Monthly Archives: March 2017

NPR says TN affiliate shouldn’t have fired reporter after legislator complaints

National Public Radio officials released a statement Monday saying Jacqui Helbert, former WUTC reporter, should not have been fired by the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga last week after complaints from state legislators, reports the Times-Free Press.

The lawmakers say Helbert didn’t identify herself as a reporter while taping remarks of Sen. Mike Bell and Rep. Kevin Brooks to high school students opposing the “transgender bathroom bill.” (Previous post HERE.)

WUTC is an NPR affiliate, receiving more than $500,000 per year in state funding with a base of operations at UT-Chattanooga. The NPR statement urged the university and WUTC to reach an agreement that ensures the station’s editorial independence. Besides firing Helbert, the station yanked her report off the station’s website.

NPR’s statement said WUTC’s editors would not have removed the story from the station’s website if not told to do so by the university, and did not view the story as “fatally flawed,” as Helbert did not hide her equipment or mislead anyone, according to a statement released online by Michael Oreskes, senior vice president of news and editorial director, and Mark Memmott, supervising senior editor for standards and practices.

“Taking the decisions about enforcing ethics out of [WUTC’s] hands did more to undermine the station’s credibility than the original infraction,” the NPR statement reads. “This chain of events underscores why it is critical that newsrooms such as that at WUTC not be subject to pressure from the institutions that hold their licenses, the sponsors who give them financial support or the politicians who sometimes don’t like the stories they hear or read.”

Note: See also WPLN (Nashville’s NPR affiliate), which has comments from Bell and Sen. Todd Gardenhire, two of the legislators involved. The headline: “Republican Lawmakers Say They Didn’t Push For Chattanooga Reporter To Be Fired”

Senate votes for Polk body relocation (Getting ‘cart before the hearse?’)

The Senate voted 20-6 with three abstentions Monday evening in favor of a resolution calling for disinterring the bodies of President James K. Polk and his wife, now in entombed on the state Capitol grounds, and moving them to his parents’ home in Columbia.

From WPLN’s report:

Some family members are objecting, but Senator Joey Hensley, whose district includes Columbia, says Polk will get more attention if he’s buried there.

“This is a first process,” he says. “We want to honor James K. Polk and his wife, and honor his legacy. Have him somewhere where every day people can talk about him and see what all he accomplished.

In addition to state lawmakers, the courts and the Tennessee Historical Commission have to sign off on the move.

In his will, Polk asked to buried at his home in Nashville. But after his widow, Sarah, died in the 1890s, his home was torn down, and his body was moved to the Capitol grounds.

Some relatives say he should remain there. But the James K. Polk Home & Museum says a burial on its grounds would hew to his wishes.

Note: One of those voting no, Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris of Collierville, probably had the most notable comment. He said the language of the resolution (SJR141) struck him as “presumptuous on our part” — by suggesting relocation would be Polk’s preference, for example – and that Legislative approval should come after the matter has been through the court system, the Tennessee Historical Commission and the State Capitol Commission  — the last step, not the first.

“We may be getting the cart before the hearse in this case,” Norris said.

(Most recent previous post HERE.)

Mandatory ‘In God We Trust’ license plates deemed unconstitutional, expensive

Attorney General Herbert Slatery says a law requiring all Tennessee vehicle license plates to bear the slogan “In God We Trust” would be “constitutionally suspect,” but making such plates available as an option – as several states already do – would be OK.

As filed, HB26 by Sen. Bill Sanderson, R-Kenton, and Sen. Paul Bailey, R-Sparta, declares that “all registration plates issued or renewed” starting July 1 must include the phrase, which is also a national motto.

The legislature’s Fiscal Review Committee had earlier said in a “fiscal note” that the mandate would cost the Department of Safety about $19.6 million. As filed, the bill says all plates must bear the phrase once current inventory is used, making no provision for issuing an annual decal – as opposed to a new plate – as is now the case.  The cost would be about $3.31 per plate, says the fiscal note.

Under the attorney general opinion reasoning, it appears both the high fiscal note and the constitutional questions would be eliminated by making “In God We Trust” available to those getting a license plate and paying the fees, but not requiring it.

Such an amendment may be expected when the bill comes up in committee – and the legislative website says it’s on notice in both the Senate Transportation Committee and the House Transportation Subcommittee on Wednesday.

The full nine-page AG opinion is HERE. (A previous post, HERE)

Legislature overrides local marijuana decriminalization

The Senate gave final approval Monday evening to a bill to override Nashville and Memphis city ordinances that authorized a civil penalty of $50 for possession of small amounts of marijuana.

The Senate vote was 26-5. The House gave approval 65-28 last week. Sponsors were Sen. Jack Johnson, R-Brentwood, and Rep. William Lamberth, R-Cottontown. The bill (HB173) now goes to the governor for his expected signature.

“The last thing we need to do is create a patchwork of laws in this state regarding criminal conduct,” said Sen. Ken Yager, R-Kingston, in supporting the bill in a Senate floor speech.

Sen. Jeff Yarbro, D-Nashville, noted the Nashville and Memphis ordinances both gave police officers discretion on when to issue a citation instead of making an arrest under state law while the bill’s language prohibits “any policy guideline or practice” by local governments on marijuana laws that is contrary to state law.

In doing so, Yarbro said, the bill with that language is effectively prohibiting officers from use of their discretion, something that is common practice statewide every day.

Sen. Sara Kyle, D-Memphis, said the bill puts the legislature on “a slippery slope” of taking control away from local elected officials when they should be given more flexibility, not less.

Johnson countered that “the slippery slope is when we start allowing local governments to decide which laws they want to enforce and which ones they do not want to enforce.”

New bill would reimburse Nashville area legislator motel cost

Legislators living within 50 miles of the state Capitol could their motel bills paid by the state under a change in current law pushed by House Majority Leader Glen Casada and approved by a House subcommittee, reports the Nashville Scene.

The move came in the form of an amendment to HB1139, filed as a caption bill. At present, legislators living within 50 miles of the Capitol – including Casada – get $59 per day automatically as a “per diem” payment for days when they’re doing legislative work. That’s the amount calculated to cover a day’s worth of meals in Nashville.

Legislators living more than 50 miles away get an extra $171 in “per diem” payments – the amount calculated under a federal government formula as the average cost of a Nashville motel room for a day. Casada’s amendment (the Scene posted a copy HERE, though it’s not yet on the legislative website) appears to let Nashville area lawmakers get their motel bills reimbursed by the state — provided they file a request on each occasion and the amount is no more than the calculated $171 average.

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Gardenhire clash with talk show host depicted as ‘melt down’

State Sen. Todd Gardenhire “had a live on-air melt down” – as Tennessee Star describes it — during an interview with Nashville conservative talk show host Ralph Bristol when questioned about his bill to let the children of illegal immigrants living in Tennessee get in-state college tuition.

The bill (SB1014) is similar to one approved last year by the Senate, only to fall a couple of votes short on the House floor. This year, it cleared  the Senate Education Committee on a 7-2 vote last week and this week is scheduled for a vote in the House Education and Administration Subcommittee.

Tennessee Star, a recently-launched website with a right-wing orientation, has a fairly lengthy excerpt of the Bristol-Gardenhire exchange – and a link to the audio.

Is it fair, Bristol asked, to allow illegal immigrant students who are not American citizens to pay the much lower in-state tuition to attend Tennessee’s public colleges and universities when American citizens who reside in other states are required to pay the much higher out-of-state tuition.

…(A brief excerpt from the excerpt follows)

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Lamar trying to micromanage TVA?

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander says he’s just exercising his congressional oversight power in his latest attack on wind-powered electricity generation, but Michael Colllins reports that  a clean energy advocacy group says he’s trying to micromanage the Tennessee Valley Authority from Washington.

For nearly 12 minutes (in a Senate floor speech Wednesday), the Maryville Republican spoke out against a Texas company’s plans to build a $2 billion, 700-mile transmission line that would bring Oklahoma wind power across Arkansas to Memphis.

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Kevin Teets gets his lawyer license back

The state Supreme Court has reinstated the license to practice law for Kevin Teets, a veteran Democratic political operative after a 19-day suspension following accusations that he took about $8,000 from  nonprofit association created to help the homeless, reports The Tennessean.

But that comes with conditions. Teets must meet with another lawyer biweekly who will monitor Teets’ work and has to continue weekly mental health sessions. He has to allow his therapist to provide monthly reports to the Board of Professional Responsibility, which recommended his discipline. And he has to pay the board’s costs of nearly $800 (he has already paid restitution), disciplinary documents say.

“Practicing law in Tennessee is a privilege and it’s a privilege that I am glad to have reinstated by the Tennessee Supreme Court,” Teets said Thursday. “I’m passionate about advocating for my clients and I’m ready to get back to work.”

Teets is a former executive with the Tennessee Democratic Party and led the political campaigns of District Attorney General Glenn Funk and former mayoral candidate Bill Freeman.

Note: Previous post HERE.

Opposition develops to demolishing Henry Horton State Park Inn

Marshall County residents are rallying to preserve the inn at Henry Horton State Park, which is scheduled to be demolished under the governor’s budget proposal for the coming year and two legislators representing the county are trying to help, reports the Marshall County Tribune.

As it stands, Governor Bill Haslam’s proposed budget for 2017-18 includes $10.05 million for capital projects at the park, but is missing the approximately $6.7 million that TDEC asked for to renovate the inn at the park.

The budget request includes, among other projects, funding to build a new restaurant and visitor center at the park, but, as it is currently written, would demolish the 60-room inn, without replacement. The request would leave the 12-room motel facility at the park as well as the five cabins that the park offers.

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Bill would fix foulup blocking sewer authority loans

Two legislators are looking for an emergency patch after a law they passed last year to dissolve Hamilton County’s sewer authority in 2011 cost the agency access to loans, reports the Times-Free Press.

State officials balked at approving some $13 million in new revolving loans for the Hamilton County Water and Wastewater Treatment Authority because it wasn’t clear what successor entity or local government would repay them if the WWTA went away.

“Someone in the attorney general’s office put a stop on those” loans, said Rep. Mike Carter, R-Ooltewah. “We got notice the state revolving funds were not coming.”

Carter and Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, say they thought the loan issue had been resolved last year … Watson’s bill (SB951) to address the concerns and permit new loans from the Clean Water State Revolving Loan Program is scheduled for Senate floor action this afternoon. But Watson said he may delay a final vote… “just to make sure everybody understands you can’t walk away from these state funds.”

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