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Featured Liberty and Justice NewsTracker

Clandestine Video-Recording of Animal Abuse Spurs Bill Requiring Prompt Reporting

Legislation that would require individuals who record incidents of animal abuse to submit the unedited images to law enforcement within 24 hours is headed to the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.

Brought by Rep. Andy Holt, an amendment to HB 1191 would make it a Class C misdemeanor punishable by fine only if someone fails to turn in a video or photographs taken of an animal being abused. Under Tennessee law, those found guilty of a Class C misdemeanor may be charged up to $10,000.

“This is a bill that I think has a legitimate purpose in the state and actually does a lot to quantify and clarify what should be done in an instance where a person should record evidence of animal abuse,” the Dresden Republican told the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Subcommittee, which passed the bill Wednesday on a voice vote.

Rep. Ron Travis, a Republican from Dayton, asked about an amendment that he’d heard would exclude the media from the 24-hour requirement. Holt said one was presented to him, but he opted not to adopt it. Travis said he would not be able to vote for the bill without such an amendment.

Chairman Ron Lollar also seemed concerned that the amendment that would exclude the media wasn’t added. “I do feel that there will be some more discussion at some point on this without the amendment. I think we need to look at it closely,” said Loller, R-Bartlett.

Holt said he brought the bill because of “radical animal activist groups” who have spent months taking videos of animal abuse before notifying anyone.

Hold did not mention any specific incidents. But in May 2012, an undercover video of a Tennessee walking horse trainer abusing horses in Collierville aired nationally. An investigator with the Humane Society shot the footage.

The second-term representative recognized that in “some cases there has been abuse” recorded. Holt said he wanted it noted that “I think animal abuse in any form is reprehensible.

“That is why I want to bring this bill forward. Instead of being backed into a corner like I have some kind of defensive position where I want to protect those who are abusing animals, nothing could be further from the truth.”

Holt questioned why months should elapse before animal abuse is reported when the same does not occur when it comes to reporting child abuse or apprehending a murder suspect.

“I think this is something that we need to be doing, not only to protect our animal industries here in the state against these animal activists that have caused great economic harm to some, but also to protect the animals themselves. That is the ultimate intention of this bill,” Holt said.

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

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NewsTracker

On Food Tax Cut, Another Option

A bill aimed at encouraging Tennesseans to eat healthier by eliminating the sales tax on unprepared foods like fruits and vegetables is headed to the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee next week.

But House Bill 484 still has a steep hill to climb before becoming law because of the huge estimated drop in tax revenue – more than $90 million for state and local governments. Still, Rep. Ron Lollar, chair of the Agriculture and Natural Resources Subcommittee, said there is a possibility some version of it could be rolled into Gov. Bill Haslam’s initiative to reduce the sales tax on groceries another quarter of a percent.

“The premise behind the bill is we can still be conservative fiscally and reduce sales taxes, but also incentivize Tennesseans to purchase the kinds of food that would help incentivize them to eat well,” Rep. Ryan Williams, the bill’s sponsor, told the committee Wednesday afternoon.

Williams explained that the bill would eliminate the sales tax on unprepared food such as fruits, vegetables, dairy, raw meats or “things that are called building block ingredients, like flour, dried beans.

For example, if someone bought a bag of apples, a fresh chicken and a gallon of milk for $10, she would pay only $10, not $10.53, which is what it would cost today with the 5.25 percent sales tax added.

“We’re 12th in the nation in obesity. Last year alone, we spent $216 million in TennCare alone just to treat diabetes among Tennesseans,” Williams said.

The Cookeville Republican acknowledged that the fiscal note “is huge,” but said he is working with the Department of Revenue on ways to reduce the amount or the foods on which the taxes would be eliminated.

The fiscal note, which is attached to the Senate companion, SB550, predicts that the net decrease in state revenue for fiscal year 2013-2014 would be almost $87.5 million, while the net decrease in local revenue for the same period would be $3 million.

Williams explained that one of the challenges with the fiscal note is that unprepared food can be defined differently in economics than they are to the consumer.

“For example, a Milky Way® bar is defined as candy, while a Twix® bar is defined as food because it has flour in it,” Williams said in an interview after the committee meeting.

However, he said that the Department of Revenue has given him some ideas on how to narrow the definition of unprepared food as it relates to the bill to have less impact on the reduction of revenues.

Lollar acknowledged that the bill could be killed once it reaches the finance committee of either chamber.

“We’re not saying that it would definitely fit in with the governor’s plan, but it would certainly have an opportunity with this bill to then go on and explore some items in the cuts that the governor’s already set forward.”

SB 550, sponsored by Republican Sen. Frank Niceley from Strawberry Plains, is on the Monday calendar of the Senate Tax Subcommittee of the Finance, Ways and Means Committee.

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

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Press Releases

NFIB Picks Favorite Incumbents to Support In August Primary

Press Release from the National Federation of Independent Business, Tennessee Chapter; July 6, 2012: 

NFIB Endorses Candidates in 5 Senate, 20 House Primaries

NASHVILLE, July 6, 2012 – The National Federation of Independent Business, Tennessee’s leading small business association, today said it has endorsed candidates in 25 state legislative primary races. The endorsements were made by NFIB/Tennessee SAFE (Save America’s Free Enterprise) Trust, which is comprised exclusively of NFIB members. State primaries are scheduled for Thursday, Aug. 2, with early voting beginning July 13 and ending July 28. NFIB expects to announce general election endorsements later this summer. The general election will be held Nov. 6.

“NFIB supports candidates who understand how important it is to reduce burdens on small business,” said Jim Brown, state director of NFIB/Tennessee. “These candidates have consistently supported less taxation and have worked diligently to improve our unemployment and workers’ comp systems.”

Endorsements by Senate and House Districts (NFIB members bolded)

Senate District, Name

2, Doug Overbey

14, Jim Tracy

18, Ferrell Haile

28, Joey Hensley

32, Mark Norris

House District Name

2, Tony Shipley

5, David Hawk

6, Dale Ford

8, Art Swann

10, Don Miller

11, Jeremy Faison

12, Richard Montgomery

20, Bob Ramsey

22, Eric Watson

24, Kevin Brooks

27, Richard Floyd

31, Jim Cobb

45, Debra Maggart

48, Joe Carr

61, Charles Sargent

66, Joshua Evans

71, Vance Dennis

90, John DeBerry

96, Steve McManus

99, Ron Lollar

NFIB’s endorsement is critical to these campaigns. Small business owners and their employees vote in high numbers and are known for actively recruiting friends, family members and acquaintances to go to the polls. NFIB has pledged it will activate its grassroots network on behalf of these campaigns. NFIB’s political support is based on the candidates’ positions and records on small business issues.

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Education NewsTracker

Guv’s Charter School Bill Met With Initial Skepticism

Legislation that would blow the cap off the number of charter schools and pave the way for a handful of the governor’s education reforms to alternative education was aired at a hearing for the first time Wednesday.

The plan, HB1989, drew resistance from members on both sides of the aisle in the House Education Subcommittee, foreshadowing possible resistance as the bill moves through committees.

“The whole point of this legislation is just to create more flexibility and make this an option in more places,” Will Cromer, director of policy and research for Gov. Bill Haslam, told members of the subcommittee Wednesday.

Charter school reform is one of three prongs to what Haslam administration officials have referred to as the governor’s “small legislative package,” which also makes it more difficult for teachers to earn and keep tenure and installs caps on non-damage jury awards through tort reform. All of those issues, Haslam says, will help spur job growth.

Most members of the committee appeared sympathetic to Haslam’s three-aspect plan to open charter school enrollment to all students, allow charters to pitch new schools to a state-run school district instead of local school boards, and lift the 90-school limit on the number of charters statewide.

But Rep. Joe Pitts, a Democrat from Clarksville, worried that the measure would give the state’s achievement school district a back-door method of turning the state’s failing schools into charter schools, which he opposes. Rep. Ron Lollar, R-Bartlett, questioned the wisdom of taking public dollars away from traditional public schools to fund schools operated by private organizations, a concern often raised by teacher-union members critical of charter schools.

Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh suggested that the expansion would remove too much local control.

The committee plans to take up the bill, along with up to a dozen others pertaining to charter schools, again for debate and a vote next week. The Senate has not yet taken up the legislation.