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Featured Tax and Budget

Governor Signs Measure Paring Down Per Diem

Tennessee lawmakers living within a 50-mile radius of the Capitol can expect to see their daily lodging allowances drop in a couple years.

Gov. Bill Haslam signed House Bill 80 into law Friday. It won’t impact sitting legislators — only those elected in 2014 forward. The provisions of the bill cover 25 Middle Tennessee House districts and nine Senate districts.

The final House vote was 77-16, with 20 members whose districts will be affected voting in favor of the legislation. Of the 15 Democrats who voted against the change, only four of them will be affected. The other six Democrats whose districts are impacted voted yes, while all of the 12 Republicans voted yes. Rep. Brenda Gilmore, D-Nashville, did not vote at all. (See Votes by Legislators Affected by Per Diem box below.)

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Gilmore was paid $13,215.85. Of the House districts that will be impacted, that was the highest in travel and per diem expenses in 2012.(See chart below for how much affected representatives received in cumulative travel and per diem expenses in 2012.)

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Of all the Senate districts to be affected, Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, had the highest travel and per diem expenses at almost $15,000. Sen. Douglas Henry of Nashville, who has served for 42 years in the Senate, received $8,953.62, but the veteran Democrat returns all of his expense payments back to the state, according to Legislative Administration’s website. (See chart below for how much affected senators received in cumulative travel and per diem expenses in 2012.)

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According to the new law’s fiscal note, HB80 would save the state $253,616, based on figures from in 2012, when 33 legislators lived within 50 miles of the Capitol. The savings will come primarily from the ineligibility of lawmakers whose primary residence is within a 50-mile radius of the Capitol to automatically receive $107 a day for a hotel room. Instead, they will receive receive mileage reimbursement at 46 cents a mile.

In addition, legislators who live within Davidson County will be able to calculate their round-trip mileage to the Capitol and receive reimbursement for it, something they are currently unable to do.

Unlike current statute, which allows the 34 lawmakers affected to receive mileage for only one round-trip per week, the new statute would apply to each legislative day in Nashville or any day, except Friday, that the lawmaker participates in any other activity in Nashville, but would be limited to one round trip per day.

All legislators will continue to receive $66 per day for meals and incidentals.

There are two methods for logging their legislative time in order to receive their allowed expenses.  One is by attending committee meetings or legislative sessions in the House or Senate, which records this attendance automatically. The other method is filling out paperwork with the details of what they did that day. These documents must receive approval from the House or Senate speaker.

Lawmakers who live within the 50-mile radius will still be allowed to stay overnight and be paid the $107 for lodging – provided they receive prior approval from the speaker of their respective chamber.

For more on the history of this issue, which dates back more than five years, go to TNReport.com and search the archives using the phrase “per diem.”

To find out your legislators’ per diems, as well as mileage payments and travel spending, go to the Legislative Administration website. While some legislators may not claim the allowance for every day they work, it will give you a rough idea. The online data goes back to 2009.

If you’re not sure who your representative or senator is, type in your address at this “Find My Legislator” database, and you’ll find out.

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

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Liberty and Justice NewsTracker

Controversial Livestock Abuse Legislation Passes House, Goes to Governor

After almost two hours of debate, a contentious livestock-abuse reporting bill cleared the state House of Representatives Wednesday with the minimal vote necessary for a chamber majority, 50-42-2.

The legislation requires individuals who record cruelty to livestock to submit those unedited images to law enforcement within 48 hours or face being charged with a Class C misdemeanor.

Tennessee Code Annotated defines livestock as “all equine as well as animals which are being raised primarily for use as food or fiber for human utilization or consumption, including, but not limited to, cattle, sheep, swine, and goats.” The bill does not apply to dogs, cats or chickens, although some argued it should.

Passage in the House was a hard-fought battle on the part of House Bill 1191 sponsor, Rep. Andy Holt, who has argued from the beginning that the purpose of the bill is stop animal abuse as soon as possible.

“How long do you think an animal should have to suffer before the perpetrator is brought to justice?” the Republican from Dresden asked in his closing remarks before the vote. “I particularly believe we should bring that individual to justice as quickly as possible. Others, who oppose this bill, feel like four, five, six months is appropriate, and I completely and wholeheartedly disagree.”

Holt said nothing in the bill would prohibit a person investigating a suspected livestock abuse situation from continuing that investigation after he had turned in the video tape or photographs of the first incident recorded.

Delaying law enforcement while individuals or animal rights groups built cases through continued documentation of abuse was only one argument against the bill, which was bipartisan in its criticism.

The most contentious argument came from Republican Rep. Vance Dennis, who argued that the bill is “unenforceable because you can’t arrest someone for the crime you’re creating.” 

“You cannot arrest for a fine-only misdemeanor. You can cite for not coming to court, but if the person doesn’t come to court, you have no means of enforcement, “ said Dennis, an attorney from Savannah.

Rep. Susan Lynn, R-Mt. Juliet, argued that by attaching a criminal offense to the legislation, “This bill is coercion by government of the worst kind.”

Other arguments raised in the House were much the same as those raised in the Senate on Tuesday, where the legislation passed 22-9, with four Republicans joining five Democrats in voting no.

Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris brought an amendment that would have rewritten the bill and would have required “any person who has knowledge of or observes” an animal being abused to report it to law enforcement immediately.

However, Senate Bill 1248 sponsor Sen. Delores Gresham moved successfully to kill Norris’ effort, which was tabled on a 17-10 vote.

“Obviously, it’s not the attempt of the sponsor of the bill to make every citizen who might find themselves in a situation where they might observe this to make them a criminal. But indeed that’s essentially what this bill does,” said Gresham, a Republican from Somerville, about the Norris amendment.

Norris, a Republican from Collierville, shot back, “Either you’re opposed to animal abuse or you’re not, and that’s why this amendment is designed to get to the root of the problem. The sponsor says she doesn’t want to criminalize animal abuse in general, just the filming of it. If you see abuse, you need to report it, whether you’re filming it or not.”

Sen. Charlotte Burks, D-Monterey, rose in support of the bill because, “As a farmer, I’ve got livestock, and sometimes people don’t understand the proper handling of livestock. … It could be misunderstood and it could waste a lot of our DA’s time.”

Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, again cited the link between those who commit animal abuse at an early age and those who commit child and/or spousal abuse as an adult.

Equally as passionate in favor of the bill, Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, expressed outrage at the United States Humane Society for holding the video of soring of a Tennessee walking horse in Collierville for four months before releasing it in May 2012.

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

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Featured Liberty and Justice

Senate Vote on Animal-Abuse Reporting Delayed

Legislation is on the Tennessee Senate floor that would require individuals who shoot video or take photographs of people being cruel to animals to submit those images to law enforcement within 24 hours.

The bill is on hold now though, after conflicting perspectives on the proposal emerged between fellow GOP caucus members. It was rolled until next week.

On Thursday Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris told members of the body that he sees problems with Somerville Republican Delores Gresham’s measure, Senate Bill 1248.

“This is a Catch-22 bill. I don’t know anybody in here who favors animal cruelty,” said Norris, an attorney from Collierville. “We oppose animal cruelty, yet it’s being construed in some quarters as a bill that supports animal cruelty.”

An individual could be charged with a Class C misdemeanor punishable by fine only if he 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.

Norris said the way the bill is drafted, one could argue that it’s not designed to prevent animal cruelty but rather “to prevent the filming of animal cruelty under certain circumstances.”

“I don’t know why this bill doesn’t require those who witness animal abuse, whether they are filming it or not, to report it immediately,” Norris said. “This actually creates exceptions.”

Norris said the bill “sort of suggests” that it would be OK for somebody who likes to film animal cruelty to do it, because the person is not doing it for the purpose of exposing it.

Norris indicated he thinks the legislation came about as a result of “an incident that was filmed in (Gresham’s) district.” He added, “We shouldn’t be passing bills because of a particular incident like that.”

In May 2012, an undercover Humane Society-shot video showing a Tennessee walking-horse trainer mistreating horses aired nationally. Earlier this month, three people were indicted by a grand-jury in Fayette County on charges stemming from alleged “soring” of Tennessee Walking horses. Fayette County is in Gresham’s district.

Gresham, who is in her second term as a senator after serving two terms in the House, said she understood her colleagues’ struggles with the bill, but defended it by saying it “is very narrowly tailored in a specific way.”

She said the bill was directed toward livestock because agriculture, which is written across the state seal, “is our identity. We take care of our animals, and we will not have people abuse them, and certainly not allow the abuse to continue for the sake of documentation.”

Noting that some have called it “an anti-whistle blower bill,” Gresham argued it is just the opposite.

“What I’m saying in this bill is, ‘Whistle blower, blow your whistle and take what you have to law enforcement because that’s where it belongs,’” she said. “Investigations and documentation, if that’s what is required, needs to be done by law enforcement not by vigilantes.”

She acknowledged that while the inspiration for her bill “may be distantly related to an event in my district,” the fundamental concern is to stop abuse.

Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle of Memphis suggested that the bill be rolled until next week and Gresham agreed. “If we can make it stronger, it is my pleasure to work on the bill,” she said.

The bill was rolled to next Tuesday’s Senate floor session. The companion House Bill 1191 was referred to the Calendar & Rules Committee on March 26. It has yet to be placed on the calendar for the lower chamber’s vote.

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

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NewsTracker Transparency and Elections

Voter Photo ID Bill Passes, Sans Use of Student Cards

With a near party line vote of 23-7 in the Senate Thursday, all that remains to block state-funded college IDs as valid identification for voting in Tennessee is the governor’s signature.

With no explanation, Senate Bill 125 sponsor Bill Ketron rose and simply said he would “move to concur” with House Bill 229 as amended. The Republican senator from Murfreesboro noted that one of the amendments from the House “retains the present law prohibition on the use of student identification card to veria person’s identity.” The other corrected a typographical error.

This was in stark contrast to a statement Ketron issued the previous week: “We will continue to push to allow state-issued student identification to remain in the bill as passed by the Senate, even if we have to go to a conference committee.”

Sen. Jim Kyle, D- Memphis, and Sen. Doug Overbey, R-Maryville, both spoke in favor of allowing student IDs.

“All the photo ID does is verify that you are the person who registered to vote,” Kyle said. “We sometimes seem to be confusing the idea of having a photo ID and the right to go vote. You don’t have a right to go vote unless you have registered to vote and have met the criteria of registration to vote.”

The 15-term senator also expressed a desire for legislation to go further and “give citizens the opportunity to use any valid form of governmental-issued photo ID, but we’re not going to go there. This Senate doesn’t want to do that.”

Kyle attempted to mount an effort to send the bill to a conference committee to reconcile the initial differences in each chamber about allowing student IDs.

Overbey said he believes that a student ID card does meet the standard of the other photo IDs allowed by the bill. Overbey also disclosed a potential conflict of interest based on his role as a trustee for Maryville College, invoking the legislature’s Rule 13.

“I believe in the principle of having a photo ID to ensure that the person going to vote matches a properly issued identification card,” he said. “Folks, I know of situations where folks obtain a false driver’s license, but we do allow driver’s licenses to be used.”

With only those comments, the amended bill passed the Senate along party lines, except for Overbey, who joined the six Democrats in voting against it.

During his weekly media conference following Thursday’s session, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey said the bill ended up being what the majority of senators initially wanted when Ketron introduced SB125 earlier this year.

“The bottom line is all of us, to begin with, did not want student IDs included,” Ramsey said. “We simply did it because it helped our case in court if it ever got challenged again.”

Student IDs are allowed in Indiana under the voter ID legislation that was upheld by the United States Supreme Court, which Ketron had used as a model for SB125.

In addition to college IDs, the legislation would ban the use of out-of-state driver’s licenses, currently allowed even if they’ve expired, as well as ID cards issued by cities, counties or public libraries. The validity of library cards is before the Tennessee Supreme Court after the city of Memphis and two residents challenged the law.

Because both HB229 and SB125 are now one and the same, the legislation heads to governor’s desk for his signature.

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

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Business and Economy NewsTracker

Proposal Would Require Calculating ‘Impact on Commerce’ Before Approving New Laws

If you often wonder how new laws being debated in the Legislature might affect Tennessee business and industry operating costs, you might have a designated place to look in the future.

Senate Bill 116 and House Bill 220 would both require a statement of “impact on commerce” for proposed new legislation heard in certain committees. The full Senate has already passed its version of the idea this year, while HB220 is still slogging through lower-chamber committees.

“From a fiscal standpoint, when we pass a bill down here, our communities back home really need to know what is going to be that impact,” Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, told the Senate State & Local Government Committee last month during a hearing on the cost-to-business bill he’s sponsoring.

Ketron, who also chairs the Joint Fiscal Review Committee, said states like Florida, Maryland, Delaware and New Jersey already require such analysis on legislative proposals. He said the bill was suggested to him by chambers of commerce around Tennessee.

Rep. Mark White, the House sponsor, said the bill will help legislators know how their proposals are “affecting the business person in the state as we try to make Tennessee a more business-friendly state.” The Republican from Germantown is vice chairman of the Fiscal Review Committee.

Ketron said initially there were concerns about the additional work becoming a burden on the staff who prepare cost-to-taxpayers and government revenue estimates for proposed laws, otherwise know as “fiscal notes.” However, after many conversations with Fiscal Review Director Bill Geise, Ketron said it’s been determined staff can take on the extra work within the existing budget.

The process would, if approved, be phased in over a two-year period, with three standing committees – House Business & Utilities, House Insurance & Banking and Senate Commerce & Labor – receiving the impact statements beginning Jan. 1, 2014. Then in January 2015, six additional standing committees will begin receiving the statements: Senate and House Finance, Ways & Means; House State Government; House Local Government; House Consumer & Human Resources; and Senate State and Local Government.

While the bill cruised through the Senate in March 32-0, HB220 was postponed Wednesday to the last meeting of the House Finance, Ways & Means Subcommittee after Rep. Charles Sargent raised a question about the phase-in implementation.

Sargent, the House Finance, Ways & Means Committee chairman, wanted to add a verbal amendment to the bill that would exclude the six other standing committees from receiving the business impact statements in 2015. However, Rep. Michael Harrison, chair of the subcommittee, would not allow it, saying that the committee had “turned down the gentleman from Knoxville on a verbal amendment…to be fair to everyone.”

House Bill 220 is on the House Finance, Ways & Means Subcommittee’s April 10 calendar.

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

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Press Releases

Rutherford Co. Gov’t Nationally Recognized for Accuracy in Accounting

Press Release from the Senate GOP Caucus, Aug. 10, 2011:

(NASHVILLE, TN) — Rutherford County is one of eight counties in Tennessee that recently received national recognition from the Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA) for outstanding accounting practices.

The GFOA presents certificates of achievement to state and local governments across the country that exceed the minimum requirements of generally accepted accounting principles and prepare comprehensive annual financial reports that provide high levels of transparency and disclosure about their operations.

“I want to congratulate officials in Rutherford County for their excellent work in preparing their financial documents,” Comptroller Justin P. Wilson said. “In order to maintain credibility with the public, I think it is extremely important for governments to be open in their financial dealings. The citizens of Rutherford County should be pleased that the people who represent their interests in county government have chosen to do far more than the minimum in making financial information available.”

“This is a significant recognition,” said Sen. Bill Ketron, who is chairman of the Fiscal Review Committee, which serves as the state’s watchdog on financial matters. “In current economic times, it is more important than ever that we have the highest level of financial scrutiny in handling taxpayer money. I heartily congratulate our local officials for their outstanding work.”

“This award recognizes the counties that are doing an outstanding job in tracking their finances,” Sen. Jim Tracy said. “People who live in Rutherford County have good reason to be proud.”

“When it comes to handling the taxpayers’ money, it’s important for government officials to do more than meet minimum requirements,” Rep. Pat Marsh said. “And this award demonstrates that officials in Rutherford County are doing more than meeting the minimum requirements.”

“I commend Rutherford County for being recognized by the GFOA,” Rep. Mike Sparks said. “This is an award that may not be familiar to many people in the general public, but it’s very important to people who work as government accountants. Counties that earn this distinction can serve as role models for their peers across the country.”

“Once again, under the more than capable leadership of Mayor Ernest Burgess, County Trustee Teb Batey and the County Commission, Rutherford County moves forward with tried and true conservative principles of efficient and accountable government,” said Rep. Joe Carr.

“I’d like to commend Rutherford County Mayor Ernest Burgess for his outstanding leadership and attention to detail when it comes to the finances of Rutherford County,” Rep. Rick Womick said. “He is a true asset and a huge benefit to the people of Rutherford County.”