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Press Releases

Yarbro Urges Support for Insure TN

Letter from Tennessee Sen. Jeff Yarbro, D-Nashville; February 2, 2015:

In just over an hour, the 109th General Assembly will convene in a special session called by the governor to consider his Insure Tennessee plan.

After the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the section of the Affordable Care Act mandating the expansion of Medicaid, states have had the option to expand Medicaid on their own, initially funded 100% by the federal government. Unfortunately, Tennessee has not expanded Medicaid, which has left hundreds of thousands needlessly without insurance, cost Tennessee almost $1 billion, and led to lost jobs and closed hospitals.

The governor has still not agreed to seek an expansion of Medicaid. His Insure Tennessee plan, however, would extend insurance coverage to a large portion of Tennessee’s uninsured population, many of whom work full-time but still can’t afford insurance. You can read more about the Governor’s plan here.

I talked with so many of you on the campaign trail about how important it is for Tennesseans to have coverage they can count on and afford. While Insure Tennessee may not be perfect, it’s a common sense solution that will benefit the people of Tennessee. And so, I’m going to support it this week.

Over the last month, there has been widespread support for Insure Tennessee from all corners. The governor’s plan has the support of the business community and organized labor.The health care community – our hospitals, phsycians and advocates – overwhelmingly supports this plan, as has virtually every editorial page in the state. Regardless of whether they are Democrats or Republicans, reasonable people across this state know that we cannot afford to do nothing.

This plan will lead to more people in Tennessee with affordable health coverage. It will save jobs and make it less likely that hospitals will close. And it will not increase the tax burden of Tennesseans, who are already paying the federal taxes that support this program. It’s a no-brainer.

You will hear opponents this week rail against this as Obamacare, but you likely will not hear them provide a serious alternative. You will read media clips about the Governor’s political capital and the support among his own party. But this week can’t just be about politics. This is serious business for the people of our state, and we as members of the legislature must treat this as a problem to solve rather than as a political game to win or lose.

I ask that you follow what’s happening in the legislature this week. (You can watch the proceedings online here). And, get involved. Make your voice heard with legislators from across the state.

It’s time now for the legislature to get to work.

Best,

Jeff

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Press Releases

Senate Dems: Stop ‘Massive Over-Collection of Taxes’ in TN

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Democratic Caucus; July 12, 2012: 

NASHVILLE –Senate Democrats are calling on state lawmakers from both parties to come together and stop the massive over-collection of taxes from Tennesseans.

The state collected an excess of $338 million in tax revenues that it isn’t spending for the fiscal year that ended June 30, according to the Tennessee Department of Revenue.

“This is your government, collecting more of your money than it can spend,” Senate Democratic Leader Jim Kyle said. “We have heard a lot of talk about tax relief, and now it’s time for them to deliver.”

In June alone, the state collected more than $21 million in excess sales taxes on food and other essentials.

“Higher sales tax collections are a sign that our economy is improving, but many people are still struggling,” said Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Lowe Finney. “By providing tax relief, we can ensure everyone shares in Tennessee’s success, not just our wealthiest citizens.”

Last month, the Senate Democrats called for these increasing revenues to be put towards a further reduction of the sales tax on groceries, and a tuition freeze for the state’s higher education systems.

“Now is not the time to increase the tax on higher education,” said Kyle, “There is no reason that college students should be paying for cost increases when their government is sitting on millions of their tax dollars. We can help them and provide for an additional 1% off the food tax with these excess revenues.”

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Press Releases

Senate Dems Hope Gov Talks About Unemployment, Education

Statement from Senate Democratic Caucus of Tennessee; Jan. 30,2012:

Tonight, Gov. Bill Haslam will deliver his State of the State address. Members of the Senate Democratic Caucus are hoping that the governor will spend this time discussing how we can help more than 270,000 Tennesseans find work and how we can ensure that every child gets a quality education.

Sen. Lowe Finney and Rep. Craig Fitzhugh have recorded a video on what Tennessee Democrats hope to hear from the governor tonight.

Tonight, we will hear that the “state of our state” is getting better because government is collecting more revenues than it has in several months. While this is good news, we cannot forget about those Tennesseans who have spent several months looking for work and trying to earn a paycheck.

Members of the Senate Democratic Caucus hope that the governor and members of the majority party will give these ideas consideration. It’s time for both parties to come together and start working to put Tennesseans back to work.

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Press Releases

Tennessee Senate Dems Legislative Update: May 13

Press Release from the Senate Democratic Caucus, May 13, 2011: 

Tort Reform Passes

Senate Democrats fought Republican efforts on Thursday to cap noneconomic damages for civil lawsuits. House Bill 2008, as approved by the Senate, limits those damages designed to compensate an injured person for pain, suffering, and the decreased quality of life that accompanies severe injuries.

Senator Eric Stewart described the action by saying, “Today state lawmakers put a price on the life of our children. They put a price on the life of our parents and grandparents. They put a price on the life of the weak, the paralyzed, the neglected — all under the guise of economic development.”

The measure, which removes authority from juries to award damages as they see fit, would also cap punitive damages at twice the total of economic and noneconomic damages, therefore creating an effectively lower cap for people with lower incomes.

Given that last year only 14 trials resulted in verdicts that would have exceeded these caps, Chairman Lowe Finney argued, “This legislation doesn’t create jobs. Instead, it hurts those who need help the most.”

Voter Confidence Act Damaged

On Thursday the Senate also passed House Bill 386, a bill that removes the requirements for counties to use more secure voting machines with a verifiable paper trail. Senator Roy Herron, who has been vocal in his opposition to this measure, said that “the state should invest in the integrity of our ballot box and making sure our votes count through a verifiable paper trail.”

This move comes despite numerous incidents of voting machines getting hacked and malfunctioning in the last election and many of Tennessee’s voting machines being called “the least secure in the country” by experts.

Anti-discrimination ordinance overturned

The Senate also approved Senate Bill 632, a bill that repeals a recent Nashville ordinance that protects homosexuals and transgendered people from discrimination by city contractors. The bill, which requires all local anti-discrimination policies to match state policies, was strongly opposed by Davidson County representatives who accused state lawmakers of supporting government interference in what should be a local matter.

Collective bargaining restrictions back in House

For the second time, House Bill 130, the bill that would limit teachers’ ability to collectively bargain, has moved out of the House Finance, Ways, and Means Committee. The House bill differs from the Senate version in that it still allows teachers to negotiate on some issues, but if the measure passes on the House floor next week, it is expected to be altered to match the Senate’s more restrictive language. After the 13-12 vote in committee, the bill moves to the House floor this Monday.

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Business and Economy Featured News

Democrats Continue Hammering Republicans on Lack of ‘Jobs Plan’

Democrats in the Legislature went after Republican Gov. Bill Haslam and their Republican legislative counterparts from all angles Monday in a plea for more substantive attention to jobs.

What Tennesseans have gotten instead, the Democrats say, is Haslam giving pay raises to his top officials and spending money on what the administration calls “career coaches,” three large vehicles designed to help people find work.

“He’s bought three RVs using more than half a million dollars in federal stimulus money to teach people how to create a resume. The problem is once they create the resume, they don’t have anywhere to send it,” said Sen. Lowe Finney, D-Jackson, chairman of the Senate Democratic Caucus, at a press conference at the Capitol.

The Democrats instead compiled a loosely connected “top ten” list of jobs bills of their own they say directly address the issue of unemployment. They are getting little attention with those bills from the Republicans, the Democrats say.

“It’s almost like they’re embarrassed that we’re doing something and they’re not,” said Rep. Mike Turner, D-Old Hickory, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus. “And it’s unfortunate they’re trying to kill our bills, not help pass them but kill our bills.”

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey said Republican-led efforts on tort reform, education reform and cutting red tape are producing the environment for job creation.

“I think jobs are being created,” Ramsey said. “This has more to do with the national atmosphere than it does in the state of Tennessee. We are one of the leading states in the nation, I believe, in creating jobs. This can only get better.”

But that’s not quite the picture painted by the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development. The state recently announced figures that showed Tennessee’s unemployment rate for February was 9.6 percent, an increase of .2 percentage points from January. Meanwhile, the department said the national unemployment rate for February was 8.9 percent, which was .1 percentage point lower than the rate in January.

Democrats seized on those figures in a press release on Monday, noting that Haslam’s pay raises for his commissioners were 11 to 20 percent increases, although those positions were already paying six-figure salaries.

Rep. Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, the House Republican leader, said Democrats are only playing politics.

“It’s unfortunate they want to make this yet again a partisan issue,” McCormick said. “When Democrats controlled the governorship, Republicans in the Legislature worked with the Democratic governor to create jobs in Tennessee, and we worked to create a good business environment, and it was very successful in a lot of areas.

“It’s a disappointment to see them politicizing this.”

McCormick said tort reform, education reform, keeping taxes low and regulations down were the best way to create jobs.

Much of the discussion has come down to the state’s megasites, the large economic generators which hit home runs in the time of Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen. Volkswagen invested $1 million to make cars at a megasite in Chattanooga, and Hemlock Semiconductor made a similar investment in Clarksville for its solar plant. The state’s megasite for West Tennessee in Haywood County has not yet produced those kinds of results.

“In my counties, in West Tennessee, people haven’t seen a jobs plan from the majority in this Legislature. But they watched as the governor released his budget with no mention of the West Tennessee megasite, which is the single biggest jobs creator we have in the West Tennessee region, and the governor hasn’t funded it this year,” Finney said.

Finney noted that Haslam said as a candidate for governor that Tennessee needed job creation strategies for each of the state’s 95 counties.

“How are we supposed to create a county-by-county plan when we’re not including the biggest pieces of the plan?” Finney asked.

Rep. Johnny Shaw, D-Bolivar, recently complained about a lack of attention to the West Tennessee megasite. Ramsey has strongly rejected the idea that the state is holding up funds for the site.

Rep. Debra Maggart, R-Hendersonville, the House Republican Caucus chair, said it might take time to compare performance under Bredesen, who served two four-year terms, and Haslam, who was sworn in Jan. 15.

“Rome wasn’t built in a day,” Maggart said.

“I guess we could go back and look at Gov. Bredesen’s track record. I don’t know how long it took him to create jobs, but he was here for eight years, and I know Volkswagen and Hemlock and those things came in the last couple of years of his time here.”

The list of initiatives Democrats presented Monday include two measures sponsored by Sen. Jim Kyle, D-Memphis. One, SB1886, would create credits where the higher unemployment in a county the greater the tax credit would be for companies that located there.

Kyle also has proposed SJR0096, which calls for a constitutional amendment to establish a tax credit system to incentivize projects that stimulate economic growth.

Kyle noted Monday that the fiscal review staff said more than 200 businesses would take advantage of his tax credit proposal. He acknowledged the cost it would mean, but he pointed out that the bill got a negative recommendation in the finance subcommittee.

Maggart had a take on the tax-credit proposal.

“Democrats and tax credits? You jest,” she said. “Usually Democrats want to raise taxes, so I’m delighted to see they are interested in giving tax credits instead of raising taxes.”

Mike McWherter, the Democratic nominee last year against Haslam, made a tax credit proposal for job creation the cornerstone of his campaign. Haslam was elected overwhelmingly.

Rep. Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, the House Democratic leader, complained about the time element in addressing jobs, but he acknowledged that Republicans have the upper hand with their strong majorities in both Houses.

“We are three-quarters of the way through the session, and we haven’t passed bills we think Tennesseans want us to pass,” Fitzhugh said. “We’re not just trying to upset anybody or anything like that. We’re talking factually here.

“We’ve got a month left in the session. There’s still time for bipartisan action, for them to take the lead because they have the votes, and we will support job creation in this state. There’s nothing more important we can talk about from now until the end of the session.”

Other bills the Democrats presented as job creators were:

  • SB592/HB313, which calls for a small business sales tax holiday
  • SB1385/HB1676, which calls for block grants for Tennessee contractors with the lowest bids in most circumstances
  • SB0279/HB1957, which requires the board of education to develop a green jobs program
  • SB1170/HB1863, which exempts new limited liability corporations from initial filing fees
  • SB1548/HB1866, called the “Tennessee Small Business Job Tax Credit Act”
  • SB1549/HB1864, the “Tennessee New Entrepreneur Tax Credit Act of 2011”
  • SB1981/HB2102, which gives preference to Tennessee bidders if the cost of service is not 10 percent greater than those of others
  • SB2013/2014/HB1765/1764, the “Tennessee Reemployment Act of 2011,” which offers tax credits for employers equal to portions of wages paid to new full-time employees.
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Press Releases

In Senate’s Tenure Bill, ‘Attacks on Teachers Continue’: Dems

Press Release from the Senate Democratic Caucus, March 10, 2011:

Republicans vote to change tenure requirements

NASHVILLE – Senate Democrats asked again Thursday why Republicans continue to focus on political payback against teachers instead of jobs creation and real education reform.

“We have spent yet another job-killing day telling our teachers that they’re the problem,” Democratic Leader Jim Kyle (D-Memphis) said. “I’m waiting for Republicans to start blaming teachers for our rising unemployment.”

Senate Bill 1528 would extend the probationary period for tenure from three to five years and would require teachers to meet evaluation levels that have not been fully implemented. Republicans voted in lockstep in support of the bill, which passed 21-12.

Republicans defeated an amendment by Sen. Eric Stewart (D-Belvidere) to delay the provisions of the bill until the necessary evaluation procedures had been fully enacted.

“We announced a plant expansion in my district yesterday, but we’re not up here talking about jobs creation,” Stewart said. “Instead, the majority party is focused on punishing teachers, printing their own money and ignoring Tennesseans.”

The House version of the bill is scheduled to be discussed in the Education Committee next week.

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Press Releases

Democrats, Haslam Push Tax-Relief Extension for Flood Victims

Press Release from the Senate Democratic Caucus, Feb. 15, 2011:

Bill would extend previous sales tax break to April 30

NASHVILLE – Senate Democrats were joined by Governor Bill Haslam on Tuesday in recommending that tax relief for May 2010 flood victims be extended through the end of April.

“Many of our hardest-hit constituents were still rebuilding and repairing their houses by the time the original tax break ended,” said Senator Douglas Henry (D-Nashville), the lead sponsor of the extension. “This extension gives them the chance to turn their houses into their homes again.”

Senate Bill 6 would exempt flood victims registered with FEMA from sales tax on home appliances, building materials and large furniture items, up to a cap of $2,500. That tax cap would cover roughly $27,000 of purchases. Those who have already taken advantage of the tax relief would still be eligible, as long as they have not hit the cap.

The May 2010 floods ravaged Middle and West Tennessee, killing 26 people and causing more than $2 billion in damage in the Nashville area alone. Cleanup efforts are still ongoing in some communities.

“Less than a year ago, much of our state was underwater,” said Caucus Chairman Lowe Finney (D-Jackson), the bill’s cosponsor. “We haven’t forgotten that our neighbors are still recovering and still need our help.”

The bill passed unanimously through the Tax Subcommittee of the Senate Finance, Ways & Means Committee on Tuesday with the governor’s recommendation. Two similar bills also passed, but bill sponsors said they would likely support Senate Bill 6, pending action in the House. The House version of the bill is in a subcommittee.

Senator Douglas Henry represents portions of Davidson County. Senator Lowe Finney represents Madison, Carroll and Gibson Counties.