Ramsey: Signs Pointing Toward GOP Supermajority in Senate

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Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey
says that come Election Day, Republicans will enjoy a supermajority in the Tennessee Senate — meaning that the GOP will not need any Democratic support to pass legislation.

“I do think we’re going to have the supermajority,” Ramsey told TNReport. “There are six seats we’re playing in, and none of us as incumbent Republicans have serious opposition. This is the first time I’ve ever run without an opponent.”

Republicans need to win two more seats to snag the supermajority, or 22 of the 33 seats.

And if money talks, Ramsey may be right. GOP candidates for state Senate have a massive financial lead going into the final days of their campaigns, according to campaign finance reports released by the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance.

The reports released this week show Republican Senate candidates with a more than 2-to-1 lead in terms of cash on hand. And when you add up the total amount of money raised in contested races, Republicans have outraised Democrats $1.8 million to $861,000 since Jan. 1, records show.

You can search all of the filings by clicking here.

Perhaps more telling is the amount of money spent in the past two months, which is what the most recent campaign finance reports show.

Of the six key races that Ramsey spoke of, Republicans have spent $384,041 and Democrats have spent $253,451, according to those filings.

That’s money that goes for newspaper and radio ads, campaign workers, mailings, food and gas to fill up the gas tank.

In only one of those races did the Democrat outspend his opponent. That was the race in Senate District 24, a West Tennessee district that spans from Obion County to Benton County.

In that race, Democrat Brad Thompson spent $111,372 over the past two months. His Republican opponent John Stevens spent $62,932 over that same period.

Most of the six races, though, more closely resemble the contest in Senate District 20, a district that surrounds downtown Nashville like a letter “C” spanning from Belle Meade to Goodlettsville. Republican Steve Dickerson plowed $54,941 into the race over the past two months. His opponent, Democrat Phillip North, spent $28,028 over that same period.

“I do think there will be significant gains,” Ramsey said. “Somewhere between two (Senate seats) to five or six.”

This is not the first time that Ramsey has been talking about a possible supermajority. Check out what he told the Nashville Scene and

Other Senate seats identified as being in play include:

Press Releases

Barnes Snags Endorsements from 2 Environmental Groups

Press release from State Senator Tim Barnes, D-Adams; October 4, 2012: 

CLARKSVILLE – State Sen. Tim Barnes has secured two major endorsements from groups dedicated to protecting our natural resources.

Barnes announced the endorsements of both the TN Conservation Voters and the Tennessee Chapter of the Sierra Club on Tuesday.

“In addition to his proven record of protecting families and veterans, Tim Barnes has been a consistent champion for the protection of the environment,” said Anne Ross, TN Conservation Voters PAC volunteer. “He is committed to preserving Tennessee’s greenways and scenic landscapes for generations to come.”

Penny Brooks, political chair for the Tennessee Chapter of the Sierra Club, said Barnes has shown a strong commitment to conservation and environmental issues while serving in the state Senate.

“It is critical that we protect our natural resources in a way that enhances recreation and doesn’t harm business,” Barnes said. “I am thrilled to have these endorsements.”

Tennessee Conservation Voters is a coalition of member organizations dedicated to safeguarding the environment. Members include the Tennessee Clean Water Network, the Tennessee Parks and Greenways Foundation and the Warioto Audubon Society.

The Sierra Club is the nation’s largest grassroots environmental organization and works to protect communities and wild places.

Press Releases

Barnes Pentagon-Bound for Military-Spouse Support Ceremony

Press Release from the State of Tennessee, February 14, 2012:

Barnes to meet with U.S. Defense Secretary Panetta Regarding Military Spouse Benefits  

CLARKSVILLE – State Senator Tim Barnes will travel to the Pentagon on Wednesday at the invitation of Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta for his work in securing unemployment benefits for military spouses.

“It’s an incredible honor to represent Tennessee in an event with Secretary Panetta supporting military spouses,” Barnes said. “The greater honor, however, is serving the military families that this legislation will help, and I’m humbled to have the opportunity.”

First Lady Michelle Obama, Dr. Jill Biden and Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Neal Wolin will also be in attendance at Wednesday’s 2 p.m. CT announcement. According to the Department of Defense, the First Lady and Secretary Panetta will be announcing a military spouse employment report designed to help military spouses with occupational licenses.

According to the Department of Defense, Tennessee is one of 11 states that already support portability for military spouses with occupational licenses like those required for teachers, nurses and other medical fields. With the passage of unemployment benefits for military spouses, Tennessee would become just the fourth state in the nation to attain all of the Department’s desired outcomes regarding military spouses.

Barnes, State Representative Joe Pitts of Clarksville and other lawmakers have worked for years on the legislation (SB884/HB984), which provides benefits for those who have to leave their jobs due to their spouses’ military orders. For the first time, funding for the bill is included in the governor’s proposed budget.

Tennessee is one of only 11 states that do not currently provide unemployment benefits for military spouses forced to leave their jobs due to a military transfer. Tennessee would likely see about 73 unemployment claims from military spouses each year, according to the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development, resulting in an estimated cost of $278,800.

The legislation passed unanimously through the Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee on Tuesday, meaning the bill will go to the Senate floor. The House version of the bill is scheduled for a hearing this month in the Consumer and Employee Affairs Subcommittee.

Barnes plans to return to Nashville on Thursday in time for legislative session. For more information or to set up an interview, contact (615) 741-4369.

Liberty and Justice News

Republicans Broaden Anti-Terrorism Bill

Tennessee lawmakers stress that an expanded plan to fight “homegrown terrorism” has nothing to do with religion.

To prove it, they’ve crafted a bill that focuses not only on suspected radical Islamic fundamentalists or proponents of “Sharia Law,” but any group or individual in Tennessee suspected of harboring terrorist intentions or providing “material support” to groups “designated” by the government as potential terrorists.

Hundreds of Muslims who packed into Legislative Plaza Tuesday still beg to differ — although it was unclear whether they’d received a copy of the amendment, which at post time was not on the internet.

Members of the Muslim community jammed into two overflow committee rooms and a legislative lounge and lined the hallways to watch the House and Senate judiciary committees ultimately advance a measure that would give the administration power to identify terrorist entities and punish people who help them.

The original version of the bill specifically targeted people who practice Sharia Law, the foundation of Islamic Code. The two Republican sponsors have since given the bill a make-over by stripping any language about religion and instead widening the reach of the bill to anyone exhibiting potentially terrorist-like tendencies.

The current measure would allow the governor and the attorney general to label anyone as a terrorist if investigations from the state Department of Safety as well as the Office of Homeland Security suggest they are enough of a threat.

The 15-page “Material Support to Designated Entities Act of 2011” would ultimately fight “homegrown terrorism,” whether the state finds that threat in gangs, cults, religious groups or individuals, according to lawmakers carrying the bill.

However, no one group would be specifically targeted, according to Speaker Pro Tempore Judd Matheny who is sponsoring the measure, HB1353, in the House.

“I would just, please, like to implore the Muslim community, this is not against you,” said Matheny. “This is not a witch hunt. This is nothing but to protect ourselves where the federal government can’t or won’t.”

Members of the House Judiciary Committee approved the bill 12-4 while the measure won a 6-3 favorable vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Both measures now advance to the houses’ Finance, Ways and Means committees.

The problem is the bill doesn’t give enough of a recourse for people falsely accused of being or helping terrorists, said Rep. Mike Stewart, a Nashville Democrat.

“It’s un-American as far as I’m concerned,” said Stewart. “What we’re saying here is that somebody in Tennessee, a regular person, can be declared a terrorist, and they have no right to a trial of their peers to clear their good name. That’s just completely the opposite of what we should be doing in this country.”

Votes for the measure fell on mostly partisan lines, although in both chambers, one Democrat voted with Republicans in favor of the bill, and one GOP lawmaker voted with Democrats against it.

Rep. John Lundberg, R-Bristol, said he’s worried the move would give the governor’s office too much power to brand people — and ultimately groups — as terrorists or supporters of terrorists.

The measure feels a lot like the “Patriot Act Part Two for Tennessee,” said Sen. Stacey Campfield, a Knoxville Republican.

“I may be wrong, and by God I really hope I’m not, but for me at this time it’s a bridge too far,” he said.

Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee agrees, saying the language is much too vague and potentially unconstitutional.

Last year, the ACLU landed on the state’s Fusion Center tracking list — which monitors suspected terrorism and suspicious activities —  for penning a letter about respecting religious preferences during the December holiday season. State officials later said the posting was a mistake.

Democrats like Rep. Gary Moore of Joelton and Sen. Tim Barnes of Adams, siding with Republicans, said they are comfortable with the bill as is, although Barnes expects to draft an amendment that would clear up language on due process rights for those accused of being mixed up with terrorism.

Barnes noted to sponsor Ketron that not nearly the outrage would have arisen had the legislation been dubbed the “Timothy McVeigh Bill,” rather than the “Sharia Bill.”

“You can’t put that toothpaste back in the tube, and that’s where we are now,” Barnes said. “This bill has evolved remarkably from where it started out.”

Mohamed Ahmed, an imam from the Islamic Center of Nashville, testified briefly before the House Judiciary committee, telling lawmakers the new version of the measure dwells on emotional blackmail and penalizes the Muslim community, but more than that, it violates the rights of all citizens.

“We believe in justice. We trust our representatives. We’re going to oppose the bill. We’re going to go all the way, Finance Committee, the Senate,” he told reporters after the hearing. “We’re not going to give up. This is not the end. This is the beginning, and we still have a very long way to go.”

Here’s what the measure would do, according to the latest draft adopted Tuesday:

  • The Safety commissioner and state director of homeland security can investigate and recommend the governor and attorney general jointly label a person or group as a terrorists or a terrorist entity.
  • Terrorists are defined as any person or group of two or more people with the capability and intent to engage in terrorist activity that threatens the security or safety of any U.S. resident.
  • Terrorist activity, according to U.S. Code Section 1182, includes any unlawful activities which involve any of the following: highjacking or sabotage of an aircraft, vessel or vehicle; holding someone hostage to compel a third party to do or not do something; a violent attack on public officials or their families; or use of biological or chemical agents, explosives, or weapons to endanger people or cause substantial property damage for more than monetary gain.
  • Anyone knowingly helping a person or group deemed a terrorist or terrorist group would be found guilty of a Class B felony, which would be upgraded to a Class A felony punishable by life in prison without possibility of parole if someone dies as a result of their material support.
  • “Material support” means “any property, tangible or intangible, or service, including currency or monetary instruments or financial securities, financial services, lodging, training, expert advice or assistance, safe houses, false documentation or identification, communications equipment, facilities, weapons, lethal substances, explosives, transportation, and personnel of one (1) or more individuals, including the entity itself; and does not include medicine or religious materials.”
  • Seven days before the designation is made official, the individual or group of people shall be served a summons. The individual or group will then have seven additional days to challenge the classification before it is posted on the Secretary of State website and made public in major newspapers.
  • Once the terrorist label becomes public, designees can seek a judicial review at the chancery court of Davidson County no more than 30 days after the designation kicks in.
  • Any confidential information used by the administration to designate the person or people as terrorists will remain confidential but may be disclosed at the administrative review.
  • A terrorist label can only be removed or blocked by a joint resolution of the General Assembly, a joint decision by the governor and the attorney general or by a court after a challenge by the designee.
Business and Economy NewsTracker

Haslam’s Tort Reform Plan Advances

The Senate Judiciary Committee kept Gov. Bill Haslam’s tort reform bill on track Tuesday, passing the controversial bill 6-3 along party lines.

The committee considered several amendments and adopted those that were considered friendly by Sen. Mark Norris, R-Collierville, the bill’s sponsor. Norris is carrying the bill for the administration as majority leader in the Senate.

While committee members discussed the amendments, no testimony was taken from people in the audience who had interest in the legislation, unlike the previous week when dramatic testimony included remarks by former U.S. Sen. Fred Thompson, who is lobbying for trial lawyers against the bill.

The amendments approved Tuesday did little to change the thrust of the bill, SB1522. They dealt with issues such as proper venue in a case, allowing for ordinary alteration of records and clarifying other language in the bill. The committee moved to lump four acceptable amendments into one for the purpose of simplification.

Technically, the committee approved the first amendment to the measure that represented the basic changes requested by the Haslam administration from the original version. The latest version of the bill provides for non-economic damages in civil cases to be capped at $750,000, with a $1 million cap applicable in catastrophic cases.

Sen. Doug Overbey, R-Maryville, offered an amendment that would raise the caps on non-economic damages to $1.25 million, rather than the $750,000, and would have raised the $1 million cap in catastrophic cases to $2.5 million.

“I know this would put our state higher (in the level of caps on damages) than some other states, but after a great deal of consideration and listening to the testimony last week, I feel this is an appropriate move,” Overbey said.

The amendment failed, as did two proposals from Sen. Tim Barnes, D-Adams.

Barnes attempted to amend the legislation with a provision that would tie figures in the bill to the consumer price index. Another amendment by Barnes attempted to replace a reference to spinal cord injuries to include language that covered serious brain injuries in the catastrophic case category. Norris said the topic of brain injuries had been given a lot of considerations in talks over the bill.

“It was weighed. It was evaluated, and in the negotiations it was not considered to be a prudent thing to include in this legislation. Because of that, as the sponsor, I consider it to be a hostile amendment,” Norris said.

Haslam initially proposed legislation that had caps on non-economic damages in all cases at $750,000. Later, provisions for catastrophic cases were added that carried a $1.25 million cap, but that figure was later brought down to $1 million as it currently stands.

The tort reform bill is one of the main pieces of legislation proposed by Haslam, who is in his first year in office. It stands alongside education reforms such as teacher tenure changes and loosening limits on charter schools as Haslam priorities. Thus far, Haslam, a Republican, appears to be getting basically what he wants from the Republican-controlled legislature.

The House Judiciary Committee has also passed the tort reform bill. The bill will move to a floor vote in both chambers, after being scheduled by the House and Senate’s calendar committees.

Those voting for the bill Tuesday were Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, Sen. Ken Yager, R-Harriman, Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, the committee chairman, and Overbey. Those opposing the bill were Barnes, Sen. Ophelia Ford, D-Memphis, and Sen. Beverly Marrero, D-Memphis.

Press Releases

Military Spouse Unemployment Extension Passes Senate Commerce

Press Release from Sen. Tim Barnes, D-Clarksville, April 20, 2011:

Bill would provide unemployment benefits to military spouses

NASHVILLE – A Senate committee unanimously passed a bill by State Senator Tim Barnes Tuesday to help Tennessee military families by extending unemployment benefits to individuals who leave their jobs to accompany their spouses on a military transfer.

“In our area, we take a lot of pride in supporting our military families,” Barnes said. “Today’s decision moves us one step closer to again matching our words with our actions.”

The bill (SB884/HB984) would require the state to pay unemployment benefits for those who left their jobs as a result of a spouse’s military transfer. More than 1,700 Tennessee military spouses are employed and have to transfer each year.

Tennessee is one of only 12 states that do not currently provide unemployment benefits for military spouses forced to leave their jobs due to a military transfer. Tennessee would likely see about 73 unemployment claims from military spouses each year, according to the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development, resulting in an estimated cost of less than $278,800.

Testifying at Tuesday’s Senate Commerce committee meeting was Robin Miller of Clarksville, whose husband Sgt. Matthew Miller has gone through three deployments – two to Iraq and a current deployment to Afghanistan. He has orders to report in December to Fort Irwin, Calif., a small base in the middle of the Mojave Desert that is 31 miles away from the nearest town.

Robin Miller, a teacher at Rossview High School, told committee members that she would have to stay in Tennessee and choose her job over her husband if they didn’t receive some form of assistance.

“Military spouses are being penalized for deciding to keep their families intact,” said Miller, who was born on the naval base in Millington, Tenn. “Ironically, if I were fired or my position were cut, I would be eligible for unemployment.”

Several members of the committee thanked Miller for attending before voting 9-0 to pass the bill to the Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee. Should the bill pass the full Senate, the House version would have to be reconsidered in a subcommittee.

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.

Press Releases

Montgomery Co. Lawmakers Ask AG for Opinion on Johnny Piper Hire

Press Release from Sen. Tim Barnes, D-Adams, Jan 13, 2011:

Former Clarksville mayor takes $140,000 job as utility superintendent

NASHVILLE – State lawmakers representing Montgomery County have requested an opinion from Attorney General Bob Cooper concerning former Clarksville mayor Johnny Piper’s hiring as superintendent of CDE Lightband, a $140,000 job that he accepted while still mayor of the city.

“Clearly there are questions here that need answers: legal questions, governing questions, and most important, ethical questions,” State Senator Tim Barnes said. “When an elected official agrees to take a six-figure government job while still in office, there should be all kinds of questions.”

Barnes, State Representatives Joe Pitts, Curtis Johnson and Phillip Johnson issued the request Thursday on behalf of current Clarksville mayor Kim McMillan. The request asks the AG whether the city can impose the same ethics regulations on CDE that it imposes on other city departments.

“We have a responsibility to seek some clarity of these recent events in response to the hundreds of citizens who have contacted us expressing outrage regarding this matter,” Pitts said.

Piper accepted the $140,000 superintendent job days before his mayoral term expired on Dec. 31, 2010. Clarksville ethics laws state that elected officials cannot interview for a department head in local government for one year after leaving office, and cannot interview for any government position for three months after their term expires.

CDE lawyers have argued that the city laws do not apply to the utility because it was created under a 1935 state law that does not contain the same regulations. Barnes and other lawmakers point out that the state law allows for local governments to create additional ethical safeguards like the ones in the Clarksville city code. Without them, mayors could appoint people who could later turn around and hire them as soon as their term expired.

“Our ethics regulations were created for scenarios like the one we’re facing now,” said Curtis Johnson, appointed Thursday as the House Ethics Committee Chairman. “The minute we create exceptions, we open the floodgates for abuse.”

Press Releases

Sen. Barnes: Water Districts Should Give Fluoride Notification

Press release from state Sen. Tim Barnes, D-Adams, Feb. 26, 2010:

Bill aims to avoid Montgomery County confusion

NASHVILLE – Sen. Tim Barnes, D-Adams, is sponsoring a bill requiring utility districts to notify customers if they stop adding fluoride to their water supply, in hopes of avoiding future concerns like those that arose in Montgomery County.

“There has been an ongoing debate about fluoride in water supplies, and we need to have a standard in place if a system decides to remove it. This bill establishes that standard,” Barnes said.

The bill would require any public water system to give public notice at least 30 days before discontinuing fluoridation. The system would also have to notify the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation and the Department of Health at least 10 days in advance.

The bill stems from residents’ concern in the East Montgomery and Cunningham areas after the East Montgomery Water Treatment Plant stopped fluoridating its water supply in Feb. 2006.

The utility district did not notify its customers of the change, which was outlined in an October 2007 article in the Clarksville Leaf-Chronicle. After discussion, the district’s Board of Directors decided in 2008 to keep fluoride out of its water supply.

Utility districts across the country have fluoridated their water supplies for decades, as small amounts of fluoride have been shown to prevent tooth decay. Recently, some districts have removed fluoride due to research indicating that young children could develop teeth spotting and potentially severe bone problems as a result of excess fluoride.

“There is support on both sides of the issue, but the public deserves to know if there is going to be a change in policy,” Barnes said.

The bill (SB2987) is scheduled to be heard in a Senate committee Tuesday.