Beavers Wants to Retain Senate Seat

Sen. Mae Beavers announced Thursday that she was dropping out of the Wilson County mayor’s race and would run for reelection to her senate seat — a spot her hometown rival, Rep. Susan Lynn, has already been campaigning for.

Beavers and Lynn have a lot in common. The two are both Republicans from Mt. Juliet, share similar views on state sovereignty and word around the Capitol is that the two aren’t particularly fond of one other.

Beavers said she decided to run for reelection because she was “pumped up” about the possibility that Republicans could control the legislature and the governor’s office. She added that she felt that her work in the Senate and on the Judiciary Committee wasn’t finished.

Lynn began campaigning for the Senate seat nine months ago, shortly after Beavers said she was pursuing the the job of Wilson County mayor. Lynn said she would have run for reelection to her own House seat if Beavers had said in the beginning she wanted to stay in the senate.

Lynn wouldn’t confirm whether she would stay in the race or drop out, only saying “I filed to run” for the seat.

Lynn, and any other candidate contemplating a run for office, have until the April 1 filing deadline.

Andrea Zelinski can be reached at

Press Releases

Sens. Finney, Barnes Support Unemployment Benefits For Military Spouces

Press Release from state Sen. Lowe Finney, D-Jackson, and Sen. Tim Barnes, D-Adams, March 9, 2010:

Bill would support veterans’ families

NASHVILLE – Sen. Lowe Finney (D-Jackson) and Sen. Tim Barnes (D-Adams) want to help Tennessee military families by extending unemployment benefits to individuals who leave their jobs to accompany their spouses on a military transfer.

“The military families in my district move in and out so much that many spouses are constantly on the job search,” Barnes said. “We must help our military families in those times between jobs, so that they can continue to provide for their children.”

The bill (SB3213/HB3449) would require the state to pay unemployment benefits for those who left their jobs as a result of a spouse’s military transfer. About 2,300 Tennessee military spouses are employed and have to transfer each year.

Kansas enacted a similar law and processed 67 such unemployment claims in 2007. Tennessee would likely see about 100 unemployment claims from military spouses each year, according to the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development, resulting in an estimated cost of about $365,400.

“This bill isn’t going to break the bank, and it certainly will mean a lot to military families who already sacrifice so much to serve our state and our country,” Finney said.

The bill passed a Senate committee Tuesday. The House version of the bill is in subcommittee. The text of the bill can be found here.


Senate Committee Approves Income Tax Ban

A measure aimed at guaranteeing Tennesseans never have to pay a state income tax is headed to the Senate floor soon, perhaps even later this week.

Senate Joint Resolution 763 cleared the Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee on a 7-3 vote today. It passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Feb. 16.

Under the language of the measure, the Tennessee Constitution would be amended to ensure an income and payroll tax is “forever banned in Tennessee,” said Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, the amendment’s sponsor.

The full text of the amendment, which would alter Article II, Section 28, reads, “The Legislature shall not levy any tax upon personal income or any tax measured by personal income, except that the Legislature may levy a tax upon incomes derived from stocks and bonds that are not taxed ad valorem. The Legislature shall not levy any tax upon payroll or any tax measured by payroll.”

It would replace this sentence: “The Legislature shall have power to levy a tax upon incomes derived from stocks and bonds that are not taxed ad valorem.”

The three “nay” votes came from Democrats, including the chamber’s party leader, Jim Kyle of Memphis, who recently dropped out of the race for governor. Sens. Joe Haynes and Douglas Henry, both from Nashville, also voted against the amendment. Sen. Roy Herron, D-Dresden, voted “yes.”

Kelsey expects relatively smooth sailing on the Senate floor. Already 15 other senators have signed on to the bill besides him, so he only needs one more vote to pass it.

After that, it heads to the House of Representatives.

If both chambers approve of the constitutional amendment, the process will repeat next year — only lawmakers will need to approve it by a two-thirds vote in both houses. If that attempt is successful, the language will be posed to voters on the 2014 general election ballot.

Whether state lawmakers could, legally speaking, impose an income tax on Tennesseans at present is a matter of some debate.

Some, like Kyle, say the constitution already bans an income tax.

“Regardless of how the people vote, one way or the other, we’re still going to have an unconstitutional income tax. This is a political event. This is not a substantive event,” Kyle told committee members. “It’s always good politics to be against and income tax.”

But a 1999 Tennessee Attorney General opinion predicted that a carefully worded income tax proposal could be legal.

The group Tennesseans for Fair Taxation maintains that an income tax is indeed legal, and they advocate for the establishment of one.

The organization’s director, John Stewart, called Kelsey’s attempt to clarify the constitutionality of the issue “obnoxious.”

“They think they have all the answers,” he said of lawmakers who support banning an income tax. “But the truth is they’re not that smart. Nobody’s that smart.”

Two Memphis Democrats, Sen. Reginald Tate and Rep. Johnnie Turner, are proposing the creation of an income tax this year, but neither bill has received a committee hearing.


Senate OK’s Education Reform Bill

The bill to line Tennessee up for  “Race to the Top” federal education funds was approved in the Senate by a 29-3 vote.

The legislation sets the state up as a stronger competitor for the federal grant by creating an “achievement” school district to adopt failing schools and require teacher evaluations to factor in student test scores.

“I can absolutely guarantee you to 100 percent, if we don’t do this, those children will continue to have an education that is second class in Tennessee,” said Sen. Jim Kyle, D-Memphis, the Senate Democratic leader who sponsored the bill.

The three who voted against the bill included Sens. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet; Thelma Harper, D-Nashville; and Beverly Marrero, D-Memphis.

Objections ranged from a lack of minority representation on a special education commission to invading state sovereignty.

Now that SB7005 has passed the Senate, the body awaits action on it’s partner bill, HB7010 across the hall in the House of Representatives.

House members were caucusing early afternoon and expect to pick up the bill for floor debate beginning at 3:30.

The Senate will be back in session at 6 p.m. to work out any differences between the House and Senate bills if the House version passes.

Business and Economy News Tax and Budget

Budget to Challenge Lawmakers’ Political Resolve

An estimated 100 million people across the country will vow this New Year to lose weight, quit smoking, start saving more money or stop some potentially destructive bad habit and begin a life-affirming new one, according to a recent study by Health Net, Inc.

But while some Tennessee lawmakers say they’re just trying to get through 2010 without making the burdens on Tennesseans any heavier than they already are, others have big spending plans even as the state’s bottom line is shrinking.

Sen. Douglas Henry, a Nashville Democrat, says his New Year’s resolution is to frame state laws that help Tennesseans live a “more complete life,” which includes more government aid for the poor and funding for children’s programs.

Rep. Mark Maddox, D-Dresden, says his resolution is the same as it was last year: get more money into the public school system.

But Hendersonville Rep. Debra Maggart, a Republican, says some of the projects and programs lawmakers want for their districts may not be wise or possible given the state’s cash-strapped fiscal environment.

Maggart says she plans to reserve her energy for pushing, in her view, only the most necessary pieces of legislation. “I’m not going to file a lot of bills next year because we don’t have the money, and maybe we have enough laws,” she said.

One goal that every legislator will agree to pursue this session — even if they differ on the best way to achieve it — is creating jobs for Tennesseans.

The focus for 2010 is “jobs and more jobs,” said Maddox, whose district includes Carroll County, which is struggling with a 17.2 percent unemployment rate.

While the national jobless rate begins to hint that the economy might be turning around, Tennessee’s 10.3 percent unemployment rate lands the Volunteer State among the highest third in the country.

Western Tennessee has been hit the hardest, with areas like Lauderdale County tapping out at 18.6 percent unemployment, and nearby Haywood County with an 18 percent jobless rate.

With the 2010 general election clearly in view, many lawmakers are likely hoping to wrap up statehouse business as quickly as possible.

“A lot of people are going to want to be going in to pass a budget and go home because it’s campaign season. There are lot of issues that need more attention than they’re going to get,” said state Rep. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville.

Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, said his New Year’s resolution involves cutting roughly $1.5 billion in spending to keep the state’s fiscal boat afloat.

If the Legislature adjourns “without breaking the bank, and without breaking the backs of the Tennessee taxpayers,” then he’ll consider himself to have been successful, said Norris.