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Ramsey: Legislative Streamlining Bill to Save $850K

Press Release from Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, March 15, 2011:

State & Local passes bill to streamline legislative process

(Nashville) – Legislation sponsored by Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey (R-Blountville) which would streamline the legislative process and save taxpayer dollars has cleared the state Senate’s State and Local Government Committee by a vote of 6 to 3.

Lt. Governor Ramsey’s bill, Senate Bill 725, avoids duplication in state government by eliminating eleven joint oversight committees and shifting their responsibilities to the standing committees of each house of the General Assembly. The fiscal note attached to the bill estimates

$851,800 would be saved after passage.

“Private businesses all across the State of Tennessee are being forced to maximize efficiency in the face of limited resources,” said Lt. Governor Ramsey. “It is only appropriate that we in government do the same. This bill saves tax dollars and streamlines the way we do business at the legislature.”

The bill would abolish the following committees assigning their responsibilities to the appropriate standing committee: select oversight committee on corrections; select committee on children and youth; select oversight committee on education; health equity commission; select oversight committee on TennCare; joint select committee on business taxes; joint committee on children’s services; charitable gaming oversight committee; select committee on the Tennessee education lottery corporation; special joint committee on workers’ compensation issues; and the select oversight committee on long term care.

The companion bill, House Bill 1097, is currently on the House State & Local Subcommittee calendar for tomorrow, March 15. That bill is sponsored by Speaker Beth Harwell (R-Nashville) and House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick (R-Chattanooga).

TN Senate Designates May 13-20 ‘Jeff Byrd Week’

Press Release from the Office of Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, March 3, 2011:

(Nashville) March 3, 2011 – Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey (R-Blountville) today spoke from the well of the state Senate following the reading of a resolution honoring his late friend, Jeff Byrd, the longtime president and general manager of Bristol Motor Speedway, with a week in his honor.

“Anybody who knew Jeff Byrd will never forget him,” said Ramsey. “I have never seen anyone become a member of a community as quickly as Jeff Byrd did in Bristol.”

“If Jeff Byrd had a fault, it was that he couldn’t say no,” Ramsey added. “He was always looking to help others and challenging those around him to do the same.”

The resolution, Senate Joint Resolution 89, designates March 13-20 as Jeff Byrd Week in Tennessee. Rep. Jon Lundberg (R- Bristol) also spoke from the well in honor of Mr. Byrd.

“I am sorry for those of you who didn’t know Jeff,” said Lundberg. “He inspired not only me but everyone he touched.”

Ramsey and Lundberg were joined in the well by Mr. Byrd’s widow Claudia Byrd, his sister JoJo Davis and daughter Benton Caldwell.

“He wouldn’t like the attention,” said Mrs. Byrd said of her husband. “But he would be humbled and honored by this great recognition.”

The resolution, once passed, will be framed and presented to the family prior to the annual spring race at the Bristol Motor Speedway. Longtime sponsor Food City has renamed the March 20 race the Jeff Byrd 500.

Following a career as a sportswriter at the Winston-Salem Journal, Byrd moved to the sports marketing department of the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company eventually rising to the level of vice-president of business development before departing to become vice-president and general manager of the speedway.

In 2002, Byrd was promoted to president and general manager and under his direction the race track grew from 67,000 to 160,000 seats eventually becoming what some describe as a “Roman coliseum” of racing.

In addition to serving as an elder at the First Presbyterian in Kingsport, Byrd was active in numerous civic and charitable organizations. Byrd along with his wife started the Bristol Chapter of Speedway Children’ Charities, a non-profit agency dedicated to aiding children in need in Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia.

The full resolution honoring Byrd can be seen here.

Video from today’s session can be viewed at this link:

http://tnsenate.com/_blog/From_the_Floor/post/Lt_Gov_Ramsey_honors_late_racing_executive/

UPDATED: Guv Signs Memphis Merger Bill

UPDATE: On Friday afternoon Gov. Haslam signed the legislation addressing the potential merger, saying “The bill addresses two of my biggest concerns. It allows an orderly planning process for transition, while leaving the local vote in place for March 8.”

Gov. Bill Haslam has yet to say publicly whether he plans to sign a bill which aims to slow the process of consolidating the two school districts in Shelby County, though legislative leaders expressed confidence the measure would become law.

The bill, SB25, sets down rules and a planning process for merging Memphis City Schools, the state’s largest school district, with Shelby County Schools. It also postpones consolidation until the 2013-14 school year if Memphis voters approve the merger next month. The bill passed the House Thursday and the Senate earlier this week, with both votes along party lines.

Late Thursday afternoon the Memphis City Council voted to allow the Memphis City Schools Board of Education to surrender its charter. The Memphis Commercial Appeal reported that city council members indicated they still want the March 8 referendum to go ahead as scheduled and could rescind Thursday’s decision if the referendum asking voters whether to transfer administrative control of city schools to Shelby County fails.

Speaking before the Tennessee Press Association immediately following the House vote — and prior to the Memphis City Council vote — Gov. Bill Haslam said it was “premature” for him to say whether he planned to sign it.

“We’ll go back and talk about it like we will everything else,” he told reporters from around the state gathered at the Doubletree Hotel in downtown Nashville.

The Republican-sponsored measure zipped through the bulk of the legislative process in eight days.

Memphis Democrats in the Senate tried to convince Republicans to slow down passage of the bill, saying an issue of such magnitude should take more than a week to consider. Democrats pulled out all the stops in the House Thursday in a last-ditch attempt to derail the bill, filing 14 amendments to the legislation, all rejected by the House GOP majority.

Democrats charged Republicans with hypocrisy, saying GOP lawmakers were already guilty of betraying the limited-government rhetoric that’d helped them win so convincingly across the state in November.

“My friends across the aisle who are supposed to be the champions of smaller government, who are the champions of not having Big Brother interfere on smaller governments, stood up in lockstep and voted to act like Washington,” Rep. Mike Turner, the House Democratic Caucus chairman from Old Hickory, said in a press conference immediately following the vote.

Haslam could veto the bill or, if he takes no action by Feb. 21, it would become law without his signature.

Both Republican and Democratic leaders say they have not talked with the governor about his views on the bill, but both expect he’ll OK it, if tacitly.

“We’re not sure exactly if he’s going to sign the legislation or if he’s just going to sit on it and then it automatically becomes the law,” Rep. Larry Miller, the ranking House Democrat of the Shelby County delegation, told reporters in a press conference shortly after the House vote.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Mark Norris, R-Collierville, said he’s hopeful the governor will sign the legislation quickly so the state has time to prepare for the March 8 referendum.

Last week, Haslam and the state’s acting education commissioner asked Memphis and Shelby County school districts to submit a transition plan by Feb. 15. Having a plan was imperative to the success of any merger, Haslam said at the time, but he stopped short of weighing in on whether the school systems should merge or comment on the merits of Norris’ bill.

Miller said he hopes Haslam will find a way to keep Memphis Mayor A.C. Wharton more involved in the process. The City of Memphis does not have a seat on the 21-person transition board outlined in the bill.

Haslam, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, and House Speaker Beth Harwell would each appoint a member. Seats would go to the county mayor and the chairmen of the county and city school boards, and those three officials would each pick five other members.

Haslam, who has said he’s been in constant contact with Wharton throughout the past few weeks, said he wants to see “a little bit more city representation” on the committee.

Haslam added, though, that discussions about schools in Memphis and Shelby County need to evolve beyond partisan rancor and regional political feuding in order to address the city’s bleak public educational picture.

“I think we’re having the wrong conversation,” Haslam said. “At the end of the day, the conversation’s all about the legal issues around it instead of how are we going to help educate all 150,000 of those children, and I mean all 150,000.”

The Memphis City Schools board voted 5-4 in December to dissolve the district and hand over authority for educating its 103,000 students to the smaller Shelby County Schools. The board’s decision heightened longstanding area racial tensions and sparked heated political debate over school finances, quality of education and the proper role of state government in the affairs of counties and local communities.

A slim majority of voters favor merging the systems, a recent poll conducted for the Memphis Commercial Appeal showed.

Two Views on the Memphis Schools Blues

While the state House was passing a bill Thursday creating a transition period for a potential revamp of Shelby County schools, the rhetoric was hot on the issue down the hill from the Capitol between Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and Sen. Jim Kyle.

Ramsey, R-Blountville, said it was a “landmark” issue and an opportunity for the state to do some good. Kyle, the Democratic leader from Memphis, said it was a pure power play by a Republican state government gone wild and facetiously said the next thing you know the Legislature would try to solve a fairgrounds issue in Nashville.

The bill passed in the House 64-31 along party lines, following Senate passage Monday night 20-10 in a similar party-line vote. It would provide a mechanism for transition that would go into effect in the 2013-14 school year. The Memphis City Schools board voted in December to hold a referendum on dissolving the city school district, allowing those schools to be absorbed into the county system.

Late Thursday afternoon the Memphis City Council voted to allow the Memphis City Schools Board of Education to surrender its charter. The Memphis Commercial Appeal reported that city council members indicated they still want the March 8 referendum to go ahead as scheduled and could rescind Thursday’s decision if the referendum asking voters whether to transfer administrative control of city schools to Shelby County fails.

Speaking in Nashville several hours prior to Thursday’s Memphis City Council vote, Kyle said race is part of the issue and called what the Legislature has done “educational redlining.” Ramsey said the state is only doing what it should do under its constitutional responsibilities. Ramsey also said the issue had been deemed racial but that he didn’t understand why.

Ramsey and Kyle spoke in separate sessions to a Tennessee Press Association conference in downtown Nashville, and each talked to reporters after their sessions. Kyle was visibly worked up over what he saw as intrusion on a local issue. Ramsey pointed to the fact there are 103,000 students in the Memphis school system and that the state had an obligation to help them.

Kyle questioned whether Ramsey would take the same position if the dispute were between Kingsport and Bristol, both in his district.

“What is it about a dispute in Memphis that gives you a lack of confidence that people can work it out?” Kyle asked. “That’s what this is all about, a lack of confidence that the citizens of Memphis can work out their problems themselves in a way that helps children.”

Kyle said it’s a case of state government stepping in, choosing sides and deciding it knows better than the local governments.

“We have never done that,” Kyle said. “There is something about Memphis and Shelby County to cause the leadership to decide that’s what they must do, and I would say quite frankly that race is part of it.”

Kyle said the city system realized it could no longer afford the school system and that the decision was made to be like school systems in other counties. He said the Legislature’s action is part of new muscle in a Republican agenda that says, “We are large and in charge.”

Ramsey, speaking before Kyle, acknowledged that he represents a district in Upper East Tennessee that is literally closer to Canada than Memphis. He said the Memphis city school board had essentially voted to “go out of the school business,” and that the decision in Memphis was similar to those in the past in Knoxville and Chattanooga and that there needed to be a plan in place for Shelby County.

“We need a plan. We need to make sure where we’re headed,” Ramsey said. “The Memphis city school system is by far — by far — the largest school system in the state.”

He said he knew people were asking why someone in Nashville who represents Blountville has an interest in what is happening in Memphis.

“Well, folks, we are required as a state to educate our children,” Ramsey said. “It’s in our Constitution.

“When I campaigned for governor, I said we had 17 high schools in the state of Tennessee that have been on a failing list five years or longer, and 14 out of those 17 are Memphis city schools. If we don’t recognize that we need to bring this school system to a new level, we’re never going to solve our problems statewide.”

Ramsey said the size of the system is an important factor.

“You can work on the Perry counties all you want to, you can work on the Humphreys counties all you want to, but if you don’t address what’s going on in Shelby County, you’ve got a problem,” he said.

Ramsey’s perspective was in stark contrast to that of Kyle.

“If we’re ever going to raise our test scores here in Tennessee, we’re going to have to address the problems in Memphis,” Ramsey said. “We can’t just merge one school system with another school system, re-elect a school board and expect things to be different. I’m encouraging the governor for us to get together and think outside the box on this.”

Kyle had a different take.

“This isn’t about failing schools,” he said. “This is about power and control and structure and funding. This is about redlining. This is educational redlining.”

Democrats have voiced concerns that the reason for the bill is so special school districts can be formed in Memphis suburbs.

Kyle made a remark about the Tennessee State Fairgrounds in Nashville, where city leaders have grappled with what to do with the property.

“The next thing you know the Legislature is going to solve that fairgrounds problem. Because obviously the people of Davidson County don’t have enough sense to solve that problem, so I guess we’ll just file a bill to fix that,” Kyle said. “Why not? I mean, we know it all. Republicans would say, ‘We’re the state government, and we’re here to help.'”