Tag Archives: Tennessee General Assembly

Bully Bill Battle

Is Mark White feeling heat from the right?

Definitions are not the enemy.

As session lumbers on, most of the goofy distraction bills have either been passed, or passed up. Its time to take a look at some of the things we missed while we were being distracted, and bills that are coming up.

One of those issues is addressing the problem of bullying in a substantive way.

There are two competing bills before the General Assembly that are currently moving: HB 927 sponsored in the House by Karen Camper of Memphis, and HB 2122 sponsored in the House by Mark White of Memphis.

While both bills seek to address the issue of bullying…one does so in a much more specific and effective way.

Just a quick look at the summary for 927 vs. 2122, shows the difference between a bill that seeks to enumerate what bullying is, rather than dress up current (an ineffective) law with a bow and sending it on its way.

Below is a piece Lauren Lee from Fox13 in Memphis did on the bill. At the end is an interview with Michelle Bliss, who carefully deconstructs the differences between the two bills.

Mid-South News, Weather, Traffic and Sports | FOX13

For Rep. White to say, “If you define that bullying is someone’s expression of their sexual or gender identity, their perceived identity, then you set up a situation where, it may not be bullying to another person, they just have a different set of standards.” is disingenuous. The law defines all manner of undesirable activity in specific, sometimes graphic detail. We do this to ensure that individuals who engage in such undesirable activity can be held accountable for their actions.

By removing the specific language that defines what bullying is, and who the likely targets are, Rep. White is minimizing the issue, and placing thousands of children at risk, all for the sake of someone’s “different set of standards”. Taken to its logical conclusion, any manner of activities, from speeding to assault, or even more heinous violent crime could fall under that “different set of standards” that Rep. White seems to hold so dear, making prosecution of these crimes essentially impossible.

Rep. White’s decision to leave these definitions out of his bill means the current hodge podge of policy will continue, without any clarity or consistency, which also means it will not reduce or enact any real change.

In the end, his bill amounts to passing legislation for the sake of saying you’ve passed legislation on a hot topic isn’t what we send our legislators to Nashville to do. We expect them to make laws that will truly address the problems we face.

Contact Representative Mark White at rep.mark.white@capitol.tn.gov and ask him to support HB 927. Post your email to Facebook and Twitter and tag Tennessee Equality Project and State Representative Mark White in the post.

If you need help with an email, check out this post from TEP, its a good guide. Also check out http://www.stopbullying.gov.

If we want to protect our children from bullying, we have to have clear and consistent guidelines for what bullying is…not some mushy nondescript standard.

You can also email the members of the House Education Committee in support of HB 927. Their email addresses can be found here.

HB 927 is scheduled to be heard in the House Education Subcommittee on Tuesday at 3pm. HB 2122 is scheduled for the Education Committee on Tuesday at noon.

Analysis: TN State of the State #TNSOTS2014

Unicorns and daisies in stunning monochrome

Unicorns and daisies in stunning monochrome®

So last night Gov. Bill Haslam delivered his 4th State of the State address of his term.

It was the same kind of “long on promises and short on details” self-congratulatory affair that we’ve come to expect from the Governor, complete with that good ole fiscal conservatism that says tax cuts for people who don’t miss the money are better than services for people who need them.

It was only imaginative in the way it manipulated or simply omitted facts to further a narrative of success that most people haven’t felt yet.

The Governor talked a lot about education. Nearly half of the speech was about it in some way or another. But to start, we should probably cover some of the other topics, so they don’t get lost in the mix.

Long List of “Accomplishments”

The Governor started off with a long list of “accomplishments”. Real long. Like almost two pages of them.

Lots of accolades from being named 3rd best managed state in the nation (I couldn’t find that, but I did find us at 16th last year which is better than most, that one needs a citation.

He also noted our award for state of the year from Business Facilities Magazine. The magazine notes the state brought in 6900 new jobs, but that’s less than 3% of the 237,700 people who were looking for work in December. Hardly a stellar performance for the people actually looking for jobs.

Haslam also hailed the drop in space state offices occupy. He says this will save the state money. Unfortunately, even his own numbers, as reported by NC5 in Nashville, tell a very different story. NC5 could only find about $450,000/year of savings, and further found the math the Governor has used is more than a little fuzzy. Good to know as we head into the budget section of the presentation.

$260m + -$340m = cut taxes

Haslam laid out new revenues for the upcoming year of $260m. Of course, his projections for this year are already $171m off the mark, so who knows if this is real or more fuzzy math from the Governor.

He also laid out $340m in new spending ($180m in Tenncare, $40m in employee health insurance, and $120m for education). That leaves an $80m hole in the budget.

The Governor defended tax cuts for estate taxes and the Hall income tax as “revenue growth” policies. This is a common GOP refrain, that makes no sense and that has been proven wrong over and over again.

Gov. Haslam offered no proposal that would cover the $80m dollar shortfall, so there’s that.

Education policy du jour

Of course, education was a huge part of the speech, since that’s the one thing just about everyone agrees the state should pay for (within limits). The Governor hailed the gains in the state’s overall TCAP scores for 2013. There’s no question that seeing scores go up is a positive, but a seven point jump in two years when the national average is only one point, should be a cause for skepticism. Further, going back to 2003, the states scores have increased by 12 points (seven of those between 2011 and 2013).

Had the gains been a gradual upswing (they weren’t) they would seem to be the result of a policy decision. But a seven point swing in two years looks more like an outlier than a trend. This is something we’ll have to watch more in the coming years to see if a trend is actually established. My gut tells me no. The state scores have hovered in the same 3 point swing zone since 2005.

He also hit on all the “blame the teachers” policies his administration has been pushing since 2011, and vouchers…something drains resources from already under-resourced public schools.

Tennessee Promises, Promises

The biggest attention grabber was the “Tennessee Promise” program. Under this plan, high school students would be given two years of free tuition at a two-year school to get an associates degree. If they chose to move on to a four-year institution, they could begin as a junior.

On the face of it, this seems like a good and progressive idea. Get kids who might not have the resources or the grades to make it in a four-year school to get their feet wet in a two-year school, and parlay that success into higher educational attainment overall.

But he devil is in the details, and the plan to use money from the Tennessee Lottery Scholarship fund raised the ire of the panned the funding idea because it would drain the fund, and possibly hurt four-year institutions in the state, by draining away college Freshmen and Sophomores.

I’m also skeptical about the “endowment fund” that would pay for this program. How will the endowment be administered? Will it have a board packed with cronies like just about every other government institution in the state? What happens if it runs out of money?

Seems to me, the money would be better spent as intended…to fully fund college, and that more money should be allocated to higher education to bring tuition costs down, and maybe even attract out of state students that pay way more than in-state students do.

As for the Community Colleges, they’re critically important, no doubt. But shouldn’t they be focused on the things they’re already successful at…providing access to some General Ed. courses for students and graduating students who aren’t on a four-year track.

On a political note, the idea that this General Assembly would pass a bill that amounts to a new entitlement is cute. I don’t see it happening.

So there it is. The state of the state. The response from the House Democratic Caucus can be found here.

Whine and groceries

So very true

So very true

I’m going to tell you a secret.

I hate Wine in Grocery stores.

I don’t hate the idea. I love the idea.

I hate the amount of oxygen Wine in Grocery Stores sucks out of the “room”.

The incessant coverage of Wine in Grocery stores, means media outlets can say they’ve met their responsibility for covering state issues if they just cover this one topic.

Its not true.

People looking for jobs don’t care about Wine in Grocery Stores.

People wondering how they’re going to pay their medical bills, or hell…just their regular bills, don’t care about Wine in Grocery Stores.

Grocers. That’s who cares most about Wine in Grocery stores.

This is, more than anything, a grass-tops campaign. There’s no real movement to be able to buy wine where you buy your bread. People think it might save some time. It might be a convenience. But its not like our society will collapse if there’s not wine in grocery stores.

Its a luxury. We’ve spent the better part of four years and countless hours of coverage on a luxury.

That’s ridiculous.

You know what I want.

I want something completely different.

I want mixers in liquor stores.

Actually, no. I want to be able to buy all the fixin’s for my Super Bowl party at a liquor store. Mixers, sodas, regular American beer…as well as chips and all the junk food to make it go.

That’s what I want.

But how important is that to me? I mean really. As a priority, where would I place that? In the things I need? In the things I think I need? In the things I want? In the things that might be nice?

Yeah. The last one.

I think its interesting that Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, a cultural and fiscal conservative, is pushing for this bill to pass. It’ll be interesting to see how much the Grocer’s Association gave his campaign…and more importantly, his PAC. I’m not saying there’s an explicit quid pro quo, I’m just sayin’.

So pass the damn bill and open up some airspace for the things that really matter to Tennesseans.

Medicaid Expansion and the “Not My Deal” caucus

Money down the drain

Money down the drain

Twenty-Four days and $60,000,000 dollars later, Tennesseans and the medical professionals that serve them are still suffering the ill effects of the State government’s inaction on Medicaid expansion.

Trace showed us this morning that the debate is getting contentious on the floor of the State House. And I gotta say, the comments from Rep. Barrett Rich (R-Somerville) are pretty disturbing. Here’s what he had to say…

…I think one point that hasn’t been displayed is we are many, many, many years…without an income tax. The reason we don’t have an income tax is ’cause we haven’t overspent…but we almost got to that point when we had Tenncare fully expanded. I just want to thank Gov. Bredesen for his leadership in dis-enrolling some…of the problem….Rep. Barrett Rich (R-Sommerville)

Now, I’m not going to dredge the whole Tenncare funding debate from 2005 back up for two reasons:

1. That was nearly a decade ago.

2. The funding situation from the Federal Government is VERY different now than it was in 2005.

So its disingenuous for Rich, and his friends in the State House to use that as an example.

At the time we had a Republican President who was more interested in spending billions of dollars on two wars than helping folks in the US…as evidenced by the lost economic decade that was the 2000’s…a decade that was capped off by an economic calamity that we’re still digging ourselves out of.

So there’s that.

Someone's mad about not getting a seat at the big boys table

Someone’s mad about not sitting at the big boys table

Another thing that I find VERY interesting is this post at Pith.

Here’s a couple of snips from that post:

Just taking Ramsey’s interpretation as correct, hospitals from all over the country struck a deal with Obama and, because Ron Ramsey, who is but one Lieutenant Governor from one state out of fifty wasn’t invited to the negotiating table, he’s punishing Tennessee’s hospitals?

–snip–

So, Ramsey is willing to let poor Tennesseans suffer — even after his own family’s medical crisis — not just because of his great conservative principles, not just because he’s concerned about how they’ll pay for this later, but because his feelings are hurt and hospitals have to be taught a lesson about hurting Ron Ramsey’s feelings. (Source)

Knowing what I know about the Lt. Governor, this is a pretty plausible analysis of the situation…aside from the general political sentiment that most State Republicans have about Obamacare generally…which is they’ll do anything in their power to break it regardless of who it might help.

Just another example of politics trumping people…sad state of affairs for the State of Tennessee.

Voucher bill in the driver’s seat

Who would vouchers harm in this picture? All of them.

Who would vouchers harm in this picture? All of them.

The state legislature has been in session for over a week, and as anyone who’s been following state politics for a while knows…that means its time for another discussion about what advocates like to misleadingly call “school choice” and what the rest of us call “vouchers”.

Once again, ready to lead the charge is Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) (who I am already tired of talking about), joined by Delores Gresham (R-Somerville) and John DeBerry (D-Memphis).

DeBerry’s sponsorship makes this a “bi-partisan” effort…though DeBerry has been voting with Republicans a lot more than he has been with Democrats in recent years. I guess his values “go with the flow”, so to speak.

I say its misleading to call the current bill a “school Choice” bill for two reasons:

1. It is limited in nature. According to the Commercial Appeal, the vouchers would not be available to everyone. Just students in “failing schools”…unless enough of them don’t take advantage.

2. The bill assumes that the parents would be able to cover the difference in the cost of a private school education…and since most of the students in failing schools are also dirt poor, the reality is…that won’t happen…which takes us back to #1, and the chance that this could be nothing more than a free for all for the folks who are already paying for private schools…which is what this really seems to be all about.

The truth is, school vouchers only sap public money away from public schools to the benefit of private schools. That’s it. So if you’re one of those that thinks public education is an entitlement program, you’re probably really for vouchers…like the group that staged this event last year.

There are plenty of other concerns as well.

But perhaps my favorite critical critique comes from the blog Bluff City Education in this post.

Here’s a snippet:

…To date we’ve seen little to no positive demonstrated impact on student achievement from these programs. In 2010, the Center on Education Policy reviewed 10 years of voucher research and action and found that vouchers had no strong effect on student achievement. The most positive results come from Milwaukee County’s voucher program, but the effects were small and limited to only a few grades.

Voucher programs also struggle to achieve their mission of providing low-income students with a way out of failing schools. For example a critical study of the Milwaukee program found that it overwhelmingly helped those already receiving education through private means. Two thirds of Milwaukee students using the voucher program in the city already attended private schools. Instead of increasing mobility for low-income students, the program primarily served to perpetuate status quo.

Ahh, so this really is about helping private schools and the students that already attend them. Good to know.

Unfortunately, the fate of this bill isn’t set in terms of whether or not it helps students or furthers the aim of educating the children…its wrapped up in the size.

Last year the Governor’s bill died, and the alternative…sponsored by Kelsey, also failed to make it through both houses.

Will this year be different? Who the heck knows? But its something to watch.

Medicaid Expansion: It’s all about politics…

Some more news on the Medicaid Expansion front yesterday.

State Sen. Lowe Finney (D-Jackson) informed us in a release yesterday that Gov. Haslam’s decision to not expand Medicaid in Tennessee will cost small businesses $72 million in tax penalties.

How Much Money will we give away?

How Much Money will we give away?

Way to run government like a business Gov. Haslam! Not only are you costing the state money…you’re costing employers money as well. That’s some economic miracle you’ve put together there! /snark

While some in the State Senate are looking for ways to patch the political stalemate, big time financial guys are bewildered at the state’s political leader’s fealty to what amounts to nothing more than political position.

The end result is rural hospitals, who will start feeling the pain first when uncompensated care payments are cut, are going to have to put pressure on rural politicians who will at first fight, then yield, then trumpet their achievement from the top of the highest hill as the savior of the local hospital…

In the mean time, Tennessee has given up over $57,000,000 dollars since January 1st thanks to the decision to not expand Medicaid.

First, they came for your lunch break…

Who needs lunch anyway?

Who needs lunch anyway?

National Republicans feel that passing new laws isn’t important, unless they repeal on old one. Apparently, one Tennessee Republican is getting that message…and it may leave you with a hunger pang.

Sen. Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) has introduced a bill that would repeal a law requiring lunch breaks in Tennessee. You can read the full text of the bill here.

If the bill passes, it doesn’t mean you don’t get a lunch break. It just means your employer can tell you that if you don’t want to take one (*wink, wink, nudge, nudge), and you don’t do you…you don’t have to.

Ahhh, sweet freedom….

But seriously. Democrats have a big problem with this, and rightfully so. The Legislature has already turned back the tide on all sorts of workplace protections. Making lunch “optional” (*wink, wink, nudge, nudge) means that some employees that opt in (and who in their right mind would do that without pressure) would be going eight hours without food.

Now I don’t know what kind of work you’re in, but I at least need a snack and a couple of minutes (read 2 15 min. breaks) to take it easy and reset my brain when I’m at work.

But since this is all proposed as “optional” (*wink, wink, nudge, nudge), neither employees nor employers have to opt in.

Which makes you wonder who’s driving the bus on this legislation? I mean, have employees been clamoring to give up their lunch breaks?

Are employers hurt by folks eating rather than shuffling around the office in a calorie deprived state?

I don’t think either of these things are the case.

And in a state that has a very high obesity rate, and knowing that skipping meals causes your body to STORE fat, it seems that while this might be a business friendly bill on the front end, the back end…ie. long term health in an already unhealthy state, might actually HURT businesses.

But good sense never stopped Kelsey from sponsoring a bill, so I’m sure this time won’t be any different.

Of course, it isn’t surprising that this bill isn’t an original thought from a guy that used to mail bacon to legislators he accused of wasteful spending.

Speaking of bacon…isn’t it about time for breakfast? I sure hope Kelsey doesn’t have some devious plan for that meal too…

Medicaid Expansion: $55m lost

This is OUR money going to OTHER states

This is OUR money going to OTHER states

I’ve written a fair amount about Medicaid Expansion over at my personal blog and the impact on regular folks here in Tennessee.

Over the weekend, Tom Humphrey noted a sign outside House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh’s (D-Ripley) office that details just how much the state is giving away every day since the beginning of the year.

Today’s version of that sign is included to the right.

Since the beginning of session, Tennessee House Democrats have delivered a short message about Medicaid Expansion…and the costs of not doing it, on the floor every day.

This morning, State Rep. G.A. Hardaway delivered the message. You can see it below.

If you would like to get updates from the Tennessee House Democratic Caucus, follow their Facebook page at Facebook.com/tnhdc or follow them on Twitter @tndemocrats.

Why Not Make Chocolate Rain The State Song

Because it makes as much sense as having a Tennessee state song : Number Eight.

I’m not saying in this post that Smoky Mountain Rain by Ronnie Milsap isn’t a more than decent song. It’s a fine song. When I worked in radio, it was requested NON-STOP. Folks like it. I get that.

But why do we need an eighth Tennessee state song? Does this provide out of work people a job? Does this help with flood relief efforts? Does it help educate people?

If everyone willy-nilly is going to spend the last days of session approving state songs, I offer to you, with the help of my buddy Steve Ross who had the idea first, to nominate “Chocolate Rain.”

Mayor Ford says Bredesen Reneges on Med Money

Or at least the amount of it, per Rick Locker at the CA:

The Bredesen administration thought it was doing good for the Regional Medical Center by asking lawmakers to give it $20 million if that much new federal money for The Med isn't approved.

So it raised eyebrows when interim County Mayor Joe Ford essentially accused the governor of reneging on what Ford said was a commitment for an extra $5 million to $20 million for improvements at the hospital.

Administration officials and others insist that no such commitment was made.

This took place at the weekly delegation meeting where John Morgan of the Governor’s office was there to explain Bredesen’s final budget amendment, which had been given to the General Assembly on Wednesday:

It asks the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to approve federal matching dollars, on the same $2-to-$1 basis as TennCare, for Shelby County’s additional $10 million subsidy for the hospital plus another $2 million from the city. If that fails, the amendment contains a direct $20 million state subsidy to The Med.

Ford told Morgan he believes the state committed to more.

Morgan responded: “Let me be real clear: the conversations we had were around matching those dollars. Maybe we misunderstood what you were asking for, but the conversation was about, first, making sure the hospital tax passed — that was essential. Second, trying to get those dollars matched, and in the event those dollars were not matched, that we put the money up.”

The hospital tax is a 3.5 percent fee the Tennessee Hospital Association voluntarily proposed to offset large-scale cuts to TennCare that would have reduced the program’s reimbursements to The Med by $54 million, which the hospital said would have forced its closure.

snip

There seems to be differing views regarding this money between Mayor Ford and legislators as well:

Ford told The Commercial Appeal after Wednesday’s meeting he believed from the start the federal money would come and that local officials asked the state for $5-20 million in new state money for capital improvements.

Sen. Jim Kyle, D-Memphis, said Thursday he was never informed of any money beyond the $20 million contingency if the federal funds don’t come.

Hat Tip to JR.