Monthly Archives: December 2016

Democrat gets ahead of Haslam in proposing gas tax increase (plus mass transit funding)

Democratic state Rep. John Clemmons of Nashville has gotten ahead of Gov. Bill Haslam gotten ahead of Republican Gov. Bill Haslam in proposing a plan for raising Tennessee’s fuel taxes, reports the Nashville Post. His draft legislation includes a new stream of revenue for mass transit – something he thinks Haslam will omit.

Haslam, of course, has been pitching the general idea of revenue enhancement to build and better maintain roads for two years and is expected to finally roll out a proposal by Jan. 30.

“I’m trying to avoid rural versus urban antagonism,” Clemmons says. “With a separate funding stream for transit in cities that doesn’t compete in any way with funding projects for roads, bridges or tunnels in other parts of the state, it’s a win-win for all sides.”

Clemmons says his proposal is similar to funding models being used in North Carolina, Georgia and Texas — states with Republican-controlled legislatures, lots of rural counties with real road problems, and similarly booming cities with massive traffic issues.

…The legislator doesn’t have numbers yet set in stone, but the plan as he has drafted it so far looks something like this. The current “pay as you go” system that funds the Tennessee Department of Transportation remains in place, with about a 10-cent increase in the gas tax and an increase in the diesel gas tax to 23.95 cents, up from 18.40 cents… These increases would be indexed to account for population growth and inflation, meaning that in future years they would automatically increase or decrease as the numbers dictated — i.e., never again would the state be in the situation it currently faces, in which the taxes haven’t been increased in almost 30 years — and never again would the Legislature have to vote to raise the gas taxes.

The second arm of the program would create a new account within TDOT with funds dedicated to funding alternative forms of transportation (i.e., mass transit). Once the state hits a certain point in sales tax revenue, a certain number of dollars would automatically be directed into the fund. Similarly, all motor vehicle sales tax revenue over a certain amount would go to the fund.

“Urban areas generate the bulk of the sales tax revenue in the state,” Clemmons said, commenting that it makes sense to keep some of that revenue to address transit and traffic needs.

Note: The Clemmons proposal is maybe not too far removed from some speculation surrounding the still-secret Haslam plan. Many think the governor will include a gas tax increase of around 10 cents per gallon coupled with “indexing” as Clemmons proposes – perhaps with a floor level, which would block revenue declines when gas prices fall.  There’s also talk of “equalizing” gas and diesel fuel taxes (diesel is now taxed less than gasoline, a distinction Clemmons would apparently continue). The administration has also toyed with including some means of new mass transit funding and with increasing vehicle registration fees.

Wildfires deemed No. 1 TN news story of 2016; four political stories in top 10

An outbreak of late November wildfires in Sevier County, killing 14 people, has been deemed the No. 1 Tennessee news story of 2016 by the Associated Press.

Four stories in the top ten involve state politics – the ouster of former state Rep. Jeremy Durham, Gov. Bill Haslam’s veto of a bill to make the Bible the official state book; legislative fights over LGBT bills and the retirement of Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey.

The AP’s story on the Tennessee top ten is HERE.

And here’s the list:

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Ryan Haynes moves from TNGOP chair to liquor lobbyist

Former Tennessee Republican Chairman Ryan Haynes has signed on as lobbyist for the Tennessee liquor wholesalers, reports the Times-Free Press. He’s deemed the heir apparent to Tom “Golden Goose” Hensley, for decades the top lobbyist for the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of Tennessee.

Haynes, 31, who was a state representative from Knoxville before resigning to become TNGOP chair, registered as a lobbyist for the group on Dec. 6 just three days after stepping down as chairman. He and Hensley both declined comment.

Once seen as an able lawmaker with a future in House leadership, Haynes has now cast his lot with the wine and liquor wholesale distributors organization as the group finds itself increasingly on the defensive.

…Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Bill Ketron of Murfreesboro confirmed there is a slow-motion shift of sorts underway in the wholesalers’ organization which for decades has shaped how, when and by whom wine and liquor get sold in Tennessee.

In 2014, Ketron outmaneuvered Hensley and the wholesalers, passing a landmark bill marking the first significant change in state law for decades over their opposition. It allowed grocery and convenience stores to sell wine for the first time.

Still, before the law passed, Hensley managed to stick a few quills into the law, including delaying the change until last July 1.

Asked whether Haynes’ hiring by the wholesalers was over Hensley’s objections, Ketron said, “it’s a succession thing based on what Tom told me. Tom said he’s going to try to move into semi-retirement. He’s going to work with Ryan during this session. Then there’s some kind of wholesalers distributors’ school right after session” for Haynes.

Ketron said Hensley also told him Haynes would have the opportunity to work with him further and then “at some point in time I’ll turn the reins completely over to him. That’s all I know at this point.”

Henry Hildebrand, general counsel for the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers group, confirmed Haynes was working not just as a contract lobbyist for the session but for the organization itself under a decision made by the group’s leaders.

Because Haynes has been out of the legislature for 18 months, the one-year ban on former lawmakers lobbying their one-time colleagues has come and gone.

Meanwhile, if Hensley is “the Golden Goose,” what is Haynes going to be called? Some old Capitol Hill hands are arguing for “the Gosling.” But Ketron said Hensley told him it will be “the Duck.”

Supremes OK forms to simplify uncontested divorces for couples with children

News release from Administrative Office of the Courts

Nashville, Tenn. – The Tennessee Supreme Court has adopted a set of plain-language forms and instructions for use in uncontested divorces between parties with minor children in an effort to simplify divorce proceedings for parties that fall into that category.  The forms will become effective January 1, 2017.

The forms are approved by the Court as universally acceptable and legally sufficient for use in all Tennessee courts pursuant to Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 52. The forms and instructions were submitted to the Court by the Access to Justice Commission.

The forms arose from the Commission’s responsibility under Supreme Court Rule 50 to develop initiatives and systemic changes to reduce barriers to access to justice and to meet the legal needs of persons whose legal needs may not be met by legal aid programs. Currently there are restrictions on the types of family law cases which may be handled by federally funded legal aid providers.

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TDOT worker, struck by car on Christmas Eve, dies of injuries (third TDOT fatality of 2016)

 

News release from Tennessee Department of Transportation

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Department of Transportation HELP Operator James Rogers has died of complications resulting from injuries sustained when he was struck by a vehicle while assisting a stranded motorist on December 24.

Rogers was changing a flat tire for a family stranded on I-40 at mile marker 221 in Davidson County. A member of the family was assisting with the tire change, but Rogers advised him to go inside the car for safety purposes. Rogers was struck a few minutes later by a vehicle crossing onto the shoulder.

Rogers, 30, passed away on December 28. Rogers had a five-year-old son.

TDOT HELP Operators have routes on Tennessee’s most heavily traveled highways in Chattanooga, Knoxville, Memphis and Nashville. The program began in 1999 for the purpose of reducing traffic congestion, improving safety, and assisting motorists in distress. The Region 3 HELP Operators in Middle Tennessee have responded to approximately 40,000 incidents in 2016.

Rogers is the third TDOT employee to be killed in the line of duty in 2016 and the 112th since the agency began keeping records in 1948

Note:  WTVF-TV reported earlier that a fundraising website had been set up to help Rogers’ family. This post updates and replaces an earlier post.

TN spends $1M urging that college dropouts go back to school

Start of a Wall Street Journal article:

Adults across Tennessee are being blasted with a message on television, radio and highway billboards: Finish what you started.

State education officials have spent $1 million in the past year to advertise their Tennessee Reconnect program, an initiative aimed at bringing college dropouts back to school. Public and private institutions are mining student records and reaching out to people who have made it more than halfway to graduation. Churches and job centers are also promoting the program.

“We’re doing everything, all at once,” said Mike Krause, executive director of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, which aims to boost the share of Tennessee adults with college degrees to 55% by 2025 from 38% today. “It takes a very diverse approach to move the needle.” Mr. Krause added that the state should start seeing enrollment results in the spring.

Tennessee is among a number of states seeking to boost the ranks of college graduates and improve local economies. After enticing more people through the high-school-to-college pipeline with better counseling and financial aid, they’re now turning to former students as the best bet for prospective students.

Obama signs bill blocking plan to ban floating homes on TVA lakes

President Barack Obama has signed into law a congressional bill that prevents the Tennessee Valley Authority from removing floating homes from its lakes, reports WJHL.

Back in May, TVA voted 7-2 on a 30 year sunset on floating homes… In September, North Carolina’s Republican U.S. Senators filed legislation in response to the TVA’s proposal.

Senators Richard Burr and Thom Tillis introduced an amendment to The Water Resources Development Act of 2016. Congress passed the bill. Now the new law no longer requires floating home owners to get rid of their floating homes within the next 30 years, as long as rules are followed.

“We wanted to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to safely enjoys these great natural resources that the TVA manages for the public throughout the valley,” TVA Spokesperson Jim Hopson explains.

He said those rules have not been defined yet.

“A series of requirements will be created to address specific safety, environmental, and navigational safety issues associated with having floating houses or floating cabins on TVA’s reservoirs,” he said.

He says floating home owners will have to pay fees, but it’s unclear how much… There will be a series of public hearings to determine the necessary changes that will need to be made to keep the floating homes, as well as determining how much fees will cost.

Black reported in line to become U.S. House Budget Committee chair

U.S. Rep. Diane Black is the leading candidate to chair the House Budget Committee, likely leap-frogging more senior panel members to become the first woman to head the high-profile panel, according to Politico (quoting “Republican leadership sources”).

The Tennessee Republican, entering her fourth term, would replace current Budget Chairman Tom Price (R-Ga.), President-elect Donald Trump’s pick to lead the Health and Human Services Department. Rep. Todd Rokita (R-Ind.), who is also vying for the post, would likely remain vice chairman, the sources said.

As chairwoman, Black would find herself at center stage next year for the GOP’s controversial efforts to repeal Obamacare and potentially approve a massive tax reform package. Republicans are planning to use a budget procedure known as reconciliation to bypass the Senate’s typical 60-vote threshold and jam through GOP bills on a party-line vote.

Republicans will begin that process as early as next week, when they return to Capitol Hill and begin the process of passing a fiscal 2017 budget with instructions to dismantle President Barack Obama’s signature health care law.

It is unclear when Price will vacate the position. Senate confirmation hearings for Price have not yet been scheduled.

The Republican Steering Committee, which votes on chairmanships, is expected to schedule a vote for the Budget Committee position as soon as Price resigns from Congress. Price could, theoretically, step down from his current chairmanship position before he is confirmed as HHS secretary, triggering the budget committee vote for his replacement.

…Black’s office declined to comment. A spokesman for Rokita said the GOP lawmaker would back Black, “his friend,” for the post.

Note: Black,66, is reportedly considering a run for governor in 2018. Her elevation to budget chair, presumably, might make the option of staying in Congress more appealing.

UPDATE/NOTE: The Tennessean reported Friday finding “a source with knowledge of the talks” who also says Black is the leading candidate for the chairmanship. Further:

If Black were to elevate to that role, Tennessee’s delegation would further boost its clout in Washington. Sen. Bob Corker chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; Sen. Lamar Alexander chairs the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions; and Rep. Phil Roe now chairs the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, having been appointed earlier this month.

…Some Republican candidates who were once tepid about entering the (2018 gubernatorial) fray could suddenly become rejuvenated about their effort to vie for the party’s nomination if they believe Black’s ascension would eliminate her from the race.

“This will not affect her decision to run for governor,” another source close to Black told The Tennessean on Friday.

AG says no constitutional problem with prosecuting Justin Timberlake (well, not explicitly)

Attorney General Herbert Slatery has formally opined that the 2015 Tennessee law prohibiting the taking of pictures inside a voting booth does not violate the state for federal constitutions.

The opinion came in response to a request from state Rep. G.A. Hardaway, D-Memphis, who has announced he will push for repeal of the law in the 2017 legislative session. Hardaway’s announcement came after entertainer Justin Timberlake made a “selfie” while casting an early vote in Germantown that was posted on social media to be seen by millions nationwide.

Timberlake, of course, was not prosecuted for his violation of the misdemeanor offense, punishable typically by a $50 fine and (theoretically) up to 30 days in jail… and said he was unaware of the law. (Note: Previous posts HERE and, most recently, HERE.

Excerpt from the opinion:

The interior of a polling place is a nonpublic forum.  The government may, without violating either the U.S. or the Tennessee Constitution, regulate speech and expressive conduct in a nonpublic forum as long as the regulation is reasonable in light of that forum’s purpose.  The prohibitions in Tenn. Code Ann. § 2-7-142 are content-neutral regulations that are reasonable in light of the purposes of a polling place, which include (1) ensuring privacy of the ballot, speed and efficiency of the voting process, and integrity of the election, and (2) preventing disruption and distraction for voters, voter intimidation, and interference and fraud in the balloting process.

The full opinion is HERE.

Columnist’s fantasy: Dolly Parton for governor

In a bit of confessed daydreaming, News Sentinel columnist Frank Cagle is pitching Dolly Parton for governor. He doesn’t propose which party banner she should run under — and the singer, most recently famous within the state for helping victims of the wildfires in her native Sevier County — has never stated a political preference and generally avoided politics. Excerpt:

Tennessee has been blessed in recent years with smart, capable women and some of them would appear to be in contention to be the next governor. But there isn’t anyone smarter than Dolly, anyone who has given back more to her state and who is more loved and cherished.

I hesitate to suggest that this paragon lower herself to get into politics, but I have long thought that she would be a great governor, perhaps one of our best. We know that her heart is in the right place and that she has been successful at anything she has ever tried. Her compassion for the people of Tennessee and her good works demonstrate that she would be all about helping people.

…Dolly could likely convince legislators to do what she wished. Could you say no to Dolly? For instance, legislators are talking about using a budget surplus to cut business taxes. Given the way she grew up, I suspect she would suggest that they cut the sales tax on food instead.

If she ran, she would win. I know that she has a lot of business interests and a thriving career even at this stage in her life. But she has often demonstrated her willingness to help others. She could do no greater service to her state and her community than to make the sacrifice to step up and serve.

…Chalk this one up to a nice daydream from someone who has been bedridden with the crud for two weeks and who is bone tired of having to vote for the lesser of two evils. Wouldn’t it be nice to have someone you could joyfully support and someone of whom you could be proud?