NewsTracker Transparency and Elections

GOP Advance in State House Races

As results from across the state come in, the GOP appears to be poised for a 63-35-1 majority in the state House, Post Politics says.

One of those GOP seats will be held by Metro Councilman Jim Gotto, of Hermitage, who defeated fellow Councilman Sam Coleman, of Antioch. Gotto won in the 60th District, which opened up after Ben West announced his retirement.

Another goes to Republican Linda Elam, who won the 57th District seat vacated by Rep. Susan Lynn. GOP candidate Sheila Butt will serve in the lower house as well, after ousting incumbent Democratic Rep. Ty Cobb in the 64th District.

See Post Politics’ look at the state Senate makeup here. More race tallies here.

News Tax and Budget

Low Ridership Doesn’t Sway GOP Candidates from Giving Music City Star High Marks

Despite having never met ridership expectations during its four-year run of weekday operations, the Music City Star enjoys generally supportive attitudes from candidates whose districts are served by the government-run commuter train.

Tuesday’s statehouse and Congressional ballot box winners could determine whether rail projects in Middle Tennessee are expanded, and what funding priority they’re given versus roads, bus services and air travel.

The six-stop line between the Nashville riverfront and Lebanon is now averaging around 860 rider-trips a day, or 430 round trips — much less than projections of 1,500 passenger trips that backers suggested in 2006.

But even as the commuter rail vision in Middle Tennessee has foundered over the past four years — encountering funding shortfalls, high-profile snafus, leadership shakeups and lukewarm popularity among potential riders — many of the region’s most vocal fiscally conservative GOP voices say funding for the Music City Star is money well spent.

Middle Tennessee needs to create a mass transit “spoke” with connecting transportation lines “so that you can literally go from the Murfreesboro to the eastern part over to Wilson County and then the northern part in Sumner County,” said state Sen. Diane Black, R-Gallatin. “That will be important, and I think that you will see the ridership picks up because you give them more accessibility.”

Black is running for Tennessee’s 6th Congressional District seat against Democratic candidate Brett Carter.

The commuter rail’s regular ridership base is now 30 percent government employees whose work-commute costs are paid by taxpayers — meaning the number of ticket-paying Music City Star riders is actually considerably less than it was two years ago. The train is bringing in fewer customer-generated dollars than before the Regional Transportation Authority handed management of the project over to the Davidson Transit Organization, a private nonprofit company.

The low number of paying train riders doesn’t bother Black right now, she said, nor do the costs of running the train, which is about $4 million each year, almost all of which is paid for with federal, state and local government tax dollars. The state portion is made up of fuel-tax revenues and motor vehicle registration fees, along with money set aside as part of federal air quality mandates, according to the Tennessee Department of Transportation.

The train’s revenues topped off at $684,147 in the budget year that ended in June 2008. Last year, revenues dropped to $476,249, a reflection of “the economy and lower fuel prices for customers,” according to an RTA representative.

Mayors from across Middle Tennessee hope to expand the area’s regional mass transit offerings with a series of additional commuter lines, although those plans are still in the works and would require additional state and federal funding.

Among them is state House Republican candidate and Mt. Juliet mayor, Linda Elam.

Lackluster ridership and slow ticket sales don’t particularly bother her, either.

“I wasn’t there when those initial numbers were put together, but I don’t have a lot of faith in them,” Elam said of early Music City Star ridership projections. “But I do have faith in the numbers of the ridership continuing to go up.”

Rep. Susan Lynn, too, who vacated her House seat to run for the state Senate but lost to incumbent Sen. Mae Beavers in the GOP primary, considers herself among the Star-struck.

“There is no mass transit anywhere that completely pays for itself. Even our highways, the road construction is supported by the gas tax, and there is always more work to be done than money to pay for that work,” she said.

Beavers refused to comment on what she thinks of the Music City Star.

By contrast, Heather Scott, an independent candidate, considers that the rail line perhaps should be terminated. “When things aren’t efficient and we’re wasting money, they need to stop,” said Scott, who served on the Wilson County Commission from 2002 to this year.

“Mass transit funded by government is not the way to fund this program,” she added. “That should come from the private sector, and if the private sector is not doing it, it’s obviously not profitable or an advantageous project.”

Both major-party candidates for governor, Republican Bill Haslam and Democrat Mike McWherter, have said that while they generally support Middle Tennessee commuter-rail transit, the state’s budget is too tight and the economy too sluggish to talk of expansion anytime soon.

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, who presides over the Senate, said the state isn’t ready.

“The Music City Star has not exactly been a success,” he said. “It’s not being used like we hoped it would be.”

Nashville and the surrounding area is growing, Ramsey said, but not at the pace that demands the state seriously consider additional public rail lines to alleviate traffic congestion, yet.

Jim Gotto, a Republican running for Democrat Rep. Ben West’s Hermitage seat, said he is in favor of expanding rail transit but thinks the state should take it slow.

“Any time tax dollars are being spent — and if there’s any question on whether they’re being spent efficiently or not — officials have to be accountable for that,” said Gotto, a Metro councilman. “I’m not sure who you hold accountable at this point for that.”

“It’s a hard sell to the taxpayers if we’re not using it,” said Sam Coleman, a Metro councilman and Democrat facing off against Gotto to represent the 60th District, which stretches from Hermitage south to I-24.

Tennesseans aren’t accustomed to depending on public transportation, he said, adding that “the problem is with our citizens, not with the Music City Star operation.”

News Tax and Budget

Lynn Sees Gap Spanning Beavers’ Public Words, Legislative Deeds

One of this primary season’s most watched political brawls is heating up this week as two well-known state sovereignty champions whip negative campaign mailers and press releases at each other.

On top of sparring about the outcome of anti-health care mandates bills that failed this year, Republican State Rep. Susan Lynn is suggesting that when the rubber hits the road, state Sen. Mae Beavers’ doesn’t take either Tennessee highway safety or her professed ideological beliefs very seriously.

And a Democrat in the state Senate Dist. 17 race is capitalizing on the region’s long list of decrepit state bridges, too, promising the issue will live on long past primary election day Aug. 5.

“It’s your family. Could you vote ‘no?’ Mae Beavers did! Mae voted against funding safe bridges,” reads a Lynn campaign mailer sent out to district voters this week. “Elect me as your State Senator and I’ll fight for you to ensure that we have safe, functioning transportation corridors in DeKalb County.”

Sligo Bridge, in DeKalb County, was one of 200 roadway structures deemed by Tennessee Department of Transportation officials in need of upgrade after the high-profile 2007 bridge collapsed in Minnesota that killed 13 people.

Two years later, the federal government sent Tennessee enough stimulus dollars to fund about 70 bridge repairs statewide. Gov. Phil Bredesen then began urging the Legislature to borrow another $350 million to fix 200 other bridges.

According to voting records and archived floor debate, Beavers — who said she voted against this year’s Tennessee budget because it used stimulus funds — actually wanted the federal government to cover the bridge’s repairs when the issue came up last year. But the Tennessee Department of Transportation nixed the project from consideration because it wasn’t “shovel ready,” in keeping with federal strings attached to the stimulus money.

After some political negotiating, the Legislature — with Lynn voting in support — ultimately OK’d the plan to issue bonds to pay for the bridge repairs during the final June days of the spring 2009 legislative session.

However, the two-term incumbent senator from Mt. Juliet — who is often outwardly critical of federal meddling and interference into the affairs of state governments — voted against a borrowing package so the state could fund the bridge repairs on its own.

Before casting her “no” vote on SB2358, Sen. Beavers gave several reasons she opposed the bond measure, including that behind-the-scenes political maneuvering had unnecessarily prevented the Sligo Bridge from getting the go-ahead to be fixed with federal dollars.

“It’s strange to me that one of the most important bridges is the Sligo Bridge, and it was in the stimulus list to begin with until we decided to play politics with this bond bill,” she said on the Senate floor at the time.

“I can’t agree to borrow money in times like these, but I think politics are being played with this bond bill also, and I cannot vote for this,” she continued.

Beavers declined this week to elaborate for TNReport on what “politics” were being “played” on the bridge issues. The Sligo Bridge simply wasn’t applicable for the stimulus funds, she said.

According to TDOT, only state bridges in the most dire need across the state were considered to be fixed with stimulus funds. But to make the cut, the projects needed to be in a state in which work could start immediately, said chief engineer Paul Degges. Sligo Bridge was not, he said, so it was added to the list of bridges to be fixed later with borrowed money.

Beavers was one of three “no” votes in the Senate and eight in the House of Representatives.

Lynn says Beavers is contradicting herself by standing up for state sovereignty but refusing to fund bridge repairs when the federal government decides not to pay for them.

“The hypocrisy is she only voted against the budget because of stimulus funds,” said Lynn. “You can’t have it both ways.”

While Beavers’ mail pieces never mentioned the bridges, one of the postcards highlighted her voting against using the federal stimulus dollars to balance the state budget.

Although Beavers spoke in favor of Sligo Bridge repairs on the Senate floor, she declined to comment to TNReport whether she would have supported federal stimulus dollars paying for repairs to Sligo Bridge, saying it was never an option.

“It wasn’t a matter of it being in the stimulus money, because it wasn’t ready for any construction money,” she said.

Beavers’ says her upstart challenger is “twisting a vote around into something it’s not.”

“We’ve been operating on cash. She’s making an issue out of something that isn’t an issue,” said Beavers, who added that she supports funding construction on her local bridges. “She’s misrepresenting everything that she’s saying about me.”

Beavers and Lynn are bitter rivals seeking the same 17th District state Senate seat in the Republican primary election, representing Cannon, Clay, DeKalb, Macon, Smith and part of Sumner, Trousdale and Wilson Counties.

The two conservatives seemingly share more surface philosophical similarities than differences — in particular, a passion for state sovereignty under the Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Bill of Rights and rhetorical disdain for expansive government.

But they also hold a common animus for one another, the public manifestations of which have often transfixed and amused many statehouse politics watchers.

However, Gordon Borck, a third Republican candidate for Beaver’s Senate seat, doesn’t find the the Beavers-Lynn feud particularly entertaining, and says district constituents are beginning to tire of their ritual hostilities as well.

Furthermore, there’s blame enough for both lawmakers to go around, he said.

Beavers shouldn’t be solely blamed for the district’s poor bridges, which also include Hurricane and Benton McMillian bridges over the Caney Fork River and Cordell Hull Bridge over the Cumberland River.

“It would appear to me that a state representative would bare as much responsibility (for bridge repair) as our current state senator,” he said.

Borck also agrees that the state should avoid using any stimulus dollars. “How can we take the money and tell the federal government to stay out of our business?” he said.

Democrats are also floating campaign messages about bridge repairs, including Sam Hatcher whose campaign ad points out the need to fix ailing bridges while making a swipe at Beavers and Lynn.

“We have bridges to repair across our district and bridges to repair in our state Senate,” he said in his add. “Let’s stop the bickering and focus on those issues that matter most to us.”


Four Bridges in the 17th District Approved in the Bond Bill, Public Act 552, according to TDOT.

Sligo Bridge over the Caney Fork River in Dekalb County is slated to be replaced in Fiscal Year 2011/2012.

Cordell Hull Bridge over the Cumberland River in Smith County is slated to be rehabilitated in Fiscal Year 2011/2012.

Hurricane Bridge over the Caney Fork River in Smith County is scheduled to be replaced in Fiscal Year 2011/2012.

Benson-McMillian Bridge over the Caney Fork River in Dekalb County is slated to be rehabilitated in Fiscal Year 2010/2011.

Press Releases

Beavers Chides Lynn on Health Freedom Press Release

Press Release from Mae Beavers for Senate; July 20, 2010:

An Instance on Where Talk is Cheap, the Facts Matter – Senator Mae Beavers on the TN Health Freedom Act

Mt. Juliet, TN – This week, Sen. Mae Beavers’ opponent sent out another press release attacking Sen. Beavers regarding the Tennessee Health Freedom Act, a bill that Sen. Beavers passed twice in the State Senate, and a bill that Beavers’ opponent was unable to pass in the State House.

The press release in question, in addition to recent mailers sent out by Sen. Beavers’ opponent, references the Tennessee Health Freedom Act, a bill that was crafted by Sen. Beavers with the aid of Rep. Jim Clark from Idaho – one of the nation’s leading state sovereignty champions. Senator Beavers’ bill included protection for Tennesseans from the unconstitutional provisions of the national healthcare legislation, and directed the Tennessee Attorney General to join the Attorney Generals of other states to challenge the constitutionality of Obamacare.

Sen. Beavers’ bill was passed overwhelmingly by the Senate (26-1) in February of 2010, after being recommended by the appropriate Senate committees. Four months later, in June, five minutes before telling the House sponsor of the Health Freedom Act, Rep. Mike Bell, that he would vote for the bill and send it out of committee, House Speaker Kent Williams instead voted to kill the bill. Incredibly, Beavers’ opponent now declares in her press release that this never happened. The event was widely reported at the time, and decried by all those opposed to the unconstitutional federal healthcare mandate.

It is also a fact that soon after, the Speaker voted instead to send Beavers’ opponent’s substantially weaker bill that did nothing to combat the unprecedented and unconstitutional federal mandates to the floor of the house. Unfortunately Beavers’ opponent’s weaker bill was DEAD in the Senate as it had never been moved by the Senate sponsor, nor heard by a single committee.

“My opponent knew that the Senate version of her bill had not moved through committee, but instead the House Speaker knew that he could kill my bill and instead pass out my opponent’s, a move that screams politics at its worse,” said Beavers. “It’s also a fact that before doing this, my opponent had agreed to hold back a bill regarding the TWRA that she was sponsoring at the Speaker’s request, a move that many know was made to put pressure on the TWRA to provide funding for the Speaker’s pork project – the infamous fish hatchery in Carter County.”

Beavers’ opponent’s press release also reveals that she doesn’t understand how a bill becomes a law. She claims that Sen. Beavers, apparently single-handedly, amended her weaker Healthcare Freedom Act in the Senate. Such a statement shows blatant ignorance regarding how the State Senate operates, as the only way the Senate agreed to hear the dead bill directly on the floor was to amend it to include language that had moved through the Senate committee system and had been passed by the full Senate.

“My opponent obviously does not know how the State Senate operates, and would rather spread baseless lies,” said Sen. Beavers. “I did not amend my opponent’s bill – the entire Senate did – and if we would not have, then that bill would not have been able to be voted on. The Senate saved the Health Freedom Act, and we then passed it for a second time.”

Eventually, the House failed to pass the TN Health Freedom Act, a move that angered both Sen. Beavers as well as many who view the national healthcare legislation to be unprecedented and unconstitutional. Yet, Sen. Beavers’ opponent continues to blame her for the bill’s failure, including calling the language passed by the Senate as being “unconstitutional.”

When asked about such a statement, Sen. Beavers responded by saying, “Well, the only way you can believe that the TN Health Freedom Act is unconstitutional is if you believe Obamacare is constitutional, and quite frankly I and my nine co-sponsors and the other 22 Senators who voted for the Heath Freedom Act do not.”

Press Releases

Lynn Campaign Calls Out Beavers’ Ads

Press Release from Susan Lynn for Senate; July 19, 2010:

Urges Opponent to Follow Her Own “Guidelines”

Lebanon, TN. – The campaign of 17th district State Senate candidate Susan Lynn denounced statements in campaign ads of Senator Mae Beavers – and urges Beavers to follow the guidelines outlined in a bill Beavers filed but never ran about truthful campaigning.

Rep. Lynn says that Beavers falsely claims, both in print and in radio advertisements, that Lynn killed the Health Care Freedom Act by cutting a deal with the Speaker of the House in the last week of session.

Lynn responded to Beavers’ attack by saying, “This is untrue, and Senator Beavers can cite no evidence because such an event never occurred. There is no reason why I would kill my own legislation after I worked on the Health Care Freedom Act for a year.”

Lynn worked with a national organization to create the Health Care Freedom Act in 2009. She filed HB2622 in January 2010, two weeks before Beavers filed similar legislation. Beavers’ bill was ultimately deemed unconstitutional. Lynn’s Senate sponsor never ran the bill but rather in an unusual parliamentary move, brought the legislation directly to the Senate floor on what should have been the last day of Session. Then dramatically, she turned over sponsorship of the Legislation to Lynn’s Primary opponent, Mae Beavers, who next amended the Act with the language of her bill which by this time had been killed in a committee. All the while the Tennessee Tenth Amendment Center, an advocate of the bill, was urging their supporters to call the Senators and ask them to remove Beavers’ amendment. Ultimately the Act failed by a vote of 44-39.

There is no doubt that politics caused the death of the bill but whose politics is the question. Rep. Gerald McCormick, vice chairman of the House Republican Caucus, explained on the floor of the House that he refused to sign his name to a compromise on the bill. He believed that Beavers unconstitutional amendment would cause the bill to be vetoed by the Governor.

“The real truth is that Mae Beavers is the only reason Tennessee did not get a bill passed to protect Tennesseans from Obamacare,” said Sumner United for Responsible Government co-founder Eric Stamper. “If Lynn’s version of the bill had been voted on when it was brought to the Senate floor it would have easily passed and gone to the governor, instead Senator Beavers attached an unpassable amendment and refused to remove it. She did what no Democrat had been able to do – she killed the Healthcare Freedom Act.”

Rep. Lynn said, “This is simply wrong, and I find it ironic that Senator Beavers, who routinely files a bill on fair campaign practices, would say such things in her ads and mail pieces.” Lynn is referring to SB 1633, a bill that Beavers filed but never ran which seeks to outline “basic principles of decency, honesty, and fair play” for candidates seeking state office.


Ideologically Aligned Candidates Line Up to Replace Lynn

While the state Senate primary battle between incumbent Sen. Mae Beavers and Rep. Susan Lynn — both Mt. Juliet Republicans — has captured attention, the race to replace Lynn has been overshadowed.

But Lynn’s record in House District 57 appears to be something the leading candidates for her current seat want to emulate, and there is a strong Republican trend in the district heading toward the Aug. 5 primary.

Three Republicans are in the race — attorney Adam Futrell, retiree Robert Fields and Mt. Juliet Mayor Linda Elam. One Democrat, Allen Barry, will be on the ballot, as will two independents in November.

Lynn has used her position to advance the issue of state sovereignty and led an effort in the House to protect Tennesseans from having to conform to the new federal health care law, an effort that failed in the House but nevertheless bolstered Lynn’s reputation as a Tenth Amendment advocate.

Similar political philosophies and priorities are being expressed by the field of candidates in the race to replace her.

“Susan has served the district admirably, and she has been a keystone of the conservative movement in Tennessee,” Futrell said. “Everybody is running a reasonably positive race, focusing on the issues. I certainly am doing that. People are responding to the level of optimism I’ve been bringing.”

Fields notes few philosophical differences among the Republican candidates.

“We have the same fundamental beliefs,” he said. “We’re all fiscally conservative and believe in the Second Amendment. The only difference is I’m the only veteran in the race, the only retiree who can devote 100 percent of my time to representing the people. I’m the only father and grandfather in the group. I’m the only one living on a fixed income who knows how to keep a budget.”

Elam has said with her mayoral experience she could hit the ground running. Elam, who was elected mayor of Mt. Juliet in 2004 and re-elected in 2008, said said her platform is reducing the size of government.

Jobs remain the most important issue in the campaign, but Futrell said voters are concerned more than ever about the basic competence level in government and its ability just to get a job done. He said voters increasingly want to talk about issues like energy policy with the BP oil spill dominating the news.

“It has just caused people to say, ‘I want people in government who know what they’re doing,'” Futrell said.

But Futrell is upbeat about the contest.

“My message has been that we’re all still Americans, we’re still Tennesseans, and all the problems, as enormous as they are, are the kinds of things we’ve always found solutions to. I’m just presenting conservative ideas, and people are responding well.”

Fields reports the same reaction.

“It’s a very humbling experience,” he said. “I don’t take anything for granted, but I’m getting very positive reaction.”

Just as the Legislature has been pushing back against federal mandates, at least one candidate in the field points out that the same principle applies at the local level.

Heather Scott is a Libertarian, but she is running as an independent.

From her eight years as a member of the Wilson County Commission, Scott says she’s seen how programs come down from the state and federal government that may or may not be right for a particular county, yet local governments have to enact them and cover the costs that come with them.

Scott recalled how she led a resolution a few years ago sending a message to both the state and federal governments to stop unfunded mandates.

She also recalled how a couple of years ago the Wilson County school system needed $1.5 million and that it looked like a tax increase could be involved. But she looked at the schools’ budget and saw an undesignated fund balance of $3 million. When she pointed out the schools had the money they needed, she learned the schools were required by the state to keep 3 percent in an undesignated fund balance for emergencies, so the commission, without her support, voted for a tax increase.

“I thought it was crazy, because they had the money. They just couldn’t spend it,” Scott said.

“It’s a trickle-down effect. Government should be strongest at the local level. More tax dollars should be kept at the local level. We send our income tax to Washington then have to beg for it to come back to local communities, and then they usually have strings attached. That money should never leave our community in the first place.”

Scott, a sales and marketing professional who is attending the Nashville School of Law, said the election laws in the state are set up in a way that make it difficult for a third-party candidate to run, so she opted for the independent tag rather than run as a Libertarian.

“I wouldn’t be telling the truth if I ran as a Republican, because I’m not a Republican,” Scott said.

Another independent in the race is Luther Lenning.

The District 57 race has gone under the radar of the race involving Lynn against Beavers, because Beavers at one point had announced a run for Wilson County mayor. Beavers changed her mind, and Lynn had already said she was going to run for the Senate seat, which left a campaign between the two who are widely perceived as personal rivals.

“I’ve not made a secret of the fact I am a supporter of Susan Lynn, but I have no problem with Senator Beavers,” Futrell said.


Regulatory Boards Stuck In Political Debate

State boards regulating everything from auctioneers to K-12 educators are caught in a debate over how people are chosen to serve on those bodies.

Nineteen governing bodies, including the state Board of Education, are now set to “wind down” beginning next month, and could dissolve by July 1, 2011 if the Legislature fails to reach an agreement.

They run the gamut from the state Election Commission and Department of Education to the Air Pollution Control Board and Alcohol Beverage Commission.

All state boards, departments and commissions have a sunset date. As that day approaches, legislators review the governmental bodies and decide whether to extend their existence, or let them fade away.

The issue holding up this year’s batch boils down to whether the governor — or other leaders choosing board members — should be required to pull a candidate from a recommended list of applicants, or be able to pick appointees freely. If the issues aren’t resolved, said Senate Government Operations Committee Chairman Sen. Bo Watson, “these boards will go away.”

Some say top officials should maintain the current practice of appointing some members to boards and commissions from a recommended list of candidates suggested by professional associations such as the Chamber of Commerce, Tennessee Association of Nurses or other organizations relevant to the subject of the committee.

Supporters of the system say it ensures candidates have a genuine expertise in the field and are respected among their peers — instead of letting the governor decide by himself who is the best for the job, said Rep. Susan Lynn, who chairs the House Government Operations Committee.

“This is their government. It’s not the governor’s government. It’s the people’s government,” she said, adding that that the practice deters “strictly political appointments.”

A nominee who has the blessing of a professional association would generally have more experience than someone appointed to the board because they contributed to a politician’s campaign, Lynn said.

Anyone appointed to a committee must be committed, she added, saying they take up complex issues, work long hours and make decisions that can often mean the end of someones career.

“The government literally owns the title to what you do and you cannot work unless you take the test and pay the fee and get licensed by them,” said Lynn, often a vocal opponent to many occupational license requirements. “And then the government, say a board or commission, made up of political appointees can apply laws and rules to you that these political appointees make up. And then they also judge you and then enforce discipline on you and they can even take away your ability to work by taking away your license.”

But other lawmakers — mainly Senate Republicans — say a professional association doesn’t represent all experts in a given field. Individuals who chose not to associate or pay dues for a certain group have no chance of earning an appointment to a state board or commission, said Watson.

Professional associations “should not control the process. They should have no greater standing than any citizen does,” he said. “We believe government should be open for all Tennesseans.”

To guard against political appointments, all selected board members should be held to a specific set of standards, Watson added.

“If you define the qualifications, then a governor, a lieutenant governor or a speaker of the House cannot pick their friends,” he said. “Furthermore, it’s patronage either way. (If) the Chamber of Commerce picks the person they like, who’s to say they’re not practicing patronage,” said Watson.

Legislators in both chambers had the option to renew the sunset dates for various control boards, but the measures were usually held up by the Senate. Those government bodies include: the Air pollution Control Board, Alcoholic Beverage Commission, Board of Dietitian/Nutritionist Examiners, Board of Examiners for Architects and Engineers, Board of Examiners for Nursing Home Administrators, Board of Nursing, Board of Pharmacy, Committee for Clinical Perfusionists, Council for Hearing Instrument Specialists, Council on Children’s Mental Health Care, Department of Education, Emergency Medical Services Board, Real Estate Appraiser Commission, Real Estate Commission, State Board of Education, State Election Commission, Tennessee Auctioneer Commission, Tennessee Medical Examiner Advisory Council and Tennessee Medical Laboratory Board.

Featured Health Care Liberty and Justice News Transparency and Elections

Blame-Game Time for ‘Health Freedom’ Failure

It’s all over but the finger-pointing.

All session long, Republicans and conservative Democrats in the Tennessee Legislature have been trying to link the state up with more than 20 others in the country that have committed to challenging the constitutionality of the federal health care reform package passed by Congress and signed by the president in March.

Their efforts were resisted by Democratic Party leaders, especially in the House. But Republican in-fighting — particularly between two lawmakers competing against one another in the upcoming primary — assuredly played at least some part in the effort’s failure.

“Was politics involved? Undoubtedly, politics was involved,” said Rep. Susan Lynn, a Mt. Juliet Republican who carried one such bill this spring. “And it’s a shame. It wasn’t politics on my part.”

Lynn and Sen. Mae Beavers, also from Mt. Juliet, both pushed legislation in their respective chambers this year to counter the federal health care reforms.

Notoriously hostile adversaries, Lynn and Beavers are running for the same state Senate seat — the one Beavers now occupies — in the Aug. 5 GOP primary.

This session, Beavers carried the “Health Freedom Act” in the Senate. Rousing only one Senate vote in opposition back in April, the bill directed the state attorney general to both challenge the new federal health care legislation and defend Tennesseans who choose to ignore its mandate that everyone acquire health insurance should the feds come calling to collect on tax penalties for lack of compliance.

Lynn’s bill, “The Health Care Freedom Act,” which made its way through the Tennessee House of Representatives, took a less confrontational stance toward the federal government. It said that “the legislature” can’t require citizens to purchase health insurance and said nothing about the federal government.

Tennessee Attorney General Robert Cooper declared that the Beavers bill was unconstitutional, but Lynn’s HB2622 was not.

Cooper’s opinion gave opponents of the effort to resist the federal health care overhaul the political ammo they were looking for to try and derail her bill. After weeks of Beavers’ legislation languishing in the House, the Budget Subcommittee killed it on a 7-7 vote, with Speaker Kent Williams casting the deciding vote against it.

After the House version of the bill — HB3433 — died,  the Senate, employing a rarely-used legislative maneuver, retrieved Lynn’s bill from a closed committee where it had stalled. They revised it by cutting-and-pasting in Beavers’ bill-language, then passed it on the Senate floor, 22-9 — thus setting up the conference committee collision that occurred late Wednesday night.

The three senators and representatives assigned to the conference committee debated for about 20 minutes — with Lynn and Beavers seated across from each other, but making little eye contact.

The conference committee voted to delete portions of Beavers’ bill requiring the attorney general to defend citizens who are penalized for lacking health care, which the House conferees said was the most objectionable element to their side. The rest of her bill they left intact, except for a new severability clause, and presented it as the conference-committee compromise.

“I wish the Senate had simply adopted the House version. The House version was constitutional, and if they had adopted that version, we’d have the Health Care Freedom Act,” said Lynn, who initially voted against the compromise.

Lynn said she had no problem personally with the language of the original Beavers bill. In fact, Lynn said she supported it — and also that she believes the attorney general’s opinion declaring it unconstitutional was erroneous and unfounded.

Still, a number of House supporters of Lynn’s bill had expressed their unwillingness to take action directly contrary to the attorney general’s advice. And furthermore, members of the governor’s staff had indicated he’d likely veto the compromise legislation if it contained provisions the AG had objected to.

“Voting for the Senate version was basically voting for a veto,” said Lynn. “Basically, they put up a bill that was not passable.”

Nonetheless, Lynn formally endorsed the Senate-backed conference committee version of the legislation — in order, she said, to “bring it before the body, because otherwise we would have no agreement.”

It failed later on the House floor, needing another  six votes to achieve a constitutional majority — 44 “ayes” to 43 “noes.”

For her part, Beavers said she was never particularly concerned about the governor vetoing the bill. It was more important to stick to her principles, she said.

Lynn’s bill was ineffectual and ambiguous, said Beavers. In order to achieve desired results, the state needed to pass a measure that outlined specific actions and defined its terms — namely, those which the Senate had initially and overwhelmingly passed.

“The weaker bill had a lot of problems and there’s no remedy for Tennesseans (who buck the federal mandate). It simply made a statement, ” said Beavers. “The stronger bill provides a remedy for Tennesseans should the government fine them.”

Beavers blamed the bill’s defeat on the House, mostly on Democratic opponents and Speaker Williams, but also those likely GOP supporters who’d gone missing before the floor vote.

“I think, simply put, too many members left the House floor and they did not have the votes. There were 16 people who were either not there or didn’t vote,” she said. “I think it would have passed the House if the members had been there.”

In a statement released Thursday, Beavers also said “political games” and “side deals” in the House caused problems. She promised to introduce the legislation again next year if she’s reelected.

“To me, it’s not a question of politics, it’s a matter of policy and principle… the Tennessee legislature needs to send a firm message to Washington that we do not agree with their unprecedented and unconstitutional national health care legislation.”

Another player in the dueling health-care bills mix was Sen. Diane Black, a Senate Republican running for Congress in the 6th District. She, too, is battling a fellow Tennessee lawmaker in the GOP primary — Sen. Jim Tracy of Shelbyville, who is himself trying to capitalize on anti-ObamaCare sentiment in Tennessee.

Black was the original Senate sponsor to Lynn’s bill — but she handed that responsibility over to Beavers when the new language was inserted on Tuesday. Lynn said she now regrets asking Black to sponsor the Senate version of her bill, saying the Gallatin Republican wasn’t energetic enough in pushing for its passage much earlier in the session.

Like Beavers, Black blamed the failure of the Legislature to initiate a formal challenge to the federal health care package on “the Democrats who did not support the bill” — as well as the absence of Republicans on the House floor at the time of the vote.

Business and Economy Liberty and Justice

State’s Regulatory Boards Don’t Handle Complaints Well, Comptroller Reports

A report released Tuesday by state auditors suggests some professional- and occupational-licensing boards aren’t doing a very good job of processing complaints filed against the business owners and service-providers they’re supposed to be overseeing.

“There are still few procedures requiring boards to document and record specific complaint information in a standardized format,” according to the performance audit (pdf) of the Division of Regulatory Boards.

The Comptroller of the Treasury’s report also noted that studies conducted in both 1999 and 2005 found similar problems. The Division of Regulatory Boards, which operates under the Department of Commerce and Insurance, has still “not developed the tools to provide themselves with the data needed to efficiently and effectively manage complaints.”

Many boards also don’t investigate license applicants for criminal histories, even though regulations require them “to be of good moral character, honest, and/or trustworthy and free of criminal convictions,” the report stated.

“We generally concur with the finding and did concur before the audit began,” said Mary Moody, deputy director of the Commerce and Insurance Department.

Nothing in the report came as a surprise to her department, Moody told the Labor and Transportation Subcommittee of the Joint Government Operations Committee on Tuesday.

A lot of the government’s problems boiled down to not having enough attorneys, Moody said.

The auditors added that “attorney workloads and board meeting frequency…may play a significant role in the timely resolution of complaints.”

“Complaint files show that boards’ administrative staff spend relatively little time on complaint intake and closure tasks. Most of the time a complaint is open occurs between the time the staff attorney receives the complaint file and when the board makes its final decision,” according to the report.

There are 11 professional regulatory boards scheduled to terminate at the end of June if the Legislature doesn’t extend their operating mandate. They included licensing-oversight authorities for auctioneers, barbers, collection agents, cosmetologists, funeral directors, security guards, land surveyors, private investigators, polygraph technicians and real estate appraisers and agents.

More than half the complaints currently under review or investigation by boards that oversee barbers (71 cases), cosmetologists (311), land surveyors (16), private investigators (45) and security guards (315), have gone unresolved for more than 180 days. The committee that oversees security guards hasn’t met since 2006, according to the audit.

Rep. Susan Lynn, R-Mt.Juliet, who chairs the Joint Government Operations Committee, said she doesn’t foresee lawmakers refusing to reissue statutory approval for the boards this year.

However, Lynn said she’d like to see the state initiate a thoroughgoing examination of whether Tennessee’s consumers and economy might be better served in absence of some of the licensing boards and requirements.

“I’m not a fan of occupational licensure unless it directly serves to protect the constitutional rights of the citizens, since the purpose of government is to secure those rights,” said Lynn.

Last year Lynn and Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, sponsored an “Economic Civil Rights Act,” which called for eliminating any occupational board that in reality tends to function more as a protectionist barrier against new competition than as a safeguard against legitimate threats to citizens’ safety, health or rights.

“If you’re doing something that is potentially a danger to somebody else, then the state should have the power to regulate,” said Lynn. “If not, then a license requirement is often just an attempt to force people to jump through hoops. There are a lot of regulations like that which are meant for achieving good, but which really end up only hurting people economically.”

According to the free-market Tennessee Center for Policy Research, only nine other states have as strict or stricter regulatory burdens on entrepreneurs, merchants and service-sellers as the Volunteer State.

“While generally sold as a means to protect the public interest, regulations often exist merely to protect a chosen class,” wrote TCPR staffers in a statement delivered to a House committee looking into the bill last session. “This smothers competition and preserves a government-endorsed monopoly, thereby increasing the costs of goods and services to consumers. Reduced competition also makes it more difficult for consumers to receive the quality of goods and services they demand.”

Health Care Liberty and Justice News

Tennessee AG Not Yet Ready to Fight Feds on Health Care

Government officials and lawyers from a number of states around the country are lining up to battle against the advancing federal health care overhaul. But Attorney General Bob Cooper says he’ll sit this one out – at least for now.

Cooper’s office said expending time and effort investigating the legal complexities of the health care legislation under discussion in Washington, D.C., before its details are fully settled and finalized, “would not be an appropriate or effective use of this office’s resources.”

“Until we know what the bill as enacted says and when its provisions take effect, any such analysis is premature,” read a statement from Sharon Curtis-Flair, Cooper’s spokeswoman.

However, Rep. Susan Lynn — one of two House lawmakers publicly asking Cooper to start crafting legal defenses against federal impositions — also plans soon to introduce state legislation confronting measures and mandates in the health care revamp that she believes outstrip their constitutionality.

Lynn wants the Tennessee Constitution amended “to clarify the people of the state will never be mandated by the government to purchase a product,” including health insurance.

“I am very concerned about this overreaching of federal powers. If these unconstitutional issues…are allowed to pass or they go unchallenged, there will absolutely be no limits left on the federal government,” said the Mt. Juliet Republican, who chairs the House Government Operations Committee.

Tennessee is one of several states gearing up to possibly take on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, a health care overhaul approved by the U.S. Senate on Christmas Eve. At issue in addition to its constitutionality is the bill’s cost and a controversial political compromise that helped get it passed.

On Tuesday, Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum, a Republican, took issue with the health care legislation, questioning whether it’s legal to charge people a tax or penalty for lacking health insurance.

In a letter sent this week, he urged fellow attorneys general across the country to help launch a “full review” of that mandate’s constitutionality and pinpoint legal options states can use to block federal directives they find objectionable.

Lawmakers in 15 states have filed bills or constitutional amendments attempting to halt the health care package, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Officials in at least 11 other states are reportedly considering doing the same.

Tennessee isn’t on that list yet, but Lynn and Rep. Debra Young Maggart, R-Hendersonville, say they’re determined to thwart the new federal mandates.

The two state representatives asked Cooper just before Christmas if he’d begin prepping a legal case against the health care legislation, citing a violation of Tenth Amendment state sovereignty protections.

Demands for Washington to heed the Tenth Amendment have dramatically intensified among conservatives following the election of President Barack Obama, and opposition to expanded federal control over health care has galvanized protesters at Tea Party rallies around the country throughout 2009.

Lynn, who is running for state Senate in 2010, helped pass a resolution last spring reiterating Tennessee as a sovereign state and denouncing federal legislative overreach. She says Democratic-led health care reform efforts, which include an estimated $1.4 billion price tag, are an unfunded and ultimately unlawful mandate on the states.

“We see this as a violation of equal protection of the law, an affront to our sovereignty, and as a breach of the U.S. Constitution,” she said.

Gov. Phil Bredesen, a Democrat, has expressed concern in the past on the price of the pending health care reform effort as well. His office declined to comment on whether the attorney general should commit to building an arsenal of legal arguments to try and block the legislation.