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Featured Transparency and Elections

Bickering Over Voter ID Bills Ongoing

Legislation designed to clarify Tennessee’s voter ID law generated heated exchanges and raised more questions than answers on the House floor before the final vote left the bill at odds with the Senate version.

Earlier this week, the House substituted HB229 for SB125. The House also approved an amendment barring students from using their IDs from state-funded colleges to vote – a move the Senate sponsor says he will fight.

Bill KetronBill Ketron

“The Senate voted 2-to-1 against disallowing state-issued college IDs when that amendment was before us,” said Sen. Bill Ketron, who initiated the legislation. “We will continue to push to allow state-issued student identification to remain in the bill as passed by the Senate, even if we have to go to a conference committee.”

When or if that committee may be convened remains up in the air, according to a legislative assistant the Murfreesboro Republican.

In addition to college IDs, the bill would ban the use of out-of-state driver’s licenses, currently allowed even if they’ve expired, as well as ID cards issued by cities, counties or public libraries. The validity of the latter form of identification is before the Tennessee Supreme Court after the city of Memphis and two residents challenged the law. 

The House floor debate about the legislation became rather heated at times, and even though other issues surfaced, it passed 65-30. The Senate version, which allows students IDs to be used, passed earlier this month 24-3.

Rep. Johnnie Turner, a Democrat from Memphis, called the bill “another form of voter suppression.” Fellow Memphis Democrat Rep. Antonio Parkinson claimed he was “hoodwinked and bamboozled,” because the bill that passed the House Local Government Subcommittee allowed student IDs to be used, but an amendment in the full committee stripped that provision.

House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick emphatically proclaimed, “This talk about voting suppression is just not true!”

The Chattanooga representative said the legislation is designed to stop voter fraud. He said that “a state Senate election was stolen in the city of Memphis just a few years ago” and that a recent documentary had a chairman of the NAACP talking about “the machine in Memphis” that would load people on a bus and take them to multiple polling stations to cast their votes “over and over again.”

Republican Rep. Vince Dean, of East Ridge, and Democratic Rep. Joe Armstrong, of Knoxville, expressed concerns about blocking out-of-state IDs for those who own property in Tennessee but live in another state.

Rep. Susan Lynn, who sponsored the House bill, said she was not sure whether the state would issue an ID to a nonresident.

“What we’re doing with this legislation is trying to most closely match the legislation that passed in Indiana, because that legislation did survive all the way to the United States Supreme Court,” the Mt. Juliet Republican said.

Armstrong claimed the bill would change the way the city of Knoxville elects its mayors and city council members because property owners are allowed to vote in municipal elections even if they don’t live there.

Had the bill been in effect when Gov. Bill Haslam first ran as mayor of Knoxville, Armstrong said, the outcome could have been changed. Three thousand property owners voted, and “a lot of them live out of state.” Haslam won by 1,500 votes.

“Now we have a sitting governor that benefited from the law,” Armstrong said.

Amelia Morrison Hipps may be reached at amhipps@capitolnewstn.com, on Twitter @CapitolNews_TN or at 615-442-8667.

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Featured Transparency and Elections

‘Easily Avoidable’ Errors Cost 3K Shelby Co. Residents Their Votes: State Review

Some 3,000 Memphis area voters’ ballots in the Aug. 2 primary were not counted because of “poor judgement and mistakes” by the Shelby County Election Commission, the state Comptroller’s office concluded in a report released today.

The review found that those Memphis voters were given the wrong ballots because election officials were slow to redraw district and precinct lines, as is required every decade to reflect population changes and ensure the districts represent roughly the same number of people. Oversight of the election administrator by the county elections board was nonexistent, and staff failed to quickly identify and correct inaccuracies, which were “easily avoidable and detectible.”

There was no pattern to the errors, the comptroller’s office found.

“Our review identified no discernible evidence of intentional misconduct or other actions intended to affect or influence the election process or election outcomes in Shelby County,” reads the report from Rene Brison, assistant director of the Division of Investigations for the Comptroller’s office, which audits state and local government agencies.

Still, the office failed to live up to its core mission.

“The primary responsibility of the SCEC is to conduct elections in Shelby County, yet SCEC has demonstrated an inability to conduct elections without significant inaccuracies, including those identified in the 2012 elections,” according to the report. The review was conducted at the request of Secretary of State Tre Hargett.

State elections coordinator Mark Goins called the errors “unacceptable.” Election results for Shelby County were certified Aug 20.

The redistricting errors in Memphis add to problems for voters this year, most notably in Nashville, where several high-ranking Democrats complained that their voting machines pulled up Republican primary ballots by default.

The Comptroller’s office has been looking into those issues for weeks, said spokesman Blake Fontenay, but does not expect to issue a formal report.

“We have been working with Davidson County officials to determine what went wrong and how similar problems can be avoided in the future,” he said.

The machines were programmed wrong, according to local election officials. The Davidson County Election Commission has decided against using the machines for the November election.

 

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Press Releases

Kyle Laments ‘Barriers to Voting’ in TN

Press release from State Senator Jim Kyle, D-Memphis; September 28, 2012: 

NASHVILLE – Voter participation in Tennessee is critically low, and the barriers to voting are too high, Senate Democratic leader Jim Kyle said Friday.

“What’s the difference between a farmer in Iowa and a farmer in Tennessee? A farmer in Iowa can vote for president today,” Kyle said.

Early voting has already started in Iowa, South Dakota, Wyoming, Vermont and Virginia. Tennessee starts Oct. 17.

Only five states have lower voter participation than Tennessee, according to a Sept. 10 study by the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations. It recommends that state elections officials study a method for voters residing at a temporary residence to vote in statewide elections.

The report also looks at ways other states have modernized their elections with new methods for voting. Eight states allow same-day registration, others allow voting by mail and even voting by email, which is especially convenient for military personnel overseas.

“Tennessee, unfortunately, has instead set up new barriers making it harder to vote,” Kyle said. “On top of that, problems with county balloting systems are raising questions about the integrity of our elections.”

View the complete TACIR study here.

 

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Press Releases

Senate Dems Want Inquiry Into Statewide Voting Problems

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Democratic Caucus; August 28, 2012: 

NASHVILLE – ­Senate Democrats are calling on Secretary of State Tre Hargett to launch a full inquiry into voting irregularities across the state.

“There are a lot of questions about the integrity of the August primaries, and voters deserve answers,” said Senate Democratic Leader Jim Kyle. “We didn’t have these problems four years ago.”

In Shelby and now Davidson County, there have been reports of voters getting the wrong primary ballot and voting in the wrong district. State election officials have admitted that poll worker training was inadequate. Davidson County officials were advised against using electronic poll books, but used them anyway.

“We need to know why the machines defaulted to a particular party’s ballot,” said Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Lowe Finney. “We need to know who made that decision, and we need to know whether these machines will be used again.”

Democratic leaders called on lawmakers to reconsider the Tennessee Voter Confidence Act, which requires that precincts use optical scanners that produce a paper ballot. The bipartisan law passed unanimously in 2008 but implementation has been delayed.

“People invest considerable time in deciding how to cast their vote, and when they leave the voting booth, they should be confident their vote counted the way they intended,” Sen. Finney said. “I hope state election officials will take these irregularities seriously and conduct a thorough review.”

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Press Releases

TCA: ‘Plethora of Election Problems, Mistakes’

Press release from Tennessee Citizen Action; August 9, 2012: 

VOTING PROBLEMS ON ELECTION DAY?

The past few weeks saw a plethora of election problems and mistakes at the polls in Tennessee.

As we venture further into election season, Citizen Action urges all to be proactive in their voter mobilization and education. Everyone should know that voting is a right guaranteed to you by the Tennessee Constitution and you should never let anyone tell you that you can’t vote.

If you had any problems voting during the primary election last Thursday, August 2, please email us at mary@tnca.org or call 615-736-6040.

Even if the problem was resolved and you were able to vote, we want to hear your story. Every story means we are one step closer to holding our election administrators and commissioners accountable for fair and accurate elections.

MEET ALEC

ALEC, also known as the American Legislative Exchange Council, was back in the news last week, after holding yet another national convention. (Read about one progressive’s “Week With ALEC” here.)

We would agree with other critics that ALEC is a “a secretive, corporate-controlled lobby for conservative causes.” ALEC counts as its members executives of large corporations and mostly conservative state lawmakes. The lawmakers are tasked with carrying the legislation authored by the corporate executives back to their respective states. The large corporations do their part by contributing lots of $$$ to state legislator’s election campaigns.

Common Cause recenlty filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission accusing ALEC of misusing their tax-exempt status by lobbying state legislators. The state of Wisconsin has also filed a complaint ” claiming that ALEC’s ‘scholarships’ for travel expenses to conventions violate a ban on lobbyist gifts to legislators.” Tennessee also bans gifts from lobbyists to legislators but in 2006, with the help of ALEC Board Member Rep. Curry Todd* (R-Collierville), an explicit exemption was added for ” out-of-state travel expenses provided by ‘a recognized organization of elected or appointed state government officials.‘”

THESE LEGISLATORS STAND WITH ALEC

The good news is that many of the corporations who once belonged to ALEC are fleeing from it. Some TN legislators have left as well.

The bad news is that many State Legislators are still members. Here’s the who’s who of TN legislators who are associated with ALEC:

TN House of Representatives

  • Rep. Curry Todd* (R-Collierville)
  • Rep-elect Susan Lynn* (R-Mt. Juliet)
  • Rep. John D. Ragan* (R-Oak Ridge)
  • Rep. Kevin D. Brooks* (R-Cleveland)
  • Rep. David Hawk* (R-Greeneville)
  • Rep. Bob Ramsey* (R-Maryville)
  • Rep. Tony Shipley* (R-Kingsport)
  • Rep. Vince Dean* (R-East Ridge)
  • Rep. Curtis Johnson* (R-Clarksville)
  • Rep. Gerald McCormick* (R-Chattanooga)
  • Rep. Charles Sargent* (R-Franklin)
  • Rep. Debra Maggart (R-Hendersonville)
  • Rep. Stephen McManus* (R-Cordova)
  • Rep. Harry R. Brooks* (R-Knoxville)
  • Rep. Frank Niceley (R-Knoxville)
  • Rep. Jimmy Eldridge* (R-Jackson)
  • Rep. Julia Hurley (R-Lenoir City)*
  • Rep. Mark White* (R-Memphis)
  • Rep. Phillip Johnson (R-Pegram)
  • Rep. Ryan A. Haynes* (R-Knoxville)
  • Rep. Joe Carr* (R-Lascassass)
  • Rep. Jon C. Lundberg* (R-Bristol)
  • Rep. Joshua G. Evans* (R-Greenbrier)
  • Rep. Mike T. Harrison* (R-Rogersville)
  • Rep. Johnny Montgomery (R-Sevierville)
  • Rep. Steve McDaniel* (R-Parkers Crossroads) (Read quotes here)
  • Rep. Barrett Rich* (R-Somerville)
  • Rep. Kelly Keisling* (R-Byrdstown) (Also recently made appearance in HuffPost)
  • Rep. Vance Dennis* (R-Savannah)
  • Rep. Dale Ford (R-Jonesborough)

TN Senate

  • Sen. Reginald Tate** (D-Memphis)
  • Sen. Ken Yager* (R-Harriman)
  • Sen. Dolores R. Gresham* (R-Somerville)
  • Sen. Steve Southerland** (R-Morristown)
  • Sen. Jim Tracy* (R-Shelbyville)
  • Sen. Bill Ketron** (R-Murfreesboro)
  • Sen. Mike Bell** (R-Riceville)
  • Sen. Brian K. Kelsey** (R-Germantown)
  • Sen. Mark S. Norris* (R-Collierville)
  • Sen. Ophelia Ford** (D-Memphis)
  • Sen. Jim Kyle* (D-Memphis)

*These members won their primary races last week. And here is a list of the August 2 Primary Election results.

** No re-election bid this year.

CONSTITUTIONAL CHALLENGE TO PHOTO ID TO VOTE LAW

GOOD NEWS! We have a Constitutional challenge to Tennessee’s Photo ID to Vote law! The Memphis Commercial Appeal reports:

“An amended complaint was filed Tuesday by attorneys for the city and for two Memphis voters without state-issued ID cards whose provisional ballots in last Thursday’s election were not counted. The complaint charges that the voter photo ID requirement adds a new qualification for voting beyond the four listed in the Tennessee Constitution and is therefore an unconstitutional infringement on the right to vote under both the federal and state constitutions.

The attorneys…have asked the federal court to ask the Tennessee Supreme Court whether requiring otherwise qualified voters in Tennessee to present photo IDs violates the state constitution.”

HERE WE GO! Thank you again to everyone who worked so hard last winter to repeal the law. The fight is not over yet!

THE WIZARDS OF I.D.

It was only a matter of time. Finally, Jon Stewart skewers conservative charges of rampant voter fraud on last night’s edition of The Daily Show: “The Wizards of I.D.”

Watch Part 1.

Then watch Part 2.

Favorite line – “If you have a favorite Meg Ryan movie, you might be eleigible to vote!”

UPCOMING EVENTS

RALLY TO STOP VOTER SUPPRESSION IN TENNESSEE Please join to speak with one voice to decry this injustice. Saturday, August 11, 10:30 am – 12:30 pm at Krutch Park, Knoxville, TN More info here.

COMMITTEE MEETING Tennessee Equality Project Nashville Committee Meeting at Nashville West Buffalo Wild Wings onWednesday, August 15 at 7:00 p.m.

CONFERENCE Tennessee Health Care Campaign
23rd Annual Conference on Saturday, August 18
9:00 am – 4:30 pm
Kresge Learning Center
Meharry Medical College
1005 Dr. D.B. Todd Blvd. Nashville. For more info: THCC2.org

TRAINING: VOTER REGISTRATION Nashville’s League of Women Voters is hosting a “How to Register Voters” Train-the-Trainer workshop on Sat, August 18 10:30 am – 12 noon at the Goodwill Career Solutions center, Nashville

SUPER VOTER REGISTRATION DAY The NAACP, Middle Tennessee Urban League, Citizen Action, and others encourage your organization to join with us to organize and sponsor an all-day Voter Registration Drive on Sunday, August 19.

COMMUNITY ORGANIZING WORKSHOP A Nashville Workshop on Faith-based Community Organizing on Saturday, August 25 from 9:00 am – 4:00 pm at the Spruce Street Baptist Church. Planned by The Nashville Faith-Based Organizing Project. Training by The Gamaliel Foundation. Register for free online here.

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Press Releases

TN Citizen Action Reminds Voters Today is Election Day

Newsletter from Tennessee Citizen Action; August 2, 2012:  

If you need actual evidence of how the new “big money in politics” climate might affect things here in Tennessee then look no further than the Democratic primary between Rep. Jeanne Richardson and Rep. John Deberry in State House District 90 in Memphis.

The Chattanooga Times Free Press and the Memphis Commercial Appeal have both reporting that:

“Two national groups that lobby for school vouchers and charter schools spent more than $140,000 in July in support of pro-voucher state Rep. John Deberry’s Democratic primary race against Rep. Jeanne Richardson in Memphis, according to new campaign financial disclosures. The ‘independent expenditures’ by the Super PACS, or political action committees, run by [Michelle Rhee’s] Students First and the American Federation for Children are a huge amount of money for a Tennessee legislative race.”

The real issue isn’t whether one candidate backs vouchers and the other doesn’t. The real issue is the gobs of out-of-state money influencing our state politics. The issue is that one candidate is seemingly bought and paid for by out-of-state corporate and special interests, and one is not.

So how, then, as Tennessee political analyst Trace Sharp asks, “do common folks, just regular people, compete with that kind of money in races that in the past didn’t see this high volume of, for lack of a better word, investment?”

Well, we only one answer right now: WE VOTE.

So GET OUT AND VOTE TODAY – and help to make the lines at your polling place as long as the lines at that pollo place.

But before you go…

CHECK CHECK CHECK

Redistricting in Tennessee caused many changes, so doublecheck that you are going to the right voting location.

Also, some voters have been given incorrect ballots during early voting so you want to double check which State House, State Senate, and School board district (County District) you are before you go to make sure you are given the correct ballot.

You can do both of these in one place. Here’s how:

KNOW THE RULES BEFORE YOU GO

In Tennessee, in addition to being a registered vote, YOU WILL NEED A SPECIFIC PHOTO ID TO VOTE.

Any of the following photo IDs may be used, EVEN IF EXPIRED:

  • Tennessee or other state drivers license with your photo
  • United States Passport
  • Photo ID issued by the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security, the federal, or any other state government
  • United States Military photo ID
  • State-issued handgun carry permit with your photo

Photo IDs NOT Accepted for Voting:

  • College student IDs
  • Photo IDs not issued by the federal or a state government are NOT acceptable

For a complete detailing of the law, go to www.tn.gov.

NEVER LET ANYONE TURN YOU AWAY WITHOUT VOTING

Just sayin’.

If you feel as if you are not being helped to your satisfaction by a poll worker, call you County Election Commission. The list is here.

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Press Releases

Kyle Touts Wharton Proposal to Use Library Cards for Voter ID

Press release from Sen. Jim Kyle, D-Memphis; July 6, 2012: 

MEMPHIS – State Senator Jim Kyle echoed the sentiments of Mayor AC Wharton, who spoke yesterday on the city attorney’s opinion that new photo Memphis Public Library cards meet the legal criteria for acceptable photo identification for the purposes of voting.

“We need to do everything in our power to guarantee that all citizens that wants to vote, get to vote,” said Kyle. “I believe that this will help us assure that we don’t lose some folks who may not have a photo driver’s license, but still have the right to participate .”

In last year’s legislative session, the General Assembly passed a controversial measure requiring all voters to present a photo ID at their polling place. The new law sparked a wave of confusion about which forms of identification were acceptable; this ultimately compelled the legislature to provide free IDs at all driver’s services locations, and remove the decades-old exemption for seniors from having a photo on their driver’s license.

However, the Memphis City Attorney issued an opinion that, because the libraries are an entity of the state, photo IDs issued by the libraries would fall under the law’s definition of state-issued identification.

“I’m afraid that this law does more to prevent legitimate voters from exercising their rights than it will ever do to prevent fraud;” continued Kyle, who was a leading opponent of the bill, “the Mayor has done a great job of providing a Memphis-based solution to a state-created problem.”

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News

Democratic Chair Faults GOP for Election Foul-Ups

The leader of the Tennessee Democratic Party says he’s concerned with all the mistakes and inconsistencies that arose in the primary elections the state and local governments administered earlier this month.

And legislative Republicans are mostly to blame for the snafus, Chip Forrester told reporters at the Capitol Wednesday.

The problems could potentially have been avoided by requiring that votes be recorded on paper ballots and entered into a scanner — instead of almost entirely on computer systems, the party chairman suggested.

“We would probably not necessarily be in this situation with some certainly if we had that,” he said. “And it is a disappointment that Republicans have not seen that this is a tool that will be useful for counting votes accurately and properly in the election process.”

Under the Tennessee Voter Confidence Act, passed in 2008, counties were supposed to have purchased ballots and optical scanning voting machines to fully embrace the new ballot-counting practice by November.

Driven by Republicans who said in January that cash-strapped counties lacked the money during an economic downturn to buy new equipment, the Legislature voted to delay implementation until 2012.

The delay-measure, HB614, easily passed both chambers with a combined House-Senate vote of 95-30 — with 29 Democrats and one Republican against it.

The Voter Confidence Act also required the state use advanced ballot-counting technology that hadn’t yet been developed, said state Sen. Bill Ketron, who sponsored the legislation to stall the law’s start date. He said he didn’t want to make counties “throw out the machines they bough a few short years ago” to buy new ones.

“The delay was to wait until 2012 to give the manufacturers of the machines time to catch up,” said the Murfreesboro Republican. “I think everybody who voted for (the act) thought those machines would be here, but they’re not.”

The new process is meant to create additional set of checks and balances to verify all votes cast are counted in each election, he said.

Several races in this month’s primary election ended with razor-thin margins, giving the slightest ballot-counting discrepancies the potential to change the outcome of a contest.

Case in point is the Nashville state Senate race between incumbent Sen. Douglas Henry and his challenger Jeff Yarbro.

Tallies last left the senator 11 votes ahead of Yarbro, although the unofficial vote totals have changed four times since election day.

The Democratic Party’s executive committee will decide Monday night, after Davidson County certifies the election results, whether to request a recount.

Other electoral rough patches included Davidson County officials discovering a voting machine that had never been counted, a missed early-election voting day in Rutherford County and a previous election’s votes loaded into Shelby County voting machines.

Even if the Legislature hadn’t postponed the new requirements, Tennessee Secretary of State officials maintain, these kinds of mistakes still could have happened.

“In every election there is the potential for mistakes to be made, particularly human error,” said Blake Fontenay. “Even if you moved to paper ballots, you’d still have the potential for issues to arise.”

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News

Legislature Abandoned Bills In Conference Committee

Lawmakers spent the last two years introducing almost 8,000 pieces of legislation, probably well aware that all but a fraction would die quietly, with little debate at all.

Others stood a chance but perished because they lacked solid support while trickling through the legislative process. Some died in legislative committees and others failed on the House or Senate floor.

But four bills this year died simply because House and Senate lawmakers failed to find common ground between the two separate versions passed by each chamber.

They were only a compromise away in a six-member “conference committee” from being agreed upon in the Legislature. But they were caught up when committee delegates from the House and Senate couldn’t hammer out agreements.

Those bills included requiring potential voters to prove their citizenship and allowing judges with handgun permits to carry their weapons like police officers.

Roughly one out of every eight bills became law this past session. As of this posting, 1,044 bills were signed into law during the 106th General Assembly. The total number of bills and resolutions filed was 7,955 during the two-year period the General Assembly met.

When lawmakers walked out of the the Capitol Building during the wee hours of June 10, they left behind them HB270. The measure was supposed to require new voters show proof of citizenship.

House members easily approved the measure 92-1, but rejected the Senate’s amendment requiring citizens to provide a drivers license number, a legible copy of a birth certificate, copies of passport documents, naturalization documents or any other paperwork to prove an individual is a U.S. citizen. The Senate voted 20-12 for the measure.

Both chambers appointed members to the conference committee, but the group never reported back with a compromise.

Sen. Dewayne Bunch, a sponsor of the bill, said the committee met for over an hour on the issue, but he couldn’t convince enough House members in the small group to go along with their changes — which had since become “the heart of the bill.”

“I saw it as a way to place tools in the tool box for election administrators,” said the Cleveland Republican. “Two members didn’t see it that way.”

Another bill that died in the conference committee was HB82, which authorizes current and retired judges with a handgun permit to carry their firearm under the same circumstances as police or correctional officers. Lawmakers took up the bill last year but never revisited it during the 2010 spring session.

Rep. Johnny Shaw, D-Bolivar, said he carried the bill for a judge who said he is sometimes threatened. But opponents said they weren’t comfortable with a judge bringing a gun in the courtroom.

The measure was then assigned to a conference committee, but the group never met, said Shaw. He said he pushed the issue to the back burner and never picked it up again.

House bill 2593 was also sitting in a conference committee when legislators adjourned sine die. The measure would have renewed the Board of Examiners of Architects and Engineers.

It was one of 19 boards that were not extended this year because House and Senate members couldn’t agree on changes to how top government officials appoint members to serve on those and other boards. However, the House bill was the only one to be assigned to a full conference committee. In most cases, the House created one but Senate opted not to.

A final bill that died in a conference committee, SB2418, was a nuts and bolts piece of legislation regarding the rules used to implement state laws.

The Senate measure would have erased a section of state code that was mistakenly left behind last year when it rewrote an act on rule-making.

In the House, lawmakers made changes to how rules are reviewed. The legislation insisted that issues relative to the Uniform Administrative Procedures Act — which governs rule making — be vetted in standing committees before going to the House and Senate Government Operations committees.

Sen. Bo Watson, a Hixson Republican who chairs his chamber’s gov-ops committee, said the Senate couldn’t approve that bill without violating its own set of rules that dictates a bill’s committee assignments.

Passing the Senate version wasn’t critical this year, he said, but he’ll take the issue up again in 2011.

“The best thing to do is drop back, punt, write the caption a little tighter and fix the area that we intended to fix with this bill,” he said.

House sponsor and House Government Operations Chairwoman, Rep. Susan Lynn, said she was disappointed her version didn’t pass. It also would have changed the way new occupational license requirements are vetted in order to allow affected workers to to give feedback, said the Mt. Juliet Republican, adding that the current system “creates suspicion among the general public.”

Although the House and Senate both appointed members to the conference committee, the group never met.

Legislators have now adjourned for the year and say it’s unlikely that they will be back before the new General Assembly is sworn in next January. At that point, legislators will have to begin introducing a brand new set bills and will not be able to resurrect any of the dead ones.

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Liberty and Justice News Transparency and Elections

Legislature Says Criminals Must Pay Full Restitution for Voting-Rights Restoration

A proposed law to require that felons pay all their fines and court costs before getting their voting rights restored is headed to the governor’s desk.

The measure breezed through the Senate Wednesday, a stark contrast to the gale-force debate that howled up in the House last week.

The bill, SB 440/HB 09690, was sponsored by Rep. Joe McCord and Sen. Doug Overbey, both Maryville Republicans.

In the House, McCord and the bill were accused of aiming to disenfranchise voters who traditionally lean Democrat, and for placing a higher political premium on revenue collections than civil rights and “equal justice.”

“I agree that we should have restitution, but what I don’t agree with is when your income or lack thereof causes inequity in our system, and that’s exactly what this does,” said Rep. Jeanne Richardson, D-Memphis. “This is not equal justice. We are talking about people who have paid their debt (through incarceration), and now we are going to make a decision based on their ability to vote on how much money they have.”

Added Rep. Brenda Gilmore, D-Nashville, “Basically we’re saying if you’ve got the money, and you can pay, you can have your rights restored, but if you don’t have the money…you cannot.”

Rep. Mike Stewart, a Nashville Democrat, wondered if the bill was part of “an overall Republican Party effort to disenfranchise people,” citing similar bills being offered in Washington and other states.

Supporters of the measure countered that critics seemed more concerned with getting ex-cons in ballot booths than with ensuring that criminals are made to repay their victims and reimburse taxpayers for the full costs of their misdeeds.

The issues in the bill have “nothing to do with whether you’re rich or poor,” said McCord. He likened it to a bill passed a few years ago that requires a person to be caught up on child support.

“It’s (about) a convicted felon and failure to pay court costs,” he said.

State and Local Government Committee chairman Curry Todd was among those who expressed agitation with the arguments put forward by opponents of the bill.

“Why don’t we let the cops give out a ‘get-out-of-jail-free’ card to everybody who makes under a certain income?” asked the Collierville Republican. “Do we not have any sympathy for the victims out there? We’re one of the top states in the nation in violent crimes. Why should (felons’ rights) be restored? I’m tired of everybody being so damn sympathetic to the criminals.”

House Republican Leader Jason Mumpower of Bristol later added that as a result of felons not paying fines and court costs, “The victims and the taxpayers are paying those court costs, so the victims are being victimized twice.”

After nearly 50 minutes of debate that included members of both sides of the aisle being ruled “out of order,” House Speaker Kent Williams asked the members to wrap up the debate.

“I don’t what more can be said about this,” he said.

It passed on a vote of 69-23.

The bill had passed the House May 17 on a vote of 72-18, but McCord had to bring it up for another vote last week because the original bill as passed incorrectly gave the Board of Probation and Parole the ability to declare a person indigent rather than the courts.

The Senate unanimously agreed to the amendment on Wednesday.