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TN Senate Dems Demand Hearing on Voter Problems Prior to Early Voting Start

Press release from the Tennessee State Senate Democrat Caucus; September 25, 2012: 

NASHVILLE – Democratic legislative leaders have renewed calls for a hearing on voting irregularities before early voting begins for the November elections.

That election was fraught with issues. While Davidson County has decided not to use the electronic poll books again, other issues remain unresolved by state elections officials.

Voters are still coming forward with issues. Some received the wrong ballot, and others were falsely told they were at the wrong precinct. County and state officials disagree over who is ultimately responsible for elections.

“It could all happen again,” the letter states. “It is critical we hold a hearing on these issues before early voting begins.”

The letter calls for on State and Local Committee Chairman Sen. Ken Yager to hold a hearing on the issue. It was sent Monday by the Democratic members of that committee, Sens. Thelma Harper, Joe Haynes and Lowe Finney.

“Our state has put considerable effort into fighting voter fraud, a problem that barely exists,” the letter states. “Now we have irregularities in our largest cities that could open a door to election fraud, and it is time we act. We must do our part to return integrity to our elections.”

Read the complete letter here.

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Press Releases

Finney Commends Comptroller’s Decision to Table Solar Tax Increase

Statement from Senator Lowe Finney; April 18, 2012:

“The decision by the Comptroller’s office to table a massive 6,000 percent tax increase on the solar industry is a prudent one. Small business owners and clean energy investors have made clear cases for how such an increase would cripple our fastest growing jobs sector.

“An open study committee is the best way to continue the conversation with those who would be most affected. As the Comptroller’s office is properly concerned about revenue consistency among clean energy sectors, I hope they’ll consider cutting other taxes instead of raising taxes on small businesses.”

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Featured News Tax and Budget

Senate Dems Considered Walkout to Protest Budget Vote

Senate Republicans appeared to be barreling toward a vote to approve a $30.8 billion budget Thursday night — until Senate Democrats caucused.

The result: no budget vote in the Senate on Thursday.

Democrats simply weren’t in the mood to be rushed on the matter, as could be heard in the hallway outside the third-floor conference room at Legislative Plaza where they were meeting.

At one point, Sen. Joe Haynes, D-Nashville, said the Republicans couldn’t pass the budget without the Democrats present on the Senate floor.

“They can’t convene the session without us,” Haynes was heard telling his colleagues. “They can’t get a quorum.”

There was audible disagreement between Haynes and Sen. Douglas Henry, D-Nashville, on such a suggestion. But Haynes was forceful.

“We’ve got to be unanimous,” Haynes said. “You’ve got to use the ammunition you’ve got. If you don’t do that, then you give up.”

Again Henry disagreed.

The Finance Ways and Means Committee passed Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s amended budget proposal with Democratic support Thursday afternoon. The Republican plan appeared to be to move back to business on the Senate floor, where the Senate could hand the House an approved budget bill overnight. Both Democrats and Republicans announced they would caucus before heading to the Senate floor.

But while the notion of refusing Republicans a quorum was quashed in the Democratic caucus, there was broad agreement among the Democrats that they did not want to act so swiftly after the committee vote.

There was talk that the right approach was simply to tell the Republican leadership that the Democrats wanted more time to digest the budget proposal. Sen. Lowe Finney, D-Jackson, the Democratic caucus chairman, had that conversation with Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, according to a Democratic aide.

The biggest hangup appears to be the Democrats’ desire for an extension of unemployment benefits, an item that accounts for about $3.1 million for state and local government, a small figure considering the size of the bill. From most accounts, Haslam is agreeable to the extension if the Legislature wants to cover it.

But the item is not in the Senate plan, and Senate Republicans do not appear to be willing to go along with the extension. Approximately 28,000 Tennesseans would be eligible for the extensions of 20 weeks of benefits if it were approved.

The purpose of the caucus meeting was to have Bill Bradley, budget director from the Department of Finance and Administration, brief members who are not on the finance committee about Haslam’s amended budget proposal. Mark Cate, special assistant to Haslam, was in the meeting to represent the governor.

Bradley gave the caucus members much of the same outline he had given committee members earlier in the day. The finance committee proceedings were marked by numerous stops and starts on the budget, while the committee considered other items on the calendar along the way.

After Bradley and Cate left the caucus conference room, a question could be heard in the Democrats’ discussion: “Why are we rushing?”

“This is a $30 billion bill,” said Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga, making the point that the bill didn’t need such a quick vote.

At one point, Berke cautioned his colleagues that a member of the media was outside the door. That didn’t stop the discussion.

There were comings and goings. Bradley returned at one point for further conversation with the members. Haynes left the room momentarily for a cell-phone conversation. Finney left the room at one point and upon return mentioned to the reporter that the proceedings had him hungry for jelly beans, showing two handfuls. Sen. Roy Herron, D-Dresden, sat and chatted with the reporter. The door to the conference room was open during the whole meeting.

The chain of events underscored what has become a common circumstance in the Legislature and its overwhelmingly Republican majority after last fall’s elections. Republicans hold a 20-13 majority in the Senate and a 64-34-1 majority in the House.

Democrats’ frustration with their distinct minority status has been noticeable in many ways, including Haynes’ passion about using whatever ammunition the Democrats can claim.

The long day of discussion had all the appearances that the Senate was headed toward a budget vote Thursday night. As Democrats finally made their way to the Senate floor, where Republicans were already gathered, Ramsey made the announcement that there would be no budget vote Thursday.

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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

Senate Democrats: GOP Pushing Teachers Away

Press Release from Senate Democratic Caucus; March 9, 2011:

Republicans Vote to Give Themselves Power to Appoint Teachers to State Pension Board

NASHVILLE – Senate Democrats voiced their concern Wednesday over a Republican bill to ban teachers from voting members onto the state pension board, in the first of many efforts to target Tennessee educators for political payback.

“Bills like these don’t help a single child, they don’t raise a single test score and they don’t help move education forward in Tennessee,” said State Senator Eric Stewart (D-Belvidere). “When it comes to education reform, we should be inviting teachers to the table. These bills push teachers away.”

Senate Bill 102 would take away the ability of teachers’ and retired teachers’ organizations to select their representatives on the state pension board. Under the bill, the Republican speakers of the Senate and House would receive expanded authority, despite their commitments to smaller government.

The bill passed 20-13 along party lines in the Senate during Wednesday’s session.

Monday’s floor vote is likely to be the first of many to ban teachers from basic rights such as organizing, making political donations and collectively negotiating classroom sizes, school schedules and pay rates. Many have questioned why Republicans would go after the same teachers who are currently implementing major education reforms under Tennessee’s First to the Top Act.

“Teachers should be our greatest allies, and I don’t understand why the majority party is choosing to make them into enemies,” said Sen. Tim Barnes (D-Adams). “We hope they will join us in working with teachers to ensure our children receive the best education possible.”

The House version of the bill is in a subcommittee.