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Press Releases

Naifeh Retiring from Legislature After 38-Year Tenure

Press Release from Speaker Emeritus Jimmy Naifeh, D-Covington; March 8, 2012: 

Long-time Speaker of the House will retire at the end of his current term

NASHVILLE – Speaker Emeritus Jimmy Naifeh (D-Covington) announced today on the House floor that he will not seek re-election to his district 81 seat this fall. Naifeh has served in the House of Representatives for 38-years, 18 of which he spent as Speaker of the House.

“Governor McWherter always told me when it was time to go home, I’d know it. After talking with my family and friends, I believe the time has come for me to pass the torch to the next generation of leaders,” said Speaker Naifeh. “All told, I’ve given 40 years of my life to public service: 38 in the legislature and two as an Infantry Officer in the Army. Now I’m looking forward to a little more time for myself and a lot more time with my grandkids.”

Naifeh was elected to the House of Representatives in 1974, after losing his first bid for office in 1972 by 13 votes. Since that time he has never lost an election. In addition to being the longest serving Speaker of the House in Tennessee history, Naifeh served as Floor Leader, Majority Leader and President of the National Speaker’s Conference. He has received numerous legislator of the year and service awards during his tenure, including the prestigious William M. Bulger award which is given every other year to one state legislative leader who has worked to preserve and build public trust and whose career embodies the principles of integrity, compassion, vision and courage.

“In all aspects of my life, I’ve always tried to be an effective leader. I think a lot of that stems from my army training. When I came to the House, it was no different. I got into leadership during my second term with the ultimate goal of becoming Speaker. I achieved that goal and I’m proud of what I accomplished during that time.”

Naifeh is a long-time supporter of public education and places the Jimmy Naifeh Center in Covington, a branch of Dyersburg State Community College, among his most proud accomplishments. Outside the legislature Naifeh’s work with St. Jude is well known. For the past 19 years, he has hosted an annual legislative golf tournament in Nashville to benefit ALSAC/St.Jude, where he serves on the Board of Directors.

“My Dad came here from Lebanon and couldn’t even speak English! He always told me what a privilege it was to live in this country and that we had a responsibility to give back. Whether it was my work with St. Jude or in the legislature, I’ve always tried to remember that and use what power I had to improve the lives of everyday people.”

Naifeh has 3 children (Jim, Beth and Sameera) and 6 grandchildren (Sarah, Jay, Sam, Jameson, Jack and Katherine). He plans to explore future options, while spending more time with his grandchildren.

Categories
NewsTracker Tax and Budget

Local Pensions at Forefront for State Leaders

Some top Tennessee officials say they don’t expect the Legislature to address state employee pension reform at all this year — although retirement plans for some 483 local government groups might get a look.

“There will probably be some bills filed this year, everybody sort of getting on that bandwagon, like, ‘Oh, hey, we just discovered, you know there’s a pension issue,’” said Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville. “There’s long been a pension issue. But it takes studied work, and it’s technical stuff.”

Lawmakers will be ready to tackle pensions for state employees, including teachers and workers in higher education next year, he told TNReport. That’s just four years before about 16 percent of state workers will qualify for retirement, according to state officials.

Tennessee has fared well compared to other states in terms of funding its pension system — an issue that has captured recent national attention. A recent Pew report found that the state’s pension system was 90 percent funded in the last two fiscal years, well above a widely used 80 percent threshold to measure the soundness of pension plans. By contrast, the plan in Illinois was funded at 51 percent in 2009, a stark reminder that many states have failed to set aside enough money to cover their promised pension payments.

Norris said he is unsure what the future holds for revamping the state’s retirement system but said lawmakers should give serious thought to adopting a program that mirrors a 401(k) matching system, much like what is used in the private sector.

For now, the plan is to target future municipal employees because local governments are “under greater cost pressures than the state is,” Treasurer David Lillard told lawmakers at the Council on Pensions and Insurance meeting Monday.

He is proposing offering those cities, counties, and school districts a variety of adjustments such as changing the retirement age, capping cost-of-living adjustments, capping maximum benefits or pairing supplemental deferred compensation plans with reduced pension benefits. Any changes need to be OK’d by the Legislature and the governor.

His plan would not affect state employees, K-12 teachers, higher education workers or current retirees, he said.

The state runs the Consolidated Retirement System, which handles pensions for those workers as well as the plans issued by some cities and towns.

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Education Featured News

Education Progress Report: Incomplete

Lawmakers have spent much of the year squabbling over education overhauls for how school systems, teachers and their unions operate in Tennessee.

Democrats and leaders with the state’s largest teachers’ union are fighting the GOP-driven proposals but lack the political muscle to pose a serious threat to Republicans who control both chambers of the legislature and the governor’s office.

Republicans have picked up some education bills and dropped others like hot potatoes. Some of those lawmakers have splintered off and opposed prime education reform bills, thickening the political plot as the legislation inches closer to passage.

Meanwhile, officials with the Tennessee Education Association say teachers feel beat up by this year’s line-up of bills targeting them and their profession.

Here’s a progress report on where the key education bills are in the legislative process:

Leaders Say They’re Done Bargaining Over Collective Bargaining (SB113/HB130):

After four substantial rewrites, the newest version of a bill to do away with teachers’ collective bargaining privileges is now facing a vote on the Senate floor. House Speaker Beth Harwell and House sponsor Debra Maggart — who originally sided with Gov. Bill Haslam in favoring a scaled-back collective bargaining bill — now say they’re both happy with the latest version because it melds drafts from the two chambers and completely bans unions from negotiating teachers’ contracts. Haslam has yet to weigh in on the newest version. The Senate passed the bill on Monday, 18-14.

Teacher Tenure Revamped (SB1528/HB:2012):

Check this one off the list. Haslam signed into law a series of changes to teacher tenure, chiefly by giving schools the ability to take away tenure from under-performing teachers as defined by a new evaluation system. Democrats said they generally agreed with the bill but bitterly fought to delay its implementation until schools can give the newly designed teacher evaluations a test run. Republicans forged ahead anyway and the bill will kick in for the next school year.

Charter School Expansion A Slow Grower (HB1989/SB1523): Haslam is a huge proponent for charter school expansion, but his plan to open up enrollment and lift the cap on the number of charter schools is moving slowly through the Legislature. When we last left this bill, both versions had made their way out of the education committees, however they still face the two Finance Ways and Means committees, scheduling committees, then votes on the chamber floors.

Vouchers Go To Summer School (SB485/HB388): This bill went largely unnoticed until it landed on the Senate floor last week and narrowly won a majority vote. The bill would allow students to switch to a private, parochial, charter or another public school via a state-issued scholarship. Less than a week later, House Republicans kicked the bill into a summer study committee, essentially killing the measure for the rest of the year.

Managing the Memphis Merger (SB25/HB51): The Legislature kicked off this legislative session by passing a bill slowing down the merger between the Memphis City Schools system and Shelby County Schools after Memphis officials decided to disband the district. Democrats loathed it, Republicans loved it, and Haslam has already signed it into law.

Dues Deduction Dead, For Now (HB159/SB136): On top of pushing bills attempting to marginalize the Tennessee Education Association, Republicans also attempted to ban teachers’ automatic payroll deductions to pay their union dues. There’s not enough time to push that bill this year, according to Rep. Glen Casada, who was carrying the bill. The Franklin Republican said he missed the deadline to take up the bill in a subcommittee but vows to bring the measure up again next year.

Political Contribution Confusion (HB160/SB139): A proposal pitched earlier this year that would have banned unions — like the TEA — from giving money to political candidates has since morphed into a bill that allows corporate campaign giving. Casada, who is sponsoring this bill, too, said he backed off the original plan in light of a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling striking down a federal ban on corporate contributions. Instead of imposing a ban on unions, like he originally planned, he wants to lift restrictions on corporate giving and allow legislators and the governor to accept political contributions during the legislative session. That measure is still making its way through House and Senate legislative committees.

TEA Serving on Retirement Board (SB102/ HB565): A measure to take away the Tennessee Education Association’s guaranteed seat on the state’s Consolidated Retirement Board has already passed the Senate and is on its way through the House. Like many other education bills, the Senate vote fell on party lines. The measure allows the Senate and House speakers to appoint any teacher they want to the board, regardless of his or her union affiliation.