Mar 13 2012

Delay Tactics #EndMTR – Updated

Posted by Steve Ross in State Politics

Update: Please contact the members of the House Environment committee and tell them you support the Scenic Vistas Protection Act.

Contacts to the House Environment Committee:
House Environment Committee E-Mails – Email contactsPhone Numbers via TNLEAF

Tennessee General Assembly – House Environment Committee Link

Original Post follows…

(Zeb Mountain, Tennessee / photo by Chris Irwin, United Mountain Defense)

As reported by the AP, yesterday the Tennessee State Senate delayed a vote on Scenic Vistas Protection Act, sponsored by Senator Eric Stewart – Belvedere.

The bill, which has been buried for the past five years was delayed once again in an attempt to kill it, despite claims by the Senate Majority Leader to the contrary.

In fact, they’re trying to do it on the anniversary of successfully killing it last year. I’m sure its just a coincidence.

Coal mining in Tennessee isn’t one of our core industries. In fact, Tennessee ranks 21st in the nation in coal production (25 states produce none, meaning there are only 4 states in the US that produce less). There are fewer than 650 people employed in the coal industry in Tennessee. These individuals typically operate specialized equipment or have specialized explosives expertise. In short, opening up the coal industry in Tennessee isn’t going to produce any real jobs.

In fact, while Tennessee was producing the greatest amount of coal in its history, jobs were being cut due to increased mechanization. This was 1972. I guarantee it hasn’t gotten any better, despite the empty rhetoric of Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey.

Last week, a Senate committee voted to gut the bill with an amendment. This week they’ve sought to delay that gutted bill until April 2. The GOP leadership in the Senate is terrified of having a vote recorded in the full Senate on this measure. I seriously doubt there will be any vote on it April 2nd either.

That said, if you want to see this bill passed, I suggest you make plans to be in Nashville on April 2nd. We need to fill the Senate gallery to overflowing, and make a show of support for this bill. And if they try to delay it again, we need to make sure they know we’re not happy about it.

Barring any bill schedule changes, I’m planning to be there. Hopefully you will too.

So why does a guy in Memphis, hundreds of miles away from the affected mountains care about this bill? Because even though its not in my backyard, it impacts me. If water quality suffers in East and Middle TN, then the health of folks in those areas suffer. Legislators intent on reducing water quality standards will use water quality levels in other areas to lower the standards here, which means we’ll have more undesirable things in our water. It’s a downward spiral that I don’t want to happen to anyone. Not here in Memphis, or Monteagle, or Mountain City.

Tak a moment to call or write every one of these State Senators. Tell them you support the Scenic Vistas Protection Act, that you’re upset that the bill was watered down in committee, and that you’re going to be there April 2nd to make sure they do the right thing: restore the original language, and pass the bill.

Getting this done is going to take a show of strength. I hope you’ll take a little time out of your day this week, and make plans to be in Nashville on the 2nd.

For more information check out TN LEAF or NRDC.

Sep 17 2011

State House and Senate Democrats Embark on Statewide Jobs Tour – #TNJobsTour

Posted by Steve Ross in State Politics

From a Senate Democratic Caucus release:


Officials will meet with businesses, local leaders across state

NASHVILLE – Tennessee’s House and Senate Democratic Caucuses announced Wednesday that their members will embark on a six-day tour across the state Sept. 19-24 to talk to business owners, local officials and the public about how to best grow jobs in Tennessee.

“Across the country and here in Tennessee, we are stuck in a jobs crisis, and it’s going to take everyone working together to get us out of it,” said House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh. “Jobs are the number one priority for Tennesseans, and they also must be the top priority for their elected officials.”

Members will begin the tour Monday, Sept. 19, in Memphis, with stops throughout rural and urban areas across the state (see schedule below). The tour will end Saturday, Sept. 24, in Putnam and Smith Counties.

The unemployment rate in Tennessee currently sits at 9.8 percent, meaning more than 306,000 Tennesseans are looking for jobs and can’t find one. County unemployment rates are as high as 19.8 percent.

“People want their lawmakers to do something to combat the unemployment crisis, especially in rural areas that have been hit the hardest,” said State Senator Eric Stewart. “There’s a lot we can learn from going out there and listening to the people who are creating jobs, as well as the people who are looking for jobs.”

The tour will include several discussions and events open to the public, as well as daily press briefings and updates through traditional and social media. Members participating on the tour have pledged to use the feedback they receive on the tour to draft legislation directly addressing job growth throughout the state.

“The tour is our opportunity to listen, gather ideas and make decisions on what we can do as a state legislature to promote jobs in Tennessee,” Fitzhugh said. “We hope it will mark the beginning of a sustained focus on jobs and economic growth from all of our elected officials as we enter the next legislative session.”


Day 1 (Monday, Sept. 19): Corporate Partnerships Day (Shelby & Haywood)
8 a.m. Kickoff at the University of Memphis with Corporate Jobs Roundtable
1 p.m. Tour of West Tennessee Megasite with Mayor Franklin Smith
2 p.m. Tour of West Tennessee Solar Farm with Mayor Franklin Smith

Day 2 (Tuesday, Sept. 20): Small Business Day (Madison & Weakley)
8 a.m. – 10 a.m. Drop-ins at small businesses in Madison County
Noon – 2 p.m. Drop-ins at small businesses in Weakley County

Day 3 (Wednesday, Sept. 21): Technical Jobs Day (Rutherford & Maury)
Morning: Tour of Nissan LEAF Plant in Rutherford County
Noon – 2 p.m. Technical Jobs Roundtable at Columbia State Community College
2 p.m. – 4 p.m. Drop-ins at Maury County small businesses

Day 4 (Thursday, Sept. 22): Green Jobs Day (Warren & Hamilton)
7 a.m. Breakfast at Tennessee State University Nursery Research Center in McMinnville
8 a.m. Meet with nurserymen and tour Otis Floyd Research Center
Noon: Tour of Chattanooga State Community College
1 p.m. – 4 p.m. Tour new energy businesses in Chattanooga

Day 5 (Friday, Sept. 23): Research/Education Jobs Day (Knox)
8 a.m. Breakfast with Councilmember Brenda Palmer and small business owners
10 a.m. Business Round Table at the Chamber of Commerce
Noon – 2 p.m. Drop-ins at small businesses in Knox County
2 p.m. – 4 p.m. Meet w/Piper Communications to discuss growing the clean energy sector

Day 6 (Saturday, Sept. 24): Ecotourism Jobs Day (Putnam & Smith)
8 a.m. Breakfast at Dipsy Doodle in Putnam County
10 a.m. – Noon: Drop-ins at small businesses in Cookeville
1 p.m. – 3 p.m. Tour of Catesa Farms in Smith County

May 03 2011

Flood or No Flood, The World Keeps Turning

Posted by Steve Ross in Shelby County, State Politics

Mud Island shot from Riverside Dr., 2pm May 2, 2011

This may sound a bit callous or cold, but it is a harsh reality: The world doesn’t stop just because we’re staring down the barrel of a disaster.

Lots of things are going on across the state and the nation, and even though it’s hard to keep up with everything with all the flood information, but it is important.

On the bright side:

Memphis’ own Booker T. Washington High School has been selected as a finalist in the President’s Commencement Challenge. Congratulations to #BTW and here’s hoping they win it all.

The has effectively killed many bad bills for this year including State Sen. Stacey Campfield’s ridiculous “Don’t Say Gay” bill. Thank goodness.

Speaking of “Don’t Say Gay”, here’s an interesting exchange between Sen. Campfield and a blogger.

On the Not so bright side:

The Tennessee Senate voted last night to approve a bill that would end collective bargaining. I’m not sure how removing a check from the system of checks and balances is going to help student achievement, and neither are several state legislators. Here’s a video from State Sen. Eric Stewart.

Speaking Out

Sen. Lowe Finney and Rep. Craig Fitzhugh ask in the Commercial Appeal why the Haslam Administration is abandoning successful policy.

The CA editorial board also had something to say about the Anti-Shariah bill before the TNGA.


Here in Shelby County, the mediation on the Schools issue has been taken back over by the Judge. We’ll just have to see what shakes out from that development.

City Council Meeting

This afternoon the Memphis City Council meets and will discuss several items of interest. You can see the agenda here.

No mention of redistricting, which was deferred until the May 17th meeting. Maybe someone needs to go and ask them about the need for public scrutiny. Maybe I will.

The meeting starts at 3:30.

I’ll have more flood information later this afternoon. Until then, stay safe.

Mar 31 2011

#mountainsrock – Senate Update

Posted by Steve Ross in State Politics

via @thecountyseat

It was a four hour marathon. I think the only meeting I’ve been involved in that was longer involved Memphis City Schools, and Councilman Shea Flinn assures me that record will be beaten this budget season.

After what seemed to be a forever of Tourism testimony, which was interesting but seemed like a stalling tactic, we got another three hours of testimony from a couple of scientists, and a coal industry advocate, who, as one might expect, wasn’t too keen on the proposal.

There was talk of “reclaiming mines” a process whereby old surface mines abandoned from the era before the Feds got involved in mining, are restarted under current guidelines, which everyone seemed to agree left the mountain in a better state than it was after the first round of mining. Some on the committee seemed to say that mining activity was good for all mountains, something Zach Wamp alluded to in the GOP primary, a position that defies logic.

There were offers and counter offers and tries to make the thing go. The Chairman of the committee said that if the two sides could get together and come up with a compromise that he’d reopen the committee to get it to the floor. One member seemed to ask the coal advocate if there was any chance of a compromise, to which he replied no, a sure signal that no matter what happened, it wasn’t going to pass anyway.

But Sen. Eric Stewart put in a valiant effort, with some pretty awesome assists from Sen. Beverly Marrero whose pointed wit at times, seemed to tell the members engaging in a cat and mouse game, where the could stick their ball of yarn.

Ultimately, the bill failed on a party line vote. Sen. Herron left before the vote occurred, citing another appointment and the unusually long time frame of the committee session.

The House version of the bill is scheduled to come up in committee on April 12th. I’m not sure what Rep. McDonald has in mind for the bill. I’ll contact his office and see what’s on the horizon.

I want to thank all the people who took time out of their day to call or write the members of the House and Senate Committees about this. We didn’t win this round, but I am convinced that if we persevere and continue to advocate for common sense reforms like this one, we will be successful in our push to preserve the natural beauty around us.

As was noted in the meeting, this is the fourth year a version of this bill has come before this committee. Truth be told, from the very beginning it was evident to me here in Memphis, and friends in the audience in Nashville that folks had made up their minds before they even got there. The three hours of testimony was more about choking out the bill than anything else. It’s a time tested tactic to make things that folks don’t want to vote on go away.

That this bill hasn’t passed yet is not an indication that there’s something wrong with the bill, but that there’s something wrong with the people voting on the bill. Republicans have ruled the roost in the State Senate since 2006 when the balance of power shifted dramatically. Until that balance of power shifts again, bills like this are going to be next to impossible to pass.

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. It simply mean that elections matter…a whole lot more than we often think they do. Every battle lost today is a lesson learned for tomorrow, and should re-ignite our resolve to elect officials that are more in line with our Tennessee values.

I want to give a shout out to TN LEAF who I am in no way affiliated with, but became acquainted with in the process of learning about this issue. You can follow them on on the twitter @tnleaf. Their direct advocacy inspired me to encourage others to do the same. Keep the faith folks.

This isn’t the end, it’s just the beginning. I think you’ll be seeing more of this kind of advocacy in the future seeking to build coalitions on issues of common cause. That’s the way things are supposed to happen, and hopefully, through this hard work they will.

Mar 30 2011

#mountainsrock – Today in the TN State Senate

Posted by Steve Ross in State Politics

The buck doesn't stop here, there's still more to do.

Well yesterday didn’t turn out quite as planned. Who knew that deer farming would draw such a crowd? I sure didn’t.

The House Conservation Sub rolled HB0291 until April 12th. That means that there’s still time to contact the Representatives on the House Committee, as well as your own Representative even if they’re not on the committee. It also means that there’s plenty of time to plan a trip to Nashville in support of this bill, something I highly recommend. Nothing says support quite like a room full of supporters.

Of course, what happens today in the Senate Committee is also very important. Based on the calendar it doesn’t look like there are any deer farming bills on the agenda, so, if all goes well, we should be able to see where they stand. But don’t wait to find out, give them a call, send an email. Heck, you can even fax some of them (you can find their fax numbers by clicking on their names).

Let them know how important it is that we protect not only the mountaintops, but also the streams, plants and animals that live on those mountains.

I’ll have another update on this after the committee meeting this evening.

Senate Environment, Conservation & Tourism

Committee Meeting – Wednesday, March 30, 3:30PM – Room 12 LP

Steve Southerland – Phone (615) 741-3851 – email
Jack Johnson – Phone (615) 741-2495 – email
Jim Summerville – Phone (615) 741-4499 – email
Mike Bell – Phone (615) 741-1946 – email
Mike Faulk – Phone (615) 741-2061 – email
Roy Herron – Phone (615) 741-4576 – email
Beverly Marrero – Phone (615) 741-9128 – email
Kerry Roberts – Phone (615) 741-1999 – email
Eric Stewart – Phone (615) 741-6694 – email – Bill Sponsor