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TN Senate Dems Criticize Deferment of Medical Marijuana Bill to Summer Study

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Democratic Caucus; March 24, 2015:

Any progress is welcome, but very sick Tennesseans will be denied relief

NASHVILLE – Medical marijuana has been proven to be an effective treatment, and Republican efforts to restrict it to only a few patients are cruel and out of step with the majority of Tennesseans, Democrats said.

“There is a mountain of scientific evidence demonstrating that medical marijuana is an effective treatment for a variety of debilitating ailments,” state Rep. Sherry Jones said. “To block treatment for everyone is an insult to the sick and undermines the decisions doctors are qualified to make.”

Legislation sponsored by Rep. Jones, The Medical Cannabis Access Act (HB 561), was sent to summer study. Following polls of Republican primary voters showing majority support, Republicans have filed their own restrictive version.

“Democrats have led the way on this issue,” said state Sen. Sara Kyle, Senate sponsor of the Medical Cannabis Act. “Any progress is welcome, but there are very sick Tennesseans who aren’t getting relief from available medicines. They won’t get help with half measures.”

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TN Senate Dems: Senate GOP Vote to Not Extend Women’s Economic Council

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Democratic Caucus; March 4, 2015:

Council provides research on women’s issues that affect all families

NASHVILLE – Legislation that would have extended the Tennessee Economic Council on Women failed to pass out of a Senate committee today, with much of the discussion centered around whether we should have an economic council on men.

“Domestic violence, human sex trafficking and sexual assault rob our state’s economy of $1 billion each year,” said Senate Minority Leader Lee Harris, who voted yes to extend the council. “We know this because of the peerless research this council provides. It is heartbreaking that this important work could fall victim to the Republican war on women.”

Sponsored by state Sen. Mike Bell, SB 256 would have extended the council through 2019. The legislation remains in the Senate Government Operations committee after receiving three yes votes, four no votes and one present. If it doesn’t pass, the council will terminate June 30, 2015.

“These aren’t just women’s issues; they affect entire families,” Sen. Harris said. “Men have to recognize the advantages we have and be willing to zero in on issues that uniquely affect women. Finding solutions to these problems benefits us all.”

The council was established in 1998 to address the economic needs of women, studying employment practices, educational opportunities, child care, property rights, health care and domestic relations.

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TN Senate Dems Criticize Haslam, Lawmakers for Opposition to FCC Municipal Broadband Ruling

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Democratic Caucus; March 3, 2015:

Consumers want choices, not government obstruction to limit Internet options

NASHVILLE – Tennessee lawmakers should embrace competition when it comes to broadband services, not work to limit consumer choice, Democratic leaders said.

“Anyone who has spent hours on the phone with a service provider to dispute a bill or get proper services knows consumers need more choices when it comes to Internet service,” Senate Minority Leader Lee Harris said. “It is disturbing to see lawmakers act so quickly to limit consumer choice when Tennesseans are demanding more.”

Last week the Federal Communications Commission ruled that Chattanooga’s EPB could provide lightning-speed Internet outside the municipal power distributor’s service area. The move would mean new options for consumers in the Chattanooga area and increased broadband speeds, which are a critical tool for economic development outside of major cities.

However, the governor, the attorney general and other lawmakers have stood in opposition to consumer choice, even considering a lawsuit against the federal government at great cost to the taxpayer.

“Communities like mine in rural West Tennessee don’t care so much about these technicalities,” said House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh. “They care less about service areas and more about having access to fast, reliable Internet. If a provider wants to bring that to my constituents, I don’t think I want the state to get in the way.”

The decision whether to sue the FCC on this issue will be a true test of the attorney general’s independence.

“With the FCC ruling, consumers consider this matter settled,” Sen. Harris said. “No one wants to see our attorney general give in to demands from lawmakers who want to play politics rather than do what’s best for consumers and our economy.”

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TN Senate Dems Denounce Legislation Targeting Federal Pre-K Funds for Davidson, Shelby Counties

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Democratic Caucus; February 25, 2015:

NASHVILLE – New pre-K classrooms in Davidson and Shelby counties could be in jeopardy if legislation in committee today passes the General Assembly.

“We know that early childhood education makes a tremendous difference in a child’s life,” state Rep. Antonio Parkinson said. “This legislation would target our state’s two largest school systems and take us a step backward because lawmakers want to make a political point.”

The Shelby County School Consortium and Metro Nashville Public Schools announced in October they will receive $70 million in federal funds for new pre-K classrooms. Whie the legislation is targeted at pre-K, it could have larger implications for local funding. HB 159 would require the state to back out of an agreement to receive federal funding earmarked for a county if the state did not apply on behalf of all local governments.

It will be heard in the House Local Government Subcommittee at 1:30 p.m. today.

“We need to see more pre-K classrooms in every county in Tennessee, but this legislation is not the way to do it,” Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Jeff Yarbro said. “Instead, this legislation would impose a one-size-fits-all approach that doesn’t reflect the needs and opportunities of different communities.”

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TN Senate Dems Fret About Impact of Anti-Exchange Bill

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Democratic Caucus; February 24, 2015:

Legislation would ensure Supreme Court ruling strips people of health care

NASHVILLE – Weeks after a committee denied a full vote on Insure Tennessee, a new piece of legislation will be heard in committee today that could take health insurance away from 229,000 people who already have it.

“This legislation addresses a hypothetical scenario, but it could have very real consequences for a lot of Tennesseans,” Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Jeff Yarbro said. “It would be tragic for Tennesseans to lose the security of health insurance just to prove an ideological point.”

While Insure Tennessee would have covered people who earn between 100-138% of the federal poverty level, others who earn between 138-400% of the federal poverty level receive tax credits to buy insurance on the federal exchange.

SB 72 is on the calendar for today’s 1:30 p.m. meeting of the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee. It seeks to prohibit Tennessee from establishing a state exchange if the U.S. Supreme Court rules in King v. Burwell that Tennesseans who purchase insurance on the exchange are ineligible for federal tax credits. For most of the 229,000 Tennesseans who used the federal exchange to purchase insurance, this legislation would effectively eliminate their health care coverage. A ruling could come as early as this summer.

Under the Affordable Care Act, Tennesseans are receiving more than $700 million in federal tax subsidies that would vanish if the Supreme Court rules against the Obama administration. Notably, the proponents of SB 72 signed onto an amicus brief with the court, arguing that Tennesseans should not receive tax credits and cost assistance.

“It’s hard to believe we’re now starting a process to take insurance away from hundreds of thousands of people who already have it,” Senate Minority Leader Lee Harris said. “I hope someone wakes me up from this. This is a nightmare.”

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TN Senate Dems: Haslam’s Longevity Pay Cut Won’t Improve State Workforce

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Democratic Caucus; February 19, 2015:

NASHVILLE – Gov. Bill Haslam’s plan to slash longevity pay takes money out of state employees’ paychecks without doing anything to improve our state workforce, Senate Minority Leader Lee Harris said.

“The governor seems to propose taking part of these employee paychecks, using that part to create a pool of money, and giving it right back to the same employees and calling the process a raise,” Sen. Lee Harris said. “That’s not what most people in the private sector would call a raise. There’s got to be some way to give our top performers in government a real raise without the subterfuge.”

The governor’s plan to eliminate longevity pay would end the $100 raises workers receive for each year after three years of service. In lean budget years, it may be the only increase employees receive to keep up with cost of living.

“Some employees have worked and earned these paychecks for decades,” Sen. Harris said. “These paychecks are not bonuses. They are, more or less, part of our employees’ salaries. These employees depend on the income and had no reason to believe it was in jeopardy.”

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Responses to Gov. Haslam’s State of the State Address

Press release from Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville; February 9, 2015:

Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey (R-Blountville) made the statement below following Governor Bill Haslam’s State of the State address:

“Governor Haslam has delivered yet another outstanding State of the State address setting an agenda that will continue to make Tennessee the best state in the union to live, work and raise a family. Four years of conservative governance has brought Tennesseans more jobs, lower taxes and smaller and more efficient government. We have accomplished much together in the past four years, but there is still much left to do. I particularly appreciate Governor Haslam’s continued focus on education reform building upon Tennessee’s strong record of improvement. I look forward to working with Governor Haslam as we reward good teachers and lift our expectations up to a true Tennessee standard that challenges and prepares students for the high quality jobs of the future.”

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Democratic Caucus; February 9, 2015:

Sen. Yarbro confident Insure Tennessee will be reintroduced

NASHVILLE – Members of the Senate Democratic Caucus released the following statements in response to Gov. Bill Haslam’s state of the state address:

“Making health care affordable for everyone is the most important issue facing our state,” Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Jeff Yarbro said. “We need the governor and common sense legislators of both parties to come together around a plan. I am confident that Insure Tennessee will be reintroduced during this session.”

“Our state is making extraordinary gains in education, and I would be very troubled to see that progress stop over one party’s partisan political objections,” Senate Minority Leader Lee Harris said. “We need to continue to support the highest standards for our students and keep up the progress we’ve made.”

Press release from the Tennessee House Democratic Caucus; February 9, 2015:

Looks for more middle-class outward approach

Nashville, TN: House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh (D-Ripley) issued the following statement following Governor Haslam’s State of the State speech:

“Though I am pleased to hear our teachers are finally getting the raise they were promised last year, I didn’t hear much about helping the working people of our state just a week after this body denied them health care. We’re still not talking about paid family leave, overtime compensation, and parental involvement in schools. Democrats think we need a more middle-class outward approach and that’s what you’ll see from us over the next few weeks.”

 

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TN Senate Dems: Following Insure TN Defeat, Charity Care Ramps Up

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Democratic Caucus; February 6, 2015:

NASHVILLE – Following the defeat of Insure Tennessee in the state Senate, a Remote Area Medical clinic plans to treat more than 1,000 people this weekend who can’t afford health insurance.

“The legislature killed Insure Tennessee without offering any alternatives for the uninsured,” state Sen. Jeff Yarbro said. “It’s shameful that thousands of Tennesseans, many of whom work full-time, have no choice but to rely on charity care. We owe it to them to put politics aside and find a real solution to the challenges they face.”

Based in Tennessee, the Remote Area Clinic was inspired by its founder’s personal experience treating patients in the world’s most inaccessible regions, where people are devastated by what would have been simple or minor illnesses in more advanced cultures. The clinic plans to treat patients in Tennessee at various locations over 11 weekends this year.

A clinic will be held in Knoxville Saturday and Sunday at the Jacob Building at 3301 E. Magnolia Ave.

Last year’s clinic in Knoxville was the subject of a segment on The Daily Show.

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Harris Proposes Scholarship Funded by Red Light Camera Revenue

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Democratic Caucus; February 4, 2015:

Proposal would invest red light camera revenue in our students

NASHVILLE – Legislation filed today by state Sen. Lee Harris would create new scholarship opportunities for students to attend college paid for entirely by revenue from municipal red light cameras.

“Red light cameras frustrate citizens and distract from more important public safety measures,” Sen. Harris said. “If we can’t eliminate them altogether, let’s invest the revenue they produce in our students, not the bottom line of traffic camera companies.”

Sen. Harris filed Senate Bill 361 Wednesday to create the Drive to College scholarship, which invests all revenue generated by new red light camera contracts after July 1, 2015 in sending students to college.

In Memphis alone, according to a report in the Commercial Appeal, red light cameras have generated $3.1 million in camera-related fines, but the Arizona-based contractor earned $4.8 million.

“As a member of the Memphis City Council, I worked on and authored comprehensive legislation to make our streets safer for pedestrians and drivers,” Sen. Harris said. “Taking the profit out of red light cameras will keep us focused on more serious ideas, like speed bumps and traffic-calming devices.”

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Yarbro: Democrats Will Continue to Make Case for Medicaid Expansion

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Democratic Caucus; February 4, 2015:

“This conversation is not over. Democrats will continue to make the case.”

NASHVILLE –State Sen. Jeff Yarbro, the Democratic member of the Senate Health Committee, released the following statement on today’s vote ending the prospect of passage for Insure Tennessee during the extraordinary session:

“Lawmakers have spent two years trying to find a solution to expand access to health care in our state, but it took only two days for the legislature to vote it down,” state Sen. Jeff Yarbro said. “It’s disheartening that seven Senators can make this decision for 6.5 million Tennesseans.”

“This conversation isn’t over,” Sen. Yarbro said. “Democrats will continue to make the case for expanding access to affordable health insurance in Tennessee. We will continue to work with the governor and with common-sense members of both parties to move past politics and do what’s right for Tennesseans.”