Rep. Doss: No business conflict in handling Haslam’s gas tax bill

House Transportation Committee Chairman Barry Doss, R-Leoma, tells WSMV-TV that there’s no conflict of interest in his acting as lead House proponent of Gov. Bill Haslam’s legislative tax package – despite some assertions to the contrary – though he does run a paving company.

The Tennessee Republican Assembly (TRA), an arch-conservative and anti-tax group, has written House Speaker Beth Harwell to call for an ethics investigation of Doss, contending he potentially has “a direct financial interest” in increasing state fuel taxes to generate more roadbuilding/paving business. (Tennessee Star story with link to the letter, HERE.)

“First of all, I thought it was tacky that someone would use those tactics to try to fight against something that they don’t believe,” Doss said. “My family business has been in business for 36 years, and we’ve done two projects for TDOT in the history of our company. One project before I was elected, three years before I was elected, and then one after I was elected.”

Doss also pointed to a brief letter written by Drew Rawlins, Executive Director of the Tennessee Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance, which said he found no conflict of interest based (on)… his conversation with Doss and the information found on TRA’s website.

“I am not a road builder; I can’t compete with road builders,” Doss told Channel 4. “I am a small rural general contractor who happens to do dirt work and paving. I have never paved a Tennessee road in my road in my life. I’ve never paved a city road, and I’ve never paved a county road in my life. So there is no benefit to my company because of this bill.”

TRA member Steve Gill told the station that Rawlins’ statement was inadequate because there was no investigation. He said Harwell has not responded to the letter and WSMV says she did not respond to the station’s inquiry about the matter.

Haslam budget booster amendment: Surplus money for new state library, roads

With his tax package now approved by the legislature, Gov. Bill Haslam Tuesday proposed some changes to the 2017-18 state budget plan he presented back in February.

Maybe the most notable revisions are the addition of $55 million in supplemental one-time funding (from the current budget surplus) on road projects — beyond what is envisioned in his tax bill, which includes higher gas and diesel fuel taxes — and $40 million towards the $98 million needed to build a new state Library and Archives building, advocated for years by Secretary of State Tre Hargett.

Both of those proposals are virtually guaranteed approval of the legislature as lawmakers get into serious work on the budget next week. The publicly-released documents don’t say which road projects get the new advance funding (but one could speculate that projects in the districts of legislators who voted no on his proposl might not be a high priority). It also appears that the governor is leaving about $125 million in surplus money for legislators to distribute as they, collectively, decide how to spend.

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AG: In TN, ‘men’ includes ‘women’ so courts may say ‘husband’ does, too

A new state attorney general opinion says a House-passed bill declaring courts must use the “natural and ordinary meaning” of undefined words in interpreting Tennessee statutes may not work when it comes to words such as “husband” and “wife,” according to a new attorney general’s opinion.

The bill in question appears to conflict with existing state law on gender-specific words and could also be at odds with the U.S. Supreme Court’s gay marriage ruling, the opinion says. The bill passed the House 70-23 on March 16 and is awaiting a Senate floor vote.

Excerpt from the opinion (the whole thing is HERE):

Question 2: If a Tennessee court construed words such as “husband,” “wife,” “father,” or “mother” by their ordinary meaning as required by Senate Bill 1085/House Bill 1111 if it were to become law, would that construction be counter to the holding of the United States Supreme Court in Obergefell v. Hodges, 576 U.S. ___, 135 S. Ct. 2584 (2015)?

Opinion 2: Statutes that are related to marriage or to the terms, conditions, benefits, or obligations of marriage could, in some instances, be in conflict with the holding in Obergefell if gender-specific words in those statutes were construed according to the proposed legislation. But not every statute that has gender-specific terms would necessarily conflict with Obergefell if it were construed according to the proposed legislation.

We note, however, that if the proposed legislation were to become law, it may not necessarily result in a judicial construction of statutes that preserves the literal meaning of gender-specific words. The Tennessee Legislature has already expressed its intent that gender-specific words are to be construed as gender-inclusive when they appear in the Tennessee Code. The proposed legislation could, in some instances, be in direct conflict with Tenn. Code Ann. § 1-3-104(b) which instructs that “[w]ords importing the masculine gender include the feminine and neuter, except when the contrary intention is manifest.” Any conflict between this existing statute and the proposed legislation would be resolved to allow the specific to control the more general statute. Thus, in construing certain statutes with gender-limiting words, a court would likely apply the very specific gender-inclusive requirements of Tenn. Code Ann. § 1-3-104(b) rather than the very general “ordinary meaning” requirements of the proposed legislation.

Note: The bill, and a similar measure, were inspired by a Knoxville judge’s ruling in a child custody dispute between divorcing lesbians who were legally married in another state. The ruling said only the biological mother of the child, born after artificial insemination, has any legal rights to custody. Previous post HERE.

Alexander’s Obamacare patch bill benefits TN Farm Bureau insurance

Top of a WPLN report:

Last month, Sen. Lamar Alexander proposed a bill intended to help people who live where health insurance companies are pulling out of the Affordable Care Act marketplace. It would apply nationwide but indirectly references one specific organization in the senator’s home state: Tennessee Farm Bureau.

The not-for-profit organization advocates for farmers and rural areas, and it also offers health coverage. Some of its plans are compliant with the Affordable Care Act, although they are not sold on the federal marketplace. Others, called “traditional plans,” cover certain health care expenses but legally are not considered insurance.

These traditional plans require Farm Bureau membership, are not regulated by the state and can turn people away for pre-existing conditions. People who buy these plans still have to pay the federal tax penalty for not having health insurance, because technically they don’t.

Yet the monthly premiums for traditional plans are low and can still be a good deal, even with a penalty. “People have done the math, and in many cases they’re able to pay the premium for one of our traditional coverages and pay the tax penalty — and still come out better, in some cases considerably better,” says Ryan Brown, senior vice president of health plans at Tennessee Farm Bureau.

Alexander’s bill,  co-sponsored by Sen. Bob Corker, would make the math even more favorable: It would eliminate the penalty altogether for people who live in parts of the country where there are no options for health insurance on the federal marketplace next year. This is something the state says could happen in the Knoxville area, because the last remaining insurer on the marketplace there — Humana — says it will not stay on for 2018.

Nashville judge charged with bribery, witness tampering

Nashville General Sessions Court Judge Casey Moreland was arrested Tuesday on federal bribery and witness-tampering charges after allegedly trying to pay a woman to recant allegations she has made against him, reports The Tennessean.

Moreland, a judge since 1998, was the subject of an FBI investigation related to allegations that he helped people he knew in exchange for things — including sexual favors, travel and lodging. Among the allegations documented in police reports and accounts were that he intervened in a traffic stop for a woman he had a personal relationship with and waived jail time for his future son in law.

According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Moreland tried to pay a woman thousands of dollars to recant her allegations against him. That occurred after March 1, more than one month after the FBI began an inquiry.

…A criminal complaint based on an affidavit of FBI Special Agent Mark Shafer lays out the investigation, which used confidential sources who are unnamed in the complaint.

…On March 11, while the confidential source was working for the FBI, he met with Moreland. In that meeting, the man told the judge he had met with a woman making public allegations against Moreland and that she would sign an affidavit saying she had lied.

The meeting was recorded, according to the FBI, and during it Moreland handed over the draft affidavit, $5,100 cash and an explanation.





Former TV reporter leads effort to rebuild TN Conservative Union

Gary Loe, chosen in February as chairman of the Tennessee Conservative Union, is working to rebuild the 40-year-old political organization after the death of founder and longtime leader Lloyd Daugherty in October of 2014, reports Georgiana Vines.

The one thing Loe said he wants to make clear about the group, since it spent quite a bit of time trying to defeat U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander when he was governor and a candidate for U.S. president in the 1990s, is that it is not a branch of the Republican Party.

 “It is not a Republican organization. The organization is proud to have conservative Republicans, Democrats and Independents,” he said in a phone interview.

Note: The TCU news release on the appointment of Loe, a businessman and former TV reporter who once ran unsuccessfully for the state House, is HERE.

Trump schedules Nashville rally on Andrew Jackson’s birthday

President Donald Trump will hold a rally at Nashville’s Municipal Auditorium Wednesday — the 250th anniversary of President Andrew Jackson’s birth. Trump has occasionally likened himself to populist president from Tennessee who Democrats generally regard as a founder of their party.

It will be Trump’s first visit to Tennessee since the campaign season. He won the state both in the Republican primary and the general election.

Statement from Tennessee Republican Chairman Scott Golden:

“I am very excited about President Trump’s Nashville visit next Wednesday. In November, Tennesseans decidedly aligned with his America First agenda giving him a 26 point margin of victory. That agenda is off to a great start with the American private sector adding over half a million new jobs in the first 2 months of 2017. I welcome him back to the Volunteer State as he continues his efforts to show us he is a President for all Americans.”

A posting on Trump’s campaign website says the event will begin at 6:30 p.m. and invites people to sign up for tickets. Admittance begins at 3:30 p.m.

Fall Creek Falls privatization postponed; Democrats declare victory

The Haslam administration has abruptly abandoned the Thursday deadline originally set for companies interested in taking over operation of Fall Creek Falls State Park to file bids with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, reports the Times-Free Press.

Eric Ward (TDEC spokesman)…  said today in response to a Times Free Press (inquiry) that “the RFP has been postponed to incorporate amended process language which will be made available soon.”

It was not known how long the proposal would be postponed or what the specific issues leading to it are.

There was no immediate elaboration but the administration’s process has been under fire from the Tennessee State Employees Association as well as several lawmakers who have raised questions not only on that issue but the effort to privatize hospitality services at the park, which straddles Van Buren and Bledsoe counties in a remote area of the Upper Cumberland Plateau.


Democrats opposing privatization opponents promptly sent a statement declaring victory. It’s  below.

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Multi-question MTSU Poll: Obamacare repeal, school bus seat belts, vouchers, etc.

News release from Middle Tennessee State University

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — Tennessee voters dislike Obamacare and want it repealed, but not until they’ve seen details of a replacement plan, the latest MTSU Poll shows.

They also support banning immigration from “terror-prone regions” but think illegal immigrants already here should be able to stay and apply for citizenship, and they split about evenly over believing, doubting or not knowing what to think about President Donald Trump’s repeated claim, without supplying evidence, that millions of illegal voters prevented him from winning the popular vote during the 2016 election.

“Most of these opinions divide sharply along political party lines,” said Ken Blake, Ph.D., director of the poll at Middle Tennessee State University. “But there are some perhaps surprising areas of cross-party agreement.”

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Three big TN dams — Boone, Center Hill, Pickwick — getting repair work

Seven years after an historic flood underscored threats to dams across Tennessee, three of the state’s largest water-control structures face millions of dollars in needed repairs and improvements to deal with hazards ranging from earthquakes to sinkholes, reports the Commercial Appeal.

Although none is in as dire shape as the flood-damaged Oroville Dam in California, the federally operated Boone, Center Hill and Pickwick dams are being significantly reinforced through long-term projects, with water levels lowered in two of them. The Tennessee Valley Authority, which runs the Boone and Pickwick dams, and the Corps of Engineers, which operates Center Hill, say they have adopted aggressive safety measures to protect downstream residents.

The three dams are among the largest — and potentially most dangerous — in Tennessee. But they’re not the only ones that have raised concerns among dam-safety officials. Flash floods that swept across 49 counties in May 2010 led to the failure of seven dams statewide and caused damage at several others. More than a dozen dams in West Tennessee alone required significant repairs.

All told, there are more than 1,200 dams in Tennessee, including 273 rated as “high hazard” because their failure likely would lead to the loss of life. But nearly half of the state’s dams, including 69 rated as high hazard, are exempt from regulation and government inspections because they’re classified as farm ponds.


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

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