The one thing Tennesseans can take to the bank is that the GOP led state legislature focused on just about everything except helping them take more to the bank through economic development or reducing healthcare costs.
The one thing the legislature did focus on was legislation intended to further the ideological aims of those who seek to send public money to private companies en masse. The school voucher bill, a top priority for the Haslam Administration, died when a certain Senator from Germantown wouldn’t let go of his designs on upping the ante.
Another school related bill suffering the same fate was House Speaker Beth Harwell’s pet project, an expansion of the state charter authorizer…an outright dig at the Metro Nashville School Board, who thwarted a charter operator over the ruling of the State Dept. of Education in the fall.
One final school related bill that did make it out of the contentious final days was a bill that allows “for-profit” organizations to operate charter schools. This bill happened so late in session, and among so many other things that I had to call the Senate Clerk’s office to confirm that it had been passed as the vote hadn’t been updated on the General Assembly website. As a side note, they were very helpful and tracked down the vote for me in mere minutes. Good job on that.
There were several bills that dealt with different kinds of justice. One such bill, which was actively pursued by Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, would have changed the way judicial districts were drawn in the state and reduced them by two. That bill failed Friday in a battle of wills. There’s no word as to whether it will come up again next year, as petitions for judicial elections will be released near the beginning of session.
While people expecting speedy justice from the judicial branch were spared, others were not so lucky.
Abused animals to the brunt of legislative beatings in the passage of a bill that would make it harder to document animal abuse.
Workers seeking justice for their injuries were injured when the legislature approved changes to the workers compensation system that further tilts it against them.
Municipalities seeking to ensure workers employed on government funded jobs likely took a hit to their bank accounts as a bill seeking to overturn local living wage ordinances made its way to the Governor.
People living on fixed incomes, especially those who were likely poor to begin with, may hunger for a change as they see one of the most popular programs anywhere cut. Meals on Wheels, the popular program that helps poor elderly people eat, got cut $2.3m because the state’s “rainy day fund” was more important to the Governor and Legislature than elderly people that can’t get around on their own.
And finally, property owners, seeking to, you know, make the rules regarding what is or isn’t allowed on their property, a foundational concept of common law, will now have to allow the storage of guns in vehicles by permit holders. Its like a liberty vs. liberty deathmatch.
One good thing on the legislative front. The Shelby County Public Defender’s office did receive additional funding from the state to bring them closer to parity with other smaller PD’s. Don’t think this was kindness. Chances are, the state would have been sued by the County if this hadn’t happened.
Taking a cue, perhaps, from his from his brother’s business practices, Gov. Haslam sought to bully the Feds into acquiescing to his less kind, less expansive form of the much touted but barely formed “Arkansas Plan” for Medicaid expansion. While the language may have been the normal flavor of milquetoast we’ve come to expect from the Governor, make no mistake about it, he was pandering to the far right wing of his base.
In an article in Saturday’s paper the Governor give a quick “post-mortem” of the session saying:
“I do think there was a lot accomplished,” said Haslam. “We passed a great budget that cuts taxes, adds to the Rainy Day Fund, gives a raise to employees, has really one of the largest increases for K-12 (school) funding that we’ve had in a long time and gave a significant amount of capital (construction funding) for higher education.
“And some significant legislation passed: one of the key issues I think is increasing access to and controlling the costs of higher education … allowing more families to afford college.”
I both covered and predicted this would be a post-session talking point. For a good explination of just who benefits from the tax cuts, check out paragraphs 6-8 at this article in the CA. Pretty sure you won’t find your income on the list.
Finally, in a dig to professional development in the state, the Governor closed 34 carreer centers statewide despite the unemployment rate increasing to 7.9%. I’m sure this money ultimately goes to business tax cuts somewhere, I just haven’t found it yet.
While the worst may not have happened, this time, there’s still next year, and plenty of GOP majority to push it through. The State House and 17 State Senators, along with the Governor will be in campaign mode as they push to the November election. Expect lots of pet projects to come up again, and less strife between the House and the Senate as they push to get back to their districts as soon as possible so they can amass the cash needed to try and win another trip to Disneyland on the Cumberland.
In the mean time, take a breath and know you’re safe for a few short months…assuming, of course, the Governor’s Administration doesn’t go full on Rick Scott on us.
After this session, I’m not ruling anything out.
After experiencing the process here in Memphis, it doesn’t come as much of a surprise that the process in Nashville is just as closed. In fact, there’s been quite a few articles in the statewide press about redistricting, and more specifically, who’s losing in the process.
From my perspective, the voters are losing. I wasn’t here for the 2000 redistricting process, but I can look up some votes, and it looks pretty damn close to unanimous.
Yesterday in the Commercial Appeal State Senator Jim Kyle took up the cause of redistricting and shed some light on the way the process has been handled in the past, as opposed to how its being handled right now. Oh what a difference a decade makes.
According to Ballotopedia 62% of all the redistricting at the state level has been submitted or voted on at this point. At this rate it could be as high as 75% by the end of the year. 28 states have pending lawsuits. Some are planning to beat the lawsuits to the punch by just going to court in the first place.
In Tennessee, while there’s been all kinds of talk about transparency, there hasn’t really been any, despite the technology to do so. This is a winners/spoils situation, and everyone knows it.
So far the only folks that have seen any maps are select members of their respective bodies. Based on those few revelations the Tennessee Black Caucus is readying a lawsuit. Of course, just like here in Memphis, the guys up in Nashville, one of whom is Swervey Curry Todd, they’ll hold that pair of 8′s as close to their vest as long as possible hoping everyone else will fold.
For me, this isn’t about partisanship. There are plenty of Democrats on the Memphis City Council that heard my displeasure at the way they handled their situation. There are plenty of Democrats on the County Commission that will hear my displeasure if they don’t get the process right. Same standard goes for the state legislature, even though they’re controlled by Republicans.
While the majority of the public may not be all that interested in how the sausage is made, there are a whole bunch of us that are paying attention and want to see not only how its made but what kind it is. Right now the majority is wielding the power of redistricting as a weapon against anyone that might stand in their way, something they most certainly have the political power to do…for now.
I don’t have any real illusions that the GOP majority will come around to the idea of transparency. I don’t really think they give a damn about it.
So while the GOP plays make the sausage and hide the salami, the rest of us can take comfort in the fact that all of this will likely end up in court, John Ryder or no, and hopefully in time to correct the mess this opaque process will create.
The political fight has been going on for months now. Since February as a matter of fact. But it all really culminated with an attempt at the state level to prevent Planned Parenthood from receiving funds for Title X Family Planning.
While some may have thought it was over at that, the administration of Governor Bill Haslam still sought to send all the Title X funds to the Shelby County Health Department rather than contract directly with Planned Parenthood of Greater Memphis, as they had in previous years.
In the wake of the political posturing that would have prevented PPGMR, and its Davidson County counterpart from receiving Federal dollars through the state the Governor began an effort to pressure local officials to take the funds, even though local capacity didn’t exist. They were eventually accepted, with the condition that the local Health Department could contract with PPGMR.
An RFP was issued, and three organizations: Planned Parenthood of Greater Memphis, Christ Community Health Center, and Memphis Health Center submitted responses.
In mid-September, the winner was announced, and it was not Planned Parenthood. This caused a bit of a stir at the County Commission a few days later, as they chose to defer voting on the contract until some questions could be answered.
I was at the County Commission that day, and observed as some called legitimate concerns surrounding this issue “political posturing”. Family Planning has been politicized, but not just at this point in the process. It’s been politicized for decades. What’s happening here is just one more stop on a long journey that has not only put the future of Title X funding in question, but the health of the thousands of women who benefit from the Family Planning services provided.
Aside from the national and statewide issues surrounding the politicization of Title X, there are quite a few issues that pertain to the local funds that would go for that service. Today, in the first of a series of posts, some of these issues will be introduced. Most of them deserve and will get a deeper look in the coming days.
But before we get in to the specifics of proposals, scoring methodologies, and the politics of it all, I think its important to understand what Title X is, and more importantly, what it isn’t.
Here’s what HHS says it is:
The Title X program also supports three key functions, authorized under the Title X statute aimed at improving the quality of family planning services and assisting clinics with responding to client needs. These functions include: (1) training for family planning clinic personnel through ten regional general training programs and three national training programs that focus on clinical training, enhancing quality family planning services for males, and/or coordination of training activities on the national level; (2) data collection and family planning research aimed at improving the delivery of family planning services; and, (3) information dissemination and community based education and outreach activities. These functions help to ensure that family planning services are evidence-based and of high quality. (Source)
Title X funds are bound by the Hyde Amendment, meaning they cannot be used for abortion. However, because abortion is a medically accepted and legal procedure, clinics that utilize Title X funds are required to refer patients to clinics that provide abortion if they make a request. That doesn’t mean the Federal government will pay for the abortion. It just means they’re required to make a referral.
Of the three organizations that made proposals to the Shelby County Government, only Planned Parenthood provides abortion services. Abortion opponents charge that because Planned Parenthood offers abortion services, any public dollars spent are by default supporting abortion. What these advocates ignore is that Family Planning services are not exactly money makers, as Shelby County CAO Harvey Kennedy noted in his presentation to the County Commission about this issue on September 21st. Further, no one using Title X funds can suggest abortion as a default. The patient must request an abortion referral. It is also important to note that family planning is the single best way to prevent abortion, a fact that is often conveniently ignored.
The reality of all this, in a county that has massive poverty, that family planning is a big deal. Unwanted pregnancies are preventable via many means. Preventing unwanted pregnancies is an effective measure to stem the tide of poverty. All too often, particularly with teens, an unplanned pregnancy means the end of their education, which can significantly limit potential. Title X family planning funds seek to help women and men make the right choices to not only prevent unwanted pregnancies, but also slow the rate of STD infection, which is unacceptably high, and rising as more and more teens engage in unprotected sex.
You may be asking yourself why all this family planning money hasn’t been more effective to date. There are no easy answers, but the politicization of the issue plays a role. By continually shifting focus from proven methods, to methods that rely on people to fundamentally act out of character, specifically for a political purpose, the entire franchise of family planning, and the lives of people who could most benefit from it, are put at risk.
This reality is something that should remain in the back of your mind as this discussion moves forward.
In a series of forthcoming posts we’ll take a look at the RFP, and the proposals submitted by the two highest scoring agencies, PPGMR and Christ Community Health Center and do a little compare and contrast, highlighting the services each agency seeks to provide.
This first 100 has been busy folks, not so much for the Governor, who has been more than willing to sit idly by as the more firebrand members of his party run the state from the General Assembly.
In the mean time, the good Governor has been biding his time, coming up with press releases, like the one from yesterday, taking credit for things that as a candidate, he might want to distance himself from.
But now, with three years before he has to tap daddy’s war chest again for campaign cash, Haslam is trying to deal with being overshadowed, and look good doing it.
Here’s his list of “accomplishments”:
• Proposing a strategic legislative package that focuses on economic development through education reforms targeted at creating a well-educated workforce and ensuring an attractive business environment in Tennessee;
• Signing his tenure reform legislation into law;
• Announcing a $40 million public-private charter school growth fund;
• Proposing a balanced state budget that is $1.8 billion less than the previous year’s budget;
• Proposing a 1.6 percent salary increase for state employees after four years without one;
• Announcing a Jobs4TN plan that identifies four key strategies which include:
1. prioritizing the strategic recruitment of target industries;
2. assisting existing Tennessee businesses with expansion and competitiveness,
3. supporting regional and rural economic development strategies as well as investing in innovation and reducing business regulation;
4. Announcing a top-to-bottom review of the department of Economic and Community Development as a pilot process for other state departments and agencies to follow;
• And conducting a thorough review of state rules and regulations.
What he didn’t focus on, and for good reason, are the real consequences of these “actions”, some of which a new blogger on the block helpfully laid out for us.
But what Haslam leaves out is, perhaps, the most important part of his presser.
He conveniently forgets that he started the ball rolling with an Executive Order exempting himself and his cronies from income disclosures.
He ignores the fact that he, and House Speaker Beth Harwell, have allowed the Tennessee Ethics Commission the body that might hear claims against this executive order, has been has been without a quorum for the entirety of his 100 days, something that Democrats on the hill have managed to miss over and over again.
He’s pushing to keep people from holding corporations responsible for their actions, ultimately hurting the very people who have already been hurt, once again, in the name of job creation, an erroneous assertion at best.
He made it tougher for teachers to teach without worrying about getting let go for making too much, and makes it harder for teachers to negotiate a fair wage for their service…something that will most certainly result in fewer teachers overall, and the best of the best leaving the state for greener pastures.
Truth be told, aside from enriching his cronies, and hiding his wealth, Haslam hasn’t done much. The heavy lifting has been done by the legislature, who is pushing the envelope even further than he’s comfortable with. This may be why he’s ready for them to head to the house.
At the end of the day, Gov. Haslam has fully ensconced himself as the Gubernatorial Spokesmodel, rather than the Chief Executive of the state. Until he decides to do more than roll over for the more radical elements in his party, he’ll continue to be nothing more than that.
That may be just one of the ethics rules violated by Tennessee State Senator Stacy Campfield as a result of requesting a $1000 “retainer” and paid expenses in exchange for a debate with Del Shores.
Fundraising during session could be another.
All of this over a bill that would prohibit schools from teaching anything about human sexuality other than heterosexuality.
So what happens next? There could be an ethics complaint filed on either of the counts listed above. There could be additional lapses that I haven’t caught. From there, things get a little murky.
As reported on March 21st of this year, the State Ethics Commission lacks a quorum to do it’s job because House Speaker Beth Harwell and Governor Bill Haslam have failed to nominate anyone to the two posts they each have to fill. 4 of the 6 Commissioners seats are empty, leaving potential violations like that of Senator Campfield unresolved.
100 days into Governor Haslam’s administration and despite knowing that the State Ethics Commission has lacked a quorum since November, we’ve seen no movement on the issue. If this is what the Governor and Republican majority might call running government like a business this state is in a lot of trouble.
Of course, we’ve seen how businesses operate. If Governor Haslam really wants our government to run like that, he’s doing a heckuva job.