other states

Study criticizes TN law on school district secession, cites Shelby, Hamilton County examples

A new study on school district secession around the nation says Tennessee law makes it easier than most any other state for wealthy, predominantly-white small cities to set up separate school systems from predominantly-black poor areas.

It cites the formation of six new school systems in Shelby County under a 2011 law as a leading example and also uses as an example plans in the works for Signal Mountain to set up a school system separate from Hamilton County.

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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.

Puerto Rico statehood advocates follow 1796 ‘Tennessee Plan’ (but without support of today’s TN legislators)

Tennessee has been getting name-dropped during the recent attention on whether the island of Puerto Rico will become the 51st state because of a move that Tennessee forefathers took more than two centuries ago, reports WPLN — with a link to a website promoting Puerto Rico statehood under the headline, ‘Tennessee and the Tennessee Plan.’

In the recent legislative session, the current Tennessee legislature balked at a proposal to declare support for Puerto Rico statehood.

More than 200 years ago, Tennessee was still a territory and its early settlers were impatient — hoping for Congress to start the process toward statehood. Instead, local leaders went ahead and declared the territory a state. The people voted in favor, a government was formed and a constitution written. Then the trick was to persuade Congress to make all of those moves official, and that did happen in 1796.

Since then, six other states have used this aggressive method to move toward statehood.

Earlier this month, residents of Puerto Rico voted in favor of becoming a state (despite a ballot process that was messy and drew scant turnout).  Those in favor are still running with the results, continuing with the tactic of fake-it-till-you-make-it.

NBC News reports that a delegation of seven — meant to resemble two senators and five House members — will petition Congress and lobby for support. Just like Tennessee did.

Note: State Rep. Tilman Goins, R-Morristown, sponsored a resolution (HJR31) in the 2017 legislative session that, as originally drafted, urged Congress to approve statehood for Puerto Rico.  It was substantially watered down via amendment to instead urge Congress “to work with the territorial government of Puerto Rico to ensure a definitive and authoritative act of democratic self-determination” in the then-upcoming election. In that form, the resolution passed the House 53-24 on April 20. But it then died in the Senate Finance Committee, which never brought the matter up for a vote before adjournment of the session.

TN ranked 35th in well-being of children, overall state economy

Tennessee ranks 35th among states both in caring for children and in its overall state economy, according to separate studies making the media reporting circuit today. The timing of the releases of the reports is surely coincidental; but just maybe there’s some linkage between the state economy and child well-being?

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Haslam helps Rhode Island gov pitch free tuition plan

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Rhode Island’s Democratic governor has invited a Republican counterpart to help make the case for her plan to provide free tuition for two years at public colleges.

Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo and Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam talked with Rhode Island business leaders on a conference call Thursday.

Tennessee three years ago became the first state to make community college tuition-free for new high school graduates, and is considering an expansion to include older adults. Raimondo’s plan would go further, including not just community colleges but the last two years at four-year institutions. She says it’s a workforce development initiative.

Further from Rhode Island Public Radio

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TN attorney general backs Trump travel ban in court filing

Attorney General Herbert Slatery has made Tennessee the 15th state to join in filing a legal brief that supports President Donald Trump’s controversial travel ban during  court challenge, reports The Tennessean.

Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, who last year led efforts to have a private law firm file a lawsuit against federal refugee policies after Slatery declined to do so, made the announcement to reporters on Thursday.

The president’s revised order, which was issued in March, restricts travel from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Sudan and Yemen. A federal judge in Hawaii halted Trump’s travel ban, which was his second. The federal judge’s ruling is being appealed in 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

…Last month, attorneys general from Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Kansas, Louisiana, Montana, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota and West Virginia, as well as Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant, filed the amicus brief with the 9th Circuit. The states argue that Trump’s travel ban is legal. North Dakota also joined the coalition of states that filed the amicus brief this week.

The coalition of states conclude that the appeals court should ultimately reverse the halt of the travel ban.

Bredesen, Freeman co-host fundraiser for Va. senator

Former Gov. Phil Bredesen and Nashville businessman Bill Freeman, who have been at odds over political matters in the past, are co-hosting a fundraiser for Virginia Democratic U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine’s 2018 reelection campaign on April 28, reports The Tennessean.

The event will be held at Valentino’s Ristorante, which is co-owned by Freeman.

To be a host for the lunch reception fundraiser at the West End Avenue restaurant, donors are to contribute $5,400, according to an invitation obtained by The Tennessean, while others are asked to donate $2,700 a person.

Ahead of the presidential election, Freeman and other Nashville Democrats welcomed Kaine at Valentino’s for an Aug. 23 fundraiser for the then-vice presidential candidate and his running partner Hillary Clinton.

Kaine’s Senate seat figures to be a top target of Republicans during the 2018 midterm elections, although at this point there are no declared GOP candidates seeking the seat.

TN out-of-state sales tax collection rule draws lawsuit

Attorneys for American Catalog Mailers and NetChoice, an association of e-commerce retailers, filed a lawsuit Thursday in Davidson County Chancery Court challenging Tennessee’s effort to require retailers based outside the state to collect sales taxes from their Tennessee customers, reports the Times-Free Press.

The complaint seeks a declaratory judgment against the Tennessee Department of Revenue and Revenue Commissioner David Gerregano over the department’s Rule 129, which was adopted last year.

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Senate approves California-bashing resolution

The state Senate voted 25-3 Monday night for a resolution chastising the state of California over imposing a ban on state-funded travel to Tennessee and three other states over laws criticized by some as being anti-LGBT, reports the Times-Free Press.

While the amended version of Sen. Mike Bell’s resolution (SJR111) dropped language calling for Tennessee leaders to implement a reciprocal ban, the Riceville Republican’s measure continued to draw fire from several Democratic senators.

Bell, who originally contemplated introducing a bill retailiating against California’s “liberal” policies with Tennessee’s own travel ban, changed directions, opting for the resolution. It calls to other states’ attention California’s moves against Tennessee, North Carolina, Mississippi and Kansas over enacting laws Golden State lawmakers saw as discriminating against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons.

…Bell’s resolution still takes swipes at California, accusing officials of trying to “blackmail” Tennessee and the other states, warning it could lead to an “economic civil war.” It also lashes out at California over what it calls its “exorbitant taxes, spiraling budget deficits, runaway social welfare programs, and rampant illegal immigration.”

Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Jeff Yarbro of Nashville characterized it as a “nastygram” and “not exactly the most healthy way to proceed.”

Bell defended the language, saying it was intended to discourage states from taking shots at one another.

TN ranked 47th in taxes overall for 2017; 41st in gas tax

The Tax Foundation today released its annual ratings of state taxes and finances, ranking Tennessee 47th in the nation in combined state and local tax burden as a percentage of income. In Tennessee, taxes totaled 7.3 percent of income.  Alaska was 50th, South Dakota 49th and Wyoming 48th.

On gas taxes, of interest within the state lately, Tennessee is 41st with the current 21.4 cent per gallon levy. Highest gas tax is in Pennsylvania, 58.2 cents per gallon; lowest is Alaska at 12.25 cents per gallon.

If seven centers per gallon were added to the Tennessee rate, as Gov. Bill Haslam has proposed, the resulting 28.4 cents per gallon would be about the same as Minnesota (28.6), which ranks 26th.

Among neighboring states, North Carolina has the highest gas tax, 34.55 cents per gallon; Missouri the lowest, 17.3 cents per gallon, followed by Mississippi at 18.77 cents.

From a Tax Foundation news release:

Also, Tennessee currently ranks 13th on the Tax Foundation’s State Business Tax Climate Index, which measures how well each state’s tax code is structured. In addition, the report shows how much each state relies on different revenue sources for their total revenue collections.

Key rankings for Tennessee:

Federal aid as a percentage of state general revenue: 3rd (accounts for 39.9 percent of Tennessee’s budget, above the U.S. average of 30 percent)

State individual income tax collections per capita: 43rd ($46; national average: $967)

State corporate income tax collections per capita: 11th ($212; national average: $144)

Note: The full report is HERE.