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TN GOP Sees Vote of Confidence in Wisconsin Recall Election

Republican leaders say the failed recall election in Wisconsin bodes well for GOP lawmakers here, who will face voters for the first time since overhauling hiring practices for teachers and state workers.

If anything, it says Tennessee is headed in the right direction, said Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey.

“The takeaway that I have is that the general public understands that we can’t be giving away the farm, so to speak, to public employees and expect to balance our budget,” said Ramsey, R-Blountville.

Last week, 53 percent of Wisconsin voters opted to keep embattled Republican Gov. Scott Walker in office after push back against changes to collective bargaining practices for most state workers.

The election was watched closely by politicians around the country as a litmus test for how far voters are willing to go with public-employee reforms. Tennessee politicians had particular reason to pay attention.

Since Republicans took charge of the governor’s office and both chambers of the Legislature in the 2010 election, Tennessee lawmakers have made broad changes to employee rules and significantly curbed union power.

Lawmakers replaced teachers’ collective bargaining practices with “collaborative conferencing” in 2011, giving school boards autonomy to establish hiring and personnel rules without needing to win union approval.

At the time, union advocates said they would punish lawmakers at the polls for weakening organized labor, at one point saying Republicans were advocating “fascists measures” and were engaging in “terrorism against our teachers.”

Attempts to reach pro-union leaders, including House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner, D-Old Hickory, and the Tennessee Education Association’s lobbyist, Jerry Winters, and executive director, Al Mance were unsuccessful as of this posting.

This year, lawmakers rewrote hiring and firing practices for state civil service workers by allowing the administration to put considerations like employee performance ahead of seniority when making personnel decisions.

With the primaries less than two months away, many lawmakers’ own job security now rests in the hands of the voters. House Speaker Beth Harwell is confident her party’s stance will be rewarded at the polls.

“I think we made a good public policy for the state of Tennessee, for the children of this state,” said Harwell, R-Nashville. “And I think Wisconsin actually verified that with their vote.”

Union influence in Wisconsin has always been much stronger than in Tennessee, noted Gov. Bill Haslam. But he says the voters’ clear-cut decision to keep Walker is a reflection of a changing attitude toward the financial responsibility of governments in general.

“We’re spending more than we bring in. We can’t do that forever,” the governor said. “Does the U.S. have the stomach to make the hard choices? I think you just saw Wisconsin say, ‘We do.’”

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Press Releases

Ramsey Touts Accomplishments Under Republican-Controlled State Government

Statement by Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey; May 18, 2012:

Dear Friend,

Earlier this month, the 107th General Assembly concluded its business.

My goals for this legislature were the same ones I had when first elected: give the people of Tennessee what they have asked for: more jobs, less spending and smaller government.

Now, with partners like Governor Bill Haslam and Speaker Beth Harwell, we have truly been moving the conservative ball forward. I have often said that it matters who governs. Over the past two years, we have proved why.

In our first year of unified Republican government, we put conservative principles into action by instituting landmark education reform, tax cuts and smaller government.

This year we again heeded the call of voters to make government smaller, more efficient and customer friendly. These are things I have championed throughout my career in the legislature.  But now, with a Republican Governor and Speaker of the House, we have become a transformational force for good government in Tennessee.

Representing the People

This General Assembly worked diligently and efficiently to get our work done on time – adjourning earlier than at any point in the last 14 years and using the least amount of legislative days since 1984.

This achievement not only saves considerable taxpayer dollars it restores the great virtues of our citizen legislature. To those who have only observed Tennessee politics for the last few decades it might appear the legislature got out “early” by adjourning in early May. This is a common misconception I intend to erase. We got out on time. Period.

Tennessee does not have a full-time legislature and, if I have anything to do with it, we never will. By allowing session to drag on into June or July year after year our Democrat predecessors succeeded only in creating more government and allowing the people’s representatives to get farther and farther away from their constituents. It is almost impossible to represent people with whom you are only tangentially connected or a community in which you only nominally reside.

Legislators should do the business the people ask of them in Nashville – and get back home. The cause of small, efficient and responsive government requires it.

Shrinking government and cutting taxes

This year, the state of Tennessee is budgeted to spend $31.1 billion – nearly $1 billion less than our current operating budget. These are real cuts, not the phantom cuts of Washington where removing anticipated increases in spending counts as a cut.

Tennessee budgeted conservatively this year. We worked with revenue that we actually had rather than “projected” revenue we “expected” to have. We balanced this budget much like you and your family balance your own. Unified Republican government did away with the gimmicky accounting of the past and relied on tangible revenue numbers.

Not only did we shrink government, we returned money to the taxpayers. We gave every Tennessean tax relief by again reducing the food tax – reductions previous Democrat regimes refused to make.

We also set a course for the ultimate elimination of the death tax – a tax that punishes small farmers and businessmen seeking to provide for the next generation.

Tennessee plunged a stake into the heart of this insidious tax that attacks the very essence of the American Dream. Unlike Washington, Tennessee plans for the future and encourages those in our citizenry to do likewise. I am proud that this General Assembly was the one that finally brought the death tax before the reaper.

Coupled with the elimination of the gift tax, this General Assembly cut taxes by more than $50 million this year, resulting in the release of capital and the creation of jobs.

Tennessee Republicans used to be limited in what we could do. Operating under a Democrat Governor and House Speaker, my office had to play defense against Big Government Democrats leaving across the board conservative governance as merely a dream for some future place and time. That place is here and that time is now.

Now, we have the numbers to enact our conservative principles. And with your help we will enlarge our majority so that no one stands in the way of true conservative government ever again.

Reforming State Government

One of our most transformative legislative achievements this session was the passage of Gov. Haslam’s TEAM Act. A revolutionary step in state government, the TEAM Act will help us attract, retain and promote the best applicants and employees in state government. Excellence will now be rewarded when it is achieved, just as it is in the private sector.

This year also marked the passage of our major unemployment insurance reform. Republicans heard the clamor and saw the need for legislation that results in job creation and we filled the void.

The Unemployment Accountability Act of 2012 strengthens the definition of employee misconduct to ensure that those who have been fired for cause no longer receive benefits. We instituted new work search requirements for unemployment beneficiaries, encouraging the use of existing state infrastructure to help return the unemployed to the job market.

Nothing cures both economic and social ills like a good job. Having a job doesn’t just fulfill a man or woman’s economic need but their spiritual need as well. It bestows upon them a sense of self-worth which permeates all aspects of life.

This reform will be a boon not only for job creators by protecting them from fraud and abuse – it also aids job seekers by pushing them towards the job market.

Another important piece of the Republican job creation package was our “loser pays” tort reform. Businesses don’t mind taking risks but they have to be calculated ones. “Loser pays” will free employers from the time and cash consuming drudgery of frivolous lawsuits and allow them to do what they do best: employ people.

The fight against addiction

This General Assembly has also taken on crime passing bills attacking domestic violence, criminal gangs and drugs.

Most important to me is the fight against synthetic drugs, which have become an epidemic in Northeast Tennessee. Many lives have been lost due to this scourge and I was proud to be part of the team fashioning a solution. Bills passed in this General Assembly banned chemical compounds used in illegal synthetic drugs, no matter how criminal chemists continue to modify them  Our new measure will keep the law ahead of the drug pushers.

We also began a program to drug test those receiving government assistance.  This will end the taxpayer subsidy of illegal drugs. We as a society are never going to prevent every motivated user from consuming drugs – but we certainly don’t have to pay for it.

This is why we constructed a constitutionally sound bill that will allow us to remove drug users from the welfare rolls while offering them help. This protects taxpayers and attacks addiction. It is a win-win for Tennessee.

Protecting citizenship

While we continue to implement our new Photo ID law protecting citizenship at the ballot box, we have taken further steps to protect the rights of citizens.

While I’m a conservative who believes in personal responsibly and limited government, we as a society do need to provide some sort of safety net.  However, that net must be for citizens only. That is why I aided passage this session of the Eligibility Verification Act.  It ensures that only those in the United States legally receive any taxpayer-funded benefit.

Again, this is common sense but it was left undone by our Democrat predecessors.

Tax cuts, smaller government and job creation – this is conservative government in action. It is what Tennesseans asked for and it is what Tennessee shall get as long as you allow me to serve as Lt. Governor.

I humbly appreciate the support of all Tennesseans as the legislature continues to work hard to make Tennessee the best state in the nation in which to live, work and raise a family.

Sincerely,

Ronald L. Ramsey

Lieutenant Governor

Speaker of the Senate

 

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Press Releases

Haslam Announces New Staff Position to Oversee TEAM Act Implementation

Press release from the office of Governor Bill Haslam; May 14, 2012:

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced that Larry Martin will join his staff to oversee implementation of the Tennessee Excellence and Accountability Management (TEAM) Act

His responsibilities will include coordinating and collaborating throughout state government agencies to effectively begin recruiting new employees on all levels, updating performance evaluations in all departments, and a review of employee compensation that includes the salary study funded in the governor’s FY 2013-2014 budget.

“Getting the TEAM Act passed into law was only the beginning of our work,” Haslam said. “Now we must make sure it is implemented effectively, which includes creating meaningful performance evaluations, truly getting a full picture of employee compensation, and changing the culture now that we can recruit the best and brightest to serve. I am grateful that Larry has agreed to take on this challenge for the taxpayers of Tennessee. Our goal is to build a state workforce that is dedicated to and focused on customer service, efficiency and effectiveness.”

“This is a wonderful opportunity to work for Bill Haslam again and to be part of the implementation of the TEAM Act of 2012, which will be good for our state and our employees,” Martin said.

From September 2006 to December 2011, Martin, 64, served as deputy to the mayor for both Haslam and Mayor Daniel Brown. He was responsible for Finance, Public Works, Community Development, Information Systems, Purchasing and Risk Management for the City of Knoxville.

Prior to joining city government, Martin was an executive of First Horizon/First Tennessee Bank. He joined the company in 1969 and served in various capacities. He moved to Knoxville in 1987 when he was named president of First Tennessee Bank Knoxville. When he retired, he was serving as chief operating officer for First Tennessee Financial Services with responsibility for all Tennessee Regional Bank Markets; Merchant Services Processing; Hickory Venture Capital; and the Commercial, Corporate, and Middle Market Divisions of the bank.

A native of Jackson, Tenn., Martin received his bachelor of science from the University of Tennessee’s College of Business. Throughout the years, he has been involved in several community activities. In 1995, he chaired the Knoxville United Way campaign. He served as chairman of Covenant Health System, Leadership Knoxville, the Knoxville Chamber of Commerce, United Way of Greater Knoxville, and as president of the Great Smoky Mountain Council Boy Scouts of America. Currently, he is chairman of First Tennessee Bank Knoxville Advisory Board and serves on the boards of East Tennessee Children’s Hospital, Project Grad, Emerald Youth Foundation, and University of Tennessee Foundation.

He and his wife, Jane, have two adult daughters, Hope and Meg, and have attended Church Street United Methodist Church in Knoxville for 24 years.

Martin will assume his new role as special assistant to the governor on May 23.

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Governor Signs State Employee Workforce Recruitment, Retention Revamp

The state is overhauling how it hires and fires state employees, a move Gov. Bill Haslam contends “might be the most important” task his administration has undertaken since he took office.

Haslam signed HB2384 into law Tuesday, a bill that stresses employee performance over seniority, creates a worker evaluation system and paves the way for merit pay among top-performing state employees.

“We want to make certain that when we hire new employees, when we decide who gets promoted, we really are promoting and hiring those folks who can best serve our citizens. That’s what it’s about,” Haslam told an audience of 100 or so state workers outside Tennessee Tower, a 31-story building down the street from the Capitol Building filled with state employees.

Tennessee’s workforce is aging, Haslam added. The administration notes that 40 percent of state employees will be eligible to retire in the next five years, and those workers will need to be replaced.

The Tennessee State Employees Association originally fought the changes, which were handcrafted by Haslam’s administration. The union, which represents some 40,000 state workers, argued shifting employment decisions away from tenure would open the door to politically-driven hiring and firing decisions.

But even the tenure system could be abused, Haslam said.

“There’s a whole lot of unfilled executive positions right now in state government. … So if you just wanted to hire your buddies, you could do that right now,” Haslam told reporters.

The union eventually signed on in support of the bill after securing a 2.5 percent raise for all state employees, a say in developing the new evaluations and other concessions like ensuring tenure is still taken into account in hiring and firing decisions.

A press release issued by the Tennessee State Employees Association described the bill as an improvement over what was initially being talked about.

“State employees and their families can rest easier knowing important job protections that exist under the current civil service system are still in place in the new law,” TSEA President Phil Morson said in a statement.

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey hailed the policy shift as suggestive of the kinds of reforms likely to occur going forward if Republicans continue to dominate elected posts in state government.

“Tennesseans gave Republicans a mandate to transform state government into an efficient, transparent entity that puts a premium on customer service,” Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey said in a statement. “This landmark reform is incontrovertible proof that it matters who governs.”

The new law, called the T.E.A.M. Act, or the Tennessee Excellence Accountability and Management Act, will be implemented in stages with use of the new evaluations taking the longest — until July 2013 — to kick in.

Mark Engler contributed to this report.

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Press Releases

Haslam Signs TEAM Act

Press release from the Office of Governor Bill Haslam; April 24, 2012:

NASHVILLE – Joined by state employees, legislators and members of his Cabinet, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today signed the Tennessee Excellence, Accountability and Management (TEAM) Act into law on the Tennessee Tower plaza across from the State Capitol in Nashville.

“State government’s role is to provide services that Tennesseans aren’t able to get on their own, and I believe it is my job to make sure we’re providing them in the most customer-focused, efficient and effective way,” Haslam said just before signing the bill into law. “In the next five years, almost 40 percent of state employees will become eligible for retirement, and in facing this challenge, it is our responsibility to build a top notch workforce for the future.

“For decades, employment decisions in state government have been based solely on seniority with job performance never being considered, and employees have either received modest, across the board pay increases or nothing at all. No one has been able to convince me that is a good way to manage our employees or serve our taxpayers. We have to do better. It is what hard working employees deserve and what taxpayers expect.”

The TEAM Act calls for two divisions of state service: preferred service and executive service. Executive service employees remain “at-will” as they currently serve. Preferred service replaces the traditional “career service” designation and preserves a streamlined appeals process along with other considerations.

Some of the changes to the state employment system made by the legislation include:

  • A new hiring system that requires agencies to define minimum qualifications and to identify specific knowledge, skills, abilities and competencies required for each position.
  • Veterans and their spouses will receive interview preference for both appointments and promotions, and if there are two candidates with equal qualifications, knowledge, skills, etc., preference will be given to the veteran.
  • An overhaul of the state’s performance evaluation system to provide for performance standards and expected outcomes that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time sensitive (SMART goals).
  • In the event of a layoff, job performance becomes the primary consideration followed by seniority, abilities and disciplinary record, which also must be considered.
  • A new nine-member board of appeals to conduct a streamlined, three-step appeals process.
  • And a mediation process will also be established by the Department of Human Resources through rules.

“I appreciate all of the state employees that have been part of this discussion,” Haslam said. “From the groups across the state who spent time with us last fall and were willing to give us real-world examples of the challenges they face every day; to the leadership and training organizations that are focused on professional development and growth opportunities for state employees; to the Tennessee State Employees Association who worked with us throughout this process, their involvement was productive and played a valuable role.”

Sponsors of the TEAM Act include Sens. Mark Norris (R-Collierville) and Jack Johnson (R-Franklin), and Reps. Gerald McCormick (R-Chattanooga) and Bill Dunn (R-Knoxville).

For more information on the TEAM Act, click here.

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State Moves Toward Job Performance-based Hiring

The General Assembly is rallying behind Gov. Bill Haslam’s plan to overhaul how the state’s employees are hired and fired after months of wrangling over details.

The Senate voted 30-3 in favor of the reforms Thursday following a 74-19 vote in the House the day before.

“Soon we will have the ability to hire, promote and retain the best and brightest, finally giving Tennesseans the government they deserve,” Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey said in a statement.

HB2384 – also called the Tennessee Excellence Accountability and Management Act – would put more emphasis on the job performance of state employees, such as those who work at the DMV or the Department of Children Services. Job performance will be the primary factor in hiring and firing decisions rather than tenure.

Leadership of the Tennessee State Employees Association, the union for state workers, opposed the governor’s plan earlier this year, saying the changes would open up the door to political hiring.

They came to a consensus earlier this month, agreeing to reinsert tenure as a consideration when making employment decisions, although performance would be key. The governor is expected to sign the bill.

“This is going to do worlds of good as far as building confidence within state employees,” said Bob O’Connell, executive director of the TSEA, who added the union didn’t get everything it wanted, but enough to support the plan.

“There will be a stronger focus on their performance when it comes time to decide who to lay off, who gets merit pay, who doesn’t get merit pay. … We are OK that they’re going to redo the performance evaluation system and we’re going to be part of that.”

Here’s a breakdown of what the reforms would do:

  •  All state employees — including those recently disciplined, demoted or suspended — will see a 2.5 percent raise on July 1. Last year, Haslam handed workers a 1.6 percent raise, but only rewarded employees with a maximum of one disciplinary action against them.
  •  The Haslam administration will develop a new employee performance evaluation system over the next year to be used beginning in July 2013. The goal is to better measure employee performance given current employment decisions rely more on merit than tenure.
  •  In the event of a layoff, the first employees to go will be those with low job performance scores. Seniority, disciplinary actions and abilities will then be factored in.
  •  Open state jobs will no longer be filled by seniority-based reshuffling, otherwise known as bumping. Bumping allows one displaced worker to displace another with less seniority, which causes a ripple effect through state government. The legislation will require open jobs be filled based on merit, although the state will guarantee interviews to laid-off state workers.
  •  The state will slowly lower the amount of lead time they give employees when announcing layoffs. State workers will have 90 days’ notice of layoff until Oct. 1, when that time period will drop to 60 days. Beginning Jan. 1, 2013, workers will have 30 days’ notice.
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Press Releases

TSEA ‘Now in a Position’ to Cooperate With, Support TEAM Act

Press release from the Tennessee State Employees Association; April 4, 2012:

NASHVILLE – Yesterday the House Finance Committee passed an amended version of the TEAM Act on to the Calendar and Rules committee and eventually to the House floor for a full vote. After months of negotiations with Governor Haslam’s administration and with legislative leaders in both houses regarding the Governor’s TEAM act, many of TSEA’s concerns were considered and addressed through amendments to the bill.

“There were many complicated issues to work out and, after a final round of negotiations initiated by our President, Phil Morson, the administration agreed to compromise on a number of TSEA’s key concerns. Therefore we are now in a position to cooperate by offering our support for the bill in its amended form,” said Robert O’Connell, TSEA’s Executive Director.

Under the bill as amended yesterday, state employees will see a modified recall list, the retention of seniority as an important factor in layoff policy, and a layoff notice policy that retains the 90 day notice period until October 1, 2012, then shifts it to 60 days until January 1, 2014, at which point it shifts to 30 days. The amended bill also includes an opportunity for TSEA to be involved in the establishment of a new performance evaluation system for state employees by the Department of Human Resources (DOHR). In addition, an amendment was added ensuring that all state employees will be eligible to receive merit pay under objective standards that will be established by DOHR.

“These negotiations have been a slow and gradual process, but in the end we were successful in getting many amendments included that contain provisions important to state employees and we will continue to monitor this legislation as it is implemented,” said Phil Morson, TSEA President.

A complete list of improvements negotiated in to the bill can be found on TSEA’s website at www.tseaonline.org.

TSEA is a nonprofit association existing to provide a strong unified voice with which it advocates the work-related interests of members. The attainment of association objectives will ensure a better life for our members and will attract and retain an effective, efficient state workforce to provide services for all Tennesseans. TSEA was established in 1974. For further information, visit the Web site at www.tseaonline.org.

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Press Releases

TSEA: Haslam’s TEAM Act a Return to ‘Patronage and Political Cronyism’

Press Release from Tennessee State Employees Association; Jan. 23, 2012:

TSEA Has Serious Concerns with Civil Service Bill

The Tennessee State Employees Association has reviewed and analyzed the Haslam administration’s proposed TEAM Act of 2012 and has serious concerns with the bill in its current form.

As written, this bill would dismantle the civil service system, destroying the protections that system provides to the people of Tennessee. TSEA Executive Director Robert O’Connell commented, “Dismantling the civil service system would thrust this state back into a time of Patronage and Political Cronyism when state government jobs were distributed by politicians as rewards for campaign support and other loyal ‘service’.”

Today the qualifications of every applicant for a state job are evaluated, measured, and ranked based on their scores. Conversely, the administration’s “TEAM” bill eliminates this system of objective scoring and allows managers to hire anyone they choose who possesses the minimum qualifications for the job. This new system might be a little faster, but the people of this state deserve employees who are more than “minimally qualified”.

Under the present civil service system, most employees can only be fired for poor performance or bad conduct. Those designated as “executive service”, however, can be fired for any reason, or for no reason, really. The new bill greatly increases the number of employees who can and will be designated executive service, subjecting them to arbitrary termination, once again opening the door to political cronyism.

Under the new bill, employees who are not part of the expanded “executive service” are referred to as “preferred service”. While preferred service employees do retain the right to file a grievance, they will lose the right to any face-to-face hearing until the final step of the grievance process. Under the present system, that final hearing would be held before the Civil Service Commission. The new bill eliminates the Commission and replaces it with a Board of Appeals which will serve the same functions as the Commission it replaces. In the present system, Commission members can only be removed by the governor for cause, after an opportunity for a public hearing. The members of the new Board will all be appointed by the present governor, who can remove any member whenever he pleases. The current process establishes the required independence and impartiality of the Commission, but that independence and impartiality is eliminated in the new “TEAM” bill.

When economic or other conditions make it necessary to lay-off some employees, the present system helps to ensure (through a process called “bumping” and “retreating”) that the most senior employees retain their jobs, invaluable experience is not lost, and our taxpayers’ investment is not wasted. The “TEAM” bill eliminates this seniority factor, draining our state of valuable institutional knowledge.

Governor Haslam’s administration has agreed to a series of meetings with TSEA leadership to allow us to express our specific concerns with the bill on behalf of state employees. His administration has assured us that they are committed to hearing our concerns and seeing what can be incorporated in the bill. This willingness to talk and reason together is becoming a hallmark of TSEA’s relationship with the Governor. We can only hope that it will lead to a bill which will protect the interests of the people of Tennessee and not drag us back into the political patronage and cronyism of a half-century ago.

Until the negotiation process is complete, and TSEA is assured state employees remain protected, we are firmly opposed to the bill.

TSEA is a nonprofit association existing to provide a strong unified voice with which it advocates the work-related interests of members. The attainment of association objectives will ensure a better life for our members and will attract and retain an effective, efficient state workforce to provide services for all Tennesseans. TSEA was established in 1974. For further information, visit the Web site at www.tseaonline.org.