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Tea Party Marshaling Anti-Obamacare Muster

Members of the Nashville Tea Party are planning a rally outside the state Capitol at noon Wednesday. Their hope is to put GOP lawmakers and Gov. Bill Haslam on clear notice that grassroots conservatives want Tennessee to disavow state-level cooperation and support for the federal health insurance exchanges outlined in President Obama’s healthcare overhaul.

“We’re calling it the ‘Just Say No’ rally, and we’re trying to send a message to the governor,” said Ben Cunningham, leader of the Nashville Tea Party. “We’re encouraging him to just say no to a state-run exchange and let the federal government own this disaster.”

Cunningham said he expects people from all three of Tennessee’s Grand Divisions to attend.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act mandates that states choose between creating a state-run exchange where individuals may purchase health insurance eligible for federal subsidies or allowing the government to create a federally run insurance exchange.

Either way, those exchanges are supposed to be up and running by Jan. 1, 2014.

Haslam continues to say he has not made a decision on what course his administration will formally set — even after the federal government extended the deadline to make a decision to Dec. 14. Haslam and other state officials have complained that the federal government has failed to answer key questions as to how state-run exchanges would work.

Many governors, such as Rick Perry in Texas and Jan Brewer in Arizona, have said they will not set up a state-run exchange.

Tennessee tea partiers “would like Gov. Haslam to join with those governors and say, ‘No, we’re not going to be a branch office of the federal government,’” said Cunningham. He said a petition to that effect is circulating and “is getting a very good response.”

“If they (the federal government) want to implement this program, have at it, but our experience in the past with Medicaid, with education funding, is always a bait-and-switch situation where they fund much of the expenditures on the front end, and then the states are left with huge expenses on the back end,” Cunningham said. “There is some indication now that the phone calls and the emails that the governor is getting are overwhelmingly against a state exchange.”

The governor has indicated that while he opposes Obamacare in general, and he thinks the health exchanges are a bad idea overall, he’d prefer it if the state run them rather than the feds. However, high-ranking Republicans in both houses of the state’s General Assembly have indicated that support is lacking among the majority party for the state taking on that responsibility.

Trent Seibert can be reached at trent@tnreport.com, on Twitter at@trentseibert or at 615-669-9501.

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NewsTracker

Photo Display Commissioned for Legislative Plaza

Some say a picture is worth a thousand words, but the new collage of photographs at Legislative Plaza is worth $3,157.

Where vending machines once stood along the wall of the hallway connecting Legislative Plaza with the War Memorial Building, the wall is now covered by a spread of photographs from across the state of Tennessee.

The total project cost is being paid for with excess funds from last year’s General Maintenance Fund, according to Connie Ridley, director of legislative administration.

The collage, which was commissioned by House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, after she was elected to her position last year, is part of an ongoing effort to beautify Legislative Plaza, according to her office.

“Every part of our beautiful state is represented somewhere on these pictures,” Harwell said at the dedication. “There will be a key coming in the weeks ahead that will let everybody identify each one of these pictures and where they are. In the meantime, you’re going to have fun trying to pick out a few pictures from your districts and your areas.”

The photos, all of which come from the archives of the state photographer, were decided on by a task force of House staffers. In a ceremony held on Jan. 30, Harwell and the House leadership presented the task force with a plaque for the work done on the display, with special thanks to the state photographer and the Tennessee State Museum.

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Environment and Natural Resources Featured Liberty and Justice NewsTracker

Bill to Make Occupy Nashville Decamp Moves Along

Tents and other “living quarters” would not be allowed on public spaces, under a bill advancing at the Capitol aimed at the Occupy Nashville protest – whose members have been camped on War Memorial Plaza for four months.

Members of that group say the bill would limit free speech and criminalize homelessness. On Wednesday it moved out of a subcommittee to the House Judiciary Committee.

The bill, HB2638, aims to prevent “people from living on publicly-owned property not designated for residential use and prohibits people using publicly-owned property from posing a health hazard or threat to the safety and welfare of others.”

“It is not a bill that will make the protest on the plaza end. It is not a bill that denies First Amendment rights to any individual,” said Rep. Eric Watson, R-Cleveland, the sponsor of the bill. “What this bill does, though, it restores the entire public’s right to utilize all the public property around the state, not just a single group.”

Occupy Nashville released an open letter to Gov. Bill Haslam, the General Assembly and the Highway Patrol in response to this bill’s filing.

The bill was amended Wednesday morning to provide the state with the right to prevent people from camping on public grounds where camping is not permitted.

The new amendment, which is named the “Equal Access to Public Property Act of 2012,” is based on a 1984 federal law, supported by a U.S. Supreme Court decision, that gives the states the right to do this, Watson said.

Additionally, the amendment would change a violation of the no-camping law from a Class C to a Class B misdemeanor, raising the fine from $50 to $500. However, the amendment doesn’t allow for incarceration as a form of punishment.

“This seems to me to be sweeping legislation that could be used to silence dissent and punish our unhoused brothers and sisters for their poverty,” said Bill Howell, a member of Occupy Nashville and the progressive group Tennesseans for Fair Taxation at the subcommittee meeting. “What we see on the plaza every day is the direct result of bad public policy, both state and federal, that has served to further enrich the rich and impoverish the poor.”

Howell said people participating in the round-the-clock protest could catch cold if tents were banned.

The Occupy movement claims the bill is unconstitutional.

“The $500 fine is an infringement of free speech because it would have a negative effect on 24-hour vigils,” said Jane Steinfels Hussain, a group spokeswoman.

Last fall, when the Occupy movement was evicted from Legislative Plaza, Gov. Bill Haslam said that the reasoning behind the new policy was public safety, not to prevent free speech.

A few weeks later Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey said that although he believes in freedom of speech, the Occupy movement had overstepped its bounds.

The Occupy Nashville group has said it is opposed to the corrupting influence of corporate money on the political process.
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Press Releases

State Troopers Arrest 29 in Occupy Nashville Protest

State of Tennessee Press Release; Oct. 28, 2011: 

DEPARTMENT OF SAFETY & HOMELAND SECURITY ENFORCES STATE’S REVISED POLICY ON LEGISLATIVE PLAZA CURFEW

PROTESTORS ASKED TO LEAVE LEGISLATIVE PLAZA, STATE TROOPERS MAKE 29 ARRESTS

NASHVILLE — The Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security early Friday morning enforced a revised state policy that makes the Legislative Plaza, War Memorial Courtyard, and Capitol grounds areas closed to the public from 10:00 p.m. until 6:00 a.m. daily. The revised policy also states there shall be no overnight occupancy of the state properties.

The Tennessee Highway Patrol, which provides security for Legislative Plaza, War Memorial Courtyard, and the Capitol grounds, asked Occupy Nashville protestors to leave the Legislative Plaza at 3:10 a.m. Approximately two dozen protestors left the plaza without incident. Troopers arrested 29 protestors who refused to leave.  The protestors were transported to the Davidson County Jail where troopers issued them misdemeanor citations for criminal trespassing (a class C misdemeanor). The protestors were released shortly before 9 a.m. A court date has been set in Davidson County General Sessions Court for November 18. A total of 75 state troopers were involved in the curfew enforcement.

“The Department of Safety and Homeland Security took the appropriate action to support the state’s revised policy that the Legislative Plaza is not to be used at night without specific authorization. The policy was revised for security reasons, and the protestors were aware of the policy.  The process was handled by state troopers in a professional manner and without incident.  It is our responsibility to keep the protestors safe on state property, along with citizens who work, live and enjoy downtown.  We all must work together to ensure a safe environment,” Commissioner Bill Gibbons said.

The Department of Safety and Homeland Security enforced the curfew policy at the least disruptive time to citizens who visit, work, and live in downtown Nashville.

The Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security’s (www.TN.Gov/safety) mission is to ensure the safety and general welfare of the public.  The department encompasses the Tennessee Highway Patrol, Office of Homeland Security and Driver License Services. General areas of responsibility include law enforcement, safety education, motorist services and terrorism prevention.

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Press Releases

Haslam Promises Better Education, Job Security for Tennessee in Inaugural Address

Press Release from Gov. Bill Haslam, Jan. 15, 2011:

NASHVILLE – Standing before throngs of Inauguration attendees on Legislative Plaza, Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam told Tennesseans across the state he was ready to go to work making Tennessee a better place to live, work and raise a family.

“There are opportunities before us. We cannot do or be everything. We have to exercise good judgment as we set our priorities. The path we will travel will not be smooth and there will be a few bumps along the way,” Haslam said after taking the Oath of Office from Tennessee State Supreme Court Chief Justice Cornelia “Connie” Clark, the first woman to administer the oath in state history.

“As your governor, I promise to be a good listener and a continuous learner, to lead with grace and humility, and when faced with adversity, to respond with determination,” Haslam added. “And finally, I will work hard. In business, as a mayor, and as a candidate for governor, I have learned nothing replaces hard work.”

The inauguration comes at the end of the week Haslam spent on a statewide Swing Tour discussing his ideas for education reform and economic development. His inaugural speech covered his three biggest priorities: job, education and managing the state’s budget, as he made several commitments to Tennesseans.

JOBS: “Our goal is simple: Top-tier education for our children. Re-training for those out of work and underemployed. A healthy lifestyle. All three will make Tennessee number one in the Southeast for high quality jobs.”

PRINCIPALS AND TEACHERS: “This is my commitment to you: We will improve our teaching, learning, retention and graduation. Every student deserves a great teacher, and every school needs a great principal. The tools will be in place – the rest is up to each of us to seize the opportunities.”

EDUCATION: “The expectations and standards of education excellence for every student in Tennessee are high. This is the time to continue significant education reform – and shame on us if we let this moment escape without meaningful action. The path for better jobs now and into the future requires more than the current 1 out of 5 Tennesseans over the age of 25 who have a college degree.”

WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT: “Government stands ready to assist, but government is not the solution. Offering hope through workforce development, technical training and work keys are building blocks on the road to job recovery and job security. But equally important is the individual determination and drive to invest the time and energy and hard work to be more.”

STATE BUDGET: “As we slowly reverse the negative trends of the economic downturn that gripped our state and nation, we will be diligent in watching the weight of state government, going on a diet of efficiency and effectiveness. State government will live within its financial means, and a Top to Bottom review will set priorities and establish measurable goals.”

EFFICIENT AND EFFECTIVE GOVERNMENT: “As we begin writing a new chapter in our state’s history, I ask you, the elected state senators and representatives, to join with me in rolling up our sleeves and going to work. Our measure of effective state government is whether our citizens are served well and at the lowest possible cost. The people of Tennessee are our customers and we will be all about excellent customer service.”

For more information, please visit www.billhaslam.net.

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News

Officials Nab Trickster on Capitol Hill

A raccoon that snuck his way onto Capitol Hill and made a home in the state’s Legislative Plaza was escorted out of the building today after Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency officials caught the critter with a live trap.

The small, male raccoon, nicknamed “Rocky,” was accused of stealing food from the cafeteria and making noise as he shuffled around in the ceiling above legislative offices.

It was speculated privately by some that Rocky had been drawn to the Capitol because it is a well know gathering place for invertebrates, which make up a significant portion of a raccoon’s natural diet.

TWRA officials say the raccoon will be released in one of their wildlife management areas.

It had taken weeks to catch the critter. After a sighting in the cafeteria, the food service was shut down in the plaza.

The raccoon was eventually caught in the live trap when baited with a piece of chicken.