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GOP Boasts Bipartisan Support for Drug-Testing for TANF Benefits

Press release from the Tennessee House Republican Caucus; May 1, 2012:

NASHVILLE, Tenn.—The General Assembly this morning passed a major initiative to implement drug tests for those individuals seeking certain public benefits.

The measure, brought by Representative Julia Hurley (R—Lenoir City), requires applicants for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program benefits to undergo a drug test before receiving such benefits. Under the bill, the Tennessee Department of Human Services (DHS) must develop a plan to implement a program of suspicion-based drug testing for each applicant who is otherwise eligible for TANF benefits.

“This measure is about restoring some measure of accountability for taxpayers and ensuring the proper fiscal management of our State’s limited financial resources,” said Hurley following the passage of the legislation on a 73-17 bipartisan vote. “Tennesseans want to have confidence in the system. They want to know these benefits are helping those families who need assistance, not greedy individuals who are trying to get money for drugs. We need to help those individuals who need legitimate support, not those trying to milk the system.”

Following an initial positive drug test, the applicant would undergo a confirmation test using the same urine sample from the initial positive test prior to determine TANF eligibility. The results of the confirmation test would be used to determine final eligibility of these benefits.

In these cases, “drug” shall mean marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine, amphetamine, and opiates such as morphine. The DHS Commissioner may add additional drugs by rule. No drug for which an applicant has a current valid prescription will be a basis for denial of TANF benefits under this amendment. The implementation would occur in phases over a two year period.

Representative Debra Maggart (R—Hendersonville), who serves as the Chairwoman of the House Republican Caucus, applauded the efforts of Hurley following the passage of the bill. “Representative Hurley deserves a lot of credit for passing this legislation. She researched the subject, talked with experts, and crafted a practical piece of legislation that instills some common sense into the process. Taxpayers should be proud lawmakers like Julia Hurley are fighting for the integrity of their tax dollars.”

The bill passed the Senate on April 25th with a vote of 24-9 and is now going to the Governor to become law. To view a full summary of HB 2725, click here.

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Liberty and Justice Tax and Budget Transparency and Elections

Subcommittee Passes Drug-Testing Requirement for Gov’t Aid Recipients

Tennesseans applying for welfare would have to submit to, and pay for, drug testing before receiving financial assistance, under legislation slowly advancing in both chambers of the legislature.

After a lengthy debate Tuesday night, on various aspects of the bill, that left members on both sides of the issue visibly irritated, the House Health and Human Resources Subcommittee passed HB2725, sponsored by Rep. Julia Hurley, R-Lenoir City. The Senate version of the bill, SB2580, sponsored by Knoxville Republican Stacey Campfield, passed the Senate’s health committee last week and is currently awaiting action in the Finance, Ways and Means Committee.

In an opinion rendered March 20, state Attorney General Robert Cooper said “the Social Security Act, the TennCare waiver and the federal Food Stamp program do not permit a state to condition eligibility on substance abuse testing or consent to such testing.” He also concluded that such suspicionless drug testing constituted an unconstitutional search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment.

When asked by Chairman Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough, how that affected her legislation, Hurley said it did not. The AG was comparing “apples to oranges,” she said, grouping in her bill with legislation from other states that she didn’t consider to be the same. As a result, she said she didn’t consider it to be a “validated opinion.”

Information on similar proposals around the country are summed up here, by the United States Department of Health and Human Services.

An amendment adopted in the Senate committee narrowed the measure so that only people convicted of a drug felony or arrested on drug charges in the previous five years would be tested. Hurley initially introduced the amendment to the House committee, but appeared displeased with the change.

When pressed by members for her feelings on the matter, she said only that she “accepted” the amendment. Eventually, Hill asked Hurley directly if she wanted the committee to consider the amendment. Hurley said no and the amendment was withdrawn.

The House committee did adopt an amendment stating that laid-off workers, who took a drug test for their former employer in the previous 45 days, would not have to be tested again and providing protections for children’s assistance, in the event that their parent(s) test positive. Parents can designate a relative or other individual to handle their children’s benefits.

Rep. Joe Armstrong, D-Knoxville, raised the issue of whether or not said designated individual should be tested, as well. When Hurley offered him the chance to propose such an amendment, Armstrong said that if he were making a proposal, it would be to table the bill until next year.

General Counsel for the Department of Human Services, Bill Russell, told the committee the department didn’t have a problem with the “general concept” of the legislation, but couldn’t ignore the AG’s opinion. He also expressed concerned with forcing applicants to pay for the drug test – which he said cost around $26 in Florida when that state passed similar legislation – and the potential cost of litigation, which he said should be expected if the bill becomes law.

A federal judge last year issued a temporary injunction to stop Florida from drug-testing welfare recipients and the law is currently being contested in court.

Russell also said, if applicants test positive, there should be rehabilitation assistance available to them, to get them off drugs and back to work “since that’s the point of the program.” Hurley responded by claiming that the program would create $1 million in savings, which could be used to provide such rehab, if the department wanted to do so. When challenged on that claim by several members of the committee, Hurley repeatedly referred them to the bill’s fiscal note, inviting them to read it for themselves.

The note, provided by the Fiscal Review Committee which estimates a bill’s impact in dollars and cents, states that “the total decrease in recurring state expenditures” as a result of the new welfare eligibility requirement is estimated at $1,280,040. However, the DHS reports that the department has hit the cap for allowable administrative costs. As a result, the note says, “any cost avoidance resulting from this bill would be used to serve [Temporary Assistance for Needy Families] eligible clients, resulting in an equal increase in state expenditures, for a net impact of zero on TANF funds.”

The estimated decrease in state expenditures comes from the 2,551 welfare applicants the DHS expects to sanction as a result of failed drug tests. Paul Lefkowitz, family assistance policy director for DHS, told the committee that the department based that estimate off of a CDC study into drug use amongst welfare recipients.

The fiscal note also estimates a cost of $100,000 for litigation resulting from the program, a dollar amount some committee members found dubious, as well.

Democratic House Caucus Chairman Mike Turner said he was concerned with the amount of “unanswered questions” about the bill. He also took issue with the message he said it sends to Tennesseans who are already down on their luck.

“We kind of indicate by doing this, that everyone on food stamps is possibly a drug addict. We put a stigma to it,” he said. “We’re kind of pointing a finger at them. It had to be embarrassing enough for a lot of people to do it. It would be embarrassing for me to go on food stamps if I had to, but I would to feed my family. That’s what concerns me about this bill.”

Rep. JoAnne Favors, D-Chattanooga, put the focus on legislators – recipients of public money, themselves – and addressed Hurley directly. She asked the sponsor if she thought the bill was compassionate. When Hurley said she thought the bill was “fair,” Favors responded with a lengthy statement.

“Listen,” she said. “As a mother, a female, as a relative, most of us have had some experience, with relatives and friends, who have been substance abusers. As a compassionate individual and a mother, I would think that most of us would be concerned about interventions and preventions first, rather than initiating and enacting a bill like this. Now there are some of us who exhibit some bizarre behavior as elected officials, but nobody has requested that we undergo drug screening or the same type of psychological exam that police officers undergo.”

She went on, “But I can assure you that some of the behavior that has been exhibited by some of the elected officials in this Tennessee General Assembly do merit having some psychological exam based on my medical background.”

Favors is accurate when it comes to drug testing state legislators and other state workers, for that matter. Despite the push for drug testing of welfare recipients, supported by Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, and state programs rewarding business for testing workers, Tennessee state government is not a ‘drug-free workplace.’

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Press Releases

Romney Revving Up TN Campaign — Haslam to Chair

Press Release from the Campaign of Mitt Romney for President, February 14, 2012:

Mitt Romney Announces Governor Bill Haslam as State Chairman and Full Slate of Tennessee Delegates

Boston, MA – Mitt Romney today announced that Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam will serve as State Chairman of Romney’s presidential campaign in Tennessee.

Romney also announced that his is the only presidential campaign to have assembled a full slate of delegate candidates to join him on the Tennessee ballot. Romney’s delegate team is led by former Tennessee Governor Winfield Dunn, a number of state legislators, and other top GOP leaders, state executive committee members and leading business, civic and political leaders from across the Volunteer State.

“I’m pleased to have so much support in Tennessee,” said Mitt Romney. “Voters in the Volunteer State have been hit hard by the Obama economy. I look forward to spreading my message of a ‘Simpler, Smaller, and Smarter’ federal government across the state in the months to come and the support of these leaders will be crucial.”

“This slate of delegates represents the strong support Mitt has from Memphis to Mountain City,” Haslam said. “He is committed to job growth across our state and nation, and his common-sense approach is resonating with Tennessee voters. He has the experience to lead, and this country needs a true leader.”

Romney’s Slate Of At-Large Delegate Candidates Includes:

Rob Ailey, Seymour

Steve Allbrooks, Franklin

Randal Boyd, Knoxville

Josh Brown, Franklin

Steve Buttry, Knoxville

Beth Campbell, Nashville

John Crisp, Brentwood

John Wayne Cropp, Hixson

Winfield Dunn, Nashville

Ruth B. Hagerty, Gallatin

Julia Hurley, Lenoir City

Jim Looney, Lawrenceburg

Wendell Moore, Brentwood

Justin Pitt, Franklin

Susan Richardson Williams, Knoxville

Mark White, Memphis

Romney’s Slate Of Congressional District Delegate Candidates Includes:

First District:

David Golden, Kingsport

Warren Jones, Johnson City

Alicia Mumpower, Bristol

Second District:

Russell Barber, Knoxville

Richard Barnes, Knoxville

Ryan Haynes, Knoxville

Third District:

Emily Beaty, Cleveland

Oscar Brock, Lookout Mountain

Jennifer Inman Little, Bean Station

Hobart L. Rice, Dandridge

Fourth District:

David French, Columbia

Nancy French, Columbia

Jason Whatley, Columbia

Fifth District:

Shiri Anderson, Antioch

Chrissy Hagerty, Nashville

John Patrick Shorter, Nashville

George B. Stadler, Nashville

Sixth District:

Debra K. Copass, Mount Juliet

Beth Cox, Hendersonville

Randy Stamps, Hendersonville

Chad White, Murfreesboro

Seventh District:

Mary Kate Brown, Franklin

Barrett Rich, Eads

Ammon Smartt, Brentwood

Eighth District:

Bob D. Anderson, Paris

Betty Anderson, Paris

Steve Maroney, Jackson

Oneida Wagoner, Mansfield

Ninth District:

Paul Boyd, Memphis

Frank Colvett, Jr., Memphis

Kelly Hankins, Memphis

Dennis Patrick Hawkins, Memphis

 

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Featured NewsTracker

Hurley to Cover Costs of Desk Repair: Speaker Harwell

Tennessee House Speaker Beth Harwell expects the freshman representative who carved her initials into a legislative desk to pay for the repairs.

“In the excitement of being a freshman at the end of session, Representative (Julia) Hurley etched her initials into her desk,” the speaker said in an emailed statement to TNReport. “As with any state property, we will take action to have the desk restored, and I’m sure Representative Hurley will be more than happy to compensate the state to make the repairs.”

Hurley, a first-year lawmaker from Lenoir City, admitted to the Knoxville News Sentinel this week she scratched her initials “J C H” into her desk that sits on the chamber floor of the House of Representatives.

She blamed the minor vandalism on fatigue shortly before the Legislature adjourned for the year.

“It was like 1 in the morning on the last day of the session,” Hurley said of that late-night session in May. “I wasn’t thinking straight.”

Hurley’s desk wasn’t the only one scratched up. A story from WSMV Channel 4 in Nashville pointed to letters and symbols like a dollar sign carved into other lawmakers’ wooden desks, but the speaker did not comment on who should pay for repairs to additional desks.

Attempts to reach Hurley were unsuccessful.

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Press Releases

House GOP Energy Task Force Named

Press Release from the House Republican Caucus, April 11, 2011:

Representative from Kingsport Leads Committee to Explore Energy Initiatives for Tennessee, Five Other Members Selected to Serve

(May 3, 2011, NASHVILLE) – The House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick (R—Chattanooga) today announced the formation of a Republican Caucus Energy Task Force in the House of Representatives.

In a letter released by the Majority Leader, the group—comprised of six House Members—will “explore the various ways that the energy industry can provide a positive impact on job growth and economic development in our State.” The task force will “seek input from various outside groups, including the Department of Economic and Community Development.” The group will report back to the full Republican Caucus on the results of their study on this subject.

Representative Tony Shipley (R—Kingsport) was appointed by the Majority Leader to serve as Chairman of the task force because of his long track record dealing with energy development issues. Additionally, the following Representatives were appointed to the group: John Forgety (R—Athens), Julia Hurley (R—Lenoir City), Kelly Keisling (R—Byrdstown), Dennis Powers (R—Jacksboro), and John Ragan (R—Oak Ridge).

“Energy independence is a critical factor for the long-term strength of our State and nation,” said the Majority Leader. “While we may not be able to solve some of the long-term issues our country is facing, I do think we can put our heads together to develop innovative ways for Tennessee to lead in the energy sector while, at the same time, providing a much-needed source for job development for our citizens. I know the members of this task force will take their responsibility seriously and I look forward to hearing what Representative Shipley ultimately presents to our Majority.”

Rep. Shipley stated, “I am grateful to be called upon to lead this task force. Energy development, particularly with clean coal technology is a vital issue to Upper East Tennessee and the overall welfare of our State. I look forward to studying ways we can impact job growth and economic development in Tennessee through the prism of energy independence.”

“This is a great opportunity to work toward common sense energy policies that will unleash job growth in Tennessee. I know many of my constituents are interested in seeing what this task force will report back to the Majority,” said Rep. Forgety.

“Roane County and Loudon County are at the center of commerce in East Tennessee. Anything we can do to study and enhance the energy capabilities of our State will not only benefit my district, but our entire region,” remarked Rep. Hurley.

Rep. Keisling added, “I believe this task force will develop solutions for both energy issues and economic issues Tennessee is facing. It is honor to join this group and help our State move forward.”

“Our Majority has a clear goal to pave the way for job creation in Tennessee,” said Rep. Powers. “I am confident this task force will play an integral role in unlocking economic development in Tennessee’s energy sector.”

Rep. Ragan concluded, “Our State has a rich tradition in energy development. As the Representative for Oak Ridge, it is an honor to serve on this task force and help our whole State identify innovative solutions for our nation’s energy questions.”

The six Members of the Republican Caucus Energy Task Force represent a wide array of economic interests and energy development opportunities throughout the State that include refineries, coal sites, industrial parks, and access to major interstates for shipping.