Legislature

Fiscal note estimates Shelby County to lose $18M in funding with voucher bill

A bill to set up a school voucher system would mean loss of about $18 million per year in state funding for schools in Shelby County, the only place that the measure would apply in a measure sponsored by Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, and Rep. Harry Brooks, R-Knoxville.

The estimate is included in the fiscal note for HB126. The Commercial Appeal has comments from Kelsey:

Kelsey said Monday the funding loss for SCS would be proportional to the number of students the district would no longer have to educate. The bill also only diverts state money, and requires students using a voucher to be counted toward the enrollment of their local school district. That means the district still retains local funds for them.

“The beauty is they no longer have to educate the child, and yet they’re still getting paid some money,” Kelsey said.

Kelsey’s bill has support, including from co-sponsors Rep. Harry Brooks, R-Knoxville and Sen. Reginald Tate, D-Memphis. But it’s not the only pending legislation aiming to create a voucher program. Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville, has a broader bill competing in the House. 

SCS said in a statement the district is monitoring the legislation as it progresses but that it’s too early to determine its full fiscal impact.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson previously questioned whether such a bill would be constitutional because it targets only one area. Kelsey said previously he believes his program is constitutional because it’s a pilot program.

The district and school board have also been vocally opposed to any voucher bill.

TN Student Freedom of Expression Act is no longer ‘informally, the Milo bill’

State Rep. Martin Daniel has dropped use of Milo Yiannopoulos’ name in promoting passage of a college campus “free speech” bill since the Breitbart News columnist  condoned sex between grown men and underage boys, according to The Nashville Scene and The Tennessean.

After a video of Yiannopoulos’ remarks became public, the Conservative Political Action Conference canceled his scheduled speech before the group and his publisher canceled plans to print a book he has written.

When contacted initially on Monday about the controversy Scene reporter Cari Wade Gervin says Daniel, R-Knoxville, told her had “seen some headlines” but hadn’t “really read anything” about the controversy and generally downplayed the past prominent references to Yiannopoulos.

During a press conference (Feb. 9) that featured a number of random speakers, including Fox talking head Scottie Nell Hughes, Daniel proclaimed his legislation is needed in Tennessee after protests over a speech by Milo Yiannopoulos at the University of California in Berkeley turned partially violent.

“This bill, entitled the ‘Tennessee Student Freedom of Expression Act,’ or, informally, the Milo Bill, will, one, create an official university policy that strongly affirms the importance of free expression as a fundamental right,” Daniel said at the press conference, shortly before a statement from Yiannopoulos himself was read by another woman in attendance.

From The Tennessean:

On Monday, the East Tennessee lawmaker backtracked on his endorsement of Milo, sending out a series of tweets saying his bill would be known as “the Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, Thomas Paine, & the MLK JR. bill.”

In an interview, he said he was not familiar with the full extent of the video controversy.

“It seemed appropriate at that time to name it after someone who has been persecuted for freedom of speech,” Daniel said.

As for the apparent name change, Daniel said the bill is bigger than just one person or incident.

“What we want to do is make it clear that this bill is about freedom of speech, not just one person,” he said. “We are going to reference people who have been free speech advocates in the past.”

The bill (HB739) is sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Joey Hensley, R-Hohenwald.”

Note: Gervin’s report includes a partial transcript of Yiannopoulos’ comments, commentary and a recounting of abusive and obscene tweets sent to her after an earlier posting on the Feb. 9 news conference. A previous post is HERE and a copy of the news release announcing the press conference is below.

Continue reading

Mark Lovell’s night on the legislative reception circuit

The Tennessean has a lengthy review of Mark Lovell’s activities leading up to his resignation from the legislature amind allegations that he sexually harassed at least one woman on the night of Feb. 7. The “fondling” episode came after Lovell made the rounds on the legislative reception circuit and, by several accounts, became intoxicated. An excerpt:

On the night in question, there were at least five formal receptions. Lovell, who has longer, more coiffed hair than most lawmakers and sports a salt and pepper goatee, attended them all. The first event began before the end of the business day.

Lawmakers were invited to The Standard. It costs thousands of dollars a year to join the private club, established in 1843, and although there is a public restaurant at The Standard, a keycode is required to get into the more exclusive rooms.The soiree started at 4:30 p.m. with drinks and food paid for by AT&T and Delta Dental.

…The Tennessee Malt Beverage Association hosted lawmakers at their 14th annual “Brew Ha-Ha.” The invitation for the event, at the German-themed Gerst House near Nissan Stadium, shows a clipart image of a buxom woman holding a beer-laden tray as two figures toast in the background.

…While the food at these events tends to be mediocre, receptions at Puckett’s Grocery and Restaurant stand out. The Tennessee Cable Telecommunications Association spent more than $17,000 at the downtown restaurant that evening, offering heavy hors d’oeuvres like barbecue and cheese plates as live music filled the air at the southern-style eatery. The bacon-wrapped asparagus was particularly delicious.

Anyone attending a different reception hosted by the Tennessee Disability Coalition had the opportunity to meet with people served by organizations including AARP Tennessee, Disability Rights Tennessee and the Mid-Tennessee Council of the Blind. It was at one of the swankier hotels in town, The Sheraton.

…The Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents sponsored an event at the Hermitage Hotel. It’s a posh, century-old building with terracotta tiles, Tennessee marble and a painted glass skylight in the lobby that’s hosted countless lawmakers and dignitaries over the years, including serving as a headquarters for John F. Kennedy’s 1960 presidential campaign. The hotel is across the street from Legislative Plaza.

Only the Gerst House is outside walking distance from the statehouse.

Lovell said he only had three cocktails between 4 and 9 p.m. at the receptions and afterward. “I’m less than a social drinker,” he said on the day he resigned. Others say Lovell, who is partial to Crown Royal and Coca-Cola, had many more. By 8 p.m., they say he was visibly drunk.

What happens next is disputed. The 5-foot 8-inch West Tennessean said he didn’t recall doing anything wrong at any events he attended that evening. He called the accusations of sexual impropriety “100 percent false.”

All other sources say after the legislative events that evening, the then-lawmaker grabbed a woman inappropriately while at a local establishment. He is accused of grabbing one woman’s breasts and buttocks, in addition to trying to prevent her from walking away. Several sources say he engaged in additional inappropriate touching with another woman.

Gas station group fights ‘indexing’ provision in Haslam tax plan

Tennessee gas station and convenience store operators are fighting a provision in Gov. Bill Haslam’s gas tax increase plan that would index future fuel-price hikes every two years to the rate of inflation, reports the Times-Free Press.

In a letter sent last month to legislators, Emily LeRoy, executive director of the Tennessee Fuel and Convenience Store Association (TFCA), called the indexing provision a “blank check” for state government.

“We believe our customers will oppose an automatic tax increase, which is anti-consumer and contrary to Tennessee’s reputation as a fiscally conservative state,” the letter states. “We want to support this legislation, but cannot be supportive” if that’s included.

LeRoy told the Times Free Press via email last week the association is not fighting Haslam’s plan to hike fuel taxes by 7 cents per gallon for gasoline and 12 cents per gallon for diesel, just the indexing proposal.

…”It is our strong belief that tax increases should be publicly debated, with opportunity for voters to agree or disagree with the associated spending and that legislators should vote on every increase,” she said.

… The governor and his immediate family are majority owners of Pilot Flying J, a chain of travel centers across Tennessee and the U.S.

While Pilot is a member of the TFCA, a source with direct knowledge of the company’s position said the Knoxville-based chain isn’t involved in TFCA’s fight against the indexing provision.

… Haslam’s press secretary, Jennifer Donnals, defended the index provision, saying the governor “proposed the IMPROVE Act to build and sustain the state’s economic growth and competitiveness, and indexing is an important piece to make sure we can provide a safe and reliable network for the next generation of Tennesseans.”

As for Pilot, Donnals said, “We speak for the governor, not Pilot, and we look forward to Wednesday’s discussion about providing Tennessee with a safe and reliable transportation network in a fiscally responsible way.”

Mike Williams, executive director of the Tennessee Petroleum Council, a trade association for energy companies doing business in Tennessee, said the group would “prefer not to have indexing but that’s a decision the General Assembly is going to have to make about whether they want automatic tax increases or that tax increases should be voted on one at a time.”

Investigation finds Lovell violated sexual harassment policy

There was an investigation into allegations against former state Rep. Mark Lovell and it concluded that he violated the legislature’s sexual harassment policy, reports The Tennessean.

Although the specific accusations against Lovell are not included in the public investigative memo, the release confirms a probe did take place and the committee found Lovell guilty.

“Based upon the completed staff investigation, which included interviews with all parties, the Ethics Subcommittee finds that Representative Lovell violated the policy,” states the memo dated Friday and included in Lovell’s personnel file.

“Mr. Lovell resigned his seat as a member of the House of Representatives,” the memo reads. “Mr. Lovell has been advised to avoid all contact with the complainant and other parties involved in this complaint.”

…”Mr. Lovell is distressed by these findings, as he still stands by his statement of no wrongdoings. However, he sincerely apologizes for any actions that may have been misconstrued as harassment,” said Valerie Morris, president of Memphis-based Morris Marketing Group who Lovell hired after his resignation.

House Ethics Committee Chairman Steve McDaniel, R-Parkers Crossroads, confirmed in a statement Friday the special House subcommittee did meet and determined Lovell violated the policy. It is not immediately clear when the committee met.

…In a statement, House Speaker Beth Harwell thanked the committee for its work and hailed the state’s new sexual harassment policy.

“This finding shows that the system works. The policy put in place last year clearly defined a framework for victims to report violations and have those violations investigated professionally while protecting the victims,” Harwell said in the statement via email.

“The identity of the victim was protected, which will always be a priority. We will conduct a review of the policy in a year to determine whether any improvements can be made. It is important to me and all legislative leadership that we provide everyone with a safe environment in which excellent work can be accomplished for the state of Tennessee,” she said

Rep. Holt pays traffic camera tickets with Monopoly money

News release from state Rep. Andy Holt

NASHVILLE, Feb. 16, 2017– On Thursday, Tennessee State Rep. Andy Holt (R-Dresden) took to Facebook Live where he paid two traffic camera tickets with Monopoly money and a photographed image of a $50 bill. On one of the payments, Holt wrote “In the spirit of justice,” before sending it off to processors. Holt says he did the video in an effort to raise awareness for new legislation, aimed at traffic cameras, he’s introducing along with Senator John Stevens (R-Huntingdon) and Senate Transportation Chairman Senator Paul Bailey (R-Sparta). (Note: The video is HERE.)

“Cities across the state, in concert with photo-enforcement companies, continue to skirt the law and take advantage of our taxpayers, and I won’t rest until everyone knows the truth about this,” says Holt.

The proposed legislation will require all unmanned traffic cameras be used only from a marked police car with the lights blazing, and will require the suspect to be pulled over by the law enforcement officer operating the manned photo-enforcement device.

Continue reading

Economist opposes grocery tax cut; Haslam says it’s fair

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) – Reagan administration economist Arthur Laffer is urging Tennessee lawmakers not to include a cut in the sales tax on groceries as part of Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposal to offset a gas tax hike.

Arthur Laffer said in a House meeting on Wednesday that bigger cuts on business taxes would do more to spur the economy. Democratic Rep. John Mark Windle of Livingston challenged Laffer about whether working families wouldn’t benefit from paying less on essential food items like baby formula.

Laffer responded that such a move would “cut the tax on my buying a steak or caviar,” and that argued that lawmakers should focus on having the greatest economic impact. (Note: He also described the grocery tax cut as “silly pandering.”)

Haslam wants to boost transportation funding by about $280 million annually, while also cutting a commensurate amount of taxes.

Further from the Times-Free Press:

On Thursday Windle rejected Laffer’s argument, saying, “I vehemently disagree with him that cutting taxes on baby formula, milk and eggs and bread for working families is a bad idea or it doesn’t help the economy.”

The Upper Cumberland Plateau lawmaker, who represents a largely rural area, added: “I don’t represent the fat cats out in Belle Meade. And I’m not really concerned about their steak and caviar. I’m worried about working families making ends meet.”

… Haslam told reporters Thursday that while he agrees with Laffer that the corporate tax cut is good for attracting businesses and encouraging existing companies to expand here, he is also trying to be even-handed when it comes to tax reductions.

“If we are going to have a tax cut, I’d like some of that to go to the one tax that everybody pays, and that’s the grocery tax,” Haslam said. “Will that bring more business to Tennessee? No. But is it fair? Yeah, I think it is fair.”

Lots of legislators skipping ‘mandatory’ sexual harassment video

Many state legislators have failed to watch a 22-minute sexual harassment training video that’s said to be mandatory under recently-adopted rules, reports The Tennessean.

Records indicate as of Tuesday, 12 of 25 Democrats, or less than 50 percent, and 26 of 73 Republicans, or 35 percent, in the House have failed to watch the 22-minute video and submitted a certificate of completion.

The deadline for House lawmakers to complete the training was Jan. 31. Eleven lawmakers watched the video after the deadline passed, as of Tuesday.

Mark Lovell, who resigned Tuesday amid allegations that he was being investigated for inappropriately touching a woman last week, was among those who failed to watch the video.

House Majority Leader Glen Casada, R-Franklin, said Thursday he had not realized how many lawmakers had yet to watch the video.

“We’ll put out an email today saying members, this is an ask of the speaker’s office,” he said, adding that information about who had not taken the training should be made public.

… In the Senate, which has a Friday deadline, just eight Senators — seven Republicans and one Democrat —  of the chamber’s 33 lawmakers have watched the video.

Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, said on Wednesday Republican leadership gave explicit instructions to their caucus members to watch the video.

When asked if there would be any penalties for any Senators who fail to view the video by Friday, Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, said, “Well I think we’ll make sure that they watch it.”

Protesters prompt McNally to push tighter security

A day after shouting protesters stopped two legislators from holding a Legislative Plaza press conference, Lt. Gov. Randy McNally said Thursday that a return to tighter security measures at the state Capitol complex is needed.

From The Tennessean:

McNally said… that he is considering reinstating a policy that was eliminated to require visitors to the legislature to have an ID scanned and wear a badge while visiting. He said some of the behavior from protestors, like preventing them from getting on elevators and leaving “shouldn’t occur.”

“We’re in favor of going back to have a little more security,” McNally said.

The move would require a joint effort between both Senate and House leadership.

McNally said it may require an entry process similar to what is used in most schools, which require visitors to scan an ID at an entry point and wear a visitor’s badge.

“I think people having name tags on, it’s a little bit of a deterrent to being violent or disruptive,” McNally said.

Rep. Mike Stewart, D-Nashville, said constituents should have easy access to their representatives, and the House Democratic Caucus will soon begin having come-one-come-all type meetings weekly in the Plaza to allow constituents to ask questions.

“We should be bending over backwards to allow the public to come speak with us,” he said.

Note: Previous post on protesters stopping the new conference is HERE.

GOP operative trashes TEA school voucher poll

In a memo prepared by the polling firm OnMessage and sent to Republican legislators, veteran GOP political operative Ward Baker seeks to debunk a Tennessee Education Association memo sent to all legislators earlier declaring that its polling shows a majority of Republican voters oppose school vouchers. (The TEA press release is posted HERE.)

The email subject line says “The TEA Poll is Hogwash.” Baker’s introductory remarks:

Like many of you, I had a feeling that the “poll” announced by the teachers union looked sketchy. It is. It’s about as accurate as me saying I have hair like Willie Nelson. (Note: Baker is bald.) The team at OnMessage, Inc., who has a long history of reliable polling in Tennessee and national politics, have put together the attached analysis that explains exactly why it cannot be trusted as a reliable poll. Bottom line: Political scientists, consultants, and polling firms worth their salt know that any poll is useless if you randomly aggregate data over the course of seven months the way that TEA did.

While I was at the NRSC, we used serious pollsters and none of them would sign their name to what the TEA is peddling. They are clearly trying to manipulate legislators for their own agenda with fake polling. The “poll” saying four out of five dentists use Trident is more reliable than this hogwash.

The full memo is available by clicking on this link: tea-memo

 

ABOUT THIS BLOG

Former Knoxville News Sentinel capitol bureau chief Tom Humphrey writes about Tennessee politics, government, and legislative news.

Subscribe by Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.
Email *