Monthly Archives: March 2017

Blackburn a star in Internet privacy debate

Tennessee’s Marsha Blackburn got national attention for her leading role in the U.S. House’s approval of a bill widely characterized as repealing existing Internet privacy protections, including Friday some data-crunching on campaign finances by the Center for Responsive Politics.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn, a Tennessee Republican and vocal proponent of killing the rule, said this week that allowing the FTC and FCC to regulate different parts of the internet will “create confusion within the Internet ecosystem and end up harming consumers.”

Critics of that view say it’s hard to see how stronger protection of consumer privacy will hurt those consumers. In addition, ISPs “provide an essential service,” said Laura Moy, a visiting law professor at Georgetown University and expert on technology and the law — and many Americans have little or no choice about their providers. “Maybe the answer is to regulate everyone more closely.”

… We took a look at the contributions received by members of the House and Senate from the telecom industry.

Here’s what we found: On the House side, while there wasn’t a huge difference in overall funds received by lawmakers voting for or against the resolution, there was a gap in the Republican vote. GOP lawmakers who voted to quash the rule received an average of $138,000 from the industry over the course of their careers.

The 15 Republicans voting nay? They got just $77,000… Blackburn has received close to $564,000 from the telecom industry over the course of her House career.

As noted by the Nashville Scene, Late Show host Steven Colbert lampooned Blackburn a bit over the matter:

Continue reading

TN Supremes: Judges can fire employees at will

News release from Administrative Office of the Courts

Nashville, Tenn. – The Tennessee Supreme Court has ruled that the position of trial judge secretarial assistant is subject to the employment-at-will doctrine that generally applies in Tennessee.  The Court’s holding means that either the trial judge or the person employed in the secretarial assistant position may terminate the employment relationship at any time during the trial judge’s tenure.  If the employment relationship is not terminated earlier, then the employment relationship ends automatically when the trial judge’s tenure ends.

Continue reading

On ‘Big Pharma’ lobbying clout in TN

A proposal to require that pharmaceutical companies notify state officials when they increase the cost of chemotherapy medication by more than 10 percent ran into opposition in a House committee, triggering an outburst against drug company lobbyists from Rep. Joe Towns, D-Memphis, reports the Memphis Daily News.

The proposal came in the form of an amendment offered by Rep. Bill Beck, D-Nashville, to a bill (HB1059) sponsored by Rep. William Lamberth, R-Cottontown, when it came up in the House Insurance and Banking Committee. The measure, as filed, would prohibit an insurance provider from requiring a higher co-payment for oral anticancer medication than for injected chemotherapy medication.

“What chapped me is these damn lobbyists, these pharmaceutical people and the people that think they run this building – and nobody’s voted for them – guaranteeing if you do this and put an amendment on it they’re going to kill the damn bill. That’s what I don’t like,” Towns says.

… “Nobody’s voted for them sapsuckers, and they don’t have the power, nor should they have the power unless these jokers (lawmakers) acquiesce,” Towns says. “So my concern was that they need to have some courage and to stand up and they need to get this health care cost in terms of medicine and pharmaceuticals under control, because there’s greed, there’s been greed and there will continue to be greed if there ain’t no courage by these members.”

Continue reading

Corker laments ‘don’t work with Democrats’ comment

Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee is criticizing the House speaker for saying the president shouldn’t work with Democrats on health care, reports the Associated Press.

Corker tweeted Thursday, “We have come a long way in our country when the speaker of one party urges a president NOT to work with the other party to solve a problem.”

Corker was referring to comments Paul Ryan made to CBS warning against the idea of Donald Trump working with Democrats if Republicans can’t revive their health care legislation.

Ryan told “CBS This Morning” that if Trump works with Democrats, they will “try and change Obamacare and that’s not, that’s hardly a conservative thing.”

In an interview, Corker said: “It’s not the kind of thing the leader, speaker of the House should be saying.”

 

TDEC fines Memphis $512K for sewage spill

A year after ruptures in the Memphis wastewater system began spewing millions of gallons of raw sewage into local streams and lakes, Tennessee environmental regulators issued an order Thursday assessing at least $512,857 in penalties and damages against the city, reports the Commercial Appeal.

The order signed by Department of Environment and Conservation Commissioner Robert Martineau cited the ruptures of a 96-inch interceptor, a 60-inch pipe and a 42-inch line that occurred between March 31 and April 18, 2016, after heavy rain washed out the stream banks in which the pipes were buried.

State officials estimate that more than 350 million gallons of untreated wastewater poured into Cypress Creek and McKellar Lake in Southwest Memphis, killing at least 72,000 fish. The rupture of the 42-inch pipe along the Loosahatchie River, along the city’s northern edge, spewed at least 7.5 million gallons of raw sewage before crews finished a bypass line that ended the leak.

The order calls for Memphis to pay $359,855.98 into a state natural resource damages fund and ante up a civil penalty of at least $49,920 and more if it fails to comply with environmental-restoration work prescribed by the department. In addition, city must some $61,929 in damages to TDEC and $41,153 to the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, which investigated the fish kill.

…The order isn’t final until 30 days after its issuance, and the city can file an appeal that would be heard by an administrative law judge.

Soccer, veterans, taxes get tangled in House GOP floor fights

Legislation dealing with a proposed soccer stadium in Nashville and a property tax break for disabled veterans got tangled up with Gov. Bill Haslam’s fuel tax package in contentious quarreling among  House Republicans Thursday.

The results were inconclusive: The soccer bill passed, as expected, and House Majority Leader Glen Casada gave up on his veterans tax maneuver, which began with him declaring:

“Ladies and gentlemen, it’s time for the House to lead.”

Continue reading

Fired public radio reporter sues UT-Chattanooga

Fired reporter Jacqui Helbert is suing the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga over her termination from the campus’s public radio station, WUTC-FM, reports the Nashville Scene.

In a lawsuit filed (Thursday) in Hamilton County Circuit Court, Helbert asks for “reinstatement, apology, education and training about the laws violated, lost wages, harm for the emotional distress from the retaliatory firing, reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs, and any further relief appropriate to the circumstances,” up to $1 million in damages.

The university and and two employees, senior associate vice chancellor of marketing and communications George Heddleston and associate vice chancellor of marketing and communications Chuck Cantrell, are named as defendants.

“Clearly I believe I was fired for reporting a story of important public interest that did not sit well with lawmakers,” Helbert says in a prepared statement.

See also the Times-Free Press report. An excerpt:

Helbert was fired “because she accurately reported the inflammatory and embarrassing words of one legislator and the truthful but unpopular words of another,” the lawsuit states. “Sadly, UTC chose self-preservation through retaliation over honesty.”

And the AP did a brief story on the lawsuit that was distributed nationally.

 

Judge rules against Registry in PAC case

An administrative law judge has ruled that Williamson Strong, a citizen group that got involved in Williamson County school board elections, is not a political action committee, reports the Nashville Scene. That’s contrary to a decision of the state Registry of Election Finance board.

Judge Michael Begley in his 16-page order found that the group’s payment of website fees did not constitute political action and that they “effectively acted as a media organization with respect to the 2014 election cycle. [Williamson Strong] published news stories, commentaries or editorials periodically. … The Registry provided insufficient evidence to rebut Williamson Strong’s contention that it fell within the media exception.” The judge also found that there was no express advocacy for candidates by the group.

Formed in 2014 to encourage public participation in typically low voter turnout in school board elections, Williamson Strong maintains a website and Facebook page and its members frequently tweet from education events. Williamson Strong never raised or donated money for a political candidate.

Following the complaints of ultra-conservative school board member Susan Curlee, who has since resigned and left the county, the Registry began investigating Williamson Strong in late 2014. The Registry fined Williamson Strong $5,000 for, among other things, spending money to point out the relationship between candidates for the school board, including Curlee, were endorsed by the far-right 912 Project.

…The Registry has 15 days to file a response to Begley’s order. Their next public hearing is on April 12.

Note: Text of the ruling is posted HERE.

A Senate step forward for more National Park sites in TN — including Polk home

News release from Sen. Lamar Alexander:

WASHINGTON, D.C., March 30, 2017 – A Senate committee today approved legislation introduced by U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) to take the next step in including former President James K. Polk’s home in Columbia, Tenn., in the National Park System. The committee also approved legislation to expand the boundaries of Shiloh National Military Park to include three Civil War battlefields in Tennessee and Mississippi and designate Parker’s Crossroads as an affiliated area of the National Park System. Alexander sponsored the Senate version of the legislation.

Continue reading

‘Natural Marriage’ bill amended, punted to next year

The Tennessee Natural Marriage Defense Act – or what the AP describes as a “watered-down version” of the proposal that began as a declaration that the state would not recognize same-sex marriages – was shelved until next year by the House Civil Justice Subcommittee Wednesday with the concurrence of sponsor Rep. Mike Pody, R-Lebanon.

The bill (HB892, as amended) would have required the state attorney general to defend county or city clerks in court if they’re sued for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Pody agreed to move the bill to next year amid two ongoing local lawsuits, which challenge the implementation of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that made same-sex marriage legal nationwide. Initially, the bill would have declared that marriage is only between one man and one woman.

Further from The Tennessean:

Before the bill was delayed, the committee adopted an amendment that said since the Obergefell case only applied to recognizing other state’s same-sex marriages, Tennessee should be able to decide what goes on within its own borders, according to Pody.

“This turned out to be a very good day for us, the amendment got on, it’s on calendar for next year and we’re just going to see how the two cases go through. I’m thrilled,” Pody said.

… Legislative analysts said the marriage bill could put at risk $9 billion Tennessee receives from the federal government if Washington sees the measure as discrimination against same-sex couples.

That figure does not include any consideration for legal fees Tennessee could incur from any potential lawsuits but Pody said he remains undeterred.

“I’m a fiscal conservative, I want to fight for every single dollar we have up here, but I’m not going to be bullied by potential threats by the federal government,” he said.