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Business and Economy NewsTracker

TN Will Likely Keep Pledge to Grant VW $300M Incentives Package

Despite some Tennessee lawmakers displeasure with the growing influence of the United Auto Worker’s union at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, the Legislature appears likely to approve a $300 million incentives package for the automaker.

A few members of the General Assembly’s Hamilton County legislative delegation grumbled to the Chattanooga Times Free Press editorial board last week that VW’s continued acceptance of the labor union was causing them some consternation about whether or not to approve the proposed incentives in this year’s legislative session.

Sen. Todd Gardenhire, a Chattanooga Republican, told TNReport Wednesday he was upset with the automaker and labor union for “not honoring” the outcome of the unionization vote last year. “They voted in a fair election not to be represented by UAW, and then they turn around and ignore that,” he said. But Gardenhire added that if a promise was made by the state’s governors, the Legislature would “honor that” because they didn’t want to “embarrass the state.”

Likewise, Senate Speaker Pro Tem Bo Watson said while the incentives could probably come up  during the greater budget discussion, the Volunteer State has “a long history of honoring its commitments, and none of us collectively are going to allow that not to happen.”

Additionally, House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, told reporters Wednesday that while he didn’t want the UAW to “slip in the back door because of a secret deal with Volkswagen,” he expected the Legislature to approve the incentives because “Tennessee will keep its promises.”

And despite the skepticism of Hamilton County legislators, the head of Volkswagen Group for the Americas said he is “very confident” the incentive package will be approved.

Gov. Bill Haslam said last week he understood the lawmakers unease, and he had “expressed” similar concerns as well, but he hoped the local lawmakers would support the incentives package because their votes — as the hometown gang — would be “very important” to its passage. The package was offered to the German company last summer to encourage expanded production at the Southeast Tennessee location. The automaker announced in July Chattanooga would be home to production lines for the new CrossBlue and Cross Coupe GTE.

“We’ll have those discussions about where we think Volkswagen is and why we think this is the right proposal for the state,” Haslam said.

Haslam added future efforts by Tennessee to recruit businesses could be harmed if the legislation fails. “We always put that as a caveat to the deal, that the Legislature has to approve, but historically, that has always happened in Tennessee,” he said.

Last February, the UAW failed an attempt to unionize the plant — 712 to 626 — leading them to file a complaint against several Tennessee politicians who suggested the unionization could interfere with the incentives. The UAW later dropped the case, citing the time it would have taken to settle.

Haslam said this Spring he hadn’t intended withholding incentives from the company as a threat — he was just making “a statement of reality.”

The UAW has since established a chapter at the plant, and currently claims to represent about 45 percent of VW employees, giving the labor group the right to meet with top managers every two weeks, as well as regular plant access. Because of the closeness of the labor vote Volkswagen adopted a new policy to allow multiple unions to represent workers, with representation rights depending on the number of employees the union speaks for.

A rival labor group — the American Council of Employees — has complained that VW is showing favor to the UAW. ACE has also been working to sign up members in what they call an effort to offer the plant’s employees a choice in representation.

The UAW announced in December that Chattanooga’s Local 42 had been invited to participate in an executive committee meeting of the Volkswagen Group Global Works Council in Germany this month. The ACE interim president has disputed the UAW’s numbers, and said a number of the signatures the autoworkers union claims are invalid.

The free-market Nashville-based Beacon Center of Tennessee awarded its 2014 Yuletide season “Lump of Coal” jointly to UAW and VW. The Beacon Center bestowed the “dubious distinction” on UAW and VW for having “seemingly worked together to bilk the taxpayers of the state out of hundreds of millions of dollars,” a Beacon Center blog post declared. The center also alleged that despite being “firmly rejected” by employees at the plant, “UAW has continued trying to bully its way into the plant, and VW has seemingly been more than happy to comply.”

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Press Releases

Dems Claim Victory in Defeat of Campaign Finance Bill

Press release from the Tennessee House Democratic Caucus; April 18, 2013:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – House Democrats were joined by 13 Republicans and one Independent Republican in voting against legislation by House Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada to change corporate contribution laws. The bill failed 48-41 after nearly an hour of debate.

“The people of Tennessee don’t want this because they know that money corrupts,” said House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner. During the debate on the legislation, Chairman Turner implored his Republican colleagues to side with the people and vote against the bill.

HB643 would have nearly tripled the amount of money political parties and caucuses could give to state candidates. It also removed the requirement that corporations register as PACs. Additionally, the bill would have allowed insurance companies to contribute to political candidates.

Rep. JoAnne Favors (D-Chattanooga) warned that allowing insurance companies to give to candidates during our current health care debate would “give the appearance of being unethical.”

Having failed to receive a majority, the bill now moves back to the Calendar and Rules Committee.
Roll call of the vote available here: http://www.scribd.com/doc/136545701/Roll-Call-on-HB643-by-Casada

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Featured Health Care News

Nursing Board Revamp Referred Back to Committee

Attempts to gut the nursing board and stitch it back together fell apart in the House Thursday after lawmakers from both sides of the aisle asserted the proposal went too far.

The Board of Nursing will dissolve June 30 without some sort of nod from the Legislature to continue setting standards for the profession. But the board has become notorious for butting heads with the General Assembly.

“In the last two years we’ve been round and round from the abuses of our nurses by that board, period,” said bill sponsor Rep. Tony Shipley, R-Kingsport, who wants to revamp the panel and says some of those issues “have been worked out” in his bill.

“There’s absolutely no retaliatory premise in this,” he continued.

Shipley and Rep. Dale Ford, R-Jonesborough, were the focus of a Tennessee Bureau of Investigation probe for pressuring the Board of Nursing last year to rescind disciplinary action against three area nurses the board had punished for allegedly over-prescribing medication. Ultimately, though, the Davidson County District attorney who requested the TBI investigation ultimately concluded the legislators broke no laws.

The board also went toe-to-toe with Hendersonville Republican Debra Maggart in 2009 and 2010. The fight was over the Legislature wanting to expand authority for administering drugs to nursing-home patients, a rule the board for a time refused to enforce, saying it wasn’t safe for the public. Critics of the board said its members were just trying to protect what they regard as their own turf — that the dispute was more about shielding the economic interests of registered nurses than patient safety.

But House lawmakers in the medical profession said they’re worried SB2313’s requirement that members be chosen geographically from the state’s nine congressional districts is too narrow.

“I think that this bill may have some retaliatory intent, and that does concern me,” said Rep. Joanne Favors, the nursing board’s chief defender and herself an experienced nurse.

Selecting members based on where they live, namely outside urban areas, will mean “problems in the future with selecting people who would be the most representative of what we need in this state,” said the Chattanooga Democrat, contending major nursing schools and hospitals reside in the state’s big cities.

Shipley argues the current board is too “Nashville Basin-centric,” and wants to ensure nurses from rural corners of the state are equally represented on the panel. Members of other professional boards with geographic selection rules usually break up the appointments by the three grand divisions.

The governor currently appoints members to the board with help from recommendations by the profession’s interest groups, such as the Tennessee Nurses Association, which also takes issue with the “geographic distribution being that tightly controlled.”

“If we get hamstrung into doing just the congressional districts, we’ll find qualified people, but… it’s incredibly difficult to find people who have the ability to spend time away from their workplace,” said Sharon Adkins, executive director of the nurses association. She said the association is OK with other terms of the bill, such as shortening the amount of time members can sit on the board.

Pharmacist and state Rep. David Shephard, D-Dickson, and Republican Rep. Joey Hensley, a doctor from Hohenwald, also expressed reservations.

Shephard contends the conflict of interest requirements banning members who have a direct or indirect financial interest in health care services would be too stringent given that nurses naturally benefit from the medical industry. Hensley added he disliked the switch that could weight the board more heavily with advanced practice nurses, a classification of registered nurse.

In a narrow 47-44 vote, lawmakers agreed to send the bill back to the Government Operations Committee, with 14 Republicans siding with the Democrats. The measure cleared the Senate earlier this month on a 20-9 vote, so the ball is entirely in the House’s court.

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Featured Transparency and Elections

1-2-3, Go! Redistricting Maps Advance

Tweaks to the lines on redrawn Democratic districts in the state House came down to something like a game of Rock-Paper-Scissors.

House lawmakers approved the new maps 67-25-3 Thursday. Speaker Beth Harwell said she had politely encouraged Democrats to throw some votes her party’s way for the sake of bipartisanship appearances.

“I said to (Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner), ‘If we are making these concessions for some of your members, I would appreciate votes from your caucus,’” she said.

That left the #1 and #2 Democrats to figure out who would make Harwell feel appreciated.

“I’d like to think it was a little punitive, maybe, because the discussions were pretty hot and heavy,” Turner, of Old Hickory, said. … “I thought it was worth that to save a couple of our members.”

Turner threw down rock to Leader Craig Fitzhugh’s paper in their session to make sure the speaker got at least one leadership vote from their side. Turner was one of six Democrats who voted in favor of the Republican-drawn maps, while Fitzhugh toed the party line.

“Everybody we had that was paired, we tried to do so something about that,” said Turner, who had been one of the most vocal critics of GOP maps. “In areas where it didn’t impact their members, they decided to give us a couple of those back.”

In the final hours before the map was approved by the chamber, Republicans agreed to make these concessions to preserve incumbent advantage:

  • Separate Democrats Sherry Jones and Mike Stewart, who had been drawn into the same south Nashville district.
  • Return Rep. Eddie Bass, D-Prospect, to the district he represents now. He had been lumped into the same district as Rep. Vance Dennis, R-Savannah.
  • Adjust the lines in the district represented by Harry Tindell, D-Knoxville.

Democrats pitched a handful of other amendments to the maps on the House floor, mainly attempts to make more Shelby County districts represent a greater percentage of minorities. All those attempts failed.

The maps fell “way short on minority representation,” according to Turner, although he said he wanted to talk to the Tennessee Democratic Party, the General Assembly’s Black Caucus and other “interested parties” before deciding whether to challenge the lawsuit in court.

Harwell said the Democratic votes symbolize that the map has bipartisan support.

“Bottom line is, surely it sends a clear message that a majority of the members in this General Assembly is pleased with it, and I think the people of this state will be well represented by this map,” she said. “No one can doubt that we have drawn these lines fairly, that there’s proper representation from each district.”

In the new map, sitting House members who would have to run against other legislators (unless they relocated) are situated in:

  • District 28 in Hamilton County: Tommie Brown, D-Chattanooga, and Joanne Favors, D-Chattanooga
  • District 31 in Sequatchie, Bledsoe, Rhea and part of Roane counties: Jim Cobb, R-Spring City, and Bill Harmon, D-Dunlap
  • District 86 in Shelby County: Barbara Cooper, D-Memphis, and G.A. Hardaway, D-Memphis
  • District 98 in Shelby County: Jeanne Richardson, D-Memphis, and Antonio Parkinson, D-Memphis

The Senate is expected to vote on its maps and OK the House drawings Friday. If approved by both chambers, the maps will go to the governor for his approval.

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News

DeBerry’s Leadership Formula: Maturity, Principle, Compromise

Next year promises to be a year of firsts.

For the first time since the post-Civil War era, Republicans will wield a trifecta of power in Tennessee state government — the governor’s office and two legislative chambers.

The first female speaker is expected to be sworn into the House of Representatives.

And if Memphis Rep. John DeBerry Jr., is selected on Dec. 15 as House Democratic Party leader, he will be the first African-American to win that post in the state’s history. He is competing against Craig Fitzhugh, of Ripley, and two-time Democratic Caucus Leader Gary Odom, of Nashville, for the high-visibility assignment.

One of the minority leader’s essential day-to-day functions is to plot and execute resistance against the majority party’s more objectionable policy offensives — but not at the price of appearing oblivious to the democratic will of the citizenry. The floor leader is the lead spokesman and most public face of the caucus. He or she also plays a significant role in campaign fundraising, ensuring that members get re-elected and offering hope that the party is always positioning itself to win back majority power at the earliest opportunity.

DeBerry wouldn’t be the first racial minority to hold a high-level legislative leadership slot. Rep. Lois DeBerry (no relation to John DeBerry Jr.), also from Shelby County, is the long-time speaker pro tempore, the official backup to the House speaker.

If fact, he said he “never thinks about it from that standpoint.” Growing up in a family of civil rights activists, DeBerry Jr., 59, witnessed firsthand black Americans making pioneering strides toward integrating themselves into the political and cultural mainstream of society, he said.

DeBerry has spent the last two years chairing the Black Caucus, a position he will hold through the end of the year.

His background and past experiences aside, DeBerry indicated that if he’s selected to lead his party on the House floor, he would not make addressing issues important to the African-American community more important than addressing issues affecting the Democratic Party or the people of Tennessee as a whole. DeBerry said he wouldn’t be “a zealot for a particular mission, for a particular demographic.”

If selected as minority leader, he said he would find ways to fix problems — like when he discovered there was no policy outlining that it was wrong for a legislative staffer to depict President Barack Obama as a solid black picture offset only by a white pair of eyes.

Instead of calling press conferences and egging on national media efforts to paint Tennessee in as unflattering a light as possible, DeBerry organized “sensitivity training” for legislative staffers and helped establish policies designed to make clear what kinds of words or actions are inappropriately offensive in the state Capitol, he told TNReport.

The seven-term legislator has never run for a top party slot before and last exercised leadership as the Children and Family Affairs committee chairman.

Irrespective of the history-making milestone of electing an African American to lead the Democrats on the floor of the House of Representatives, that possibility alone won’t sway many people’s decisions, said Rep. Mike Turner, House Democratic caucus chairman.

“If John DeBerry gets elected, it won’t be because he is African-American. It would be because he is a capable person who can carry the Democratic message,” said Turner, who added that he has encouraged members to vote for the best candidates for leadership posts, regardless of where they are from in the state.

Rep. Joanne Favors, a fellow member of the Black Caucus, said she’s not caught up in the historic nature of votes for legislative leadership.

“That won’t be the key issue for me,” said Favors, of Chattanooga, stressing that she wants someone who has strong negotiation skills, understands the legislative process and can work effectively across the aisle.

Agreed, said Johnny Shaw, also a member of the House Black Caucus.

“I think his chances are as good as anyone else’s,” said Shaw, who represents Bolivar. He added that he thought DeBerry would likely draw some support from the House’s 14-member legislative Black Caucus. “But to say who it would be, I couldn’t make that call.”

The minority leader post guarantees a role at the negotiating table with Republicans on key issues — assuming they invite Democrats in.

DeBerry’s party lost 22 races in the November midterm elections, handing Republicans a 64-34-1 majority in the House.

Republicans have taken the opportunity to declare that they do not need Democratic help on legislation or on the budget and insist that they’ll run government on their own.

DeBerry says that’s where he comes in.

The future looks grim for Democrats next year as they are outnumbered by Republicans by nearly 2 to 1. So the key, he said, is trying to work with them, not against them.

“We can declare a war and stand on the floor and make speeches on every little insignificant issue,” he said. “Or we can take another direction. We can build bridges. We can work with the governor. We can work with Republican leadership.”

DeBerry faces formidable opponents. Fitzhugh chaired the powerful Finance, Ways and Means committee last session. Odom is the reigning House Democratic leader.

With 34 members in the House Democratic Party caucus, DeBerry would need 18 votes to win the election.

The election is set for Dec. 15 in Nashville. The member with the fewest votes will be knocked out, then the caucus will choose between the remaining two candidates, according to Turner.