decision before the Tennessee Supreme Court regarding the use of photo library cards as acceptable ID. The bill forbids using them to vote as well.

“A court decision would not affect the current law,” Lynn said. “A judge is not a lawmaker, and a judge can’t just deem that local IDs are acceptable if the General Assembly has passed a law saying that they are not acceptable, and the governor has signed the law.”

The companion bill, SB125, passed the full Senate last week. However, it allows college IDs to be accepted as valid forms of identification but disallows library cards and out-of-state IDs.

Because the two chambers’ versions differ, it is possible that a conference committee will be appointed to try and reach an agreement, which is necessary before final passage is possible.

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 NewsTracker

Sanderson Seeks to Curb Self-Service Beer Sales

Troubled by the age-old problem of underage drinking, Rep. Bill Sanderson is pushing a bill to clamp down on grocery stores that use self-service lanes.

The Kenton Republican has put forward a proposal to limit self-checkout lanes – “Welcome, valued customer. Please scan your first item.” – to six per attendant. Sanderson says House Bill 304 will deter youths who scan a six-pack of Coca-Cola, then sneak a six-pack of Bud into their grocery bags.

Bill Sanderson

“The notion that one person can oversee an infinite amount of self-checkouts is not even practical,” Sanderson said Tuesday before the House Local Government Committee gave the nod to his bill. “So, this legislation says that if you’re monitoring self-checkouts it should be limited to four self-checkout lanes if you are selling alcohol in that store.”

The Senate version, sponsored by Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, is pending a hearing in a Local Government subcommittee.

But retailers already limit the number of self-checkout lanes they have in operation per employee, a lobbyist for the grocers told lawmakers, and a majority of stores in the state have no more than six per attendant.

“I would say that stores are watching those, and monitoring those in a way that they don’t want an infinite number of checkout stands for one person,” Jarron Springer, with the Tennessee Grocers and Convenience Store Association, said. “But I think each individual store probably has a different determination on their number.”

Sanderson’s bill comes as the nation sees a drop in drunk-driving fatalities.

Thirty-two states including Tennessee recorded a decrease in drunk-driving fatalities from 2009 to 2010, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Nationally, deaths were down 4.9 percent.

The trend holds true among minors, with alcohol-impaired driving fatalities among youths down 60.7 percent since 2000, according to federal numbers tracked by the Century Council, a distilleries group.

Committee chairman Rep. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough, questioned the practicality of the legislation. After all, store workers are already required to check the ID of anyone buying alcohol before the checkout process can be completed.

Hill said that he was concerned that the state was “using the government to mandate the number of employees” stores employ.

During committee discussion, several legislators seemed supportive of the bill on the grounds that it would address the issue of alcohol accessibility to minors.

Rep. Andy Holt, R-Dresden, likened the decision of grocery retailers to abide by their own guidelines in this situation to allowing them to determine their own rules in other areas.

“So, if we just say that we should just allow industry to just conduct their own measurable accountability in all these situations, maybe we should do away with several other programs as well, because businesses can just institute that for themselves in home,” Holt said. “Food safety, inventory controls, responsible vending, all of these things.”

Reps. Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin; Bo Mitchell, D-Nashville; and Mike Stewart, D-Nashville, requested to be recorded as voting no on the measure.