Monthly Archives: February 2017

House GOP Caucus makes staff changes

News release from House Republican Caucus

(NASHVILLE) — Today, the Tennessee House Republican Caucus announced the promotion of two current staff members and the addition of three new hires in order to better serve the 74-member caucus.

Cade Cothren has been promoted from Press Secretary of the House Republican Caucus to the new Director of Communications. The University of Tennessee graduate brings extensive experience to his new position from his time working with the caucus over the last five years, both on the campaign and official side. Cothren will oversee all internal and external communications efforts and craft overall caucus public relation strategies.

Holt Whitt has been promoted from Research Analyst to Director of Policy. Whitt will assist House Majority Leader Glen Casada (R–Thompson’s Station) with the passage of the governor’s legislative package. The former research analyst for the 108th and 109th Tennessee General Assemblies will also work with caucus members on policy matters.

Doug Kufner joins the House Republicans as the new caucus Press Secretary. He will serve as the primary spokesperson and media contact for news outlets across the state. Kufner is also responsible for providing internal communications updates to the caucus leadership and its members. He has over thirteen years of reporting and anchoring experience in the region.

Rebekah Raymond joins the House Republican Caucus as Policy Advisor. The Lipscomb University graduate received her J.D. from University of Tennessee College of Law. Raymond will work closely with House Republican Caucus Chairman Ryan Williams (R–Cookeville) on policy issues and research. She will also assist additional caucus members on policy research matters and help streamline the bill review process.

Jay Klein joins the House Republican Caucus staff as Digital Communications Coordinator. Klein will manage caucus digital communications platforms and assist members with social media tools to enhance their exposure among constituents. Klein previously served as Campaign Manager for State Representative Jay Reedy (R–Erin).

“This group offers diverse experience and exudes a level of professionalism that will benefit all of our caucus members so they can stay well-informed and share our conservative message with the citizens they serve,” said House Majority Leader Glen Casada. “We are excited and feel fortunate to have them as part of our team.”

House Democrats promote ‘People’s Bill of Rights’

House Democrats held a news conference Monday to promote a package of 50 bills they are sponsoring this year deemed to benefit Tennessee’s middle class, reports WPLN.

Their “People’s Bill of Rights” consists of five core principles that they say justify actions like raising the state’s minimum wage, lessening sentences for marijuana possession and opposing school vouchers.

“This is going back to the basics,” says House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley. “There’s not anything that you have not heard, and we have not been speaking about for years.”

The full slate of legislation runs to 14 pages. Many are measures that Democrats have proposed in the past but haven’t gained traction. But taken together, Democrats say their proposals will build a stronger economy, make neighborhoods safer, strengthen public education, spread high-quality healthcare and remove obstacles to voting.

Note: The full list of bills and sponsors is available by clicking on this link: democratsbillofrights


Senate votes to restrict investment of campaign funds

The Senate approved 32-1 Monday evening a bill by Sen. Doug Overbey, R-Maryville, that puts new restrictions on legislators making investments with campaign funds.

The bill (SB377) comes after an audit found former Rep. Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin, had invested more than $100,000 of campaign money in a company operated by a major political donor and also used the funds to make substantial loans to a professional gambler and his wife. That’s not illegal under current law, though Durham is under investigation for multiple other allegations of activity that would be illegal.

Overbey’s bill declares that campaign funds can be invested only in federally-insured accounts at a bank or credit union. The sole no vote came from Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, who in a committee hearing last week declared “you can’t legislate against stupidity” and observed that the bill would prohibit some relatively safe and non-controversial investments such as municipal bonds.

Overbey said that “reasonable minds might differ” on where to draw a line on permitted investments, but that his bill simply restricts campaign money investing to what most legislators already use after “some things that never would have occurred to most of us to do.. did occur.”

Note: Press release below.

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Freeman won’t run for governor; endorses Fitzhugh

Millionaire Nashville businessman Bill Freeman, a major donor to state Democrats, tells The Tennessean he won’t run for governor himself and is instead endorsing House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh for the Democratic nomination.

Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, said he is “leaning toward running,” but hasn’t made a final decision. If so, he will join former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean in a contested Democratic primary. Dean declared himself a candidate over the weekend. (Previous post HERE.)

“I don’t want to pit myself against the mayor (Dean). He’s done a great job and has a great reputation, but the fact of the matter is I’ve been now in state government for over 20 years and even I can learn a lot in 20 years. I know state government pretty well. I’m a rural guy. I think our party needs to reach out to rural folks like we used to. We have to get back to that.”

“I think he will be a great candidate,” Freeman said. “We’re a long way from a race but right now I’d say Craig is the guy with the most statewide appeal, the most rural-urban appeal, the most Democratic appeal. He’s been a longtime supporter of Democrats around the state.”

Note: On Friday, Freeman distributed an interesting but rather rambling statement to media on the gubernatorial and U.S. Senate races coming up next year, notably including speculation that Bob Corker might run for governor rather than reelection to the Senate. It’s below.

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House votes to expand checks of income for those on TennCare, welfare

Hundreds of thousands of Tennessee adults who are receive TennCare coverage, food stamps and/or welfare will face enhanced income-verification process that regularly checks their incomes against other state and federal databases under a bill that cleared the state House Monday night, reports the Times-Free Press.

The GOP-majority House approved the measure (HB227), sponsored by Rep. Dan Howell, R-Georgetown, on a largely partisan 73-21 vote.

Howell said the bill is intended to detect fraud and ensure benefits are going to those who truly need it while saving taxpayers money.

One feature of the legislation would require the Tennessee Education Lottery to send monthly data on all lottery players who win $5,000 or more jackpots to the state Human Services Department.

The department determines eligibility for TennCare (Medicaid), the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps) and the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (welfare) programs.

Democrats spent their time largely questioning the lottery-related impacts on families in which a parent or caretaker plays and wins larger lottery awards that could cost them their benefits.

Howell argued that lottery winners on state and federally-subsidized social programs are already supposed to self report and his bill simply ensures it’s properly done.

Speaking later with a reporter, Howell appeared a little surprised that no one got into the overall aspects of his bill, called the “Program Integrity Act of 2017.”

“That [cross checking lottery winner database] is just a small part of it,” Howell said. “What we’ve done is create enhanced verification.”

Haslam, other govs, meet with Trump on Obamacare

Tennessee’s Bill Haslam was among a group of governors meeting with President Trump Monday for a discussion of Obamacare, reports the Associated Press.

“It’s an unbelievably complex subject. Nobody knew that health care could be so complicated,” Trump told the governors.

Haslam unsuccessfully pushed a plan to expand health insurance access to hundreds of thousands of low-income Tennesseans. Haslam’s Insure Tennessee plan would have used funds made available through the Affordable Care Act.

“There was discussion around a couple of topics, including infrastructure, but the discussion was predominantly around health care, and Gov. Haslam was very encouraged by the amount of collaboration between the White House, Congress and governors on this issue,” Haslam spokeswoman Laura Herzog said by email Monday. “He has never seen the White House and Congress listen to governors as much as they are doing now.”

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GOP legislators oppose abuse of the elderly

News release from Senate Republican Caucus

NASHVILLE — Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville), Representative Kelly Keisling (R-Byrdstown), Senate Health and Welfare Committee Chairman Rusty Crowe (R-Johnson City), Senator Todd Gardenhire (R-Chattanooga), Representative Kevin Brooks (R-Cleveland) and Representative Dale Carr (R-Sevierville) today announced comprehensive legislation to address abuse of elderly or vulnerable adults in Tennessee.

Senate Bills 1192, 1230 and 1267 would expand systemic protection for victims of physical, mental or financial abuse and impose severe penalties on those who commit them.

The bills come from the Elderly and Vulnerable Adult Abuse Task Force. The proposals build on a new law, sponsored by Norris and Keisling and passed by the General Assembly last year, which set up Vulnerable Adult Protective Investigative Teams (VAPIT) in each judicial district in Tennessee to foster cooperation and information sharing between different government agencies whose purpose is to protect elderly and vulnerable adults.

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Multi-question MTSU Poll: Obamacare repeal, school bus seat belts, vouchers, etc.

News release from Middle Tennessee State University

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — Tennessee voters dislike Obamacare and want it repealed, but not until they’ve seen details of a replacement plan, the latest MTSU Poll shows.

They also support banning immigration from “terror-prone regions” but think illegal immigrants already here should be able to stay and apply for citizenship, and they split about evenly over believing, doubting or not knowing what to think about President Donald Trump’s repeated claim, without supplying evidence, that millions of illegal voters prevented him from winning the popular vote during the 2016 election.

“Most of these opinions divide sharply along political party lines,” said Ken Blake, Ph.D., director of the poll at Middle Tennessee State University. “But there are some perhaps surprising areas of cross-party agreement.”

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Duncan: Trump’s wrong in calling media enemy of the people

U.S. Rep. John J. Duncan Jr., who endorsed Donald Trump before almost all other Republicans in Congress and agrees with him on most issues, says the new is dead wrong on one issue, reports Michael Collins.

“I disagree with him completely on saying the press is the enemy of the people,” Duncan said. “I think it’s very important to the future of our country to have a free press and freedom of the press and to have a strong, active media. I think just about everybody in the United States – or most people in the United States – believes in freedom of the press.”

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Business bill pits local governments against Christian conservatives

Legislation that prohibits state and local governments from taking discriminatory action against a business on the basis of the company’s  internal policies has been sidetracked in the state Senate amid some controversy..

City and county governments have voiced concerns about the measure, reports The Tennessean.

Roger Campbell, chairman of the policy/legislative committee for the Tennessee City Management Association, said…  “People were surprised by it, saying why is it needed, why is it coming so soon in the session,” Campbell said.

Campbell, the city manager in Maryville, said he and others are concerned about what could result if the measure is passed.

“We could be in court constantly over something,” he said.

On the other side, the Senate move last week sending the bill from the floor back to a committee has prompted an  “action alert” from the state’s largest Christian conservative organization, which is lobbying for the measure.

In an email Friday to supporters and Christian activists, the Family Action Council of Tennessee said SB127 “would protect private businesses from having cities and liberal elected officials meddle in their personnel and employee benefit policies.

“The state should not allow liberal elected officials or liberal cities to discriminate against a business owner because he or she does not provide abortion coverage to employees or provide special legal rights based on sexual orientation/gender identity!,” says the “action alert” urging people to call members of the Senate State and Local Government Committee and push for a “yes” vote.

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