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Haslam Sticks to Disclosure Stance

Saying he’s been consistent about his thoughts on financial disclosure issues for more than a year, Gov. Bill Haslam defended his recent decision to eliminate previously established requirements that top government officials reveal their private income, including stockholdings and business investments.

And a sizable majority of Tennesseans are apparently “comfortable with (his) position” on the matter, otherwise they wouldn’t have voted for him, the freshly sworn in 49th governor of Tennessee told reporters in his first official press conference at the Capitol on Wednesday.

“I’m not certain what (divulging investment income) adds to the process,” Haslam said. “Again, I said that all here during the campaign: I think it’s really important where. But how much? I’m just not certain what difference that makes.”

The new guidelines for powerful executive-branch employees are now on par with financial disclosure requirements in place for members of Tennessee’s part-time citizen legislature.

Haslam deflected any suggestion that eliminating former Gov. Phil Bredesen’s standard for revealing levels of, and returns on, financial investments in any way undermines the new administration’s stated  “commitment to transparency and openness in state government.”

Haslam asserted that his policy of requiring officials to reveal generally what they own — if not exactly how much they own — is consistent with “the highest ethical standard” of potential conflict-of-interest disclosure.

“I don’t think that next step of telling exactly what the amount is makes a difference,” said Haslam.

A recent administration press release announcing the new disclosure guidelines stated that “(t)he rule should be, the more you can be in the open, the better.” Another transparency-related executive order issued over the weekend declared it “the unwavering policy of the Executive Branch to facilitate the right of Tennesseans to know and have access to information with which they may hold state government accountable.”

Gov. Haslam’s Executive Order No. 1 requires that he and the 29 other ranking administration officials, as well as their deputies and assistant commissioners, disclose only where their money comes from, not how much. The order nixed Bredesen’s policy on disclosing not only the source of income, but the level.

The new governor also told Capitol Hill reporters Wednesday that he’s seeking to create an administrative culture that is not in any way perceived as arrogant, but rather is efficient, knowledgeable, frugal and respectful.

Haslam spent a lot of time during the campaign season fighting off critics for refusing to disclose his holdings in Pilot Oil Corp., a multi-billion dollar truck stop chain owned by the Haslam family.

On Wednesday House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner said he’s somewhat disturbed that the governor would weaken transparency rules instead of strengthen them.

“I think he would set a good trend for his administration if he’d go back and rethink his position on that,” said Turner. “I actually think right now that what we do (disclose) is pretty low-ball, to be honest with you. I think we should probably disclose more, myself.”

However, Republican House Speaker Beth Harwell told TNReport she isn’t bothered by the new governor’s disclosure policy.

“Disclosing the sources is the most important part of ensuring there are no conflicts of interest,” Harwell said though her spokeswoman. “I have every confidence that the administration is committed to maintaining the integrity of these offices and positions.”

Here’s a sampling of the press conference Q&A between Haslam and reporters Wednesday:

Reporter: There’s been quite a bit said about this executive order regarding the income disclosures. Why did you decide to change the standards for you and your administration?

Haslam: It’s consistent with what I said all through the campaign of the position I’ve taken there is no difference… It’s important that everybody understand where your sources of income and where your investments are. I didn’t think the amount mattered. I was real clear about that during the campaign. Obviously a whole lot of discussion. In the end I think the people of Tennessee were comfortable with my position.

Reporter: But it’s not the highest ethical standard – clearly there’s a higher ethical standard that you’re not achieving.

Haslam: I disagree. I mean, I think it is the highest ethical standard. We’re telling everybody exactly what we own. I’m not, you know, I don’t think that next step of telling exactly what the amount is makes a difference. Everybody needs to know what you own and your sources of income. That’s very important, so I actually think it is the highest ethical standard.

Reporter: Why not say how much?

Haslam: Well I’m not certain what it, what it adds to the process.  Again, I said that all during the campaign. I think it’s really important where. But how much? I’m just not certain what difference that makes.

Reporter: What if you had someone who said they had a very small amount of income verses someone who had a large amount of income. Wouldn’t that shed some light on their potential conflicts of interests?

Haslam: Well, again, if they report that they have that – it’s a company that they regulate, for instance – then that’s out there right now. People can assume they might own 100,000 shares of it or 1,000 shares. The conflict, the potential conflict in the situation still exists. I don’t think it matters. And you, you all if you’re doing your job know, Ok – here’s commissioner so-and-so, he has – he or she has this investment that that’s out there pretty clear.

Reporter: For at least the past 32 years governors have released that sort of information – tax returns and such. Were they wrong to do that?

Haslam: Well, I mean, everybody gets to make their own decision.  Again, this is no different than what I’ve been saying for over the, for actually the last 16 months.  And everybody in the state of Tennessee… every one of you wrote an article about it and covered it. I don’t think there was anything new, and we’re gonna work to be consistent, and again I think the people of Tennesse felt very, very comfortable with that when the vote came.

Reporter: During the campaign you constantly compared yourself to what other candidates had given, but in this case you are releasing less than what other governors have given.

Haslam: That’s not – that’s not true.  And we’re doing the exact same thing – same thing that’s required in the General Assembly, the exact same thing that historically most governors, a lot of governors, have done in other places. And again, I go back to this: I was real clear, there was no secret about any of this and how I felt about that when I ran, and ultimately, again, I think the people of Tennessee felt very comfortable with it.

Reporter: Did you indicate that you would rescind Mr. Bredesen’s first order during your campaign?

Haslam: I don’t know if that ever came up, but I was real clear. I mean, I don’t think there was any lack of clarity about what I said I was going to release or not release during the campaign, so there was zero percent confusion about that.

Reporter: Were you worried about the perception of that? You talk about the one chance to start fresh, and this is the first thing you do.

Haslam: Sure. And we could have waited and said and done that three weeks from now, but, you know, it’s something that, again, I was very clear about during the campaign. Why not go ahead and do it. I’m not worried about the perception because I think the reality is this: if there’s a chance, if there’s an interest and if there’s a conflict, everybody is going to know what that is. Everybody understands that investment. I honestly don’t think this is, I do think this is the highest ethical standard, and it’s no different than what I’ve been saying all along.

Reporter: In the press release you put out, it didn’t mention the fact that you were making major changes in terms of people no longer having to disclose their federal income tax return. Was the press release in any way misleading?

Haslam: Well, I don’t think – I’ll let you all be the judge, I honestly don’t think that . Again, we were being very clear about a decision we had made, and again, it was consistent with what we’d said. I mean, if this is something I’d never talked about during the campaign, it would be one thing, but literally, I think the issue, you know, we started talking about it a year before election day.

Reporter: Does this help you get some cabinet members, who otherwise might be uncomfortable disclosing all their assets?

Haslam: No, I don’t think we had one person who said I’ll only come if this – I can honestly say that didn’t happen.  Again, it’s just being consistent with what I’ve said for over a year.

Reid Akins contributed to this report.

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News

DeBerry’s Leadership Formula: Maturity, Principle, Compromise

Next year promises to be a year of firsts.

For the first time since the post-Civil War era, Republicans will wield a trifecta of power in Tennessee state government — the governor’s office and two legislative chambers.

The first female speaker is expected to be sworn into the House of Representatives.

And if Memphis Rep. John DeBerry Jr., is selected on Dec. 15 as House Democratic Party leader, he will be the first African-American to win that post in the state’s history. He is competing against Craig Fitzhugh, of Ripley, and two-time Democratic Caucus Leader Gary Odom, of Nashville, for the high-visibility assignment.

One of the minority leader’s essential day-to-day functions is to plot and execute resistance against the majority party’s more objectionable policy offensives — but not at the price of appearing oblivious to the democratic will of the citizenry. The floor leader is the lead spokesman and most public face of the caucus. He or she also plays a significant role in campaign fundraising, ensuring that members get re-elected and offering hope that the party is always positioning itself to win back majority power at the earliest opportunity.

DeBerry wouldn’t be the first racial minority to hold a high-level legislative leadership slot. Rep. Lois DeBerry (no relation to John DeBerry Jr.), also from Shelby County, is the long-time speaker pro tempore, the official backup to the House speaker.

If fact, he said he “never thinks about it from that standpoint.” Growing up in a family of civil rights activists, DeBerry Jr., 59, witnessed firsthand black Americans making pioneering strides toward integrating themselves into the political and cultural mainstream of society, he said.

DeBerry has spent the last two years chairing the Black Caucus, a position he will hold through the end of the year.

His background and past experiences aside, DeBerry indicated that if he’s selected to lead his party on the House floor, he would not make addressing issues important to the African-American community more important than addressing issues affecting the Democratic Party or the people of Tennessee as a whole. DeBerry said he wouldn’t be “a zealot for a particular mission, for a particular demographic.”

If selected as minority leader, he said he would find ways to fix problems — like when he discovered there was no policy outlining that it was wrong for a legislative staffer to depict President Barack Obama as a solid black picture offset only by a white pair of eyes.

Instead of calling press conferences and egging on national media efforts to paint Tennessee in as unflattering a light as possible, DeBerry organized “sensitivity training” for legislative staffers and helped establish policies designed to make clear what kinds of words or actions are inappropriately offensive in the state Capitol, he told TNReport.

The seven-term legislator has never run for a top party slot before and last exercised leadership as the Children and Family Affairs committee chairman.

Irrespective of the history-making milestone of electing an African American to lead the Democrats on the floor of the House of Representatives, that possibility alone won’t sway many people’s decisions, said Rep. Mike Turner, House Democratic caucus chairman.

“If John DeBerry gets elected, it won’t be because he is African-American. It would be because he is a capable person who can carry the Democratic message,” said Turner, who added that he has encouraged members to vote for the best candidates for leadership posts, regardless of where they are from in the state.

Rep. Joanne Favors, a fellow member of the Black Caucus, said she’s not caught up in the historic nature of votes for legislative leadership.

“That won’t be the key issue for me,” said Favors, of Chattanooga, stressing that she wants someone who has strong negotiation skills, understands the legislative process and can work effectively across the aisle.

Agreed, said Johnny Shaw, also a member of the House Black Caucus.

“I think his chances are as good as anyone else’s,” said Shaw, who represents Bolivar. He added that he thought DeBerry would likely draw some support from the House’s 14-member legislative Black Caucus. “But to say who it would be, I couldn’t make that call.”

The minority leader post guarantees a role at the negotiating table with Republicans on key issues — assuming they invite Democrats in.

DeBerry’s party lost 22 races in the November midterm elections, handing Republicans a 64-34-1 majority in the House.

Republicans have taken the opportunity to declare that they do not need Democratic help on legislation or on the budget and insist that they’ll run government on their own.

DeBerry says that’s where he comes in.

The future looks grim for Democrats next year as they are outnumbered by Republicans by nearly 2 to 1. So the key, he said, is trying to work with them, not against them.

“We can declare a war and stand on the floor and make speeches on every little insignificant issue,” he said. “Or we can take another direction. We can build bridges. We can work with the governor. We can work with Republican leadership.”

DeBerry faces formidable opponents. Fitzhugh chaired the powerful Finance, Ways and Means committee last session. Odom is the reigning House Democratic leader.

With 34 members in the House Democratic Party caucus, DeBerry would need 18 votes to win the election.

The election is set for Dec. 15 in Nashville. The member with the fewest votes will be knocked out, then the caucus will choose between the remaining two candidates, according to Turner.

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NewsTracker

Turner Wants Temporary Halt to State ‘Earmarks’

Rep. Mike Turner, the state House Democratic Caucus chairman who won a slim victory in his District 51 re-election bid last month, says he received one message voters were sending, loud and clear: Wasteful government spending must stop.

The firefighter from Old Hickory has a plan designed to make Republicans put legislative walk to their campaign talk, and place a statutory lid on district-level pork-barrel spending.

Turner told reporters Monday he’ll file a bill in the 2011 session that would institute a two-year halt on legislative earmarks, the projects carved out by lawmakers for their home districts and sometimes added to unrelated bills.

“Their people said no mandates, so we’re going to probably put legislation forward that says you can’t have a budget amendment, you’re not going to be able to amend your fish hatchery in,” said Turner, referring to a controversial trout-rearing facility in Independent House Speaker Kent Williams’ district that was included in Democratic budget proposals, but was eventually removed.

While hashing out the state budget back in June, lawmakers haggled into the wee hours of the last legislative day over special projects, community improvements, property-upgrades and other tax-financed goodies and giveaways that incumbents could later take credit for hand-delivering to the folks back home.

Turner has yet to introduce the bill. He made the his comments Monday after leaving a Democratic caucus meeting on Capitol Hill. The Legislature will convene after lawmakers are sworn in Jan. 11, 2011.

(CORRECTION: The video caption to the clip originally posted misidentified Turner’s caucus membership; He is the Democratic Caucus chairman. TNReport apologizes for the error.)

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News

Republicans Scheduled to Vote on House Speaker Nominee

Sweeping Republican gains in the Tennessee House of Representatives resulted from GOP candidates campaigning on conservative principles. And voters deserve someone overseeing the chamber who believes conservative priorities are now the people’s priorities, Rep. Glen Casada said Wednesday afternoon.

Under his direction, the House could be expected to approve or advance only that legislation rooted in core conservative values: reducing government size and spending, keeping state regulators out of the business community’s hair and stopping any new tax increases.

That kind of leadership isn’t for a moderate, Casada told TNReport on the eve of his party’s selection of a nominee for House speaker.

“Some people think that agreement is a greater good than getting your principles passed,” said Casada. “And I feel like getting my principles passed…is of greater value than getting agreement.”

Key party constituencies, like gun-rights advocates and Tea Party activists, have argued, too, that Rep. Beth Harwell, who is running against Casada, would be more likely to settle for compromise on issues of importance to them. Some conservative activists have also called for the caucus House speaker vote to be public, although the chamber’s party members have resisted that suggestion thus far.

But despite her moderate image, Harwell, a a two-decade House incumbent who led the TNGOP for four years, has herself advertised that she has no problem cutting Democrats out of the lawmaking mix for the next two years.

“Certainly in times past, we’ve had this mentality of a Democrat-Republican coalition, understandably so,” she told TNReport last week. “That day is over.”

Casada and Harwell say they would marginalize Democrats on legislative committees to reflect the heavy Republican majority in the chamber. And both pledge to support whomever the caucus nominates for the post — which in Harwell’s case seemingly constitutes an assurance that she won’t seek to leapfrog the party’s more conservative elements and reach out to Democrats for support on the House floor in January.

The new speaker will replace Rep. Kent Williams, a former Republican turned Independent who was elected into the leadership post with the help of Democrats in 2009. Both Casada and Harwell say that kind of backdoor surprise is not in the cards in 2011.

Thirty-three votes are required to win the caucus’ approval. The nominee is expected win election before the whole chamber in January with the entire party’s backing.

The GOP won a 64-34-1 majority at the general election earlier this month, essentially giving the party control of two-thirds of the chamber.

The nomination process was originally scheduled for the second week of December, but was moved up in an attempt to bond the party together sooner behind one central leader, Casada said.

Caucus members seem to know who they want to vote for, “so they might as well get it out of the way,” he said.

“Many, many in the caucus basically felt they had already made their mind up,” Casada said.

House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner says Republicans have their work cut out for them.

The party will soon realize they can’t keep all the groups that helped them into office happy, he said.

“I think you’ll see a lot of those groups complaining about a lot of things as we go forward, and it just tickles me to death,” Turner said Wednesday.

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Press Releases

Williamson Gets Police Group Endorsement

Press Release from Charles Williamson, Republican for Tennessee House, Oct. 19, 2010:

Williamson Identified as Pro-Law Enforcement

Nashville, TN — Conservative candidate for State Representative, Charles Williamson, has received an endorsement of his candidacy from the Tennessee Police Benevolent Association, a division of the Southern States Police Benevolent Association, Inc.

“I am honored to receive this endorsement,” Williamson, a businessman and rancher says. “I believe in the laws of our state and want to see those laws enforced. I support and respect the men and women who put themselves on the line every day to protect the citizens of Tennessee.”

Williamson learned of the endosrsement in a letter from L. Beth Dyke, president of the Tennessee Benevolent Association.

“We will ask our members, their friends and families, and all citizens who respect the strong and efficient enforcement of our laws to cast their ballots in the upcoming election in your favor,” Dyke wrote.

The Southern States Police Benevolent Association, Inc. is a professional association comprised of more than 20,000 law enforcement officers employed by federal, state, county and municipal governments.

Charles Williamson is the Republican candidate for State Representative in District 51 which includes parts of Madison, East Nashville, Inglewood, Old Hickory, Lakewood, Pennington Bend, Neely’s Bend, Hadley’s Bend and Hermitage.

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Business and Economy Featured Liberty and Justice News

Turner’s Convention Center Illegal Immigrant Complaint Still Unresolved

State labor officials haven’t decided whether to investigate if illegal immigrants are working on the new Nashville convention center, almost three months after state Rep. Mike Turner filed a complaint outlining the allegation.

But Turner says he’s satisfied the Nashville-Davidson Metropolitan Government and project managers of the Music City Center have been “bending over backwards” to double-check for illegal workers.

Turner, the House Democratic caucus chairman, says he’ll decide soon whether to drop his complaint altogether.

None of the contractors on the job, including the firms Turner identified in his July complaint to the Department of Labor, were found to have employed illegal immigrants on the job site, according to a spokeswoman from Metro’s Convention Center Authority.

“There’s no indication anyone’s working here illegally,” said Holly McCall of the Music City Center project. She said all contractors have signed documents attesting that their employees are legal workers and noted that workers are required to fill out federal I-9 forms that verify their status.

The Metro Nashville government is overseeing the Music City Center project, and McCall says an internal audit has found no illegal immigrant workers on the site. Metro Auditor Mark Swan declined to comment about the official findings of that audit, the results of which he said will be published later this year.

Turner’s complaint seems on the verge of becoming moot anyway, said McCall. “He has refused to tell us or the mayor’s office who they are. As far as I’m concerned, it’s gossip.”

Turner said he has two unnamed individuals willing to testify about construction companies employing illegal immigrants at the job site, but said he isn’t sure whether that is necessary.

“They appear to be doing a better job of hiring local people,” said Turner. “If there are any illegals on this job today, they’d be stupid because the hammer could fall on them at any minute if that’s the case.”

The Department of Labor has waited weeks for additional information from Turner in order to decide whether to investigate the claim, officials said Thursday. Neither Turner nor the department would comment on exactly what the information includes.

“We do want to make a decision soon, and this information that we’re waiting on really is what’s holding us up,” said Jeff Hentschel, a Labor Department spokesman.

The subject of illegal immigration has become an even more heated political issue over the past several months in the wake of Arizona’s passage of a law allowing police officers to check suspected lawbreakers for citizenship status.

Despite a challenge by the Justice Department to the Arizona law, many states, including Tennessee, are considering legislation of their own that emulates or declares support for the border state’s efforts. Those include South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Minnesota and Rhode Island.

The Republican-led Tennessee Senate passed a resolution cheering Arizona’s law last session. Turner, a high-ranking Democrat, stood against the bill in the House, saying lawmakers who like Arizona’s legislation so much should pitch an actual proposal, not a celebratory resolution.

Weeks after the Legislature went home, Turner filed a complaint with the Tennessee Department of Labor, alleging that some construction workers at the Nashville convention center site were illegal immigrants.

McCall speculated that electoral politics may have played a role in Turner’s actions.

The outspoken Old Hickory Democrat is squaring off in the November election with Old Hickory Republican Charles Williamson.

Williamson, a buffalo rancher, is promising “to lead the effort to bring a stop to illegal immigration in the state of Tennessee.” He has called Turner, a fire fighter, “wishy-washy” in his public stances on illegal immigration.

“I believe he’s playing both sides of the fence on this issue,” said Williamson.

A report by WTVF Channel 5 found that four years after passage of legislation to ensure the state doesn’t work with contractors that hire illegal immigrants, no companies have been punished. Critics told the TV station that if the state subjected companies to closer inspection, they would find violations.

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NewsTracker

Turner: Roll Per Diem into Legislative Salaries

A leading Democrat on Tennessee’s Capitol Hill says legislators should reexamine laws that offer him and his peers a daily allowance each day they are at the Capitol, but it’s not a high priority.

“I think there may be a political will to possibly roll some of that per diem into maybe an increased salary and clear out some of the different little ways you can receive compensation up here,” said Rep. Mike Turner, the House Democratic caucus chairman.

Last month, a TNReport analysis found the state had spent more than a half-million dollars on per diems for lawmakers who live within 50 miles of the Capitol and return to their homes after a day of legislative work. The stipends are meant to cover lodging, food and incidental expenses, and the payments are no different for lawmakers who live in Nashville neighborhoods and those living much farther away.

The part-time lawmakers collect a $19,000 salary and an $185 per diem. As of Oct. 1, the daily allowance drops down to $176 because it is tied to the federal travel reimbursement rate.

The TNReport analysis also included Turner’s per diem habits. Of the 30 lawmakers examined, Turner’s collections ranked in the lower third of the group, accepting $16,266 in the last year. Others living within a short distance of the Capitol collected more, like Rep. Sherry Jones, D-Nashville, whose $23,473 in payments topped the list.

“I think the per diem thing is something we need to look at,” said Turner, “but it’s down on my list.”

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Featured News

Few Punished Under Existing TN Law Targeting Employers of Illegal Immigrants

Many politicians across the state are making the case for an Arizona-style crackdown on illegal immigration here in Tennessee.

But there’s also general agreement that a law the Legislature already overwhelmingly approved to punish businesses that hire undocumented workers is being underutilized.

Just days after the Obama administration announced it would sue Arizona over its controversial new state-level illegal-immigration enforcement law, a leading Tennessee Democrat filed a complaint with state labor officials alleging that managers of a high-profile, government-subsidized Nashville construction project were employing illegal aliens.

Officials are still reviewing Rep. Mike Turner’s allegation to determine whether there is enough evidence to proceed with a full investigation, said Department of Labor spokesman Jeff Hentschel. But if the past is any indication, the chances the Old Hickory lawmaker’s complaint will result in any action against the employer appear slim.

The Labor Standards Division received 2,111 workplace complaints in Tennessee between July 1, 2009 and June 30, 2010, mostly for child labor and wage law violations.

But only two of the total number of complaints the department received addressed businesses employing illegal aliens, said Hentschel.

Since the state’s Illegal Alien Employment Act took effect on Jan. 1, 2008, the department has received a total of 28 complaints alleging companies employed illegal immigrants.

Fifteen of those allegations were pursued. In only two complaints since the law took effect 31 months ago has the department sought to punish a company for employing illegal immigrants. In one case, an employer quickly pleaded guilty and fired suspected illegal immigrants before the state could suspend the company’s business licenses. A second company is currently awaiting disciplinary action.

Officials at the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development claim they have only limited tools and restricted legal authority to sniff out workers who are in the country illegally, or to prove a case against an employer who hires them.

Turner, who voted against a resolution declaring support for Arizona’s immigration law during the last legislative session, said in his complaint he had obtained inside information that the construction company was employing illegal aliens.

“While I am not employed at the job site and do not have the ability to personally verify these allegations, I know the persons who have witnessed the employment of illegal aliens at the Convention Center job site and know that they are credible individuals,” the Tennessee House Democratic caucus chairman said in his complaint filed July 15.

Up until July 2008, the labor department essentially had nothing to do with immigration law enforcement.

Under the Illegal Alien Employment Act in Tennessee — approved with no opposition on June 7, 2007 in the House, and with only Nashville Democrat Douglas Henry voting “No” June 12, 2007 in the Senate — the department can take enforcement action against Tennessee businesses.

However, formal complaints against employers, or requests for investigations, must be filed only by designated government employees or elected officials.

The result is the department’s enforcement of the spirit of the law is seriously lacking, argues Murfreesboro Republican Bill Ketron, a primary sponsor of the act, which he said was patterned after similar bills in other states trying to “stop the flow” of money and jobs to illegal immigrants.

Sen. Ketron suggests labor department bureaucrats take some investigative initiative, “multitask” and dig deeper to find immigrant workers when conducting other routine inspections, instead of waiting for complaints to land on their desks.

“How hard is it before you leave to say, ‘Can I see your documentation on all your employees?’” asked Ketron, who, along with Republican Reps. Joe Carr and Tony Shipley, is in Arizona to deliver the Tennessee General Assembly’s vote of confidence for the state in its legal confrontation with the federal government.

“That’s the frustrating part about bureaucracy in state government,” he added.

Indeed, many illegal immigrants working in Tennessee go undetected, and those who employ them unpunished, acknowledge labor officers. A company that provides the state with information indicating employees filled out all the required I-9 employment forms will face no punishment if they can reasonably show they didn’t know illegal aliens were working on the job, said Dan Bailey, the Department of Labor’s general counsel.

Bailey said part of the problem is that the department lacks access to federal immigration records, without which state officials are unable to connect the dots and determine who is or is not in the country legally.

The department can only check to make sure forms were completed correctly for every worker, he said — after that, the business is in the clear.

“We cannot do anything until a complaint is filed,” said Bailey.“It is a complaint-driven system. And then when we get a complaint, we cannot respond to profiling issues.”

“We can’t remove (illegal immigrants). We can’t fine them. We can’t do anything.  But if we know there’s an undocumented worker, we can report it to ICE,” he said, referring to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement office, which is chiefly responsible for immigration laws.

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Press Releases

Chairman Turner Releases Statement on Retirement of Rep. West, Jr.

Press Release from the House Democratic Caucus, Feb. 19, 2010:

NASHVILLE (FEB. 19) – “Today’s announcement allows us the opportunity to reflect on the career of service and accomplishments of my friend, Ben West. I know my friend is doing what he believes is the right thing to do for his family and his future. Ben West, Jr. has served this legislature with honor and respect these past 26 years, but also with a sense of brevity and humility.

Ben and I have talked often in the months since his surgery about the importance of family and making sure we make the most of the time we have on this planet. For over a quarter of a century Ben has given his life to the service of the people of the 60th District and state of Tennessee. He has been a part of a number of state reforms, helped balance budgets year after year, worked with Democrats and Republicans on countless bipartisan efforts, and served as a leader on the issues that matter most.

While I selfishly would like my friend to continue his work as a member of the Tennessee House of Representatives, I know in his heart he is making the right choice. I’m confident that the people of the 60th will elect a new representative who will have the same dedication and commitment to the Democratic values that Ben West, Jr. has shown for nearly three decades.

I, along with all the Caucus, wish our friend the best in his retirement and look forward to enjoying these last months with him as a member of the 106th General Assembly.”