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Press Releases

New Beacon Center Brief Analyzes Practice of ‘Policing for Profit’

Press release from the Beacon Center of Tennessee; March 18, 2013:

NASHVILLE – The Beacon Center of Tennessee today published a new policy brief on the disturbing practice of “policing for profit.” The brief, titled The Perils of Policing for Profit, analyzes civil asset forfeiture laws, which have recently come under fire throughout the state.

Across Tennessee, law enforcement agencies are seizing money, cars, and other property based on the mere suspicion that the property is related to criminal activity. In some cases, tens of thousands of dollars worth of property or cash is seized, yet the property owner is never charged with a crime.

The brief reviews the perverse incentives created by this practice, which has led to the confiscation of more than $1.6 billion worth of property nationally. However, due to the lack of transparency related to Tennessee’s forfeiture laws, the amount seized within the state’s borders remains unknown.

“Policing for profit is an alarming practice that ensnares innocent victims, turning the American concept of justice on its head through a presumption of guilt,” said Trey Moore, Beacon Center’s director of policy and co-author of the brief. “Lawmakers should eliminate the perverse incentives for law enforcement to seize property absent proof that a crime has actually occurred.”

The brief calls for the outright ban of the practice by strengthening the legal standards used to permit law enforcement to seize property. Short of eliminating the practice altogether, the brief offers several intermediary solutions. They include placing civil forfeiture revenues in a neutral fund that cannot be used by law enforcement; transferring the burden of proof from the property owner to the government; reporting of seized property to promote more transparency; prohibiting ex parte hearings; allowing property owners to recover their losses and costs if the property is returned; and the termination of equitable sharing arrangements between local law enforcement officials and the federal government.

Several state lawmakers have filed bills related to this issue. Those measures are slated to be heard in legislative committees over the coming days.

The policy brief can be downloaded at: http://www.beacontn.org/wp-content/uploads/The-Perils-of-Policing-for-Profit.pdf

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Press Releases

State Announces Free, Reduced-price Meal Guidelines

Press release from the Tennessee Department of Education; June 30, 2012:

NASHVILLE — The Tennessee Department of Education today announced the 2012-13 U.S. Department of Agriculture policy for free and reduced-price meals for children in Tennessee’s schools. The USDA’s school meals programs help ensure all students have access to nutritious meals.

“It is important to give our children healthy and nutritious meals to improve their chances of successful and improve their learning opportunities,” Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman said. “Research indicates eating habits affect learning. We want to ensure all our children are well nourished and ready to learn.”

Basic facts about free and reduced price meals:

Do I need to fill out an application for each of my children? No, you only need one application for all students in your household.

Who can get free meals? All children in households receiving benefits from SNAP or Families First can get free meals regardless of your income. Also, your children can get free meals if your household’s gross income is within the free limits on the Federal Income Eligibility Guidelines.

Can foster children get free meals? Yes, foster children that are under the legal responsibility of a foster care agency or court, are eligible for free meals. Any foster child in the household is eligible for free meals regardless of income.

Can homeless, runaway and migrant children get free meals? Yes, children who meet the definition of homeless, runaway, or migrant qualify for free meals. Check with your school, the homeless liaison or migrant coordinator for more information and to see if your children qualify.

Who can get reduced meals? Your children can get low cost meals if your household is within the reduced price limits on the Federal Income Eligibility Guidelines.

Should I fill out an application if I get a letter this school year saying my children are approved for free or reduced-price meals? Read the letter carefully and follow the instructions, or call your local School Nutrition Program Director.

My child’s application was approved last year. Do I need to fill out another one? Yes. Your child’s application is only good for that school year and for the first few days of this school year. You must send in a new application unless the school told you that your child is eligible for the new school year.

If I get WIC, can my children get free meals? Your children may be eligible for free or reduced price meals, but you will need to fill out an application.

Will the information you give be checked? Yes, and you may also be asked to send written proof.

If I do not qualify now, may I apply later? Yes, you may apply at any time during the school year. Children with a parent or guardian who becomes unemployed may become eligible for free and reduced price meals if the household income drops below the income limit.

What if I disagree with the school’s decision about my application? You should talk to school officials, or you may also ask for a hearing by calling or writing the school officials.

May I apply if someone in my household is not a U. S. citizen? Yes. Neither you nor your children have to be U. S. citizens to qualify for free or reduced price meals.

Who should I include as members of my household? You must include all people living in your household, related or not (such as grandparents, other relatives, or friends) who share income and expenses. You must include yourself and all children who live with you. If you live with other people who are economically independent, do not include them.

What if my income is not always the same? You must list the amount that you normally receive. If you normally get overtime, include it. But if you do not normally get it, do not include it. If you have lost a job or had your hours or wages reduced, use your current income.

If you are in the military, do you include your housing allowance as income? If you get an off-base housing allowance, you must include it as income. If your housing is part of the Military Housing Privatization Initiative, do not include your housing allowance as income.

If my spouse is deployed to a combat zone, is the combat pay counted as income? No, if the combat pay is received in addition to the basic pay because of deployment and it was not received before the deployment, combat pay is not counted as income.

If I need more help, whom should I contact? For more information on the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program, contact Sarah White, TDOE, at Sarah.C.White@tn.gov or at 615-532-4714. For more information on applying for SNAP, or other assistance benefits, visit https://fabenefits.dhs.tn.gov/vip/website/signupservlet?pagename=homepage or call the toll free hotline at 866-311-4287.

For more information contact Kelli Gauthier at 615-532-7817 or Kelli.Gauthier@tn.gov.

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Liberty and Justice NewsTracker

Injuction Issued, Legislative Plaza Curfew Enforcement On Hold

The state’s new Legislative Plaza curfew rules that resulted in the recent arrest of more than 50 Occupy Nashville protesters last week were put on hold by a federal judge while state officials and the protesters’ lawyers work out new policies.

Judge Aleta Trauger granted a temporary restraining order against further arrests, adding that she finds Legislative Plaza to be the “quintessential” place for a public forum and the new curfew was a “clear prior restraint on free speech rights.”

Assistant Attorney General William Marett said the state did not plan on fighting the temporary restraining order and instead said state troopers would make no more arrests pertaining to protesters occupying the plaza.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee — which is representing the protesters — and the state “came pretty close” to an agreement before the afternoon hearing, according to ACLU Cooperating Attorney David Briley. They now have until a Nov. 21 court date to iron out those details, which could include whether protesters can continue to use the plaza as an encampment in the future.

“We’ll have to figure that out,” Briley told reporters. “It clearly is a victory. (Protesters) were out there under the threat of arrest every night and now they’re not going to be so it’s clearly a victory for them.”

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Featured News

Party Leaders Plotting 2012 Strategies

State lawmakers may have officially begun their seven-month vacation away from Capitol Hill this month, but top legislative leaders are already evaluating this year’s performance and mapping out their plan for next year’s session and the subsequent election.

Republicans spent the just-concluded session of the Tennessee General Assembly muscling through the kind of legislation that had long been blocked when they sat in the minority. Bloodied, Democrats limped away but unabashedly promised to continue beating back the tide of GOP bills next year — with the ultimate goal of undermining the majority party’s dominance at the polls in November 2012.

In other words, next year’s legislative session may shape up to look a lot like the one that just ended.

“Tennessee Republicans have talked a lot about what we would do when we took power. Now we are showing what we can do,” Lt. Gov. Ramsey said in a statement he posted on Facebook recently. “This year was just an appetizer. Next year, and in the years to come, you will see the main course.”

Ramsey was celebrating what he dubbed a “Republican Session,” filled with policy overhauls that would have constituted mere pipe dreams prior to the 2010 election.

“With Republicans now in power, I no longer have to focus on trying to mitigate the damage of backward Democrat policies, I can lead the charge for positive change,” declared Ramsey.

House Democratic ringleaders have been making the case that the both-barrels-blazing confidence exhibited by the “cowboy down the hall” will over time misfire and jam the Republican Party’s chances of maintaining their unalloyed superiority beyond next session.

In particular, the GOP’s rough treatment of core Democratic Party constituencies  — public employee unions, trial lawyers, immigrants, gay and lesbian rights activists — will come back to shoot the Tennessee Republican Party in the foot when voters speak their minds at the polls, predicts House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner.

The minority-party battle plan going forward is to paint Republicans — particularly those of the Senate — as politically irresponsible, too socially conservative and too oblivious to national media perceptions about Tennessee to lead the state legislature, Turner indicted.

“We had an image that everyone is barefoot and bucktoothed with cowlicks on both sides. We came a long way to diminish some of that,” Turner said of his own party’s decades-long reign in Tennessee.

The Old Hickory firefighter specifically criticized sexual orientation-related bills like the “Don’t Say Gay” legislation — which passed in the Senate but never made it out of the House — and the Equal Access to Intrastate Commerce Act, passed with the support of nine Democrats in the House and signed into law by Gov. Bill Haslam Monday, which keeps local governments from enacting anti-discrimination mandates on businesses.

“If you look at news clips from across the country, it seemed like we made the paper a whole lot more,” Turner said of the 2011 session.

Turner, whose caucus lost 14 seats in last fall’s election and who barely survived his own tough re-election race, says Tennessee is at its core a politically moderate state, at least by Southern standards. And Republicans fanning the flames of cultural discord by pushing divisive social-issue legislation will translate into Democrats winning back centrist voters’ confidence in November 2012, Turner said.

That is, unless Speaker Beth Harwell and Republican Leader Gerald McCormick successfully pull the party leftward, he said.

“If the Republicans get back to the middle of the road, they can end up ruling for a long time in this state. But I truly believe that if they take the course they’re taking now we’ll be back in power in a very short time,” Turner said.

“Fortunately for us, it appears they’re going to be extreme, and if we can articulate our points, learn from our past mistakes, (we can) hopefully get Democrats back in power in this state,” Turner continued.

McCormick told TNReport Friday he’ll take his chances siding with Republicans of any stripe before he’ll take political advice from Turner. The Chattanooga real-estate broker said he has a hunch Tennesseans as a whole are more conservative than Democrats tend to want to believe.

“He’s always stirring the pot. That’s his job as their caucus chairman,” McCormick said, adding that he feels good about where the Republican Party is at right now. “I’ll be proud to run for re-election on our accomplishments on the first part of this session. We will certainly hold our own in next year’s election.”

Rep. Craig Fitzhugh, the Democratic Party’s Leader in the House,  warned when he was first elected to his leadership post that if Democrats don’t have a seat at the table, they’ll “be on the menu.”

Things didn’t go as badly as they could have, suggested Fitzhugh. The Democrats did, after all, vote in unanimity with Republicans on a state budget that included an unemployment-benefits extension Democrats lauded as a modest but nevertheless key legislative victory.

“We were at the table, but we certainly didn’t get the same portion as everybody else,” Fitzhugh said to TNReport on the last day of the legislative session. “We stayed at the table for a while, then we were pretty much locked out,” particularly when it came to the collective bargaining debate, which became the Legislature’s capstone bill this year.

But while Fitzhugh, too, characterized some of the Republican legislation as “extreme,” he said Democrats can’t be satisfied with watching the GOP-led action from the cheap seats assuming that come November 2012, their two-year nightmare will come to a merciful end.

“We don’t have much control over what (Republicans) put out. We have to do our best to defeat legislation we don’t think is in the best interest for the state or make it better,” the Ripley Democrat said.

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Press Releases

TCPR: Medicaid Expansion Would Wreak Havoc on State

Press Release from the Tennessee Center for Policy Research, Dec. 3. 2009:

NASHVILLE – The Tennessee Center for Policy Research today sent a brief to state lawmakers outlining the potential costs the proposed healthcare reform bills in Congress will have on the state. Both the House and Senate bills expand Medicaid eligibility, potentially devastating Tennessee’s budget. As a result, TennCare—the state’s Medicaid program—could become the health insurance option of nearly one in four Tennesseans.

According to the brief, titled “The Oncoming Tsunami of TennCare Costs” (pdf), the additional TennCare enrollees could cost Tennesseans as much as $1.4 billion. Governor Phil Bredesen (D), has properly referred to this expansion as “the mother of all unfunded mandates.”

TennCare already eats up a larger portion of the state budget than nearly every other state’s Medicaid program, and the proposed expansions would cause it to consume even more taxpayer money.

“The current rate of TennCare enrollment is unsustainable without a significant tax increase,” noted Justin Owen, the director of policy at the Tennessee Center for Policy Research. “Opening the door to even more enrollees by expanding eligibility would wreak havoc on an already troubled program and the state budget.”

Rather than add to the TennCare rolls, Owen suggests free market alternatives that would reduce TennCare recipients’ dependence on government and protect taxpayers’ hard-earned money.

The brief offers two simple, yet effective solutions to the problem. First, the Tennessee General Assembly should seek a Medicaid waiver that would allow TennCare enrollees to take more control of their healthcare costs. Second, the state’s congressional delegation should urge Congress to replace the current Medicaid matching system with block grant funding.

“Congress successfully reformed welfare in the 1990s by moving to a block grant program, and they should do the same now to fix the Medicaid debacle,” said Owen. “The move would eliminate states’ incentive to throw more money at the problem rather than find real solutions to provide healthcare coverage to those unable to afford it.”