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Business and Economy Featured News NewsTracker

GOP Lawmakers Lament Feds’ Regs

The path to boosting job growth in Tennessee is obstructed by federal regulations, a handful of state and federal GOP lawmakers told members of Congress at a field hearing in Murfreesboro Monday.

State officials are paving the way for job growth at the state level, but there’s nothing more they can do when the federal government issues piles of regulations that discourage economic development, Commissioner Bill Hagerty told the U.S. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

“Many companies told us through a regulatory review that the regulations have become so unduly burdensome that they have very great concern about their ability to expand and grow,” Hagerty told the committee at Middle Tennessee State University Monday, adding he has faith that Tennessee’s “great entrepreneurial spirit” could still lead to job expansions.

Last summer, Hagerty and Gov. Bill Haslam toured the state to learn what issues business owners and executives have operating in Tennessee, repeatedly reporting that companies were intimidated by regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Labor Relations Board, the Dodd-Frank financial reform law, and most recently, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

The governor and Hagerty were joined by Tennessee’s two U.S. Senators — Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker — and Middle Tennessee Congressman Scott DesJarlais and Congresswomen Diane Black and Marsha Blackburn.

Here is unedited video of the GOP press conference following the hearing:

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Liberty and Justice Transparency and Elections

Fmr. U.S. Secretary of State Rice Targeted by ‘Occupy’ Protesters During Nashville Visit

Condoleezza Rice appeared at a fundraiser in Nashville for U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn on Monday, and members of the Occupy Nashville protests took notice.

A group of about 12 of the protesters moved from War Memorial Plaza to the area of the Hermitage Hotel nearby where Rice, former U.S. secretary of state and national security adviser, was featured at a midday gathering in the ballroom.

One of the protesters said he began on the sidewalk on the side of the street where the hotel is but was asked by security to move. The group then protested across the street.

Inside the hotel, a campaign spokeswoman confirmed that Rice was at the event but that no media were allowed.

“The people or the profits,” the protesters chanted. “We are the 99 percent.”

A few of the protesters were asked to explain what exactly their reason was for protesting Rice.

“Condoleezza Rice has definitely become part of the 1 percent. I’m a representative of the 99 percent, the people,” said Joshua Bible Dufour, who said he is from Long Beach, Calif., and is passing through Nashville, spending four days in the state capital.

“Our representatives have forgotten about the people, and we’re reminding them that we’re here and that we can get together and we’re not going to let them get away with what they’re doing anymore.”

Dufour said Bible is his mother’s maiden name.

“This is the Volunteer State, and I came to help volunteer for the movement,” he said.

David Reason, an independent contractor and property manager from Kentucky, said he has been camping out with the protesters.

“We’re here to speak to Condoleezza Rice because of the money and corruption that is brought from the thousands and millions of dollars they generate from these exorbitant fundraisers,” Reason said. “I think it’s like $250 a cup of coffee or $1,000 a plate inside the Hermitage right now.

“These guys have no clue about what the people on the Plaza are going through, the people that lost their houses through unjust repos.”

“She’s part of the problem,” said a man who would identify himself only as Michael, 42, who lives in Nashville. “She’s the one that helped put us in this mess in her eight years in office under George Bush. She helped put us in this situation. She backed up the president in all the decisions that got the country into this shape.”

Michael said he has been laid off from a company in Nashville.

Blackburn, a Republican, represents the 7th District, which currently runs from the suburbs of Nashville to the suburbs of Memphis. First elected to Congress in 2002, Blackburn would be considered a heavy favorite for re-election to Congress.

Rice, a professor at Stanford University, has also been promoting her latest book, No Higher Honor: A Memoir of My Years in Washington.

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Business and Economy Featured Liberty and Justice NewsTracker

VIDEOS: ‘We Stand With Gibson’

A rally thrown by Tea Party activists in support of Gibson Guitar Corp. in light of a recent federal raid on the company drew hundreds to Nashville Saturday to listen to music and speakers denounce government overreach.

Guests at the “We Stand With Gibson” rally included Gibson Guitar owner Henry Juszkiewicz, U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, conservative radio talk show hosts Phil Valentine, Steve Gill and others. They urged the audience to let the federal government know their displeasure with the government over the Aug. 24 raid in which federal agents confiscated imported wood, guitars and files from Gibson’s Nashville and Memphis locations.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service argues that the wood, grown in India, was illegally imported in violation of Indian law and the U.S. Lacey Act. Gibson maintains that the wood is, in fact, legal — and that the Indian government approves of its exportation to the United States where companies like Gibson and others use it in the manufacture of stringed musical instruments.

 

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Business and Economy Environment and Natural Resources Featured

Tea Partiers In Tune With Gibson

Organizers for Saturday afternoon’s “We Stand With Gibson” rally/concert in Nashville say the event is geared more toward people seeking a good time than looking for a political rant fest.

Clearly, though, with a line-up that, in addition to musical performers, includes conservative radio hosts Steve Gill and Phil Valentine, and Memphis Tea Party founder Mark Skoda — as well as U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn and Gibson Guitar’s CEO himself, Henry Juszkiewicz — there’ll no doubt be plenty of fire-breathing to accompany the cool harmonies.

The purpose of the event is, after all, to raise awareness and fuel outrage about an incident that one function organizer says has galvanized anti-government sentiment like no other in quite a while.

“I don’t think any other issue has captured the passions of tea partiers like this one has in the last year,” said Ben Cunningham, a blogger and spokesman for Tennessee Tax Revolt.

“There is near universal agreement among the tea party and conservative groups that the raids — the one that occurred in August and the one that occurred two years ago — were an overreach by the federal government. It was an abuse of power and authority,” said Cunningham.

The purpose of the “We Stand With Gibson” event is to say to the federal government, “Back off,” Cunningham said during a press conference Wednesday.

The gathering, which is scheduled to kick off at 1 p.m. at the Scoreboard Restaurant & Sports Bar, was also planned with the idea in mind of people coming together in support of others facing difficulty and uncertainty — like they did during the floods of 2010, Ken Marrero, a blogger and rally organizer, added.

The victims in this case, said Marrero, are Juszkiewicz and the employees of Gibson. Their place of work was inundated back in August with federal agents who allege Gibson illegally imported wood from India in violation of a recently amended U.S. law known as the Lacey Act.

The agents seized wood, guitars and other company property, according to the company. No charges have been filed, although the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the agency conducting the investigation, is reportedly considering filing a criminal complaint.

In a sworn statement filed last month, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Special Agent Kevin L. Seiler wrote that after reviewing Juszkiewicz’s public statements in the wake of the raid on Gibson, “it is clear that Gibson understands the purpose of the Lacey Act, and understands that the (seized company property), which is fingerboard blanks, are not finished fingerboards and thus Gibson is aware that its order for fingerboard blanks was an order for contraband ebony wood or ebony wood which is illegal to possess.”

Marrero said he supports the idea of government regulating natural resource extraction and prohibiting Americans from violating the environmental and wildlife protection laws of other countries, which is ostensibly the purpose of the Lacey Act.

But he thinks the federal agents stepped way over the line in the Gibson case, both in the way they are interpreting the law and the way they executed the raid.

Marrero said it is his understanding that Indian law — at least according to the Indian government — has not been violated. India’s deputy director-general of foreign trade reportedly stated in a Sept. 16 letter, “Fingerboard is a finished product and not wood in primary form,” and that the “foreign trade policy of the government of India allows free export of such finished products of wood.”

Marrero wonders why the United States government “is enforcing a law that the Indian government doesn’t even consider is a violation.”

“How is that right?” he said.

Cunningham, too, condemns what he described as the “hideously complex” web of regulations that businesses and taxpayers have to understand, negotiate and abide by to remain in compliance with federal law.

“We have all kinds of these 2,000-page laws that empower bureaucrats to be petty tyrants,” said Cunningham. “Think of the IRS code.”

In any event, said Cunningham, when government officials do perceive that some nonviolent violation of a rule or regulation has occurred, the proper course is to “call (an alleged violator) up on the phone and say, ‘We are concerned about this law and your compliance with the law.'”

“You don’t send armed agents with their guns drawn into their corporate headquarters. That is an abuse of power, and that is our government abusing the power that we grant to them,” said Cunningham. “And that is why we are here — we are holding them accountable for this abuse of power. It’s got to stop. And we the people are coming here on Saturday to say that to our federal government.”

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Press Releases

Nashville Rally in Support of Gibson Guitar Planned for Oct. 8

Press Release from Tennessee Tax Revolt; Oct. 3, 2011:

Support Rally and Concert Planned

Nashville, TN – (October, 3 2011) Over 60 state and national tea party and conservative groups unite in a show of support for the embattled Gibson Guitar Corp. A rally and concert will be held on Saturday October 8th from 2 to 4pm at the Scoreboard Grill at 2408 Music Valley Dr. Nashville, TN. Preshow music and vendor booth visits will begin at 1pm.

The rally is being held to draw attention to the ongoing plight of Gibson after a second round of raids by federal agents was conducted this August. This raid, and an earlier one in 2009 were in response to the companies use and importation of rare and exotic woods in the manufacture of their iconic guitars. The basis of the federal action lies in an interpretation of the Lacey Act as amended in 2008 which makes it illegal to import, export, transport, sell, receive, acquire, or purchase in interstate or foreign commerce any plant taken in violation of any Federal, state, tribal, or foreign law that protects plants. Gibson contends that its importation of these woods was in complete compliance with all laws of the countries of origin and in fact is in possession of documentation affirming compliance from the governments of the exporting countries. Concerned citizens view this action as an abuse of power and an overreach of the federal government.

The rally and concert will feature Congressman Marsha Blackburn, Gibson CEO Henry Juszkiewicz, talk radio hosts Steve Gill and Phil Valentine and Tea Party Express Chairman Amy Kremer. Performing artists include Bruce Bellott, Krista Branch, Rivoli Revue, Madison Rising, 16 year old guitar phenom Grant Austin Taylor, and Eric Lee Beddingfield.

Sponsoring partners will be on hand with booths for information, plenty of good food, and a few surprises. Please bring your lawn chairs, as we will have a portion of the parking lot blocked off for the evening festivities. Please check the website at www.gibsonrally.com for details, parking plan, and any last minute additions.

The event organizers will hold a press conference on Wednesday October 5th at 12 noon at the Scoreboard to discuss the rally objectives and release the final lineup.

 

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Health Care

Matheny Predicts More Tort Reform at Doctors Town Hall

House Speaker Pro Tem Judd Matheny says the Legislature will probably seek more tort reform next year, and Gov. Bill Haslam, no fan of the new federal health care law, says it’s time to start talking about how to implement the new act anyway.

Those developments show that health care issues remain very much on the table for Tennessee. While tort reform is usually thought of as a legal issue, proponents of limiting malpractice and wrongful death lawsuits have cited litigation as a driver of health care costs.

Matheny, R-Tullahoma, told a Doctors Town Hall audience at Lipscomb University in Nashville on Saturday that he hopes this year’s tort reform legislation is only “the first step of several steps in issues we hope to deal with in regard to tort reform.”

During a break in the formal discussion, Matheny elaborated on those plans and pointed to a so-called “loser pays” effort that could be the next measure in tort liability in Tennessee.

“I just know the General Assembly is very interested in additional tort reform,” Matheny said.

“‘Loser-pays’-type scenarios are ones we will look at, especially with regard to what would be perceived as malicious lawsuits.”

Matheny said potential legislation would address situations where there are possibly second or third appeals in cases.

“A case in point would be if somebody filed a third appeal and the answer was the same as the first two, whether both are in the negative or both in the positive. That person would be responsible for the legal fees,” he said.

The approach would be to confront those who are seen as abusing the system. It would follow a tort reform measure passed this year and spearheaded by Haslam that put caps on non-economic damages in civil cases at $750,000, although the law creates exceptions in cases that involve intentional misconduct, destruction of records or activity under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Those caps go to $1 million in what are categorized as “catastrophic” cases, which are defined in the law as conditions of paraplegia, quadriplegia, amputation, especially severe burns or the wrongful death of a parent leaving minor children. The new law also caps punitive damages at two times compensatory damages or $500,000, whichever is greater.

Matheny said he would like to see the caps in the law go even lower — to around $250,000 or $300,000 — but he said he did not foresee the Legislature taking that path.

“There will probably be a lot of (tort reform) legislation filed, but there will probably be one thing that rises to the top and is carried by the body,” Matheny said. “I don’t know what that will be yet, but I think there will be some additional tightening.”

Matheny said he has not spoken to Haslam about further tort reform and that Haslam probably wants to give the most recent law a chance to take effect. But there seems to be little doubt that the Legislature is prepared to consider further steps on the topic.

“It’s important to remember that sometimes progress is made in baby steps and after a three- or four-year period maybe we can look back and really see some true progress,” Matheny said.

Spine surgeon says government doesn’t help

The town hall audience Saturday at Lipscomb was an overwhelmingly conservative crowd, with 10 panelists and audience members expressing dislike of the 2010 federal health care overhaul.

Dr. Lee Heib, a spine surgeon and president of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, spoke of her practice as a small business owner.

“If you have to run a small business, if you have to produce something, when has the government come in and made your job easier or more cost-effective? It’s never done that. Trust me, it doesn’t do it in medicine either,” she said.

Andrew Schlafly, general counsel for AAPS, who went to law school with President Barack Obama, said the fundamental problem with the new health care law is that it forces citizens to purchase coverage.

“That is the foundation of it, and that is basically un-American,” Schlafly said. “To force people to buy something you don’t want to buy, it’s never been done before. You can look through the Constitution. You can read it backward and forward and ask yourself, ‘What gives the federal government the authority to force us to buy something we don’t want to buy?'”

That’s the question raised by the Thomas More Law Center in Michigan, which has asked the Supreme Court to review a lower court decision upholding the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, in Cincinnati, ruled against the center earlier this summer, finding the law to be constitutional.

Legal challenges regarding the act also are pending in the Fourth and 11th circuits. It has not been determined if the high court will take up the issue.

The town hall meeting included state Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, who spoke to the audience of about 125 people about her Tennessee Health Freedom Act (SB079), which Haslam has signed, which says government cannot force a person to purchase a product as the new federal law does, and prevents penalties against those who wish to opt out of the system.

Beavers also touted her Health Care Compact legislation (SB326), a states’ rights measure, which would allow states to join forces to control their health care funds. That bill passed in the state Senate this year but not in the House.

Ben Cunningham of Tennessee Tax Revolt told the audience the federal health care overhaul would be such a burden on the state it would force talk of a state income tax.

U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Brentwood, spoke of Tennessee’s problems with TennCare as an example of what can go wrong with government-run health care.

Haslam: State should prepare to implement health care act

Haslam, meanwhile, said in a recent interview that time is a factor in whether to address the new federal health care legislation, commonly referred to as “Obamacare,” which has been overshadowed recently in Washington. The most significant aspects of the law do not kick in until 2014, but the law requires states to be ready in several ways when that time comes.

“I quite frankly am surprised that as the clock ticks closer to 2014 there’s not more conversation,” Haslam said.

But he noted one group is paying very close attention to the issue.

“There is a lot of conversation among governors, saying, ‘We need to be prepared to implement this if it does happen,'” Haslam said, adding that “it would be irresponsible not to.”

The 2010 election year brought a significant uproar about the new law, with talk of repealing it after a new Congress was put in place. But Haslam, who opposes the plan, said the furor about the law has seemed to subside since then.

“A year ago, in the middle of the campaign, that was all the talk,” Haslam said. “I don’t know if in Washington the whole budget and debt issue has eclipsed everything else. I don’t know if that’s the situation.”

The foremost issue in the new law is for states to set up exchanges — marketplaces involving competing insurance plans — where people would shop for what best fits their needs. States must set up their own exchanges or allow people to move into a federal exchange.

Tennessee is already working with various stakeholders and what are known as Technical Assistance Groups (TAGs) on the state’s options. The state is accepting comments and questions about the exchange process at insurance.exchange@tn.gov.

Haslam said the law’s implementation in Tennessee would likely be run through TennCare and the state Department of Finance and Administration. A finance spokeswoman referred questions on the matter to TennCare.

“We’re still watchfully waiting for guidance from CMS,” said Alyssa Lewis, communications manager for TennCare, referring to the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. “We’re seeing what’s going to happen when there is more certainty. It’s to see what the options are, and what the appropriate options are for Tennessee.”

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Business and Economy Education Environment and Natural Resources Featured Health Care Liberty and Justice Tax and Budget Transparency and Elections

Chief Justice No Fan of Electing Judges

Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Cornelia Clark on Friday criticized efforts to have members of the court chosen through popular elections, but she acknowledged that she has participated in the political process by making political campaign contributions.

Clark addressed a luncheon meeting of the Tennessee Press Association in downtown Nashville and expressed concerns about legislative efforts to elect judges.

“We are worried about these issues,” Clark said. “Partisan election of judges puts them in a very precarious position, even if we don’t want it to.

“There’s not enough money you could pay me, or pay on my behalf, to have me change my mind about an opinion in a case. But I can understand why, if somebody who had given enough money to my campaign, you might worry about that. You might question my sincerity.”

The issue of elections of appellate judges has become a contentious issue, with a push in the Tennessee General Assembly to move the state away from the merit selection process currently in place.

The debate is between those who see an inherent danger in politicizing judicial seats and those who believe in a constitutional requirement of allowing elections.

According to the Tennessee Constitution, “The judges of the Supreme Court shall be elected by the qualified voters of the State.”

The state currently operates under what is known as the Tennessee Plan, which allows the governor to appoint judges from a select list of candidates from a nominating commission. The public can then keep or remove judges through retention elections, which rely on a yes/no vote. The system has been found to pass constitutional muster.

The argument for the current system is that it insulates the judiciary from partisan politics. The argument against it is that the current system is elitist and ignores the right of the people to choose who sits on the bench.

Along the way, issues have risen as to whether judges themselves should be contributing to political campaigns. Speaking to TNReport after her speech Friday, Chief Justice Clark said she could not recall contributing to anyone in the last year, but she said she has contributed to a number of legislative candidates in the past.

She listed Sen. Doug Overbey, R-Maryville, and Sen. Joe Haynes, D-Nashville, as those she has contributed to, as well as U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, a former state senator, and former U.S. Rep. Bart Gordon.

“I have contributed to political campaigns because our current ethics rules allow that,” Clark said. “Those rules have been changed off and on over the years, and I understand some concern has risen about that recently.

“So in the coming year as we are going to consider complete revisions to our rules of ethics, that’s going to be one of the topics we talk about significantly. Judges should not give up their rights. But if there is any concern that our giving to a campaign may suggest a certain outcome in a case then we need to look at that very closely.”

Clark said there has been dialogue between the court and legislature about the election of judges.

“We, and I personally, have had a number of conversations with legislators, and we’ll continue to do that,” Clark said. “We are engaging in a good dialogue, and there are some good-faith differences of opinion about what the right answer is.

“We also understand there are a number of business leaders and others who want to participate in that dialogue and to sort of give their perspective, so we expect that dialogue to continue.”

Clark said she had met just this week with 10 to 12 legislators on the issue and expects those discussions to continue.

Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, has sponsored a bill requiring that Supreme Court justices be elected. His bill would have one Supreme Court justice elected from each of five districts in the state, to be drawn by the General Assembly. It would prohibit judicial candidates from personally seeking or accepting campaign contributions and would prohibit the campaign treasurer from divulging to the candidate the names of donors or the individual amounts of their donations.

Clark used a sports analogy to make her point about politicizing judicial seats. First, she asked the audience if they could identify the names Phil Luckett or Jim Joyce. She explained that Luckett was the instant replay official on the famed Music City Miracle in 1999 when the Tennessee Titans defeated the Buffalo Bills on a last-play lateral pass. She informed the group that Joyce was the baseball umpire who made the call that cost Detroit pitcher Armando Galarraga a perfect game against the Cleveland Indians last season. Joyce later admitted he blew the call.

“Here’s what I want you to remember,” Clark said told her audience. “What would it be like if we elected the officials in our sporting events?

“What if the Titans could run a slate of referees and the Colts could run a slate of referees?”

Then, she said, somebody got to vote, and the outcome was determined by whoever put up the most money and ran the most “great-looking, Super Bowl-like commercials” to elect the referees.

“Let’s say the Titans won,” Clark said. “Their referees would show up on the field. Titans fans might be happy, but I’m not sure the Colts fans would be very happy. I’m sure the referees could say, ‘I take my oath. I’m hired just to administer the rules, and it doesn’t matter if this team spent $5 million or that team spent $4 million. I’m going to call it the right way.’

“I’m not sure the perception would be great.”

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Press Releases

TNDP: Republicans Still Pitching ‘Failed Economic Policies’

Press Release from the Tennessee Democratic Party, Sept. 23, 2010:

Republicans from Washington, D.C., including Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele, are crisscrossing the state in an attempt to confuse Tennessee voters into believing the weak job market is a result of current economic policies.

“I’m confident Tennessee voters remember what got us into this mess in the first place,” Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Chip Forrester said. “It was the failed economic policies of a Republican White House that was more concerned about helping the bottom line of its Wall Street and Big Business buddies.

“This Congress and this White House have turned things around for us. We’ve emerged from a deep recession, but we still have a long way to go before this economy churns out the level of jobs it was before George Bush took office.

“Tennessee Republicans like Sens. Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander, along with Reps. John Duncan, Phil Roe, Zach Wamp and Marsha Blackburn, seem to have a memory block about what happened. They want to blame Democrats when they know full well it was their Republican leadership that nearly sent our economy into a ditch.”

Forrester pointed out that the entire Republican congressional delegation from Tennessee voted against the Recovery Act last year, a package that has committed $6 billion in federal funding to help the state create or retain more than 10,000 jobs and provide much-needed infrastructure improvements. Included in that funding package is $500 million in Race to the Top funds helping Tennessee complete a comprehensive reform of its schools.

“It is shameful that each of them has the audacity to come back home and take credit for the very projects they voted against,” Forrester said of the state’s Republican congressional delegation.

“Whether it’s a new $11 million school construction project over in Hamblen County or a $483 million investment at the Spring Hill General Motors plant to create 500 jobs, Republicans want to take credit for it. If that isn’t the ultimate example of hypocrisy, I don’t know what is.”

Forrester also called the Republicans so-called “Pledge to America” a gimmick that would send our economy into the same ditch from which we are now climbing out.

“They would rather continue to protect corporate loopholes and their Wall Street buddies than help ordinary hard-working Tennesseans find a job or send their children to a good college,” Forrester said. “Their pledge is nothing more than a gimmick. We cannot afford to go down that path again.”