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Senate Approves ‘Repealer’ to Root Out Bad Laws, Regs

Legislation to create a state Office of the Repealer passed the Senate 30-1-1 Thursday, while the House version still has a couple of committee hurdles to clear next week.

The Repealer’s job would be to go through Tennessee code and make recommendations to the Legislature on laws, rules and regulations that need to be repealed or modified because they are no longer relevant, overly burdensome or outdated.

Democratic Sen. Jim Kyle of Memphis cast the only no vote and was the only one to speak out against the legislation. Fellow Democrat, Sen. Douglas Henry of Nashville, abstained.

“Simply to explain my vote, it is somewhat ironic that we’re creating an office to try to find duplicitous government agencies and rules when its creation duplicates the work of the Government Operations Committee,” Kyle said.

“To create another branch of government to do exactly what we’re already doing is doubling up and spending money that doesn’t need to be spent,” he continued.

According to Sen. Jack Johnson, sponsor of SB595, there is no fiscal note attached to the legislation, as the position will fill an existing vacant position within the Secretary of State’s office.

Responding to Kyle’s argument, the Franklin Republican said,“There is no single individual in all of state government whose sole responsibility is to try and shrink the green books.” Johnson was referring to the bound issues of the Tennessee Code Annotated.

Johnson said he thinks it “entirely reasonable that we dedicate a single position to meet with our business owners, to meet with citizens across the state, who have to interact with state government day in and day out, and identify things that we don’t need anymore.”

Answering to the Secretary of State, the Repealer would be required to set up an online system to receive recommendations from the public, which he or she would be required to take into consideration. 

The bill sets up the post for four years, “at which time such position will cease to exist.”

Sen. Mike Bell, a Republican from Riceville who chairs the Senate Government Operations Committee, offered a single amendment that passed on a voice vote. The amendment adds both chambers’ government operations committees to the list of those receiving recommendations from the Repealer, as well as quarterly updates of his or her actions.

HB 500 is on the House Finance, Ways & Means Subcommittee’s calendar for Wed., April 3.

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

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Featured

’Tis the Season: Campaign Time on Taxpayer Dime

A Tennessee Senate staffer appears to have been doing political work while collecting a full-time state paycheck, an apparent violation of state law, public records and documents reviewed by TNReport show.

Derek Hummel has been executive secretary for Sen. Ophelia Ford, D-Memphis, since April of this year, drawing a $30,468 annual salary. Over the past three months, he has also been conducting political activities during state business hours on his state-issued computer, according to phone records and Facebook postings.

Hummel has identified himself as field director for the Phillip North for State Senate campaign. Hummel was paid $625 in September by the North campaign, according to campaign finance filings released last week.

When TNReport visited Ford’s office at the Capitol last week to interview Hummel, no one was present, but Hummel’s desk was strewn with what appeared to be campaign material, and political documents were visible on his taxpayer-funded desktop computer.

During an attempt to interview Hummel today, he accused TNReport of violating state law by calling him on his government-office phone.

“You’re an idiot,” Hummel told TNReport. “I’m calling Bill Fletcher,” he added, before abruptly hanging up. Fletcher is a prominent Tennessee Democratic campaign advertising specialist and political strategist.

A call and an email to the Phillip North campaign have gone unreturned. Attempts to leave a message with Sen. Ford at her Memphis office were unsuccessful because her voicemail box was full.

According to a state law call the “Little Hatch Act,” state employees are prohibited from “engaging in political activity not directly a part of that person’s employment during any period when the person should be conducting business of the state.” The law mirrors the federal Hatch Act.

Examples that suggest Hummel may have been conducting political activities while collecting a state paycheck include:

+Under a Tennessee Democratic Party Facebook post, Hummel on July 25 at 10:07 a.m. urged readers to sign a political petition. Records signed by Hummel show he was working for the state that day between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.

+Under an ‘Americans Against the Tea Party’ Facebook post, Hummel on July 26 discussed a Tennessee Democratic Party petition at 11:15 a.m., 11:19 a.m. and 12:51 p.m. Records signed by Hummel show he was working for the state that day, again 8 to 4:30. On one of those posts he makes during business hours Hummel mentioned how an intern for the Democratic Party had drafted the petition dictated by him “because, by state law, we can’t meddle in politics during business hours.”

+During a phone call taken by Hummel on a non-state cell phone — a recording was provided to TNReport from someone who said they made the call on Sept. 24 during work hours — he talked about working throughout the week on ‘get out the vote’ efforts in his role as field director for the North campaign. State records show he was paid by the state that day.

+On a Tennessee Democratic Party Facebook post that links to North’s views on a Nashville school issue, Hummel commented on Sept. 18 at 3:48 p.m. State records show Hummel was paid by the state for working that day.

+On a ‘North for Senate’ Facebook post on Sept. 21 at 4:21 p.m., Hummel’s cell phone number is posted with a message asking volunteers to call. State records show that Hummel was paid for working that day.

+On Hummel’s desk and on web browser tabs on his state desktop computer, TNReport last week observed campaign documents connected to the North campaign and campaigning in general. (TNReport did not open any desk drawers or search the computer other than to look at the tabs that were open on the computer screen.)

It is not uncommon for staffers in the Tennessee General Assembly to participate in political work, but it is common practice for those staffers to provide notice to the Senate’s chief of staff or to Legislative Administration officials saying they are taking hours off, days off, or a leave of absence for that political work.

In the case of Hummel, it appears he did no such thing: The Senate “does not have any correspondence from Mr. Derek Hummel concerning leave of absences,” Connie Ridley, director of the Office of Legislative Administration, said via email in response to a records request from TNReport.

A spokesman for the lieutenant governor’s office, to whom all Senate staff officially report, declined comment.

Charges of elected officials and their staff using taxpayer dollars to boost political activities are heard occasionally throughout Tennessee.

For example, earlier this year, a reception sponsored by East Ridge city officials for a congressional candidate drew questions about how local taxpayer money was used.

The reception, for Scottie Mayfield, a Republican running for Tennessee’s 3rd District seat, took place while employees were on the clock, and about $80 in city funds were spent on snacks for the employees, according to the Chattanooga Times Free-Press.

City Manager Tim Gobble insisted that the reception was not meant to be an endorsement and was an attempt to be “hospitable,” but other city leaders have said it was an inappropriate use of city funds, according to the paper’s report.

And last year, Democrats accused Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, of violating the Little Hatch Act, saying it was illegal for Ramsey to use his publicly funded office to promote his “Red Tape” initiative because it is funded by his political action committee, RAAMPAC.

Ramsey denied doing anything wrong, and soon after, Drew Rawlins, the executive director of the Tennessee Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance, said he saw no evidence of ethical wrongdoing.

But Rawlins also said his office does not handle alleged Little Hatch Act violations. Because the Little Hatch Act is a criminal statute, that task would fall to Tennessee’s district attorneys, as it did two years ago in Bradley County.

An investigation was launched after Bradley County’s Board of Education chairman and vice chairman sent an e-mail to 800 county school employees endorsing a county mayoral candidate in the Republican Primary, according to the Cleveland Daily Banner.

No charges were filed in that case.

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Press Releases

Ramsey, NFIB to Hit the Road

Press Release from Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey; Oct. 12, 2011: 

Lieutenant Governor partnering with NFIB to travel the state visiting with job creators

Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey today announced a series of discussions with business owners called Red Tape Road Trips. From now until Christmas, the Lieutenant Governor will be meeting with Tennessee’s business owners and entrepreneurs to hear concerns and offer help in dealing with state government and remove any and all “red tape” in the way of those putting capital at risk to create jobs.

“If history has proven anything to us it is that government cannot create jobs. It can, however, hasten the shedding of existing jobs and prevent new jobs from being created,” said Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey. “My primary goal in public service is to make Tennessee the easiest state in which to own and operate a business. These road trips are an opportunity to hear from the job creators themselves to get a clear and concrete picture of the ways government makes life harder for them. I am looking forward to hearing their stories and ideas on what we can do to get out of their way. The ultimate goal here is to make entrepreneurs interactions with state government as painless as possible.”

Partnering with Lt. Governor Ramsey on the road trips is the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB). NFIB is the leading small business association representing small and independent businesses.

“This road tour is a great initiative, and NFIB is proud to be part of it,” said NFIB State Director Jim Brown. “Through direct experiences with regulators, small business owners experience the challenges of our current regulatory environment and see the opportunities to fix them. Our members greatly appreciate Lt. Governor Ramsey taking the time to listen to business owners, who simply want a fair shake from their government.”

The Lt. Governor’s first Red Tape Road Trip will be to Clarksville on Oct. 13 where he will attend a roundtable discussion on regulation sponsored by local antique and consignment shops. Following that, Ramsey will visit the Memphis Area Action Council for a luncheon sponsored by NFIB at Regions Bank. Further trips to Knoxville, Nashville, Tri-Cities and Chattanooga are currently being scheduled.

In March 2011, Lt. Governor Ramsey launched TNRedtape.com, a site designed to connect with business owners and potential business owners to ease their interactions with state government. “Red Tape Road Trips” are an extension of TNRedtape.com and Lt. Governor’s long-term commitment to eliminate red tape in state government..

RED TAPE ROAD TRIPS

Thursday, October 13

2PM CST

Roundtable discussion

Better Homes & Garden Real Estate

108 Center Pointe Drive, Clarksville, TN 37040

Wednesday, October 19

11:30 AM CST

Q & A

Regions Bank

6200 Poplar Avenue, Memphis, TN 38119