Press Releases

TN GOP: Democrats Hit ‘New Low’ With Recent Losses

Press release from the Tennessee Republican Party; April 1, 2013:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — For 150 years, the Tennessee Democratic Party controlled every level of political office in Tennessee. Over the last few years, though, Tennesseans have continually rejected their liberal views driving the Democrats into superminority status across the state.

Last week, a new low was hit by the Democrats as the Party suffered setbacks on key policy and political fronts.

  • Representative Gloria Johnson’s (D—Knoxville) personal privilege bill, House Bill 1301, failed for lack of a second. Johnson, an educator by trade, had been pushing a mandate on local governments to grant leaves of absence—a change to the law that she would personally benefit from.
  • House Bill 898, once amended, would remake the Democratic Party and remove accountability from voters. It was forced to be taken off notice by Republicans who would have no part in such a move.
  • Perhaps most galling to the Democrats’ big government agenda, Governor Bill Haslam said “no to Tennessee Medicaid Expansion”. The move spurned the wishes of Tennessee Democrats who were hoping to see the Governor take part in a broken system.

Democrats were particularly pointed in their comments following the Governor’s announcement. For example:

  • “This is a time when the people of Tennessee need clear, precise and bold leadership, and Governor Haslam offered none of that today.”—Rep. Mike Turner (D—Old Hickory)
  • “Instead we’ve seen more of the hand-wringing and delayed action that we’ve become accustomed to. Lives will be lost while we wait for a real decision.”—House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh (D—Ripley)
  • “Tennessee should choose science instead of selfishness, people instead of politics, life instead of death.”—TNDP Chairman, Roy Herron

Democratic carping surprised many observers, particularly from the three individuals above, who all played important roles in the 2005 TennCare cuts that booted 170,000 Tennesseans from the health care rolls. Apparently, the arguments used now for political purposes to slam the Governor did not carry much weight then.

Fitzhugh championed the cuts in the Legislature: He was the first cosponsor of the 2005 appropriations bill that removed the funding for TennCare and provided an important vote as a top-ranking Democrat. Herron followed suit in the Senate, unmoved by his own “pro-life” beliefs. Turner was so moved by his belief in leadership, in 2005, he voted present.

Presented with all this information, Chairman of the Tennessee Republican Party Chris Devaney, stated, “Democrats have sunk to new lows in their attempts to maintain some form of relevancy. Just when you think they’ve hit rock bottom, a new depth of despair is achieved.”

Press Releases

House Dems Oppose Haslam on Workers Comp Changes

Press release from the Tennessee House Democratic Caucus; March 26, 2013:

House democrats join with workers to oppose radical changes to workers’ compensation insurance

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – House Democrats joined with workers from across the state at a rally to oppose the Governor’s proposed changes to the workers’ compensation system in Tennessee.

“Working people in this state are getting rolled over like a freight train by the wealthy special interests who want to use the Republican super-majority to pick the pockets of workers in our state,” said House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner. “This so-called ‘reform’ of the workers’ compensation system does nothing to address the medical costs that are driving up rates, and does everything to balance the books on the backs of injured workers.”

The Governors’ workers’ compensation changes would reduce payments to injured workers and place the appeals process out of the hands of the local judiciary and give it to a new state bureaucracy. The end-result of the proposals will be to make it easier for employers to fire injured workers, resulting in bankruptcy for people who were injured on the job by no fault of their own.

“I voted for workers comp reform a few years back because I thought it was needed for workers and businesses in this state,” said House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh. “But like so many things this year, we are rushing through this bill, we aren’t seriously addressing the actual problems in the workers’ compensation system, and we are creating a new level of bureaucracy in this state. For all those reasons, I will oppose this legislation and I hope my colleagues will too.”

Hundreds of concerned citizens and workers from across the state have called and written to the Governor asking him to reconsider these proposed changes to the workers comp system in Tennessee. Workers advocates are deeply concerned with provisions in the bill that would cut benefits to all injured workers, create a new bureaucracy controlled by the Governor, and will jeopardize workplace safety in the future.

“This is perhaps the worst piece of legislation that I have seen since I’ve been up here in terms of what it does to hurt working families in Tennessee,” said Chairman Turner. “I hope the Governor will listen to the voices of Tennesseans who came out today to oppose this so-called ‘reform’ package, and works to find a way to address the real problems in the state’s workers’ compensation system that does not endanger the livelihood of injured workers.”

HB194 by Leader McCormick (R-Chattanooga) is scheduled to be heard in the Finance, Ways & Means Subcommittee on Wednesday, March 27th.

Health Care NewsTracker

Governor’s Workers’ Comp Revamp Chugging Forward

Gov. Bill Haslam’s pro-business workers’ compensation reform legislation sailed through committees in the House and Senate last week and is headed for the next round of hearings in both chambers this week.

Rep. Jimmy Eldridge
Rep. Jimmy Eldridge

Rep. Jimmy Eldridge, chair of the House Consumer and Human Resources Committee, said the “Workers’ Compensation Reform Act of 2013” must pass through four more committees before reaching the House floor.

“I’d like to see this bill go to give all the members of the Tennessee General Assembly on the House side the opportunity to engage in the conversation and good debate on this important piece of legislation,” said the Republican from Jackson.

Despite its passage, it was clear not every member of Eldridge’s committee thinks the bill addresses the issues businesses say are driving costs upward.Tennessee workers' comp bill

“Where we’re messing up is in our medical costs. This bill doesn’t address that at all,” Democratic Caucus Chair Mike Turner told the committee. “I don’t care what they tell you, they’re not telling you the whole truth about this bill.”

House Bill 194 passed the House Consumer and Human Resources Committee along party lines, 7-3. Its companion, SB 200, sailed through the Senate Labor and Commerce Committee, 9-0.

Jeff Bates, managing partner of TA Staffing in Nashville, and Brian Hunt, general manager of Southern Champion Tray in Chattanooga, both addressed the House committee in favor of the reforms.

Bates said 10 percent of the claims his company sees take 75 percent of money paid out for workers’ comp.

“You have to protect the truly injured worker, but at the same time you can’t have lingering claims controlling and bogging down the system to the point where it costs three to four times as much to settle a claim in Tennessee as it does in other states,” Bates said.

Hunt said 70 percent of the injuries at his company are “categorized as strains and sprains. They also account for 79 percent of our compensation dollars.” He noted that over the past five years the company has shelled out indemnity payments totaling nearly $1 million.

Rep. Kevin Brooks, who presented the bill on behalf of House sponsor Rep. Gerald McCormick of Chattanooga, said these issues emerged from a two-year study:

  • Tennessee’s rates are higher than neighboring states.
  • Employees are being harmed by lengthy delays in the current system.
  • Employers and employees are having trouble “navigating what is a complex and difficult workmans’ compensation system.”

Rocky McElhaney, a Nashville attorney who spoke on behalf of the Tennessee Association for Justice, said higher costs were a “red herring” to distract from harm to workers.

Rocky McElhaney
Rocky McElhaney

“Since the 2004 reforms, benefits paid to injured workers in Tennessee have already decreased 41 percent,” McElhaney said. “We’re paying workers less on average than our competing states.”

McElhaney said payments to physicians are actually what’s driving costs. He said state statistics showing how long cases take to adjudicate were skewed because only a sampling of cases were used.

In 2012 cases took 166 days start-to-finish on average, down from 309 days in 2008, McElhaney said, citing data from the Administrative Office of the Courts.

Rep. Glen Casada disputed the claim that the bill is heavily skewed toward employers.

“We as legislators must look at the macro of this, which is when Goodyear leaves, and their number one statement on why they left was workmans’ comp costs,” the Franklin Republican said. “All of a sudden, we’re not looking at dozens, we’re looking at 1,900 that are no longer here in Tennessee working.

“If that were to have a ripple effect, Bridgestone, Nissan – and I could go down the list – all of a sudden thousands of folks that work no longer have jobs in Tennessee. That is my concern.”   

HB 194 goes before the House Government Operations Committee Tuesday. SB 200 goes before the Senate Government Operations Committee Wednesday.

Amelia Morrison Hipps may be reached at, on Twitter @CapitolNews_TN or at 615-442-8667.

Business and Economy Featured NewsTracker

House Limits Local Authority on Wage-Setting Mandates

Despite a rather testy exchange between the two parties’ caucus chairs about the “Tennessee Wage Protection Act” on the House floor Thursday, the bill passed 66-27-1 and heads for the Senate committee process beginning next week.

The chamber’s approval moves House Bill 501 one stop closer to ending a four-year battle to prohibit cities and counties from setting wages, family leave and insurance benefits that private businesses must offer employees as a condition of obtaining local-government contracts or operating in the jurisdiction.

“These are issues best left up to the state and federal governments, not local government,” Republican Caucus Chair Glen Casada said.

If the bill becomes law, it would nullify regulations passed in Nashville and Shelby County requiring businesses contracting with those governments to offer a certain level of wages and benefits to employees.

“Once again we have a piece of legislation that will tie the hands of the local government. You are preventing them from being able to negotiate good contracts,” said Democratic Rep. Larry Miller, whose amendment to exempt his home of Memphis and Shelby County was tabled.

The issue of prevailing wages brought Democratic Caucus Chair Mike Turner to the floor. He grilled Casada on whether he knew what a prevailing wage was, and a touchy back and forth ensued.

According to the bill, when awarding contracts local governments cannot “require a prevailing wage be paid in excess of the wages established by the prevailing wage commission for state highway construction projects in accordance with title (state law) or the Tennessee occupational wages prepared annually by the department of labor and workforce development, employment security division, labor market information for state building projects.”

Rep. Antonio Parkinson, of Memphis, questioned the differences in the costs of living in Shelby County and Crockett County, population 14,500, and suggested the local officials there know what’s best for their workers.

Casada fired back: “If a local government, and I’m not going to use any names, mandates 30 bucks an hour for a construction job, that drives up the cost of that construction, and it causes that entity go further in debt. In turn, that causes taxes to go up on the taxpayers of that community. This bill is an attempt to stop that.”

Parkinson complained of the hypocrisy he perceives in the Republican-run Legislature dictating mandates on local governments when often GOP lawmakers criticize federal intervention in state affairs.

“When the federal government puts things on us that take away personal freedom or economic freedom, that’s wrong,” Casada replied. “When local government does the same invasion on local folks, it’s up to us to protect the citizens of the state.”

House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick got in the last word before the vote. Decisions made by local governments reach beyond their jurisdictional boundaries, he said.

“Big cities affect the whole state. They don’t just affect their city limits,” the fifth-term Republican from Hixson said. “They are economic generators for the surrounding counties. That alone is reason enough not to let them set up some little people’s republic in some city in the state of Tennessee.”

The vote went mostly along partisan lines. Republicans siding with Democrats against the bill included Mark Pody of Lebanon and David Alexander of Winchester. Joining them was Kent Williams, an independent. Charles Curtiss of Sparta was the only Democrat to vote in favor of HB501.

Amelia Morrison Hipps may be reached at, on Twitter @CapitolNews_TN or at 615-442-8667. 

Press Releases

House Dems Accuse GOP of Pushing ‘Anti-Local, Anti-Worker’ Legislation

Press release from the Tennessee House Democratic Caucus; March 14, 2013:

Republicans ram through anti-local, anti-worker legislation in race to the bottom for working families

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – House Republicans rammed through legislation this morning that is designed to help wealthy special interests by taking money out of the pockets of working families and eliminating the ability of local elected officials to negotiate local contracts.

“It is absolutely shameful the way Republicans are shutting down debate and shutting out the voice of working men and women in this state,” said House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh. “These are important issues that will have a dramatic impact on local governments for years to come, and we shouldn’t rush it through just because the majority doesn’t like criticism.”

During the debate, Chairman Casada repeatedly complained about not wanting to debate the merits of setting a local prevailing wage, instead wanting to talk solely about how limiting local control of wage and benefit standards will promote his vision of ‘economic freedom’, and his contention that local government is the problem that Republicans are trying to address. Despite numerous representatives having requested the ability to speak on the bill, House Republicans called the question, cut off all debate, and took a vote early.

“Chairman Casada is acting like nothing more than a thief in the night, trying to steal food from the mouths of working people in order to give it back to wealthy special interests,” said House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner. “The level of contempt that this Republican majority has for local governments and working people is simply disgusting.”

HB501 by Chairman Casada strips the authority of local governments to protect against wage theft, and ensure construction workers and contract employees have livable wages and benefits. This legislation is a prelude to HB850 by Rep. Marsh which will weaken state prevailing wage rates and lower standards in government contracts.

Shelby County is currently the only local government that sets a prevailing wage and benefits standard. Rep. Larry Miller sought to exempt Shelby County from this legislation in order to maintain the current standards, however Republicans tabled that amendment.

“We have a situation in Memphis where out-of-state businesses often bid on contracts worth millions of dollars in local taxpayer dollars. Taxpayers in our city have chosen to use that opportunity to ensure that local residents earn a decent living before these out-of-state contractors take profits out of the state,” said Rep. Antonio Parkinson (D-Memphis). “How can we say that it is a good thing for residents of Memphis and Shelby County to have a lower standard of living so that big contractors can take more of their tax dollars out of state?”

Featured NewsTracker Tax and Budget

Dems Push Back, But Per Diem Downsize Passes House

Even if a reduction in expense payments to lawmakers sails through the Senate like it did in the House Monday night, lawmakers will still make more than the average worker in Tennessee.

Five Democrats joined all but three Republicans in voting, 72-15-3, to eliminate the $107 payment for lodging received by lawmakers who live within 50 miles of the Capitol. House sponsor Rick Womick said HB80 is the right thing to do.

“Right now, we receive $107 a day for hotel plus $66 a day for food,” the Rutherford County Republican said. “It’s hard to look at my constituents in the eye when they ask me, ‘Why are we paying you $107 a day for a hotel that you don’t use?’”

In place of the per diem, lawmakers would receive mileage reimbursement, at 46 cents a mile, for each legislative day in Nashville or any day, except Friday, that the lawmaker participates in any other activity in Nashville. The bill would limit the payment to one round trip per day.

Legislators would still receive $66 a day for meals and incidentals.

According to Womick, both per diem amounts are taxed by the federal government under a law that requires anyone who lives within 50 miles of where he conducts business to pay taxes on all per diems he receives.

“We’re taking taxpayers’ money, and 38 to 48 percent of it is shipped straight to Washington, D.C.,” Womick said. “I’d rather keep that money right here in Tennessee and let Tennessee and this state government use that money, and in return, be reimbursed for my mileage.”

Lawmakers receive an annual salary of $20,203, plus $12,000 a year for an office at home – whether they set it up or not. These two figures alone are almost $8,000 more than the $24,197 per-capita income of Tennesseans in 2011.

Add to that the per diems, health insurance and 401(k) retirement benefits, and the total take-home gets close to $60,000, according to the City Paper.

Although only three Democrats spoke out against the bill, two of them would not be impacted if the legislation passes the Senate. Senate Bill 107 is supposed to be heard Tuesday in the State and Local Government Committee, but is not listed on its calendar.

Democratic House Caucus Chair Mike Turner, of Old Hickory, questioned the equity of the legislation.

“It’s always hard when you’re figuring per diem. The only way to really do it is do it kinda across the board,” the 12-year veteran of the House said. “I think what you’re doing makes the system totally inequitable, and I’m going to vote against it for that reason.”

Rep. Johnny Shaw, D-Bolivar, said he values himself and the people he represents more than the per diem amount legislators receive.

“I live 200 miles out, but if I didn’t live but 10 miles from here, for the time that I spend away from my family, having to be here and not being able to work for myself, I think it’s a little off-kilter for us to take that sixty whatever dollars that is from those persons who could give it to their families,” Shaw said.

While she lives in Memphis, Rep. Johnnie Turner agreed with Shaw that a price cannot be put on the time lawmakers spend away from their families. She also said that those who live in the immediate area have it harder because they are “always confronted” by people in their district who want to talk issues.

The three-term Democrat expressed fear that if this reduction is approved, “we’re going to come up with another law to reduce the per diem or mileage for those who live beyond 50 miles.”

According to an article by the City Paper, senators took home more than $14,600 on average in per diem in 2012, while state representatives averaged more than $13,800 each.

According to the bill’s fiscal note, HB80 would save the state $253,616, based on figures from in 2012, when 33 legislators lived within a 50-mile radius of the Capitol.

If the bill becomes law, the change will not impact sitting legislators, just those elected in 2014 forward.

Amelia Morrison Hipps may be reached at, on Twitter @CapitolNews_TN or at 615-442-8667.

Press Releases

Turner: Workers Comp Reform ‘Breaking’ System, Not Fixing It

Press release from the Tennessee House Democratic Caucus; March 12, 2013:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The House Consumer and Human Resources passed HB194, the workers compensation reform package, on a 7-3 party-line vote. During the hearing, House Democratic Chairman Mike Turner criticized the supporters of this legislation for “fixing” the workers compensation system on the backs of injured workers in our state.

“This so-called “reform” is nothing more than an outright assault on the safety and financial security of working families in our state,” said Chairman Turner. “We are not fixing a broken system; we are breaking a system that works for the people of Tennessee.”

Studies show that under our current system, 77% of the costs of workers compensation goes to doctors and medical facilities; however, the plan only addresses the 23% that is left to workers by reducing payouts and making it harder for employees to initiate compensation claims. Additionally, the bill removes the appeals process from the jurisdiction of local courts and into an appointed board.

“’When are we going to do something for the working people in this state?’” asked Chairman Turner at during the hearing. Calling out the special interests who are pushing this bill, Chairman Turner said they have “no regard for the people of Tennessee” and are becoming “poverty pimps” by pushing a legislative package that does nothing but hurt the working men and women of our state.

In addition to workers advocates, representatives of firefighters also opposed this legislation on the grounds that it could allow for firefighters to be denied legitimate resulting from injuries suffered while protecting lives.
The legislation also passed the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee and will be heard in both the House and Senate Government Operations Committees next week.

Press Releases

House Dems Oppose New State Charter Authorizer Proposal

Press release from the Tennessee House Democratic Caucus; March 5, 2013:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – State Representatives are speaking out against a new statewide charter authorizer moving through the House which threatens to blow a hole in local education budgets and risks weakening high standards for charter schools in our state. The new proposal, which drastically alters a plan which passed through the House Education Subcommittee on February 12, creates an unelected nine member panel appointed by the Governor and the Speakers of the House and Senate.

This new bureaucracy would have complete authority to approve charter schools in local school districts, without input from local elected officials who would be required to come up with the funds to pay for them. Supporters of the legislation have refused lawmakers’ request to put in place a ten percent cap on the portion of a local school budget that could be controlled by this new unelected charter panel.

“Republicans are rushing through a bill which will have a dramatic impact on local taxpayers in Davidson County and across the state,” said House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner. “This law amounts to nothing more than an unfunded mandate which will blow a hole in local budgets, potentially forcing tax increases to pay for charter schools that weren’t good enough to pass local scrutiny.”

The Davidson County delegation met earlier today with supporters of the bill to address their concerns about this legislation, and the impact it will have on their local government. However, many left the meeting with more questions and concerns than they went in with.

“What they are saying is $70 million is not enough,” noted Metro Councilmember and State Rep. Bo Mitchell (D-50). “We asked, ‘will you at least limit this unelected board’s control to ten percent of our school budget?’ The answer was flat no. Every taxpayer in this county should be extremely alarmed.”

“Apparently, the bill’s backers want more than ten percent of our school budget – that is just incredible,” said Rep. Darren Jernigan (D-60). “Make no mistake about it; if that is the plan, we are in for another tax increase which will hurt the people I was elected to represent – that is something I cannot support.”

Davidson County lawmakers are concerned that this new legislation is part of an overall effort to defund public schools, and put special interest groups in charge of our education system in Tennessee.

“Clearly the charter associations envision a large scale takeover of the Metro School budget,” said Rep. Sherry Jones (D-59). “We don’t need a group of unelected special interest representatives making unchecked decisions that will hurt taxpayers and children in our schools.”

“This new ‘charter panel’ is designed to silence the voice of parents and taxpayers in a local school district,” said Rep. Mike Stewart (D-52). “Taxpayers will have no recourse to reign in this unelected body if they don’t like how their money is being spent, or if a local government has to raise taxes to accommodate this mandate.”

Press Releases

TNGOP: Turner ‘No Friend to Our Children or Minorities’

Press release from the Tennessee Republican Party; February 14, 2013:

NASHVILLE, Tenn.— Never one to be bound by logic or facts, State Representative Mike Turner (D—Old Hickory) found yet another way to lodge his foot squarely in his mouth.

Speaker of the House Beth Harwell (R—Nashville) and many lawmakers are pushing for statewide charter school authorization. The bill removes government hurdles and allows for Tennessee to attract high-performing charter schools all across the state.

Turner, at a media availability, accused Speaker Harwell of supporting policies that will “lead to resegregation.”

Unfortunately all students are suffering. According to 2011 NAEP data, Tennessee’s public education system:

  • 49th in 4th Grade Math -Scale score 233 (7 points below National Average)
  • 41st in 4th Grade Reading -Scale score 215 (5 points below National Average)
  •  45th in 8th Grade Math -Scale score 274 (9 points below National Average)
  • 41st in 8th Grade Reading -Scale score 259 (5 points below National Average

The proficiency levels in the state are low. In 2011:

  • In 4th Grade Math – 71% of students are below proficient (30% proficient or advance)
  • In 4th Grade Reading – 75% of students are below proficient (26% proficient or advance)
  • In 8th Grade Math – 76% of students are below proficient (24% proficient or advance)
  • In 8th Grade Reading – 73% of students are below proficient (27% proficient or advance)

Chris Devaney, Chairman of the Tennessee Republican Party, stated, “Most legislators believe every child in Tennessee deserves the opportunity to receive a high-quality education. Apparently, Mike Turner disagrees with that principle.”

He continued, “While Mike Turner spends time labeling Tennesseans ‘racist,’ he’s continually supporting policies that prop up the status quo and, more alarmingly, weigh down minorities and underprivileged children. Tennesseans want to know why he would continue to defend the current system which study after study shows is failing our students and robbing generation after generation of opportunity.”

According to Tennessee campaign finance data, Turner received:

  • $1,200 in the 2012 campaign cycle from the teacher’s union;
  • $2,500 in the 2010 campaign cycle from the teacher’s union.

“The facts prove Mike Turner is no friend to our children or minorities. Instead of standing with lawmakers who want to reform our poor education system by injecting opportunity and achievement into the equation, he’d rather pocket money from unions who put their own interests ahead of our children. It’s time to undo the mess in education that has been created after 150 years of bad policy, and that’s what our reform-minded legislators are doing now—raising standards and giving parents choices, and students the opportunity, for a better education,” concluded Devaney.

Press Releases

Turner Requests Joint Committee Meeting to Investigate DCS Records Release Refusal

Press release from the Tennessee House Democratic Caucus; January 10, 2013

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner has sent a letter to Governor Haslam, Speaker Harwell and Lt. Gov. Ramsey requesting they convene a joint government operations committee meeting to investigate the Department of Children’s Services refusal to release records relating to the abuse and death of children under their care and reports that they have returned children to homes where there is evidence of abuse.

“The mission of the Department of Children’s Services is too important for them to operate in secrecy,” said Chairman Turner. “It is well past time that we have a full accounting of problems within the agency, so we can determine how best to move forward and fix them.”

Multiple Tennessee media outlets have recently been denied an open records request that sought to shed some light into the tragic deaths of children under the agency’s supervision. This follows news that the agency failed to disclose these deaths as required by law. The desire for more information stems from reports that the Department of Children’s Services has failed to protect children from abuse by allowing victims of child abuse to remain in the custody of their abusers.

“If Governor Haslam is unwilling to take the appropriate steps to protect the lives of children, then we must force him,” said Rep. Sherry Jones, who has been a leading advocate in the effort to protect children in DCS custody. “Over the past two years the leadership of DCS has moved our state backward in respect to disclosure of records and in protecting children from child abuse. I hope that my Republican colleagues will join me in pushing for more transparency and accountability that will move DCS forward.”


I am requesting a joint meeting of the Government Operations committee to investigate the Department of Children’s Services. The department has steadfastly refused to release records concerning the deaths of children under their care. In addition, reports have indicated that the department has allowed children to be returned to homes where there is evidence of abuse.

Due to the urgency of this matter, I am asking the meeting be set as soon as possible.

Thank you,

Michael L. Turner