lobbyists

Former Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey becoming a lobbyist

Former Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey has announced he will become a lobbyist in the 2018 legislative session, reports the Kingsport Times News.

The retired lawmaker told a Northeast Tennessee Association of Realtors (NETAR) legislative luncheon on Thursday that he’ll be lobbying for Realtors and others. Ramsey, a Blountville Republican who served as lieutenant governor and speaker of the Tennessee Senate for 10 years, noted a ban on him lobbying state lawmakers expires in November.

…Ramsey, a Realtor and auctioneer, said he’s been hired as a member of the Nashville-based Farrar and Bates law firm headed up by his old friend, Tennessee Association of Realtors lobbyist Russ Farrar.

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Addiction medication company reported pushing product through legislation, donating to TN legislators

Alkermes, a company that makes an addiction treatment medication called Vivitrol, has been pushing legislation at the state level that would give its product a preference over others, according to a National Public Radio report. At the same time, affliliate WPLN reports that the Alkermes donated more than $20,000 to Tennessee legislators last year.

State records show Alkermes registered four lobbyists for this year’s Tennessee legislative session. The company’s PAC registered to make state-level donations late in 2015, beginning actual donations in January of 2016.

There were several bills filed this year dealing with addiction treatment – including some that appear to be placeholder “caption bills” designed to be amended later. But a quick skim of legislative records indicates none advanced out of committee.

The NPR report – bearing the headline “A Drugmaker Tries To Cash In On The Opioid Epidemic, One State Law At A Time” — focuses on Indiana, where a registered Alkermes lobbyist, who also heads a mental health advocacy group, drafted a bill that was approved after what some thought was a misleading promotional effort. Excerpt:

He said the legislation would move the state “toward evidence-based treatment.”

But the bill wouldn’t do that. Instead, it would cement rules making it harder to access certain addiction medications — medications that many patients rely on. The goal was to steer doctors toward a specific brand-name drug: Vivitrol.

… His efforts have helped turn Indiana into what Alkermes describes in investor documents as an “up-and-coming” state, where the drug’s sales are poised to jump dramatically.

McCaffrey’s work promoting Vivitrol via legislation in Indiana is part of a larger pattern. An investigation by NPR and Side Effects Public Media has found that in statehouses across the country, and in Congress, Alkermes is pushing Vivitrol while contributing to misconceptions and stigma about other medications used to treat opioid addiction.

From WPLN:

In Tennessee, Alkermes has made 30 contributions to Democratic and Republican lawmakers and to political action committees. All of those were between January of last year and the November election. The company has also hired lobbyists.

It’s not clear, though, this early-stage political push has been persuasive. Marie Williams, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, says Vivitrol can be an effective treatment for some opioid abusers, but Tennessee doesn’t prefer it to other therapies.

“What we want is for people to get avenues of treatment, and we are for any avenue that will help you get into recovery and stay in recovery,” she says.

But, state officials add, drug courts are using Vivitrol more often. And that’s where many decisions about treatment are made.

Note: House Speaker Beth Harwell, who recently urged Attorney General Herbert Slatery to file a lawsuit against manufacturers of opioid drugs, was one of the bigger beneficiaries of Alkermes donations — $1,000 to her reelection campaign and $500 to her leadership PAC.

The Alkermes PAC on June 6 filed an amended version of its 4th quarter 2016 disclosure with the Registry of Election Finance that appears to duplicate most of the donations listed in a previous disclosure. (The duplication’s are not included in reaching the count of more than $20,000 to 30 legislators and PACs.)  Drew Rawlins, executive director of the Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance,  says via email that the Registry has sent a letter asking for clarification of the filing.

On fines for violations of TN campaign finance, lobbying laws going unpaid

The Registry of Election Finance and the Tennessee Ethics Commission have levied $730,000 in civil penalties since 2010, but collected just 21 percent of that total, reports The Tennessean.

The Registry, which oversees enforcement of campaign finance laws, has $356,125 in unpaid fines during the period while the Ethics Commission, which oversees enforcement of lobbying laws and the filing of conflict-of-interest disclosures, has $218,380 in unpaid penalties. (Note: A big chunk of the unpaid Registry penalties are from 2016, when the agency assessed $215,300 in fines with $172,275 unpaid as of last month, according to Registry figures.) If other unpaid penalties going back up to  26 years are added, the unpaid total reaches more than $1 million.

These findings underline what many Tennessee politicos already know: The public entities tasked with holding officials accountable have little, if any, teeth.

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Deal providing tax-exempt bonds to Nashville charter schools brings criticism

Working with a politically-connected law firm, two Nashville charter schools used an obscure Metro Nashville board to receive tax-exempt bonds for their projects that are drawing intense scrutiny after going unnoticed by other city officials for months, according to the Tennessean.

The deals approved by the Metro Health and Educational Facilities Board for Rocketship and Purpose Prep charter schools do not use local taxpayer money and contain no provisions that would put taxpayers on the hook. But critics on the Metro Council and the Nashville school board say the charters should go to banks for private financing and not use the facilities board, which can issue tax-free bonds for nonprofit groups.

They directed particularly sharp criticism at a $7.74 million in bonds for Rocketship, which is part of a national charter school network.

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Giannini part of new TN government/political consulting firm with Memphis as first client

Bill Giannini, a former deputy commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance who unsuccessfully sought election as Tennessee Republican chairman in December, has launched a new consulting firm that, the Nashville Post reports, will “focus on efficient government and performance management” — not lobbying.

Called Resolve Consulting, the firm of the former Haslam appointee and his team will have a mix of public and private clients, with some political consulting on the side… Rachel Selbe is also a principal and the firm’s vice president. Selbe is a former program and policy development director for the state, and she served as an assistant general counsel for the state’s Regulatory Boards Division. Other employees include Emily Janney and Greer Kelly as strategic consultants and Kellee Mannix as a consultant and coach.

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TN insurance commissioner’s travel, work with industry association, questioned

Tennessee Commerce and Insurance Commissioner Julie McPeak, who is president-elect of of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, has made more than 120 trips for conferences and meetings around the nation and world since taking office in 2011, reports WTVF-TV — and some say she’s spending “way too much time away from her office.”

McPeak told NewsChannel 5 Investigates, “That (travel) absolutely is serving the taxpayers of Tennessee and our Tennessee consumers.” But, Bob Hunter of the Consumer Federation of America wasn’t so sure.

“I think what happens as a result of these trips is less consumer protection, not more,” he said.

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Broadband bill gets ceremonial signing treatment

News release from the governor’s office

BROWNSVILLE – Before a meeting of the Governor’s Rural Development Task Force at H&R Agri-Power, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam held a ceremonial signing of the Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act, the governor’s legislation to increase broadband access to Tennessee’s unserved citizens.

The Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act permits Tennessee’s private, nonprofit electric cooperatives to provide retail broadband service, and it provides $45 million over three years in grants and tax credits for service providers to assist in making broadband available to unserved homes and businesses. In addition, the plan makes grant funding available to the state’s local libraries to help residents improve their digital literacy skills and maximize the benefits of broadband.
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Ron Ramsey: House members were punished for opposing gas tax hike

Former Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey says there was “some punishment” levied against state House members who opposed Gov. Bill Haslam’s fuel tax increases, reports the Johnson City Press. He spoke at a Transportation Coalition of Tennessee press conference, one of several being held around the state by the group that promoted the fuel tax and hired Ramsey as a consultant.

“I think there is some in the House who would not vote for any kind of, what they perceived as, a tax increase. And that’s just wrong because the overall bill cut taxes,” Ramsey… said. “There was no doubt, in the end, that there was some punishment levied against some House members on funding. Not against the Senate members, but against the House members.”

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Political activist Emison elected mayor, finds ‘financial distress’

John Avery Emison, active for years in statewide Tennessee policy and politics, has been elected mayor of Alamo, defeating 30-year incumbent and Tennessee Municipal League board member Tommy Green.

Since the May 6 election, Emison said in a telephone interview, his review of the Crockett County town’s books indicates the city’s water treatment system is in “financial distress” with an operating deficit that had not previously been reported to the Board of Aldermen.  He’s contacted state officials about the issue.

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A clash of press releases on 2017 TN legislature’s gunfights

In press releases, both the National Rifle Association, which advocates for less gun control, and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, which advocates for more, are pretty much proclaiming victory in the 2017 Tennessee legislative session.

That perhaps indicates the session was pretty much a mixed bag on the gun front. Here are the contrasting press releases:

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