CPI Buzz March 25, 2016

End of Legislative session recap: 

Tennessee's 2016 legislative session: Key moments, key people

On Friday, the Tennessee General Assembly wrapped up its 2016 legislative session. Lawmakers tackled a variety of topics, ranging from attempting to override a gubernatorial veto to education, the Bible, guns and bathrooms. Here are a few of the major accomplishments, key moments and main players of the session:

The budget

As constitutionally required, Tennessee lawmakers approved their annual budget, which largely stuck to the initiatives and priorities Gov. Bill Haslam outlined in his State of the State speech in February.

The nearly $35 billion budget made significant investments in education, including giving teachers pay raises, as well as adding money to the state's rainy day fund and providing additional money for new drug recovery and veterans courts.

Hall tax

After years of trying to eliminate the state’s 6 percent tax on stocks and dividends, lawmakers made headway this year by approving a bill that seeks to reduce the tax until it is completely gone. Defenders of the tax say it will negatively impact local governments but critics of the tax say it hurts businesses and retirees. 

A standoff between House and Senate versions of the bill led to an agreement made on the final day of the session, which includes a provision that ends the tax by January 2022.

Criminal justice

Changes are afoot in Tennessee’s criminal justice system. Lawmakers approved a Haslam-led plan that includes establishing mandatory minimums for those with three or more aggravated burglary or drug trafficking convictions. The initiative also made changes to community supervision in hopes of reducing the number of people sent to prison each year for probation and parole violations. In addition, the General Assemblyapproved their own bill that would increase the penalty for anyone convicted of six or more DUIs and carjackings, while making it a misdemeanor instead of a felony for multiple convictions of simple possession of marijuana and other drugs.

Mass transit

Early in the session Haslam said he was weighing his options on advancing a measure to increase the state’s gas tax in an effort to address the state’s infrastructure needs. While he ultimately decided to not push the issue forward, lawmakers opted to take a different approach to infrastructure, passing bills to allow buses to ride on the shoulders of some highways and permit public-private partnerships.

Guns on campus

Despite concerns from law enforcement and faculty at the University of Tennessee, lawmakers approved a plan to allow full-time employees to carry concealed guns on college campuses. The measure was one of many gun bills proposed this session, but was the most controversial and is expected to be among several bills Haslam is thinking about vetoing.

Fantasy sports

Midway through the session, Attorney General Herbert Slatery offered an opinionindicating that unless lawmakers act, fantasy sports would be considered illegal gambling. Lawmakers officially gave the growing online activity, which allows players to assemble a group of players based on professional sports teams, their blessing, making fantasy sports officially legal.

University restructuring

Lawmakers approved a plan from Haslam to create independent boards for six public universities in the Tennessee Board of Regents system. Although some expressed concern about the plan — including administrators and students from Tennessee State University and the former chancellor of the Board of Regents — the initiative sailed through both chambers. Under the plan, the local university boards would be allowed to set tuition, hire presidents and decide their own priorities.

Wine in grocery stores

A significant amount of time was spent on a bill related to the sale of wine in grocery stores, which became necessary due to immense interest from grocers. The issue became contentious at times due to the inclusion of a provision that will place a two-store limit on liquor retailers. Opponents argued that the measure was aimed at preventing out-of-state liquor store chains from coming to Tennessee.

Despite the debate, Tennesseans will be able to breathe a sigh of relief on July 1, when they will be able to officially purchase wine in grocery stores throughout the state for the first time.

Online voter registration

Starting in July 2017, Tennessee will join the majority of other states and allow its citizens to register to vote online. With a push from the secretary of state, the initiative, which is part of a growing trend that began in Arizona in 2002, will let people either update their information or register for the first time.

5 key moments


Although it seems eons ago, at one point early on in the session lawmakers had a major push to implement a school vouchers system. The effort sought to provide public-funded scholarships to high-risk students attending failing public schools so they could go to private schools. When it came time to vote on the measure on the House floor, the bill's sponsor — Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville — pulled it back, noting he didn't have the necessary 50 votes to ensure its passage. The issue is expected to return next year.

Bible bill

As part of a last-ditch effort to make the Holy Bible the state's official book, the Senateapproved the bill, sending it to Haslam's desk. Citing constitutional concerns, the governor issued his first veto since 2014. The move led to an attempt by the House to override the veto but that ultimately failed in the final week of the session.

Bathroom bill

Tennessee joined a handful of other states that received national attention for considering a bill to require students to use restrooms that correspond with their sex at birth. Opponents of the measure, including business executivesmusicians and Nashville Mayor Megan Barry, argued it was discriminatory in nature and could jeopardize the state's Title IX funding. Despite the opposition, proponents said it was necessary in order to protect the privacy of all students and moved forward with the plan. After lawmakers heard from transgender students and advocates of the measure, the House opted to kill the effort only to later revive it. Ultimately the bill's sponsor — Rep. Susan Lynn, R-Mt. Juliet — opted to halt the measure and bring it up again next year.

A semi-automatic at the legislature

In an effort to highlight a need for enhancing background check requirements, Rep. Mike Stewart, D-Nashville, brought a semi-automatic rifle purchased with cash from an online dealer to Legislative Plaza. With the military-style weapon in hand, the Democrat tried to make the point that it was simply too easy for people to obtain weapons without undergoing a background check. Both of his bills related to the matter ultimately failed to make it out of committee.

Continued pressure over Insure Tennessee

Beginning on the first day of the session and continuing during the governor's State of State speech, there were several efforts to lobby lawmakers to expand the state's health care coverage to provide insurance to 280,000 Tennesseans. Citizens, including philanthropist Martha Ingram, added pressure by taking out billboards and stagingprotests to urge House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, to take action. Late in the session, Harwell announced the formation of a legislative committee tasked with studying the issue further.

5 key people

Gov. Bill Haslam

The governor had all the main components of his legislative agenda passed, his first veto issued during a legislative session sustained, received approval for his plan to create six independent university boards and outlined his view of a proposal to hire professional management providers to operate facilities throughout the state in an effort to save money.

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey

In one of the more surprising moments of the session,Ramsey, R-Blountville, announced his plans to return home and not seek re-election. Credited for helping Republicans make major gains in the statehouse in recent years, Ramsey served in the legislature for 24 years, including 20 in the Senate. When he took over as Senate speaker in 2007, he became the first Republican to hold the post in 140 years.

Rep. Jeremy Durham 

After a Tennessean investigation published in January found three women who said they had received inappropriate text messages from the embattled lawmaker's cellphone, Durham resigned from his leadership position, opted to leavethe House Republican caucus and took a two-week hiatus from the legislature while also denying any wrongdoing. Several Republicans — including Haslam, Harwell and state party chairman — called for him to resign.

After Attorney General Herbert Slatery began investigating Durham, Harwell ordered the Franklin Republican's office to be moved out of Legislative Plaza because he posed a "continuous risk to unsuspecting women," according to Slatery. Although the legislative session has ended, the investigation is ongoing.

House Speaker Beth Harwell

From the very beginning to the end of session, the speaker grappled with handling the Durham situation, along with a variety of other issues. In addition, Harwell formed a task force that will focus on expanding health care coverage, put her foot down on a plan proposed by Ramsey to allow guns in the Legislative Plaza and ordered anupdate to the General Assembly's sexual harassment policy.

Rep. Craig Fitzhugh

In the waning days of the session, the leader of the House Democrats successfully amended a bill to provide additional tax relief to disabled veterans. Although the effort was later undone in a conference committee with the Senate, Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, and other members of his party, including Rep. John Ray Clemmons, Sen. Jeff Yarbroand Mike Stewart, all of Nashville, helped push Republicans on a variety of issues, especially related to the state's criminal justice system.

                   - The Tennessean

What's next?

After Weeks Of Debate, We're Watching Governor Haslam's Veto Pen

Tennessee legislators were running out of Cheetos and cold coffee by the end of the session, which dragged on a couple of days longer than expected. One of the final debates was about whether to adjourn at all, just in case Governor Bill Haslam decided to issue another veto.

In 2014, Governor Haslam said he could not support a total repeal of the Hall tax. It doesn't sound like Haslam will veto the bill allowing therapists to pass on clients who they can't in good conscience treat.

Allowing guns on college campuses will get extra scrutiny.

UT's diversity office was stripped of its funding for one year, and the money won't go to "In God We Trust" decals.

There is some question about whether Haslam can actually veto a resolution, not a bill. And the proposal to sue the federal government over refugee resettlement is a resolution.

The last debate was about whether to formally end the session or leave open the option to come back and override a veto. But eagerness to hit the campaign trail and start raising money won the day.   -WPLN

The GOP Convention fun begins -  


Cruz, Kasich say they'll coordinate to keep Trump from needed delegates

In an extraordinary move, Donald Trump's Republican rivals late Sunday announced plans to coordinate primary strategies in upcoming states to deprive the GOP front-runner of the delegates needed to win the Republican nomination.

Ted Cruz and John Kasich issued near-simultaneous statements outlining an agreement that may be unprecedented in modern American politics. The Kasich campaign will give Cruz "a clear path in Indiana." In return, the Cruz campaign will "clear the path" for Kasich in Oregon and New Mexico.

"Having Donald Trump at the top of the ticket in November would be a sure disaster for Republicans," Cruz's campaign manager, Jeff Roe, said in a statement explaining the new plans. "Not only would Trump get blown out by Clinton or Sanders, but having him as our nominee would set the party back a generation."

Added Kasich's chief strategist, John Weaver, "Our goal is to have an open convention in Cleveland, where we are confident a candidate capable of uniting the party and winning in November will emerge as the nominee."

The arrangement marks a sharp reversal for Cruz's team, which aggressively opposed the idea of a coordinated anti-Trump effort as recently as late last week. Yet it underscores a bleak reality for the billionaire businessman's Republican foes: Time is running out to stop him.

The announcement came less than 48 hours before voting begins across five Northeastern states where the New York billionaire is poised to add to his already overwhelming delegate lead. Trump campaigned Sunday in Maryland, which will vote on Tuesday along with Rhode Island, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and Delaware.   - Chattanooga Times Free Press



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Flip Flopper!

On policies, Ted Cruz shifts his stance to suit a fractured GOP

At the start of the presidential campaign, Ted Cruz told voters he would be the only “consistent conservative” in a crowded Republican field. Then he confronted the modern GOP — a fractured party, in which each faction has a different definition of what “conservative” means. To consistently please all of them, Cruz has had to be inconsistent with himself. Time and again he has shifted, shaded or obfuscated his policy positions — piling on new ideas, which sometimes didn’t fit with the old.

Cruz, for instance, promised libertarians that he would show a strict respect for the Constitution’s checks and balances. Then, the senator from Texas promised social conservatives that he would scrap one of those checks and balances, stripping lifetime tenure from Supreme Court justices.

He criticized Donald Trump’s plan for mass deportation of undocumented immigrants. Then he seemed to support it. He appeared skeptical of military intervention in Syria. Then he vowed to find out whether “sand can glow in the dark” there.

Cruz’s maneuvering has helped him build and maintain a base of support among the party’s activist class: If Trump fails to win the GOP nomination outright, Cruz could have enough backing among Republican delegates to win it after the first ballot at the party’s convention in Cleveland in July. But while Cruz’s rightward shifts might have been politically smart during the primary season, they probably would create major challenges during the general election, putting Cruz far to the right of most voters. 

“Now, he’s in this wonderful position where he’s both the last anti-establishment candidate acceptable who is not named Donald Trump, and he’s also the last establishment candidate,” said Matt Welch of the libertarian magazine Reason, applauding Cruz’s policy shifts. “That’s just a genius level of maneuvering.” 

“The question is: What might he believe, in the middle of all of that?” Welch said. “And I think people have a right to be very skeptical as to whether there is a real core belief system.”   - Washington Post

Billy Moore's Report from Washington

The Senate passed aviation and energy policy bills last week before bringing up the first fiscal 2017 appropriations bill. After their annual thrashing of the Internal Revenue Service, the House admitted its months-long effort to pass a budget is for naught. The issues contrast the efficacy of the House and Senate this year. 

In February, House transportation leaders reported a partisan aviation authorization from committee that would convert the air traffic control system to a private corporation, but the legislation died for lack of support. Last week, Senate transportation leaders passed a more conventional bipartisan bill 95-3. If Congress is going to prevent a shutdown of aviation programs July 15, the House will need to follow the Senate's lead on the legislation in order to clear it for enactment by President Barack Obama.  

The House approved a partisan energy bill in December despite a White House veto threat. The bipartisan Senate bill passed this week 85-12. To get a bill signed by President Obama, conferees will need to hew closer to the Senate version.  

At the end of the week, House Speaker Paul Ryan acknowledged, "You need the votes to pass a budget. We don?t have them right now." Without a budget resolution, the House won't be able to take up appropriations bills until mid-May. Instead of voting on spending bills, Representatives plan to take up more message legislation.  

This week, the Senate will complete action on the Energy-Water spending bill and take up the Commerce-Justice-Science appropriation. The House plans votes to disapprove a new Labor Department rule. Both chambers plan to recess the first week in May.

New applications for unemployment benefits sank last week to the lowest level in since 1973. The steady improvement in the labor market is at odds with weak gross domestic product growth, expected to continue at a rate below 2 percent.

Billy Moore is a partner at ViaNovo, a strategic consulting firm with office in Washington, DC, Austin, Dallas and Mexico City.

Thought for today from Frank Daniels:

We live in the America that Andrew Jackson fostered

The selection of Harriet Tubman is not “pure political correctness," as 2016 GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump called it on NBC’s "Today" show Thursday, but it is a reminder that when we reduce our debate to simplistic, one-dimensional stories, we lose who we are.

The most entertaining comment I read on United States Treasury Secretary Jack Lew’s announcement that Tubman would replace President Andrew Jackson as the face of the $20 bill came in a Twitter post by author, economist and Fox News columnist John Lott Jr. “On $20 bill, D(emocrat)s replace Andrew Jackson, a founding father of D Party, w Harriet Tubman, a black, gun-toting, evangelical Christian, R(epublican) woman,” @JohnRLottJr tweeted.

His 139-character comment is a bittersweet reflection of what holds our interest — pithy wit is far more engaging than the grubby complexity of our history. We should thank the Treasury Department for reminding us of what a wonderful and intriguing story America is. We cannot doubt that Tubman is an inspired choice to grace the face of a Federal Reserve note.

But Jackson, because of his failures, faults and complexities as much as his successes and victories, embodies the nation’s story in ways few other Americans can claim, and the America we live in today was fostered in the Jacksonian era.

Harriet Tubman

Tubman was born into slavery either in 1815, 1822 or 1825, she was never sure. In 1849, she escaped slavery in Maryland and fled to Philadelphia, but she risked her freedom to return time and again to help others make the journey through the Underground Railroad to freedom in the Northern states and in Canada.

In 1858, after becoming a prominent abolitionist and leader of the movement, she helped John Brown plan his raid on the Harpers Ferry arsenal, where he hoped to incite a slave rebellion. She was not a part of the failed raid that resulted in Brown’s execution for treason. During the Civil War, Tubman worked with the Union Army in South Carolina and became the first woman to lead a combat assault, the Combahee River raid in 1863.

After the war, Tubman worked for suffrage, dying seven years before the Tennessee General Assembly’s vote ratified the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote in all elections.

Tubman’s life reflects the fight for liberty that Americans should celebrate, and the narrative of that life is far more amenable to modern America than the complexity that Jackson presents. But is it more reflective of who we are and how we came to be that way?

I agree with Sen. Lamar Alexander’s observation that, “United States history is not Andrew Jackson versus Harriet Tubman. It is Andrew Jackson and Harriet Tubman, both heroes of a nation’s work in progress toward great goals. It is unnecessary to diminish Jackson in order to honor Tubman.”

Andrew Jackson

The campaign to put a woman on a Federal Reserve note inevitably led supporters to diminish the stories of Jackson and Alexander Hamilton, whose portrait is on the face of the $10 bill.

Originally, the Treasury planned to replace Hamilton because the $10 bill was due for a redesign to upgrade security features, but the nation's first Treasury secretary got a public relations boost when the Broadway musical “Hamilton” became a hit.

The Jackson story, however, embodies Ronald Reagan's observation, “If you are explaining, you’re losing.” And Jackson’s story needs a lot of context to be appreciated in the 21st century.

We know a lot of the bad, especially that Jackson owned slaves and that, as president, he supported and signed the Indian Removal Act of 1830, which led to the horrific “Trail of Tears” forced resettlements of Native Americans from their ancestral homelands to reservations west of the Mississippi River beginning in 1831.

Jackson’s life embodies some of the worst aspects of our history, but as Jon Meacham of Nashville wrote in his Pulitzer Prize-winning biography "American Lion": “… Of the early great presidents and Founders, Andrew Jackson is in many ways the most like us. In the saga of the Jackson presidency, one marked by both democratic triumphs and racist tragedies, we can see the American character in formation and in action."

Jackson’s father died three weeks before his son was born along the North Carolina-South Carolina border in 1767; his mother died when he was 14 while nursing American prisoners on a ship in Charleston harbor.

Like Tubman, he was driven to change his circumstances. He became a frontier lawyer, land speculator, a founding father of the state of Tennessee, a war hero, and was elected the seventh president of the United States in 1828.


Jackson did not support the concept of a national bank and vetoed the re-chartering of the Second Bank of the United States, and his requirement to pay for land sales with gold or silver instead of bank drafts played a significant role in the financial panic of 1837.

But when the Federal Reserve system was created in 1913, Jackson’s portrait was selected for the $10 bill (Hamilton’s portrait was featured on the $1,000 bill). In 1928, the Treasury put Jackson on the $20 bill and Hamilton on the $10.

We should embrace the complexity of our history, and maybe put Jackson back on the $10 bill.   - Tennessean (subscription)


Don't let this happen in Tennessee!


CPI Buzz April 21, 2016

Marsha, Marsha, Marsha!

Republicans finish discrediting their Planned Parenthood investigation

Marsha Blackburn isn’t one to worry about appearances.

The Tennessee Republican didn’t make any pretense this week of being impartial with the committee she chairs, the House Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives, commonly known as the Planned Parenthood committee.

On the eve of her panel’s Wednesday’s hearing, Blackburn went over to Georgetown University to participate in a protest against Planned Parenthood, the very entity she is supposed to be investigating. According to the Right to Life organization, she gave a speech at a gathering called “Life-Affirming Alternatives to Planned Parenthood,” part of a series of events in opposition to Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards’s speech at Georgetown on Wednesday.

Then Blackburn showed up at her committee hearing the next morning and proclaimed, “My hope is that both parties can work together.” That was probably never going to happen — and it certainly isn’t now that the secret videos that justified the panel’s creation have been discredited as doctored.

House GOP leaders created the panel last year in response to the Planned Parenthood videos that suggested the organization was illegally selling tissue from aborted fetuses to researchers for a profit. But investigations in a dozen states looking into the allegations came up empty. In Houston, a grand jury convened by the county attorney, a Republican, not only cleared Planned Parenthood but indicted the video makers on charges of tampering with a government record.

GOP leaders, in naming Blackburn to lead the Planned Parenthood panel, had hopes of defusing the Democrats’ complaint that the probe was another offensive in the Republicans’ “war on women.” That charge has been easier to make with Donald Trump leading the Republican presidential race — and with several House Republicans on Monday making the extraordinary gesture of voting against a ceremonial bill honoring the first woman to be elected to Congress.

But whatever legitimacy the select panel had left after the videos were discredited has been undermined by Blackburn.  

-  Dana Milbank in the Washington Post

Finally, a little sanity.

Siding With Governor, Tennessee Lawmakers Decide Not To Make Bible The State Book

The Bible isn't going to become Tennessee's official book.

That's the decision from state lawmakers. The Tennessee House of Representatives voted 50-43 not to override Gov. Bill Haslam's veto of a measure that would have added the Holy Bible to the list of state symbols, reversing course from a year ago.

The vote came after state lawmakers spent a final two hours debating whether to recognize the Bible, much of it fueled by supporters of the idea who sensed they didn't have the votes to pass the proposal a second time. The stalling didn't appear to change many minds. The proposal received a dozen fewer votes than when the House first passed it last spring — well short of the number needed to overturn Haslam's veto.

The measure's sponsor, state Rep. Jerry Sexton, R-Bean Station, said he was left with moral victories. "There is so much oppression today of Christian belief and Christian values that it seems it's not the popular thing to do," he said. "So I stand today to say that I am a Christian, and I'm proud that I am, and I'm proud that I live in a country [where] I have the freedom to do that."

The vote killed the measure, House Bill 615, before it could go back to the Senate for reconsideration. One powerful opponent of the bill, Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, had predicted that it did not have the votes to pass in that chamber either.

The decision on the expected final day of the legislative session put an end to a debate that had stretched across the better part of two years. Last year, the measure cleared the House but stalled on the last day of session in the Senate, sending it back to committee. The measure was resurrected about a month ago, prompting another round of tense debate.

Afterward, Sexton said he was uncertain whether he'd try again next year. "I've got an election to run so it'll be up to the people whether I even make it back," he said. "So I can't say that I will or will not. The people have spoken to this point."   - WPLN

Trouble in Tea Party Paradise

27 GOP lawmakers want Tennessee party official fired over wife's work

Twenty-seven Tennessee state House Republicans have called for the firing of a high-ranking state Republican Party official whose wife leads a political consulting firm they say is working for candidates challenging GOP incumbents in this year’s primary.

Lawmakers also want any GOP party superiors who knew about or condoned the "engagement" of the consultant to resign.

They say trust with the party has been violated. And until action is taken, the lawmakers believe there is “widespread concern that the future integrity of the Tennessee GOP hangs in the balance.”

The group, which includes House Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada, sent a letter dated Monday to Tennessee Republican Party Chairman Ryan Haynes demanding the immediate termination of the party’s political director, Walker Ferrell.

Ferrell’s wife is Taylor Ferrell, founder of Southland Advantage, a Hendersonville-based political consulting and fundraising firm that works with Republicans.

Rep. Judd Matheny, R-Tullahoma, said he wrote the letter in consultation with others. "I signed the letter because the Republican Party is destroying the trust between candidates, incumbents and the party apparatus by allowing its employees and subcontractors (in this case the political director and his spouse) to work against incumbent office holders," Matheny said in a text to The Tennessean.

Matheny is one of 21 House Republicans facing primary challenges this August. It's an unusually large number of primary challengers, reflecting the ongoing divide among Republicans nationally and locally.   - The Tennessean (subscription)

"Teach your children well"  (Crosby Stills Nash and Young)

Sponsor shelves Tennessee's undocumented immigrants tuition bill

During an emotional speech Wednesday, Rep. Mark White announced he would not revive his bill to secure in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants at public colleges, ending a years-long effort that won support from colleges and Gov. Bill Haslam.

White, R-Memphis, said earlier this month that he was optimistic the bill would return to the House floor before the end of the session. But while discussing the House effort to override a veto on the Bible bill, White remarked that he would not try to get the bill passed because it did not have enough support.

White said undocumented students cried in his office Tuesday when he informed them of his intentions.

More than 100 undocumented students had traveled to the Capitol last week to encourage legislators to reconsider the bill, which passed the Senate last year butfailed in the House by one vote. This year, a floor vote in the House would have been enough to send the bill to Haslam's desk. But because 2017 marks the beginning of a new legislative session, the bill will have to start from scratch if it is reintroduced.

Under state law, undocumented immigrants who want to go to public colleges must pay out-of-state rates that are often two or three times higher than those offered to Tennessee citizens. White's bill, which was sponsored by Sen. Todd Gardenhire in the Senate, would have given some undocumented students in-state tuition. It had support from Haslam and dozens of lawmakers, including some conservative Republicans who had been vocal opponents in the past. Critics in the House of Representatives said last year such a change would give undocumented students an unfair advantage over U.S. citizens.

Advocates and undocumented students blasted lawmakers in a statement Wednesday from the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition, which has lobbied aggressively for the legislation for four years.

"Legislators chose to deny students an opportunity at higher education and focus on issues like who can use which bathroom," said Eben Cathey, advocacy director at TIRRC, referencing the controversial transgender bathroom bill that dominated headlines during the session. "The lack of political courage and misguided priorities will keep thousands of students out of college this year."

Vitor Goncalves, a McGavock High School senior who moved to the United States from Brazil with his family when he was 2, said he didn't know if he'd be able to go to college without in-state tuition in the fall.

"Our legislators didn't have the political courage to allow students like me to pay in-state tuition, even though I've lived here my whole life and there is broad support," Goncalves said in the statement. "I graduate in May and want to get an engineering degree, but now I don't know if I'll be able to go to college at all. I'm frustrated because their failure to do the right thing doesn't only affect me, but thousands of students across the state."
 - Tennessean (subscription)

 Pith in the Wind

If You're Going to Take Jackson Off the $20, You Have to Take Him All the Way Off

So, the Treasury announced on Wednesday that they're moving Jackson to the back of the $20 bill and sticking Harriet Tubman on the front. I have, as you may recall, mixed feelings about this. But I'm excited about Harriet Tubman getting this awesome recognition.

Still, according to NPR, Jackson isn't leaving the twenty entirely: 

In a statement, the Treasury also announced that the new $20 note will keep an image of Jackson, who was a slaveholder, on the back. The new $10 bill will keep Hamilton on the front but in the back feature "an image of the historic march for suffrage that ended on the steps of the Treasury Department." Leaders of that movement—Lucretia Mott, Sojourner Truth, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Alice Paul — will be honored in the image. 

WHAT?! I mean, shoot, I'm all for historical honesty and shit, but putting an enslaved woman on the front of the twenty and an enslaver on the back is, whoa doggie, I mean, come on! Is the Harriet Tubman image going to be some kind of holograph that, in the right light, rolls her eyes and vomits at the thought of Andrew Jackson being on her back for ever? She has to share the bill with a man who bought and sold the people she was trying to free?

No, Treasury, either you have Jackson on the twenty or you don't. But this half-measure is an insult to the woman you're trying to honor. 
- Betsy Phillips, Pith in the Wind - Nashville Scene

Senate OKs bill to allow gun carry on Tennessee campuses

The state Senate on Tuesday voted to allow faculty and workers with handgun carry permits to be armed on the campuses of Tennessee public colleges and universities.

The bill sponsored by Sen. Mike Bell passed on a 28-5 vote, and the House was expected to take up the measure on Wednesday. Republican Gov. Bill Haslam raised concerns about the measure for not giving institutions the power to opt out of allowing more guns on campus. Bell, R-Riceville, was dismissive of the results of a survey of faculty at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville that largely opposed to measure.

"I think some of these people need to take their medication," Bell said, adding that he hopes some professors will follow through on vows to quit if the bill becomes law. "Maybe this will give UT a chance to hire some conservative teachers if we have a mass exodus of some of these liberals who responded to this," he said.

Bell said that under the bill, workers and faculty would still be banned from carrying firearms at:

— Stadiums or gymnasiums while school-sponsored events are in progress.

— Meetings where disciplinary or tenure issues are being discussed.

— Hospitals or offices where medical or mental health services are provided.

— Any location prohibited by another law, such as at day care centers or elementary schools located on campus.

While Tennessee's handgun carry law allows permit holders to carry their weapons openly, the campus bill would require firearms to be concealed. Many of those provisions of the bill were made at the behest of higher education and law enforcement officials, Bell said.

Haslam's stance on the bill appears to have softened in recent weeks. "I've always felt that whoever is in charge of that facility, whatever it is, should get to decide," Haslam said. "UT and the (Tennessee Board Regents), while initially expressing some reservations, ended up saying we're OK with the bill as it is. We had expressed some concern, so we'll see."  Chattanooga Times Free Press (subscription)


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U.S. Jobless Claims Unexpectedly Drop to Lowest Level Since 1973

Jobless claims unexpectedly decreased to the lowest level since 1973, indicating the U.S. labor market remains a pillar of support in the world’s largest economy.

New applications for unemployment benefits fell by 6,000 to 247,000 in the week ended April 16, data from the Labor Department showed Thursday. The median forecast of economists surveyed by Bloomberg called for 265,000 claims. The number of Americans already on benefit rolls declined to a more than 15-year low.

Limited dismissals signal that employers are still optimistic about the U.S. demand outlook. The drop in claims occurred in the same week the Labor Department surveys for the monthly employment report, and economists are banking on further job growth to support consumer spending and help prop up economic growth after a weak first quarter.

“Claims are probably the single best indicator of the health of the economy,” said Mike Englund, chief economist at Action Economics LLC in Boulder, Colorado, whose forecast for 252,000 was among the lowest in the Bloomberg survey. “We assume the labor market will continue to outperform most measures.”

Economists’ estimates in the Bloomberg survey for weekly jobless claims ranged from 245,000 to 285,000. Filings, which are the lowest since the week ended Nov. 24, 1973, fell from an unrevised 253,000.  - Bloomberg

 Gordon Gekko gets a pay cut

New Rules Curbing Wall Street Pay Announced

Senior executives at largest firms would have to defer more than half their pay for four years under proposed regulations; industry practice is three years

WASHINGTON—U.S. regulators proposed requiring the nation’s largest banks to hold back executives’ bonus pay for four years, extending by a year the common industry practice on Wall Street incentive payouts.

The plan would also give firms up to seven years to “claw back” bonuses if it turns out an executive’s actions hurt the institution.

The proposal, in the works for five years and jointly written by six agencies, would overhaul how pay is crafted for a wide swath of high-level employees at banks, investment advisers, broker dealers and credit unions, as well as top managers at mortgage-finance companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Though financial institutions already use clawbacks, the proposed rules would codify them for the first time as a government policy to revoke top officials’ incentive pay if firms have to restate financial results.

New details of the plan were released publicly Thursday at a board meeting of the National Credit Union Administration. Five other regulators, including the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., are expected to vote on the measure in the coming weeks. All six regulators were involved in crafting the proposal released Thursday, and all six will have to sign off on the final version of the rule for it to become binding.

The comment period ends July 22.   - Wall Street Journal (subscription)

 Kasich: ‘My Republican Party doesn’t like ideas’

Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) criticized his party for a lack of ideas Wednesday in a wide-ranging and occasionally combative interview with The Washington Post’s editorial board.  Kasich, who sees the April 26 primary in Maryland as a way to increase his delegate total, argued that neither of his rivals could win the presidency, because of their negativity.

“If you don’t have ideas, you got nothing, and frankly my Republican Party doesn’t like ideas,” ­Kasich said. “They want to be negative against things. We had Reagan, okay? Saint Ron. We had Kemp, he was an idea guy. I’d say Paul Ryan is driven mostly by ideas. He likes ideas. But you talk about most of ’em, the party is knee-jerk ‘against.’ Maybe that’s how they were created.”

For more than a month, Kasich has been mathematically eliminated from winning the Republican nomination with the pledged delegates awarded in primaries. Tuesday’s result in New York came close to slamming the same door on Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), something the senator addressed in an impromptu news conference Wednesday. While Cruz went on to call Kasich a “spoiler,” the Ohio governor agreed with him on one point: Front-runner Donald Trump was not entitled to the nomination if he failed to reach a simple majority of 1,237 delegates.

“One time I made an 83 on my math test, and I did better than everybody else, and I asked the teacher: How come I don’t have an A?” Kasich said. “The teacher said, ‘An A is 90.’ I said, ‘Oh, I get it.’ Say he gets in there with 1,100 — go get the rest of ’em.”

Kasich went on to imagine a convention where he could appeal to Trump voters by respecting them. Citing his work in Ohio to calm tensions after a police shooting in Cleveland, Kasich said he’d advanced past his “bombast years, where I was pounding on everybody.”    - The Washington Post

Thought for the day:

"No weapon has ever settled a moral problem. It can impose a solution, but it cannot guarantee it to be a just one."  - Ernest Hemingway

Unplanned Parenthood


CPI Buzz April 20, 2016

How Trump and Clinton won in New York (some Wednesday morning quarterbacking)

Trump, Clinton Score At-Home Wins, Yet Challenges Stay Evident for Both (EXIT POLL)

Hillary Clinton’s resume, her position on gun policy, her support from women and New York Democrats’ racial and ethnic diversity all boosted her to victory in the state’s presidential primary, while Donald Trump’s home-state advantage gave him record margins overall and across a range of Republican voter groups.

Yet challenges remain for both. Clinton won the state despite continued comparatively weak ratings for honesty, and she lost a variety of key groups to Bernie Sanders, including white men, young voters, strong liberals and those especially worried about the economy, perceived Wall Street excesses and free trade.

Trump, for his part, continued to do poorly among voters focused on a candidate who shares their values. And underscoring the party’s deep rifts, a remarkable 57 percent of his opponents’ backers said they wouldn’t support him as their party’s nominee in November.

Indeed, reflecting a foul mood within the GOP electorate, nearly six in 10 Republican primary voters said the 2016 campaign has done more to divide than to energize the party. That was in a sharp contrast to the Democratic race, in which two-thirds said the contest has done more to energize their side, and many fewer voters ruled out either Clinton or Sanders for their November vote.

New York exit poll results were analyzed for ABC News by Langer Research Associates. Our summary of key results in each race follows.

The Democratic Contest

Among other factors, a sense of inevitability helped Clinton: Seventy-two percent of Democratic primary voters said they thought she’ll be the ultimate nominee. Two-thirds, moreover, gave her a better chance than Sanders to beat Trump in November. And Clinton even ran slightly ahead of Sanders as being the more inspirational candidate, an attribute on which Sanders prevailed easily in his Wisconsin win.

New York was more hospitable to Clinton in a range of ways. Its closed primary limited the number of political independents participating in the Democratic primary – just 14 percent, vs. 27 percent in Wisconsin and nearly as many in previous contests on average. Sanders again won independents overwhelmingly, with three-quarters of their votes.

Racial and ethnic minorities accounted for four in 10 voters in the state, vs. fewer than two in 10 in Wisconsin. Clinton won three-quarters ofblack voters and 63 percent of Hispanics, while whites divided 51-49 percent, Sanders-Clinton.

Clinton had a broad 22-point margin among women, typical for her in primaries to date, while Sanders again won white men, by a substantial 16 percentage points. Sanders also won by 2-1 among voters younger than 30, slightly off his average across primaries this year.

While more than eight in 10 called Sanders honest and trustworthy, far fewer, 60 percent, said the same of Clinton – similar to previous contests to date, meaning no better for Clinton even in her home state. In further dent to her image, nearly half said she ran the “more unfair” campaign; just a third said, instead, that Sanders did.

Voters picked Clinton over Sanders to handle gun policy by a wide margin, 22 points, and also favored her, by 18 points, as better suited to be commander in chief. But Sanders scored on his trademark issues: Nearly two-thirds said Wall Street hurts the U.S. economy, and he won them by a dozen points. And nearly half of voters said they were very worried about the economy’s future, more than in most other states; Sanders won them by 10 points.

Mirroring results in other Northern states, Clinton’s margin among nonwhites overall was attenuated by her lower support among young nonwhites. She won 80 percent of nonwhites age 45 and older, while splitting those younger than 45 about evenly with Sanders.

In the end, as with previous primaries, the battle came down to a decision between a candidate who “cares about people like me” or is “honest and trustworthy – both strong Sanders groups – or who has the right experience or the best chance of winning in November. In those two groups combined, nearly nine in 10 backed Clinton, enough for her double-digit margin of victory overall.

The Republican Contest

Record levels of demand for an outsider, a straight-talker and a change agent lifted Donald Trump to an easy primary victory. In by far his biggest win to date, Trump benefited from a sense among most New York Republican primary voters that he’s got the best chance to beat Clinton were she the Democratic nominee in November – and from a record number of early deciders in GOP primaries to date, another sign of his home-state advantage.

Ted Cruz failed to consolidate the anti-Trump vote, as he did in Wisconsin; indeed even strong conservatives and evangelicals, while fewer in number, both backed Trump. Instead a greater mix of moderate and even liberal GOP voters helped John Kasich to one of his best nights.

Even with Trump’s easy win, the exit poll results marked the continuing splits within the Republican Party. As noted, nearly six in 10 GOP primary voters said the 2016 campaign has done more to divide the party than to energize it. Proving the point, two-thirds of Kasich supporters said they would not vote for Trump in November if he’s the party’s nominee, the most to date in primaries where the question has been asked. Forty-two percent of Cruz voters said the same.   - ABC News

 Not unexpected - 

UnitedHealthcare to pull out of Obamacare exchanges in Tennessee

UnitedHealthcare will not offer insurance plans in Tennessee on the federally run exchange in 2017.

The company notified the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance of its plans in a letter dated April 15. The insurer announced today on an earnings call that it will only offer plans on a handful of exchanges set up under the Affordable Care Act.

UnitedHealthcare, which debuted on the exchange in Tennessee in 2016, enrolled 40,879 people, or about 15.5 percent of all the lives covered under plans on the exchange, according to the TDCI. 

Commissioner Julie Mix McPeak said the agency is "disappointed" about how the decision will impact insurance shoppers -- but understands why the company is making the decision.

“However, we understand that the company’s decision to withdraw is a business decision. The decision seems more national in scope than Tennessee-specific as the company has less than four months’ experience with Tennessee’s exchange marketplace," said McPeak in a statement. "Thankfully, we have companies with strong ties to Tennessee still offering products across the state, both on the marketplace and off.”

The decision to leave the exchange does not impact existing coverage or employer-sponsored plans or Medicaid and Medicare products.

People with insurance bought on the exchange will be covered through Dec. 31.    -Tennessean (subscription)


Tennessee Lawmakers Green-Light Online Voter Registration

A measure that lets Tennesseans register to vote online is headed to Gov. Bill Haslam's desk for signature. The plan, Senate Bill 1626, would go into effect next year. It would also let people who are already registered to vote update their information over the Internet. 

Supporters say online registration will help voter turnout. They add that the risk of fraud is low because information provided online will be checked against driver's license records.

Thirty-one states and the District of Columbia already offer online voter registration.   -WPLN

Gerald McCormick, Know Your Bill!

House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick is steamed that businesses would dare take a stand against the potty policing bill. Chas Sisk at WPLN reports

"I got a letter from the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce," McCormick said at the opening of Tuesday's legislative session. "It was a long, self-righteous letter but it said at the end, 'Simply put, the legislation is bad for business, bad for Chattanooga and Hamilton County and bad for Tennessee.' So now that they're on the record for putting men in little girls' bathrooms, I want to say what else has happened in Chattanooga in the last few weeks.

As long-time readers of Pith know (and by long-time, I mean, for the past couple of weeks), the legislation has nothing to do with adult men in little girls' bathrooms, since it only applied to students. Adult men, trans or not, would still have legally been able to go into any bathroom they wanted.

Because, as I previously said, the bill was stupid both if you were opposed to it (as all good people were) and if you were for it, because it didn't do what legislators promised it would do.

Still, this is an amusing turn of events. The Republican Party is straining at the seams. Social conservatives and fiscal conservatives are finding less and less common ground between them. People who like to make money and want as little government oversight as possible while doing so want to be free to hire the best people they can and for those people to want to come to work for them. It behooves them to make sure their businesses are as welcoming as possible. Social conservatives, on the other hand, are gonna do what they're gonna do and they're not rolling out the welcome wagon for anyone different than them.

Who's going to wind up actually dictating Republican policy? Corporatists can only let the social conservatives go so far and then it's bad for business.

McCormick can threaten to withhold "corporate welfare" but, really, in a fight between the legislature and the Chambers of Commerce, does anyone really think that the legislature in this state (Tennessee's middle name is 'Appease the Rich') is going to win in the long run? Here's something I'd ask myself, if I were a politician: Can the Family Action Council of Tennessee raise funds for me as effectively as businessmen can? And if my answer is "no," I'd stop antagonizing the businessmen.   - Betsy Phillips, Pith in the Wind - Nashville Scene


Flinn puts $2.7M into his congressional campaign

Memphis radiologist and radio station owner George Flinn has loaned his campaign for the 8th Congressional District $2.7 million, reports Michael Collins. That puts Flinn at the top of the multi-candidate Republican primary in cash on hand, though state Sen. Brian Kelsey leads in raising money.

Flinn also transferred into his campaign committee another $231,000 that had been leftover from his unsuccessful campaign for U.S. Senate in 2014. He has spent $212,000, leaving him with $2.7 million in the bank at the end of March — more than six times as much as Kelsey, his closest competitor.

Asked if he intends to self-fund his campaign, Flinn said he would put more of his own money into the race if needed, but that he also intended to raise money from other sources. “We’ll put up whatever it takes to get our message out to the people,” he said.

Kelsey’s campaign raised $439,000 during the first three months of the year in the race for the 8th Congressional District, which takes in parts of Shelby County and 14 other counties in West Tennessee.

…Former U.S. Attorney David Kustoff has raised nearly $320,000 — almost all of it from individual contributions. Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell raised $145,000, all from individual donors.

Luttrell said he got a late start fund-raising because he didn’t jump into the race until the end of February, more than three weeks after Fincher announced his retirement and Flinn, Kelsey and Kustoff had all entered the race.

…Thirteen Republicans, four Democrats and five independents are all running to succeed Fincher, a Crockett County Republican who has served three two-year terms.

Other GOP candidates who reported raising money are Jackson businessman and political consultant Brad Greer, $104,000; Shelby County Register of Deeds Thomas F. Leatherwood, $36,000; Collierville businessman David Maldonado, $5,000; and retired Navy pilot John Mills, $5,000.

None of the Democratic or independent candidates reported raising any money.   - Tom Humphrey, Knoxblogs




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Paul Ryan's House of woes

Almost six months into the job, the new speaker is struggling to advance an agenda

Paul Ryan has had a tough couple of months.

The House GOP’s response to Puerto Rico’s debt crisis is stuck, with a big May 1 deadline looming. The leadership’s 2017 budget plan is stalled. And legislation to overhaul the Federal Aviation Administration hasn’t left the runway. With all the attention showered on Ryan’s non-interest in running for president, it’s easy to overlook the new speaker’s troubles running the House these days.

Almost six months into the job, Ryan and his top lieutenants face questions about whether the Wisconsin Republican’s tenure atop the House is any more effective than that of his predecessor, former Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). Ryan has flattered the House Freedom Caucus and pursued promises to empower rank-and-file Republicans with reforms to how the House operates — yet it’s yielded little in the way of actual results.

Democrats are openly mocking their GOP counterparts, and Republicans grumble — in private so far — that nothing is getting done under Ryan. Like Boehner, Ryan is finding out that becoming speaker is easier than being speaker, at least in the still badly divided House GOP Conference.

The rise of Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump — which has shocked GOP leaders on Capitol Hill as much as it has Republican heavyweights nationwide — has also injected more uncertainty into the legislative process. With the party base so unsettled, rank-and-file GOP members don’t want to do anything that could alienate pro-Trump voters back home. “Don’t piss anyone off” has become the unofficial mantra for Republicans, which has led to paralysis.

No House Republican wants to openly criticize Ryan. And there’s no question he is more popular than Boehner was at the end of his five-year run leading the House. But there are complaints that Ryan has worked so hard to accommodate disaffected conservatives in the House Freedom Caucus and elsewhere — the same crew that took out Boehner and blocked Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) from moving up to speaker — that he risks coming up empty-handed. With the House majority in jeopardy this year, as Ryan has admitted in his own fundraising appeals, some Republicans want a stronger hand atop the chamber.

To them, the time for conciliation is over. Another Republican said the GOP Conference “is unwhippable and unleadable. Ryan is as talented as you can be: There’s nobody better. But even he can’t do anything. Who could?”

Ryan’s difficulties have come into sharp relief this week. With federal taxes due Monday, he and House Republicans dubbed it “IRS Week.” GOP leaders set up a series of votes to bash the troubled tax agency, including a bill to prevent the IRS from hiring new employees until it could certify no one working there owed back taxes.

But it’s all been overshadowed by the failure to make headway on the GOP’s larger agenda. “Even under a different speaker, the deep divisions among House Republicans continue to prevent them from getting their work done,” House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said. “They have failed to pass a budget, the House has yet to take up legislation to address the debt crisis in Puerto Rico, and their plan to begin considering appropriations bills in April will not happen. From the government shutdown to taking our nation to the brink of default, House Republicans have shown again and again that they are incapable of governing — and it’s no different under a new speaker.”   - Politico


The rich get richer and the poor get poorer - Economic Policy Institute Report

New research shows that a shift from defined-benefit retirement plans (pensions) to defined-contribution plans (401(k)s) is exacerbating income inequality and poorly preparing the majority of Americans for their retirement.

The policy solution is to protect and expand Social Security, not cut benefits for millions of Americans. Please, stand with the American people by passing legislation that expands Social Security for current and future generations. 

Over the last several decades, employers have moved away from pension-based retirement plans toward the 401(k) savings model. Participation in these do-it-yourself retirement savings plans is highly unequal across income groups because the system is stacked against those who can least afford to contribute and to bear investment risks. Lower-income workers get skimpier matching contributions from employers and often receive little or no tax benefit, but still face a penalty if they need to tap their savings early.

According to new research by the Economic Policy Institute, nearly nine in 10 families in the top income fifth had retirement account savings, compared with fewer than one in 10 families in the bottom income fifth (see the first figure below).

Additionally, families in the top income fifth accounted for 63 percent of total income, but 74 percent of total savings in retirement accounts (see the second figure below) illustrating the degree to which 401(k)s favor those with higher incomes.

This disparity across income groups highlights a serious policy failure that is exacerbating income inequality as well as the existing retirement security crisis with two-thirds of seniors relying on Social Security for a majority of their income. The policy solution to the retirement security crisis is to protect and expand Social Security for millions of Americans, not cut our only universal guaranteed source of retirement income.  -  EPI


Harriet Tubman Replacing Andrew Jackson on $20

The U.S. Treasury Department will reportedly announce Wednesday that abolitionist icon Harriet Tubman will replace President Andrew Jackson's visage on the $20 bill. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew had previously indicated that Alexander Hamilton will remain on the $10 bill, but according to Politico, the back of the ten-spot will feature a group of female American suffrage icons.  - The Daily Beast


On the Johnny Cash Trail at Folsom Prison, People Need to Keep a Movin’

Six decades after Mr. Cash made this Sacramento suburb a jukebox name with his hit, “Folsom Prison Blues,” the city is embracing its link to the Man in Black and its prison in a big way. The 2.5-mile Johnny Cash Trail, scheduled to be complete by summer 2017, will include faux guard towers, 7-foot guitar picks and a prison cell-like sculpture made of giant guitar necks.

The path, winding through oak-covered hills, will offer scenic views of the 136-year-old penitentiary surrounded by granite walls—from a distance.

Besides penning a song about Folsom Prison, Mr. Cash performed before inmates there in a 1968 concert that revived his career. Inmates gathered in the Folsom cafeteria cheered when Mr. Cash opened the concert with the lyrics: “I hear the train a comin’, it’s rollin’ ’round the bend…”

The city’s association to the song still draws visitors. Mr. Cash’s longtime manager, Lou Robin, said Mr. Cash “would be flattered people want to pay tribute to him and his music and do something like this.” Mr. Cash “wanted to give [inmates] hope when they got out there would be something in the outside world,” Mr. Robin said.

It isn’t the first time the idea of honoring Mr. Cash has come up here. A new species of black tarantula recently found near the prison was named after him, called Aphonopelma johnnycashi. In a 2008 city contest to name a new bridge, there were so many entries for Johnny Cash, officials set up a separate category for them.  - The Wall Street Journal

Thought for the day:

"Sometimes I am two people. Johnny is the nice one. Cash causes all the trouble. They fight."
    - Johnny Cash

Paul Ryan's 2020 vision?


CPI Buzz, March 19, 2016

House sponsor of Bible bill announces attempt to override Haslam’s veto

The House sponsor of the bill designating the Bible as the "official state book" of Tennessee served formal notice on the House floor Monday night that he will try to override Gov. Bill Haslam's veto of the bill.

Under House rules, the House cannot act on the override attempt until at least 8 p.m. Tuesday — 24 hours after Rep. Jerry Sexton, R-Bean Station, announced on the House floor his intentions to resurrect his controversial bill.

It appeared briefly that Sexton would attempt to suspend the House rules in order to vote on the override attempt on the spot. That would have required a two-thirds vote of the House membership — at least 66 of the 99 House members. After a brief discussion with House leaders and clerks, Sexton said he would yield to the 24-hour rule.

Sexton expressed some concern that the Senate — where the Bible bill passed with only two votes to spare — could adjourn for the year before the 24 hours is up. The state constitution requires the House to act on a veto override first because it was the first of the two chambers to pass the bill.

However, if the House overrides the veto, the Senate could vote on the override immediately, with no public-notice delay. Overriding the veto takes only the same simple majority of the membership of each chamber that it takes to pass legislation in the first place — 50 votes in the House and 17 votes in the 33-member Senate. 

Haslam vetoed the bill Thursday, saying he believes it "trivializes" the Bible and noting that the state attorney general has opined that it violates both the U.S. and Tennessee constitutions.   - Knoxville News Sentinel


'Bathroom Bill’ Targeting Transgender Students Pulled In Tennessee After Flurry Of Lobbying

A measure that would have made transgender students use the bathroom of their birth sex has been withdrawn. The sponsor of the bill, Rep. Susan Lynn, R-Mt. Juliet, says there are just too many questions about it remaining.  Tennessee lawmakers plan to wrap up the legislative session later this week. Lynn sees no need to rush.

"We just want to protect children at the state level." Lynn says. "In the meantime, I know that the schools are protecting children."

The so-called "bathroom bill" would have applied to K-12 and college students. Lynn says one question that still needs to be addressed is whether it should extend beyond K-12. Lynn denies that concerns about losing federal funding was a factor, although dozens of corporations have already come out against the bill. Many executives have personally contacted Governor Bill Haslam and House representatives, telling them the legislation could jeopardize their business in Tennessee.

Attorney General Herbert Slatery has also warned that the bathroom bill could cost the state millions in federal funding. He pointed to North Carolina as an example, where a similar bill has recently caused an uproar. But Rep. Lynn says judges in Virginia and Pennsylvania have dismissed suits from transgender students demanding access to the bathroom of their gender identity.

This decision follows last minute lobbying from both sides of the debate. 

Meanwhile, representatives from the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee, along with a few transgender students and their families, delivered petitions to Governor Haslam's office with more than 67,000 signatures. 

In a statement that accompanied the petitions, student Jennifer Guenst wrote this:

“I have been a public school student for two years and haven’t had any issues using the same restroom as other students – it’s this bill that would create a lot of problems for me and my friends." It's unclear how much influence, if any, these actions had on Rep. Lynn's decision.  - WPLN


Tennessee set to sue federal government over refugee resettlement

The House of Representatives on Monday voted to let Tennessee become the first state in the nation to sue the federal government over refugee resettlement on the grounds of the 10th Amendment. The 10th Amendment states that the federal government possesses powers only delegated to it by the U.S. Constitution and that all other powers are reserved for the states. The move comes as a result of the chamber's 69-25 vote on a resolution that directs the state's attorney general to sue the feds.

For the most part, the vote fell along party lines, with the exception of a handful of Democrats — Reps. John Mark WindleKevin Dunlap and Joe Armstrong — who voted in favor of the legislation. Reps. Bill Dunn and Eddie Smith, both Knoxville Republicans, sided with 23 Democrats in voting against the measure.

Proponents of the legislation argue the federal government has forced the state to participate in refugee resettlement despite the fact that Tennessee has opted not to administer the effort. The state, however, is still partaking in the program through Catholic Charities, which is administering resettlement.

Sponsors of the measure, which was easily approved in the Senate in February, say it is necessary because the federal government has failed to consult with the state on the placement of refugees. Advocates also cite security concerns while saying the feds have shifted the cost of administering the program to Tennessee.

Opponents, including several House Democrats who spoke in opposition to the resolution on Monday, argue it will negatively affect the state's refugee community and perpetuate a culture of fear.

Rep. John Ray Clemmons, D-Nashville, asked the bill's sponsor — Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver, R-Lancaster — why the resolution was necessary, adding that he believed it was the result of a lot of fear mongering. "I have serious concerns of what signal we're going to send to the rest of the country and the rest of the world when there's a lawsuit that says the state of Tennessee versus the United States and this issue is at the heart of it. That sends the wrong signal and misrepresents the will of my city," he said.

After fielding several questions from Clemmons, Weaver received applause from her colleagues after saying, "We are a sovereign state representative and it's time we start acting like it."

Gov. Bill Haslam, who has said he is not concerned about the safety issue regarding refugee resettlement, has warned that the provision in the resolution that allows lawmakers to hire outside counsel could set a bad precedent. 

Rep. Mike Stewart, D-Nashville, said that aspect of the resolution is concerning. "This goes down a very dangerous path, essentially opening up our government to whatever band of activist lawyers happens to roll along and want to conduct so-called free litigation for us," he said, adding that by ordering the state's attorney general — an office that falls within the executive branch — to sue the federal government, that in itself is an act of governmental overreach.

Haslam is unable to veto the legislation because it comes in the form of a resolution. With the House's action, Tennessee is expected to become the third state to sue the federal government over refugee resettlement.   - Tennessean 

(Editor's note:  Didn't we settle this argument once and for all in 1865?) 

TBI: Serious crime decreases statewide, in Memphis

The most serious types of crime declined across Tennessee by about 2.1 percent from 2014 to 2015, although homicides were up statewide, according to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation's 2015 "Crime in Tennessee" report released Monday.

Memphis saw a greater decline than the state in those same Group A offenses over the same time period. Group A offenses are broken down into crimes against persons (homicide, rape, assault), crimes against property (theft, burglary, arson) and crimes against society (drugs, prostitution, gambling).

The annual study compiles data reported from each law-enforcement agency in the state through the Tennessee Incident Based Reporting System.
     - Memphis Commercial Appeal


Veterans still can face long waits for care — if they get it at all

Veterans newly enrolling for health care from the Department of Veterans Affairs and requesting an appointment can endure a months-long wait before they first see a medical provider, according to an audit issued Monday. The Government Accountability Office also said that the department’s method of measuring wait times understates the delay a veteran experiences.

The average waiting time — as measured from the time veterans requested that VA contact them to schedule appointments to when they were seen — at the six medical centers GAO studied ranged from 22 to 71 days. Of the 180 veterans GAO tracked, 60 still hadn’t been seen by the time the auditors ended their review last month, in several cases because VA never followed up on their requests to be contacted or because of other administrative errors.

In addition, wait times “varied widely, even within the same medical center,” and 12 of those who were seen had waited more than 90 days. “These time frames were impacted by limited appointment availability and weaknesses in medical center scheduling practices, which contributed to unnecessary delays,” the report said.

The report was issued ahead of a House Veterans Affairs’ Committeehearing on Tuesday, two years after a hearing there helped trigger a flood of revelations that veterans had been enduring long waits for care and that some patient records had been fudged to hide it.

“This report proves what we’ve long known: wait-time manipulation continues at VA and the department’s wait-time rhetoric doesn’t match up with the reality of veterans’ experiences,” Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), the committee chairman, said in a statement. “But given the fact that VA has successfully fired just four people for wait-time manipulation while letting the bulk of those behind its nationwide delays-in-care scandal off with no discipline or weak slaps on the wrist, I am not at all surprised these problems persist.”  - Washington Post



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Supreme Court Justices Appear Split on Immigration Case

If court deadlocks, Obama’s policy to shield millions from deportation likely would be frozen

The Supreme Court appeared as split as the nation over immigration policy Monday, with the justices divided over a 26-state challenge to Obama administration plans for deferring deportation of some four million illegal immigrants whose children are U.S. citizens.

Four conservative justices at oral arguments in the case appeared critical of the plan, called Deferred Action for Parents of Americans, which lower courts temporarily blocked after Texas filed its challenge on behalf of Republican-leaning states. Four liberal justices suggested that the case had no business being before the courts at all.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, one of the liberals, set out perhaps the only points of agreement. “We have 11.3 million undocumented aliens in the country, and Congress, the legislature, has provided funds for removing about [400,000]. So inevitably, priorities have to be set,” she said.

The February death of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia reduced the court to eight members. After extended arguments involving four lawyers, it appeared possible that the panel could deadlock 4-4, which effectively would kill the immigration plan for the rest of President Barack Obama’s time in office.

Regardless of the outcome, it isn’t likely that immigrants covered by the administration program, who have been in the U.S. since at least 2010 and lack criminal records, will be deported anytime soon.

Yet there were hints that the administration might eke out a win on technical grounds, through a finding that Texas used the wrong procedure to raise its objections.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, a conservative on most issues, suggested that rather than a lawsuit seeking to invalidate the deferred-action program itself, Texas should instead have raised an administrative challenge to related regulations that allow certain aliens to work.   The Washington Post


Dow Industrials Top 18000 for First Time Since July

Energy stocks rise the most in the S&P 500, erasing earlier losses

U.S. stocks rose Monday, propelling the Dow Jones Industrial Average above 18000 for the first time since July.

The blue-chip index has gained nearly 15% since mid-February, as early-year fears about the U.S. economy faded, oil prices rebounded and the Federal Reserve signaled a cautious approach to raising rates. With Monday’s advance, the Dow is up 3.3% for the year.

“You can’t underestimate people’s fear of missing out” in the stock market, said Steve Sosnick, an options trader at Timber Hill, the market-making division of Interactive Brokers. “The market came roaring back, and it’s one big momentum machine,” he added.

Even as stocks have posted strong gains, the rally has slowed. Global growth remains sluggish, energy prices remain near depressed levels and company earnings aren’t particularly encouraging. The Dow industrials climbed roughly 12% from their Feb. 11 lows by mid-March. Since then, the blue-chip index has risen about 3%.

“The more highs we get, the more antsy people are,” said Justin Wiggs, managing director in equity trading at Stifel Nicolaus.

On Monday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 107 points, or 0.6%, to 18004, closing above 18000 for the first time since July 20. The S&P 500 added 0.7% and the Nasdaq Composite gained 0.4%.

The broad move higher in U.S. stocks—all of the S&P 500’s sectors rose —marked a reversal from early losses. A tumble in oil prices sparked the initial losses after major oil-producing countries failed to reach an agreement to freeze output.   The Wall Street Journal


Trump’s national field director quits amid major staff changes

Donald Trump's national field director Stuart Jolly resigned on Monday amid major changes to the campaign's top leadership and a swift transfer of power away from a small group of devoted staffers who have been with Trump since the beginning to a larger team of more experienced operatives.

Jolly, 52, said in an interview Monday night that he decided the time had come for him to leave the campaign, and he's not angry about doing so. He resigned in a letter addressed to "Mr. Trump" on Monday that thanked the Republican front-runner for hiring him, even though he had never worked on a national campaign before.

Jolly is a longtime friend of Trump's campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, and the two previously worked together at Americans for Prosperity, an advocacy group that gets much of its funding from David and Charles Koch. Jolly said that part of the reason he joined the campaign was to help Lewandowski. While Lewandowski has been known to be tough on his staff, sometimes yelling or speaking harshly, Jolly was considered his friendly, soothing counterpart.

As Trump's chances of locking up the GOP nomination before the convention in July have faded, Lewandowski has seen his role in the campaign lessened. Trump has brought in a group of aides with decades of national political experience, including Paul Manafort, a longtime strategist who was recently brought on to oversee Trump's delegate and convention strategy. Manafort has quickly assumed the role of Trump's top adviser and reports directly to him.

Jolly -- whose resignation was first reported by Politico -- said in an interview that he recently learned that he would no longer report to Lewandowski and would instead report to newly hired national political director Rick Wiley, who previously managed Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's campaign. "That wasn't going to happen," Jolly said of the change in leadership.   - The Washington Post


How GOP Intellectuals’ Feud With the Base Is Remaking U.S. Politics
What happens when the partnership that created the modern Republican Party shatters?

One of the most spectacular fissures of this already dramatic political season has been the messy, public divorce of the Republican intelligentsia from the party’s suddenly energized populist voter base. As Donald Trump grips crowds and racks up delegates with a blunt nationalist message of jobs, protectionism and “winning,” true-believing conservatives—from dean of the conservative commentariat George Will, to Pete Wehner, who has worked for every GOP administration since Ronald Reagan, to Weekly Standardeditor Bill Kristol—have peeled off in anti-Trump directions. When National Review, the flagship magazine of modern conservative thinking, devoted an entire issue to rejecting the GOP front-runner, it felt like a separation being finalized. Trump, of course, was unfazed, saying, “You have people that are in National Review—they’re eggheads. They’re just eggheads.” 

It’s easy to lay the blame at Donald Trump’s feet (after all, it’s hard to imagine another Republican candidate of the last four decades rejecting National Review so cavalierly), but this year’s split between intellectuals and the rank-and-file GOP goes beyond the front-runner. In fact, neither of Trump’s remaining rivals, Ted Cruz nor John Kasich, is particularly cozy with the conservative intelligentsia. (Think tankers tended to coalesce behind Scott Walker, Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, who are long since out of the race.) What’s really going on is that the ideas that the conservative intellectual community has been peddling for decades have failed to appeal to an angry blue-collar voter base. What worked in Reagan’s era just doesn’t work anymore, and Trump is simply exploiting the divide.

Yet, as Trump’s easy success reveals, the relationship is actual newer, and more uneasy, than most of the Right likes to think. As recently as the 1950s and 1960s, the “party of ideas” was unquestionably the Democrats—it was liberals, and liberal ideas, that defined the American policy conversation. Even the notion of a conservative intellectual was so unusual that Columbia Professor Lionel Trilling famously dismissed conservatism in 1950 as “irritable mental gestures which seem to resemble ideas.”

It was only in the 1970s that the long-standing liberal dominance in the political world started to change. The conversion came about as a result of a series of savvy decisions by presidents, starting with Richard Nixon and accelerating under Ronald Reagan. The result has been deeply influential on American politics for two generations now. And if it were to end, and do so abruptly, such a split could well reconfigure American politics for decades to come.
  - Politico Magazine

Thought for the day:

Let us never forget that government is ourselves and not an alien power over us. The ultimate rulers of our democracy are not a President and senators and congressmen and government officials, but the voters of this country.  - Franklin D. Roosevelt 

Springtime is here.




CPI Buzz April 18, 2016

Train wreck: The price we pay for pandering

One-party government gets you peevish politics, slavish pandering to the loudest screamers, no backbone, no courage.

As our state legislature stumbles to adjournment this week, we can now take the full measure of what this gang on the hill considered important and the laughingstock their choices have made of Tennessee.

The smug Republican supermajority’s most towering achievement — the one its leaders feel proudest of — has been the shameful slow-motion train wreck of Insure Tennessee. It has been a policy disaster for regular folks.

History will note that Insure Tennessee came from their own governor. It was Gov. Bill Haslam’s humanitarian proposal to extend Medicaid coverage to more than a quarter-million uninsured Tennesseans. What he got back, on a platter, was a miserable insult that unfolded shamefully over the two-year session.

Last year the defiant Republican-led Senate marched the prisoner down to the dungeon. Last week, the Republican House speaker threw away the key, turning the matter over to a new “task force” — all white, all male, all Republican. RIP, Insure Tennessee.

Left grieving on the sidelines, once again, are those thousands of uninsured folks from Memphis to Mountain City. Forget that the costs would be covered by federal dollars already set aside but spurned by your legislature. As Nashville Congressman Jim Cooper tweeted after the funeral:

“Tennesseans waited 2 years while Gov. Haslam negotiated a plan with the federal gov’t. ... Now we have to wait at least another year? Cancer patients don’t have that kind of time.” What the General Assembly did find enthusiasm for were the so-called “bathroom bill” with its callous ridicule of human beings, and also the loony “Bible bill” to make it our official state book (Editor's note: Governor Haslam vetoed the Bible bill on Thursday) . Turns out that one has hidden costs that nobody thought about until Attorney General Herbert Slatery pointed out conflicts with Title IX. I only hope his news conference was a setup for a veto.

These are lousy laws. Responsible leaders, in whatever days remain in this sorry session, should walk them back to committee. That would be a fine use of a “task force” (read, graveyard) study. Failing that, both are worthy of the governor’s veto.

Add to all that the legislature’s failure to embrace a modern highway program and its disruptive meddling in Nashville’s affordable housing policy and the stability of annexation progress in Memphis.

What all these miseries have in common is this: They are the price we pay for legislative pandering to an array of special interests — ranging from government-hating think tanks to well-heeled developers to extremists who dislike anyone unlike themselves. -  Keel Hunt in the Tennessean


Bill Haslam talks with lawmakers about Bible bill veto

One day after announcing his veto of a controversial bill that would have made the Holy Bible Tennessee's official state book, Gov. Bill Haslam said he's been talking with lawmakers about his decision.

"Obviously right now they have our reasoning and our logic for doing that. I strongly feel like that’s the right move for Tennessee and we’ll be passing that message on to members in the House and Senate," Haslam said on Friday during an appearance at the grand opening of a new Beretta gun plant in Gallatin.

The governor's action on the Bible bill was just his fourth veto in five years.  Admitting this is the first time the General Assembly has received a veto from Haslam while lawmakers are still in session, the governor indicated that he’s heard from several members who have said although they voted in favor of the measure the first time, if given a second chance they would vote differently.

“I certainly don’t want to project how people’s votes will be,” he added.

In addition to Haslam, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey — who voted against the legislation — has expressed skepticism that there would be enough votes to override the governor's veto.   - Tennessean


What's Left For Tennessee's Legislature In 2016? Some Big Controversies, Actually

The budget has passed, and Tennessee state lawmakers are eager to end the session this week so they can hit the campaign trail. After all, most of them are up for reelection this year. But there are still some loose ends to tie up. And some of the most complicated debates have — as usual — been put off until the final days.

The budget high points, like taking one percentage point off the Hall income tax on investments. Remaining controversial proposals include the "bathroom bill" aimed at transgender students, which has attracted national attention. Unexpected last-minute maneuvering has included legislation to legalize fantasy sports, following an Attorney General's opinion that it amounts to gambling. A conversation from February 16 about taking down the "no guns allowed" signs at Legislative Plaza, which may be roughly where the session ends up.   - WPLN


The week ahead: Bible, bathrooms, refugees and guns

As Tennessee lawmakers return to Nashville for what is expected to be the final week of the 2016 legislative session, any bills still alive will be given one last chance for approval. That means any legislation with a financial impact that isn't accounted for in the budget — which was given approval last week — is dead in the water unless the bill's sponsor can find a way to eliminate the fiscal implications. Legislators will have their hands full as they are expected to take up a variety of controversial measures as well as attempt to override Gov. Bill Haslam's recent veto of the Bible bill. Here's what to watch this week:

Veto override

Lawmakers will be faced with a tough decision on whether to override Haslam's veto of the bill that would make the Holy Bible the state's official book. 

Haslam cited constitutional concerns about the measure, which proponents say simply tries to honor the historical and economic impact the holy scripture has had on Tennessee.

The last time the legislature successfully had a veto override was in 2010, during Gov. Phil Bredesen's administration.

With the Bible bill barely receiving enough votes to pass through both chambers the first time around, all eyes will be on lawmakers early this week when they are expected to attempt to repass the controversial measure. The House, which will gather at 4 p.m. on Monday, will need to take up the measure first before sending it to the Senate, which will hold two floor sessions at 3 and 5:30 p.m.

Bathroom bill

bill that would require students to use the bathroom that corresponds with their sex at birth has drawn the ire of as many as 60 businesses, as well as musicians and various advocacy groups, causing the issue to generate headlines — especially given the backlash that occurred in North Carolina, which recently enacted similar legislation.


The sponsors of the proposed Tennessee law, who argue for its necessity citing privacy concerns, are still trying to figure out a way to eliminate an $800,000 fiscal note tied to the bill.


Proponents of the measure are planning to hold a press conference on Monday morning, ahead of the Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee, which is scheduled to take up the measure starting at 1 p.m.


Although the House Finance subcommittee has listed it on one of seven calendars scheduled for Monday when it meets at 1 p.m., the bill's sponsor, Rep. Susan Lynn, R-Mt. Juliet, said she thinks the committee might not get to it until Tuesday's 1 p.m. meeting.


Instate tuition for undocumented students


Undocumented students are planning to push lawmakers one more time on a bill that would provide them in-state tuition. 

Last year, the legislation fell one vote short of receiving approval in the House while also gaining supporting from Haslam and a host of lawmakers, including some conservative Republicans, who had been previously opposed.

Proponents of the measure say it would allow undocumented immigrants the opportunity to get an affordable education,  but opponents argue it would provide them an unfair advantage over U.S. citizens. Last week, Rep. Mark White, R-Memphis, the bill's House sponsor, said he was optimistic the measure could come back to the floor before the session ends.

Refugee resolution

Almost two months after the Senate overwhelmingly approved a resolution that seeks to require the state to sue the federal government over refugee resettlement, the House will have its chance to weigh in on the measure. Sponsors of the legislation argue for its necessity, citing security concerns while also saying the feds have shifted the cost of administering the resettlement program to Tennessee. But opponents believe it will negatively affect the state's refugee community and perpetuate a culture of fear.

Haslam, who has said he is not concerned about the safety issue regarding refugee resettlement, has warned that the provision in the resolution that allows lawmakers to hire outside counsel could set a bad precedent. But unlike the Bible bill, Haslam would not be able to veto the legislation because it comes in the form of a resolution. The resolution is among 37 items on the House's Monday floor calendar, which is scheduled to begin at 4 p.m.

Guns on college campuses

bill that would allow guns on college campuses is still alive, despite concerns from Haslam. The measure, sponsored by Rep. Andy Holt, R-Dresden and Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, would let full-time employees carry a gun on college campuses. Haslam has said he would prefer to let the individual schools make a decision on the matter, but the legislation would implement the policy for all public colleges or universities.

Exactly when the House Finance subcommittee takes up the bill is unclear, given the fact it has seven calendars scheduled. The committee will first meet on Monday at 1 p.m. and will reconvene on Tuesday at the same time to finish. The Senate calendar committee has yet to schedule it for a floor vote.

Fantasy sports

Attorney General Herbert Slatery gave fans of fantasy sports a scare recently when he wrote an opinion that said the activity was considered “illegal gambling.” But lawmakers are set to formally allow the practice by creating a task force that would let companies such as DraftKings and FanDuel pay their share of taxes to operate in the state. The measure would head to the governor's desk if the House approves it during its Monday floor session, which begins at 4 p.m.          -  Tennessean



Judge orders Jimmy Haslam deposed in Pilot civil suit

An Alabama judge has orderedJimmy Haslam, CEO of Pilot Flying J and owner of the NFL's Cleveland Browns, be deposed in a civil lawsuit related to the rebate scheme plaguing the $31 billion family truck stop chain. The order comes on the three-year anniversary of the FBI raiding the company's Knoxville headquarters.

Haslam is expected to be subpoenaed to appear at a May 11 deposition in Knoxville, according to an order issued Friday by Alabama Circuit Court Judge Sarah Hicks Stewart. The order requests the Knox County clerk issue a deposition subpoena or some similar order because "it appears to this court that the just determination of the issues (in the Alabama case) requires that the deposition testimony of James A. Haslam III be taken."  -Tennessean


The new Gilded Age: Close to half of all super-PAC money comes from 50 donors

A small core of super-rich individuals is responsible for the record sums cascading into the coffers of super PACs for the 2016 elections, a dynamic that harks back to the financing of presidential campaigns in the Gilded Age.


Close to half the money — 41 percent — raised by the groups by the end of February came from just 50 mega-donors and their relatives, according to a Washington Post analysis of federal campaign finance reports. Thirty-six of those are Republican supporters who have invested millions in trying to shape the GOP nomination contest — accounting for more than 70 percent of the money from the top 50.


In all, donors this cycle have given more than $607 million to 2,300 super PACs, which can accept unlimited contributions from individuals and corporations. That means super PAC money is on track to surpass the $828 million that the Center for Responsive Politics found was raised by such groups for the 2012 elections.


The staggering amounts reflect how super PACs have become fundraising powerhouses just six years after they came on the scene. The concentration of fundraising power carries echoes of the end of the 19th century, when wealthy interests spent millions to help put former Ohio governor William McKinley in the White House. -The Washington Post

Hall income tax poised for chop

NASHVILLE — After years of talk of eliminating or reducing Tennessee’s Hall income tax on stock and dividend income, the state Legislature appears poised to cut the tax rate next week.

The $34.9 billion state budget that lawmakers approved Thursday provides for a reduction in the 6 percent income tax rate to 5 percent — effectively a nearly 17 percent rate cut for the 200,000 or so households who pay it. Final approval of a bill to implement the cut will come before the General Assembly adjourns for the year this coming week.

The bill is set for review Monday in the finance committees of the House and Senate, which will work out final details. Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, said the rate cut will be effective with tax year 2016 and be reflected on tax returns due April 15, 2017.

Norris said the bill will also contain language saying the “legislative intent” is to phase out the Hall tax entirely by 2021, which means each successive annual legislative session is expected to continue to cut the rate by a percentage point a year if the economy and state tax revenues permit.

The Hall tax, enacted in 1929, taxes income from taxable stock dividends and certain interest. Taxpayers 65 and older are exempt from the Hall tax if their total income from all sources is $68,000 or less for joint filers and $37, 000 or less for single filers.

In addition, the first $1,250 in taxable dividend and interest earnings for all single filers and the first $2,500 for all joint filers is tax-exempt. The tax isn’t levied on interest earned on savings accounts, certificates of deposit, government bonds, credit union accounts, bank money market accounts and dividends from bank stock, insurance companies, credit unions and other sources, which are exempt.

The Legislature’s budget amendment approved Thursday accounts for a $27. 7 million loss in state revenue as a result of the rate cut.  
     - Rick Locker, Knoxville News Sentinel

Subsidies, student fees power athletics

Packed stands on Saturdays at Knoxville’s Neyland Stadium or sellouts for basketball at FedEx Forum in Memphis overshadow deeper financial problems for athletic departments at Tennessee’s public universities.

Most of the athletic departments at the state’s nine public universities manage to break even or turn a small profit, but that’s only thanks to hefty subsidies from the academic side of the university, according to data provided through a USA TODAY national investigation.

The Volunteers at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville far outpace the rest of the state’s public schools when it comes to revenue and, at least recently, haven’t relied on an infusion of school funds, thanks in large part to their television contract and other benefits of playing on a big stage. But for six of the state’s public universities, 70 percent or more of their athletic department budgets come from the university.  Knoxville News Sentinel


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It’s on: Tensions between Trump and the GOP escalate in public fight

Tensions between the Republican Party and its own front-runner erupted into a full-blown public battle as top party officials rebuked Donald Trump on Friday for alleging that the GOP primary system was “rigged” against him.

The dispute, which has been simmering for days, centers on Trump’s failure to win any delegates last weekend in Colorado, which selected its 34 delegates at a party convention rather than a primary attended by voters. All went to Trump’s chief rival, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas.

The outcome prompted a daily stream of complaints and allegations this week from Trump, who wrote in an op-ed published in Friday’s Wall Street Journal that the “system is being rigged by party operatives with ‘double-agent’ delegates who reject the decisions of voters.”

A senior Republican National Committee official fired back with a thinly veiled response, writing in a Friday memo to reporters that “each process is easy to understand for those willing to learn it.”

“It ultimately falls on the campaigns to be up to speed on these delegate rules,” wrote RNC communications director Sean Spicer. “Campaigns have to know when absentee ballots are due, how long early voting lasts in certain states, or the deadlines for voter registration; the delegate rules are no different.”
   -  Washington Post

Billy Moore's Report from Washington

The U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments Monday on an immigration case that could profoundly affect the balance of federal power. Amid a failure to pass a budget, Congress is advancing energy and aviation legislation to prepare for kicking appropriations into high gear. President Barack Obama travels to Germany, the United Kingdom and Saudi Arabia to discuss trade and terrorism.

The Supreme Court will hear arguments that will decide the future of President Obama's programs allowing unauthorized immigrants to apply for protection from deportation. The issues involve whether states have standing to challenge immigration policy, whether the programs comply with authorities granted by Congress, whether the implementation of the programs complied with civil procedures, and whether the President abandoned his constitutional obligation to "take care" to enforce the law by creating the programs. How each question is decided could enhance or limit the power of the Administration, the Congress and the states. A decision is anticipated in June.

Senate leaders are clearing the decks in anticipation of appropriations bills dominating the floor for months to come. After casting aside tax amendments, they cleared the path for passage Monday of a 14-month extension of aviation programs. By promising alternative vehicles to resolve disputes over Flint, Michigan's water crisis, they have set up a long-delayed energy policy measure for passage. 

House and Senate appropriators are hustling toward early completion of committee work despite the lack of a budget resolution. Operating under spending limits enacted by last year's budget deal, the Senate plans three months of appropriations work beginning next week.

The six Republican senators who met with Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland last week maintained their opposition to his confirmation. Democrats have yet to signal their response to the intransigence.

House Republicans say a blueprint of a comprehensive tax overhaul plan will be ready by June, although action on the proposal is unlikely this year.

Billy Moore is a partner at ViaNovo, a strategic consulting firm with offices in Washington, DC, Austin, Dallas and Mexico City.


Thought for the day:




CPI Buzz April 15, 2016

Today's Buzz

 Gov. Bill Haslam vetoes Bible bill

Gov. Bill Haslam vetoed the controversial bill Thursday that would have made the Holy Bible the official state book of Tennessee.

Haslam cited an opinion issued in 2015 by Attorney General Herbert Slatery that said the bill could violate the state and federal constitutions.

"In addition to the constitutional issues with the bill, my personal feeling is that this bill trivializes the Bible, which I believe is a sacred text," Haslam wrote in a letter to House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville.

"If we believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God, then we shouldn't be recognizing it only as a book of historical and economic significance," the Republican governor said. "If we are recognizing the Bible as a sacred text, then we are violating the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Tennessee by designating it as the official state book."

Had Haslam signed the bill, Tennessee would have become the first state in the nation to make the Holy Bible its official state book. The veto was just Haslam's fourth in his five years as governor. None of his other three vetoes were overturned.

Although Haslam officially had until Tuesday to make a decision on the bill, earlier this week he indicated he would make an announcement before then. The legislature still has time to overturn the veto. Tennessee's governor has relatively weak veto power: It takes only a simple majority in both chambers to overrule the governor's decision.

Sen. Steve Southerland, R-Morristown, and the Senate sponsor of the bill, sent a letter to the Senate clerk on Thursday afternoon stating that he intends to push for a veto override on Monday or Tuesday. House sponsor Rep. Jerry Sexton, R-Bean Station, said polls show Tennesseans favor making the Bible the official state book. "Sen. Southerland and I are prepared to move forward with a veto override and we plan to do exactly that," Sexton said in a statement through a spokesman.

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey has expressed skepticism that the measure could once again make its way through both the House and the Senate, given how close it came to failing in each chamber. The House passed the measure by a 55-38 margin during the 2015 legislative session, but it failed to pass through the state Senate during that legislative session. But senators pushed forward with the legislation again this year, despite opposition from Ramsey and Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris.

Supporters tried to argue the move would highlight the economic and historical impact the Bible has had on Tennessee, saying printing the Bible is a "multimillion-dollar industry" for the state. Opponents argued the bill formalized a governmental endorsement of Christianity, while others, like Haslam, argued the move would trivialize the Bible by placing it next to the tomato — the state fruit — and raccoon — the state animal.    - Tennessean

 Yesterday's tweet of the day:

@joshtpm: "I'm not sure I've heard 2 candidates yell at each other at such sustained clip for two full hours. And they're both over 65. That's stamina"


Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders Hit Hard in New York Debate

Facing a pivotal Democratic primary next week in New York, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders clashed in a debate Thursday in Brooklyn over questions of judgment and their readiness for assuming the presidency. The showdown was one of Mr. Sanders’s last chances to change the trajectory of the primary race, and, egged on by a boisterous audience, he took an aggressive posture, often interrupting his rival and talking over the moderators—as did Mrs. Clinton.

Mr. Sanders hit the Democratic front-runner on a variety of familiar fronts: taking direct aim at her ties to Wall Street, her past decision-making and her more moderate policy agenda. Mrs. Clinton spent much of the evening talking up her record and that of President Barack Obama. She also cast herself as the only real Democrat in the race who has worked to help the party and other candidates.

Noting that she has won more votes than Mr. Sanders and built a national campaign, she said her candidacy is one “that will not only capture the Democratic nomination but a campaign that will defeat whoever the Republicans end up nominating.”    -  Wall Street Journal 

Winners and losers from the 9th Democratic presidential debate

Hillary Clinton: Clinton didn't knock Sanders out. But she definitely won on points. She was ready when Sanders came at her on her judgment for voting for the war in Iraq, noting that the voters of New York as well as President Obama trusted her judgment. She noted, powerfully, that women's rights had not come up nearly enough in these debates and that Sanders had sought to minimize them as an issue when Donald Trump made his comments about abortion. (Sidenote: That was Clinton's best moment of the night, reminding people watching that her campaign to be the first female presidential nominee for a major party was both historic and unique.)

Most importantly, Clinton drove home -- again and again -- the idea that Sanders talked a good game but couldn't back it up. "It's easy to diagnose the problem," she said at one point. "It's harder to do something about the problem." That's her broader argument in this race -- what Sanders says sounds nice but can't be done -- and she did yeoman's work in making sure anyone watching understood that.

No, she wasn't perfect in the Brooklyn debate. Clinton continues to be evasive and unconvincing when it comes to her refusal to release the transcripts of her paid speeches to Goldman Sachs. The idea that the Republicans running for president need to release any paid speeches they gave before Clinton will do the same is a cop out. Period.

But, Clinton came into the debate ahead in New York and the race more broadly.  Nothing that happened on Thursday night will change that.

    -  The Fix, Chris Cillizza in the Washington Post


Push To Give State Lawmakers Sole Power To Write School Budgets Comes Up Short

A plan to give state lawmakers sole authority to set education budgets appears to be dead for the year. The Senate Education Committee refused Wednesday to approve a proposed amendment to the Tennessee constitution that was meant to keep courts from interfering in school spending decisions.

Some lawmakers agreed the legislature ought to have the final word on education budgets. But only four voted in favor of Senate Joint Resolution 461, one short of the number needed to advance. "We amend the constitution, it's a big, big deal," said state Sen. Jim Tracy, R-Shelbyville. "And we're in the last committee, the last week of session."

Supporters of the amendment had hoped to squeak it in before lawmakers adjourn for the year next week. That would have put it on track to appear before voters when they go to elect a new governor in 2018. Failure now means it can't go before voters until the governor's race after that, which takes place in 2022.

But state Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville, says there may not be much point to pushing the matter again next year. He noted that constitutional amendments eventually have to get a two-thirds majority in both the House and Senate to appear on the ballot — far more support that the proposal got. - WPLN


Tennessee Lawmakers approve budget as session nears close

Moving one step closer to the end of the 2016 legislative session, Tennessee lawmakers on Thursday approved next year's nearly $35 billion budget.

During a morning session, the Senate gave its stamp of approval on the budget, which includes an initial step to repeal the state's Hall income tax, additional money directed to the state's Rainy Day Fund, $104 million dedicated to giving teachers raises and more than $1.7 billion for higher education.

Providing an overview of the document, Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, noted the budget also includes an effort to provide tax relief to disabled veterans and the elderly, who last year were frustrated after lawmakers approved a measure that made changes to a property tax relief program.

Although there was little discussion on the budget in the Senate, Sens. Jeff Yarbro, D-Nashville, and Lee Harris, D-Memphis, used the opportunity to criticize certain aspects.

Noting that he ultimately supported the budget, Yarbro said he was disappointed that lawmakers did not include funds specifically to address a variety of needs the state has, including dedicating money for expanding health care coverage, transportation and criminal justice.

"We have significant work to do," he said, noting the state still ranks low in terms of violent crime, low birth rates and median income.     - Tennessean (subscription)



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Feds: TVA executive traded nuclear information for cash in Chinese espionage case


An East Tennessean who served as a senior manager in the Tennessee Valley Authority's nuclear program swapped information with one of China's top nuclear power companies in exchange for cash, according to federal court records unsealed Thursday.

The U.S. Attorney's Office in Knoxville on Thursday announced an espionage conspiracy indictment against China General Nuclear Power, Chinese nuclear engineer Szuhsiung "Allen" Ho, and Ho's firm, Energy Technology International. Prosecutors said Ho conspired with the companies to lure nuclear experts in the U.S. into providing information to allow China to develop and produce nuclear material based on American technology and under the radar of the U.S. government.

Ho was taken into custody in Atlanta on Thursday afternoon and will be returned to U.S. District Court in Knoxville to face the two-count indictment. The indictment consists of one count of conspiracy to illegally engage and participate in the production and development of special nuclear material outside the U.S. and one count of conspiracy to act in the U.S. as an agent of a foreign government.

Among the six unidentified American co-conspirators listed in the indictment is a person labeled "U.S. Person 1," described as the TVA senior manager for the probabilistic risk assessment in the Nuclear Power Group from April 2010 to September 2014. The TVA executive was born in Taiwan and became a naturalized citizen in 1990, according to the indictment. A payment by Ho to the TVA executive was sent to Chattanooga, according to the indictment.

The indictment alleges the conspiracy spanned from 1997 to this month. The purpose was to "secure an advantage to China." Ho told the engineers that "China has the budget to spend" and needed help so "China will be able to design their nuclear instrumentation system independently and manufacture them independently after the project is completed," according to an email from Ho cited in the indictment.

The espionage count carries a maximum sentence of life in prison. According to a release, the FBI headed up the probe along with TVA's Office of the Inspector General, the DOE's National Nuclear Security Administration and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security Investigations.            - Knoxville News Sentinel



House votes to repeal ‘spiritual treatment’ exemption to child-abuse law

NASHVILLE — The House gave final legislative approval Thursday to a bill repealing a controversial 1994 law that was at the center of a long court fight over the 2002 death of a Loudon County child whose mother refused medical care in favor of "spiritual treatment" and prayer.

The bill repeals the "spiritual treatment" exemption to Tennessee's child abuse and neglect statute. The exemption was intended to provide a shield from child abuse and neglect prosecution for parents and others if a child "is being provided treatment by spiritual means through prayer alone, in accordance with the tenets or practices of a recognized church or religious denomination by a duly accredited practitioner" of the church or denomination in lieu of medical or surgical treatment.

The repeal bill, Senate Bill 1761, is sponsored by Sen. Richard Briggs, R-Knoxville, a cardiac surgeon, and Rep. Andrew Farmer, R-Sevierville, a lawyer. It won unanimous Senate approval in March and an 85-1 vote Thursday in the House and now goes to Gov. Bill Haslam, who's expected to sign it into law.

The exemption came into play less than a decade after its enactment, in the 2002 death of Jessica Crank, 15. Her mother Jacqueline Crank was a follower of Ariel Ben Sherman, who conducted religious services under the name of the Universal Life Church in a rented house in Lenoir City.

Jessica became ill with what was diagnosed later as Ewing's Sarcoma. Her mother and Sherman declined, after an initial visit with a chiropractor and later a walk-in clinic, to pursue doctors' urgent referrals to hospitals for treatment. After the child's death, her mother and minister were indicted on child neglect charges. Both were eventually convicted after courts ruled that Sherman's group was not a "recognized church or denomination" covered by the exemption.

Sherman died during appeals. But the mother's conviction was finally upheld by the Tennessee Supreme Court in February 2015, in a ruling that also held the spiritual treatment exemption is not so vague as to render it unconstitutional. 

Briggs and Farmer introduced the bill this year in an attempt to repeal the exemption. Briggs cited his experience with a similar case years ago, when he was a general surgeon in another state and teen boy was brought to see him with a ruptured appendix. His parents initially opposed surgery on religious grounds but later agreed to treatment.

The bill was backed by a Kentucky-based group, Children's Healthcare Is Legal Duty (CHILD), that works for repeal of similar spiritual treatment exemptions across the country. Its president Rita Swan issued a statement thanking lawmakers for repealing the exemption in Tennessee.

"CHILD believes all parents, regardless of their religious belief, should have a legal duty to obtain medical care for their child when necessary to prevent serious harm," Swan said. "Courts have never ruled that parents have a constitutional right to abuse or neglect children in the name of religion, and Tennessee should not give them a statutory right to do so."    - Richard Locker in the Memphis Commercial Appeal


 GOP insiders to Trump: Quit whining


Republican insiders have a message for Donald Trump in the wake of the GOP front-runner’s complaints that the party’s presidential nominating system is “rigged” against his candidacy: Stop whining about the rules.

That’s according to The POLITICO Caucus – a panel of operatives, strategists and activists in 10 key general-election battleground states. Ninety-two percent of Republican insiders said the system is fair and dismissed Trump’s claims, which came after a delegate shutout in Colorado’s district and state conventions last week.

“Mr. Trump apparently has zero understanding of how our caucus system works in Colorado, and he got exactly what he deserved — zero delegates for zero amount of time spent here,” said a Colorado Republican — who, like all respondents, completed the survey anonymously.

Ted Cruz, with whom all the Colorado delegates selected are aligned, “had people on the ground for 8 months,” added another GOP insider there. “Trump hired his first ground operative here last Wednesday. He was out-worked.”

Republican members of The POLITICO Caucus haven't been fans of Trump throughout the election, and a number of insiders used this question to tee off on the real-estate magnate. Multiple insiders mentioned Trump’s past use of bankruptcy laws to stabilize his businesses and his support for the use of eminent domain to seize private property for public uses.

“It should come as no surprise that someone with four bankruptcies to his name didn't have a contingency plan if he starting losing,” said an Iowa Republican. “I've never been a part of a campaign where delegate acquisition is the last thing you think of because it is always, always the first.”

And some insiders suggested the Trump campaign’s struggles in amassing delegates was a sign the candidate was ill-prepared to be president. 

“For all of Trump's business success, is it believable that he and his team don't understand and grasp the nominating process and rules?” asked a Wisconsin Republican. “If not, how is he going to understand the complexities of trade deals, tax reform, budgets, construction of a wall and more should he end up in the Oval Office?"

“This guy can't figure out publicly known delegate rules,” added a New Hampshire Republican, “but thinks he can go toe to toe with China or Russia?”

Only 8 percent of GOP insiders disagreed, and said they agreed with the following statement: “Trump’s claims that the GOP nominating system is unfair and undemocratic are well-founded.”

Some of those who said Trump was whining also had some sympathy for his plight.

“The rules are the rules,” said an Iowa Republican. “All that said, some of the contests like Colorado are a complete farce. If I lived in Colorado, I would be upset I don't have an opportunity to participate in a statewide contest.”

“The system may not be fair,” added a Virginia Republican, “but everyone knew the rules going in.”


Democrats: Sanders won’t reset the race with a win in New York.

Even if Bernie Sanders comes from behind to defeat Hillary Clinton in New York’s Democratic presidential primary next week, it won’t reset the race for the nomination, a majority of Democratic insiders say.

Six-in-ten Democrats said a Sanders victory would not materially change the dynamic of the race, while 40 percent said it would. A number of insiders pointed to the reality of the delegate math: A narrow Sanders victory in New York would do little to help the Vermont senator erase his deficit among pledged delegates.

“The Clinton-Sanders fight has become a farce,” said a New Hampshire Democrat. “Everyone knows Hillary will be the nominee, and it is time for Bernie to declare victory and go home. We have an election to win.”

“First of all, Sanders is not going to win New York, but for the sake of argument, let’s say he does,” added an Ohio Democrat. “It would be by the slimmest of margins, which means that Hillary would likely still be awarded more delegates because of proportional allocation and her cracker-jack delegate team’s understanding of the rules. Secondly, if Hillary wins only 50 percent of the delegates through April 26, then Sanders has to win over 90 percent of the remaining delegates. The math is not on his side. I'm so confident, I've already begun shopping for my ball gown for President Clinton's inauguration.”

The survey was conducted prior to Thursday night’s televised debate in Brooklyn.   -Politico

How the GOP Made Obama One of America’s Most Powerful Presidents

By stonewalling new laws and new budgets, Congress handed control to the White House

Republicans over the past seven years have come to view Barack Obama not just as an ideological enemy but as a “dictator”—an accusation hurled most recently by both Chris Christie and Glenn Beck—a president who has unconstitutionally abused his executive power with an array of unilateral actions.

But Republicans are hardly passive victims of an overweening executive; they are, in fact, paying for their own unilateral surrender of power. The GOP-dominated Congress has sought to weaken and undermine Obama and instead has achieved the opposite. Unable to pass significant legislation after the Affordable Care Act, the Obama White House filled the vacuum by creative use of executive authority, setting a potentially risky precedent for the future balance between the branches but spurred, ironically, by the very opponents who were trying to contain him.

Out of anti-Obama pique, Congress has also relinquished much of its primary tool, the power of the purse. Congress and the White House have not agreed on a budget since 2009, and only at the end of 2015 was an actual budget passed by the House. So while it is technically true that even the most controversial military programs of the Obama years have had de facto congressional support, Congress has failed to use its constitutional control of the budget as a check on executive action.

Some critics also currently speculate that the refusal by most Republican senators to even consider the new nominee for the Supreme Court could lead to an attempt to simply place an appointee on the court. Obama could use the novel interpretation that nothing in the Constitution says the Senate must actually confirm a nominee by vote and that failing to vote could be construed as a tacit and passive approval of a nominee. Were that to happen, it would surely be condemned by Republicans as a naked power grab, but it could also set another precedent for the current imbalance of power between the executive and legislative branches.

Thus, the long-run effect of Obama enmity has been to enable this president to expand the power of the executive branch, perhaps permanently. Not only did Republicans fail to contain Obama, they have enabled him to become one of the most powerful presidents ever, and certainly the most powerful non-wartime president the country has ever known as well as the most active and consequential “lame duck” president in memory.

When it comes to the power game, whether or not Obama has been making good or bad decisions is beside the point. He has won, while the GOP has been scoring own goals for the past seven years.

Starting in 2009, the Republicans in Congress adopted a simple, coherent strategy of resisting anything Obama proposed. “If he was for it,” said former Ohio Senator George Voinovich, “we had to be against it.” Only one Republican senator voted for the Affordable Care Act, Senator Scot Brown from Massachusetts, and no House Republicans. After 2012, with healthy majorities, Republicans voted to repeal the law dozens of times, with no hope that such moves would have any effect other than to register opposition. The near debt default in 2011 to the Ted Cruz-led shutdown in 2013 to the current refusal to hold hearings for the Supreme Court seat vacated by Antonin Scalia’s death have continued that trend.

But the so-called Party of No only provoked the Obama administration into finding innovative ways to exercise power in everything from environmental regulations to student loans to immigration to the fiduciary standard in financial services, from more expansive workplace leave for new mothers to minimum wages for federal contractors, not to mention extensive use of drone warfare and a host of new cyber initiatives. Rather than containing the White House, congressional Republicans liberated it.

Republicans have railed at everything from aspects of national security strategy (Libya most notably and the Iran nuclear deal vying close behind) to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, but in not passing a budget that would either have funded or defunded such objectionable agencies and policies, Republicans have perversely facilitated programs that they might otherwise have terminated or at least curtailed had they used the full scope of their budgetary authority.

In the nature-abhors-a-vacuum vein, the Obama administration thus used the presidential pen to change immigration polices on deportation and enforcement of existing laws, to expand environmental regulations to force changes in coal-fired electric plants, to reduce access to guns in an effort to cut down on gun violence (two dozen executive orders), to equalize the rights of same-sex couples, and a host of other issues.

All this has also significantly raised the stakes for the current election and why there is such concern about Donald Trump or any number of other contenders. In 1921, Warren Harding, a middling political hack whose suitability for the Oval Office was never in question (almost none thought him suitable), became president. Only an untimely death saved Harding from drowning in a sea of scandals. Few, however, viewed a Harding presidency as a threat to the republic. The presidency in those years, after an increase during World War I, was limited in what it could do, and hence the occupant of the office mattered less in the greater scheme of things.

Today, the reverse is true. The presidency has become so powerful that it matters greatly who occupies the office. In almost any reading of our history and precedent, the president has become too powerful. The threat to our security, therefore, is not that someone ill suited and unpredictable wins the office; it is that the office has become so outsized and so unbound that we are vulnerable to that possibility. Fear of executive power was one of the animating features of most of the Founding Fathers. Though their wisdom was incomplete, on that, they were spot on.

Obama bears his share of responsibility for taking power where he could, but had the Republican Congress attempted to do more than thwart him, he would not have been able to.

That makes who we elect now more important than ever. And perhaps Congress will think twice in the future about surrendering more power to the president.   - Politico

Thought for the day:

Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.  - Winston Churchill


Here's a little snack for your Friday - 


CPI Buzz April 14, 2016

 Hilton Hotels, Cigna join bathroom bill opposition

While Tennessee lawmakers on Wednesday deferred taking action on a contentious bill that would require students to use the restroom that corresponds with their sex at birth, executives from a multitude of companies, including Cigna, Hilton Hotels, T-Mobile and Lyft, joined the fight to oppose the legislation.

The announcement came as Human Rights Campaign Executive Director Chad Griffin, along with representatives from other organizations who have opposed the measure, visited the state Capitol to distribute a letter, which included signatures from 60 business executives, to House Speaker Beth Harwell and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey. Others to sign the letter include executives from Williams-Sonoma, Etsy, Airbnb, Tumblr and REI.

Dow Chemical Co., Hewlett-Packard Enterprise, Choice Hotels International and Alcoa Inc. — all of which had already voiced concern about the measure — also signed the letter.

"We are disappointed to see the legislature consider discriminatory legislation," the company executives wrote. "The business community, by and large, has consistently communicated to lawmakers at every level that such laws are bad for our employees and bad for business. This is not a direction in which states move when they are seeking to provide successful, thriving hubs for business and economic development."

The letter is the latest warning over the bill from individuals and businesses, including Nashville Mayor Megan BarryViacom and Miley Cyrus, who have all expressed their own concerns.

“Tennessee has an opportunity to learn from the mistakes of those who have planted themselves on the wrong side of history,” Griffin said during a Wednesday morning news conference outside the Capitol, noting that the proposed legislation would do "nothing more than enshrine discrimination into state law."    - Tennessean (subscription)

Push To Give State Lawmakers Sole Power To Write School Budgets Comes Up Short

A plan to give state lawmakers sole authority to set education budgets appears to be dead for the year. The Senate Education Committee refused Wednesday to approve a proposed amendment to the Tennessee constitution that was meant to keep courts from interfering in school spending decisions.

Some lawmakers agreed the legislature ought to have the final word on education budgets. But only four voted in favor of Senate Joint Resolution 461, one short of the number needed to advance. "We amend the constitution, it's a big, big deal," said state Sen. Jim Tracy, R-Shelbyville. "And we're in the last committee, the last week of session."

Supporters of the amendment had hoped to squeak it in before lawmakers adjourn for the year next week. That would have put it on track to appear before voters when they go to elect a new governor in 2018. Failure now means it can't go before voters until the governor's race after that, which takes place in 2022.

But state Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville, says there may not be much point to pushing the matter again next year. He noted that constitutional amendments eventually have to get a two-thirds majority in both the House and Senate to appear on the ballot — far more support that the proposal got.

Dunn says it might take a court ruling against the state education budget to get legislators interested in the issue.   - WPLN

Does Harwell's task force have impossible mission?

Underwhelming is the kindest way to describe the response to Speaker Beth Harwell’s “3-Star Healthy Project,” a task force to prepare alternatives to Gov. Bill Haslam’s Insure Tennessee plan, which she announced Tuesday.

When Insure Tennessee failed to garner any support in the legislature last year, Harwell said, she began looking for alternatives.

After a series of informal meetings with “experts in health policy at Vanderbilt University’s School of Medicine” got her fellow house members excited about some of the ideas discussed, Harwell decided a task force was needed to “delve into these ideas and formulate a specific proposal.”

Harwell, R-Nashville, announced the project with Haslam at her side, and said that a group of four house Republicans would have proposals ready in June for a meeting with the governor and federal officials from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Harwell hopes that her task force can accomplish in two months what Haslam could not do in nearly two years of negotiating with CMS, devise a way to expand access to health care for Tennessee’s working poor (Insure Tennessee hoped to cover 280,000 or so Tennesseans) without using state money or money from the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). The task force was announced, but no potential alternative solutions were offered at the press conference.


Her proposal immediately drew derision from Democrats and supporters of the Insure Tennessee plan. “Tennesseans waited two years while Governor Haslam negotiated a plan with the federal government. Then the House never even got a chance to vote on it,” said Rep. Jim Cooper, D-5th, in a statement. “Now we have to wait at least another year? Cancer patients don’t have that kind of time.”

“The so-called '3-Star' proposal unveiled today deserves a rating of 'two thumbs down' from Tennessee families,” said Rep. John Ray Clemmons, D-Nashville. “How embarrassing it must have been for the governor to stand there and watch his signature piece of legislative policy be reduced to nothing before his own eyes.”

Andy Spears, executive director of Tennessee Citizen Action, a group supporting the governor’s plan, wrote in a blog post: “Today, some expected that Harwell would finally support Governor Haslam’s plan and call on her body’s members to debate the legislation and take a vote. “Instead, she announced she’s forming a task force …"


After Harwell’s press conference, Haslam said, “We've always been about finding an answer. Insure Tennessee obviously didn't get the votes that were needed.” 

The governor has repeatedly said that his plan could only move forward when, and if, “something changed,” meaning the electoral politics for Republicans over Obamacare. He added, “You're always trying to find the answer that works best."

Harwell appointed Rep. Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, chairman of the House Health Committee, to lead the task force. Joining Sexton will be representatives Matthew Hill, R- Jonesborough, Steve McManus, R-Cordova, and Roger Kane, R-Knoxville.

"I was probably one of the most vocal opponents to Insure Tennessee because there were just no controls implemented, and so it was not fiscally conservative," Kane said. "It's kind-hearted, but not fiscally conservative."

Nashville radio host Ralph Bristol, 99.7 WTN, asked Hill whether Harwell had specified whether the proposed solutions could be funded with Medicaid expansion funds. “That remains to be seen,” Hill said.

“We are charged with finding fiscally conservative solutions that are manageable, that are measurable, and, ultimately, that increase access to care. Those were the only charges we were given.”

One alternative

At least one alternative proposal has met with approval, but was not mentioned by Harwell or the task force members.

Sen. Mark Green, R-Clarksville, urged the task force to consider his TennCare opt-out pilot program, which passed the House Insurance and Banking committee on March 29. The proposed program would establish health savings accounts and issue electronic banking cards to enrollees, who would be able to decide when and where to get health care and be able to keep any saved funds.   Frank Daniels III in The Tennessean (subscription)

 Our Legislature is still making Tennessee the butt of bad national jokes:

Funny Or Die 'ad' paints Tennessee as home of anti-gay bills

A parody tourism commercial on the comedy websitefunnyordie.com touts Tennessee as the "home of the latest of the anti-gay bills being pushed through state governments."

The ad specifically targets a bill that would allow therapists to turn away patients based on the counselors' religious beliefs and personal principles. The measure passed the Tennessee General Assembly Monday and is on its way to Governor Bill Haslam.

Tennessee could be a place where one can "sing a sad country song about your gay friends being refused counseling services," the ad states. Where tourists can "enjoy live music if we can convince anyone to perform here."

In addition to the counseling bill, legislators are also considering a contentious bill that would require students to use the restroom that corresponds with their sex at birth.

Watch the ad HERE and tell us what you think. Will the legislation affect Tennessee tourism?   - Tennessean (subscription)

Tennessee lawmakers plan to pass annual budget on Thursday

Tennessee lawmakers are planning to vote Thursday on the state's nearly $35 billion spending plan for the budget year beginning July 1.

While hot button topics like social issues and guns tend to draw much attention during the legislative session, passing a balance budget is the chief responsibility for members of the General Assembly. Lawmakers have spent much of this week hammering out agreements over smaller budget items, while leaving intact most of the spending plan Republican Gov. Bill Haslam proposed at the start of the session.

Among the final issues to be worked out is 1 percentage point reduction in the Hall tax on income on stocks and bonds. The Senate is expected to vote on the budget on Thursday morning, followed by the House in the afternoon.     - Knoxville News Sentinel (subscription)



Enjoy reading the BUZZ?  Help keep the news coming. Make a tax deductible contribution at CrockettPolicy.org.  Thank you.CPI

This is a terrific editorial on the Religious Freedom Restoration Acts which are all the rage in the South, (including Tennessee)today:

Mississippi law protects religious discrimination, not freedom

Some folks hold sincere religious beliefs that keep them from eating meat on Fridays or pork on any days. That doesn't give them the constitutional right to discriminate against people who eat burgers or bacon. Not even if they live in Mississippi. Not yet anyway.

The Magnolia State struck a blow for "religious freedom" last week by giving people with certain religious beliefs about marriage, sex and sexual identity the legal freedom to discriminate against others. "The sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions protected by this act are the belief or conviction that:

"(a) Marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman;

"(b) Sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage;

"(c) Male (man) or female (woman) refer to an individual's immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy and genetics at time of birth."

That's Section 2 of the so-called "Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act." A more accurate title might be "Imposing Our Religious Beliefs on Others Act." Call it Mississippi Shariah. Like Shariah law in some Islamic countries, that's what this law does.

The new law "allows religious faith to always trump other private rights, including the right to be free from invidious discrimination," according to a statement issued by 10 law school professors, including three from Ole Miss and two from Mississippi College. It's worth paying attention to anyone who puts the words trump and invidious in the same sentence.

"The numerous sections of (the new law) allow — indeed encourage — religiously motivated discrimination in ways that conflict with established First Amendment doctrine and principles of equality." It's not only un-American. It's unconstitutional.

Some argue that the new law merely protects the "free exercise of religion" by people of faith who sincerely believe same-sex marriage is a sin. There are at least two "establishment of religion" problems with that argument.

First, there are people of faith who sincerely believe same-sex marriage is not a sin. For example, the Presbyterian Church in America proclaims that "God ordained the marriage covenant to be a unique bond between one man and one woman." But the Presbyterian Church (USA) proclaims that "marriage is a gift God has given to all ... and involves a unique commitment between two people."

Last week, the state of Mississippi officially endorsed, and agreed to protect, individuals who believe the first religious statement.

Even the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, the court's most religiously conservative curmudgeon, had a problem with that. "You can't favor one denomination over another," he said in January, a month before he died. The Mississippi law favors conservative denominations such as the PCA or the Church of God in Christ over others such as the PCUSA or the United Church of Christ.

Scalia was more specific in a 1990 opinion he wrote: Making an individual's obedience to the law "contingent upon the law's coincidence with his religious beliefs" amounts to "permitting him, by virtue of his beliefs, 'to become a law unto himself." The Mississippi law allows certain business owners, government employees, counselors and others — by virtue of their beliefs — to discriminate against certain customers, citizens, clients and others.

And not just at weddings. That brings up the second problem.

Mississippi's new "religious freedom to discriminate" applies to everything from foster care and adoption to medical treatment and surgery; from hiring and firing to dress and speech. "For example," the law professors explained, "a mental health counselor employed at a public school, whose salary is paid by the government, could refuse to work with LGBT students because of her religious beliefs and keep her job." All citizens have the constitutional right to believe whatever they will — about marriage or eating meat or any matter of faith.

But as former Chief Justice Warren Burger explained in a 1982 opinion, that doesn't give any believer the constitutional right to discriminate in the workplace or in public places. "Every person cannot be shielded from all the burdens incident to exercising every aspect of the right to practice religious beliefs," Burger wrote.

"When followers of a particular sect enter into commercial activity as a matter of choice, the limits they accept on their own conduct as a matter of conscience and faith are not to be superimposed on the statutory schemes which are binding on others in that activity."

In other words, don't do to others what the constitution says can't be done to you.    - David Waters in The Commercial Appeal (subscription)

Isn't this interesting?

Multiple Pilot stations seeking WIGS licenses

In Knoxville, 22 of the 52 local businesses applying to sell wine under a state law taking effect July 1 are Pilot Flying J stations, according to the News-Sentinel.

“The general way people call it is ‘wine in grocery stores,’ but it’s actually somewhat of a misnomer,” said Rob Frost, attorney for Knoxville City Council, which approves all of certificates of compliance. “If you sell above a certain percent of food, you don’t truly have to truly be a grocery store.”

In fact, only 20 percent of a business’s sales must come from retail food, according to the law passed in 2014. The law goes into effect on July 1. Of the 52 compliance certificates issued so far, Food City has received 10, Kroger nine and Walmart four. Alyson Dyer, an attorney with the city law office, said she expects more applications to be submitted.

The permits to sell wine are issued by the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission, but the agency requires a compliance certificate from the local government along with a business’s application.

To receive a compliance certificate, a business must fill out an application with the city, have a background check completed by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigations and receive confirmation from the Metropolitan Planning Commission that the store is correctly zoned for selling alcohol.

Note: A bill recently approved by the legislature prohibits anyone from owning more than two liquor store, but that applies only to sellers of distilled liquors, not those selling only wine.    - KnoxBlogs

The GOP's budget fail

Not long ago, congressional Republicans said authoring and passing a budget were the basics of governing. They flew into open rage when Harry Reid's Senate Democrats took a pass on advancing a fiscal blueprint, and threatened to withhold lawmakers’ pay as a punishment. And they persuaded voters to return them to power because they would make Capitol Hill work again.

But here we are, on April 13, with Republicans holding both chambers of Congress, and there isn't a budget in sight. “We’re obviously not going to do a budget between now and April 15. But we’re leaving open the possibility we could do one later in the year,” said Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 Senate Republican.

In fact, they won't just miss the mid-April deadline by a day or two. There's a better-than-even chance that the House and Senate will never pass a budget together, and there’s an even better chance that neither chamber will pass a budget before the election.

The reality lays bare a few critical dynamics. Republicans have undermined one of their core arguments for governing. On key fiscal matters, they have not been able to normalize legislating and hopes for regular order have been dashed. And that Congress can completely forgo a budget without consequence shows that the non-binding process means little and proves to be just an annoyance for the party in power.

“It’s a hoax," fumed Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee. "The assumptions that are made are totally unrealistic; there’s no policies behind them to follow up. So [what] I’m in favor of is a total redo of the entire budget process, because it’s such a joke as it is right now ... It is meaningless relative to our fiscal discipline.”

When asked Tuesday whether he would move forward with his own budget resolution McConnell said he’d look to whether Ryan, the former budget chairman, could cobble together a majority: “We’re waiting to see if the House is able to do a budget.”

Several senators privately said there are not 51 votes for a budget this year, pointing to mass opposition to the budget deal last year which increased some spending levels and set top-line spending at nearly $1.1 trillion into 2017.

But it’s also clear that the House cannot find a majority for the budget, and the Senate sees no reason to take a risk without cooperation from the House. House Republican aides have been skeptical all along that they would be able to stitch together enough votes to pass a fiscal blueprint. Conservatives want lower spending levels, defense hawks don’t want to cut spending and leadership is caught in between. House Majority Whip Steve Scalise’s (R-La.) operation spent time over the recess surveying the landscape, and made minimal progress, sources close to the process said.

“We’ve already got the spending targets. I would prefer to it just to keep the muscle memory of passing budgets — that’s something that past Congresses lost sight of,” said GOP Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina. “We can move forward with the appropriations process with or without it.”

Never mind that Republicans criticized Democrats for doing the same thing two years ago. “They will be held responsible for not doing it just like we were,” said Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), a former Budget Committee chairman who absorbed reams of criticism. “I’m not going to go after them on that, but they should remember that it’s not as easy when you’re managing things.”   - Politico

Hint: It’s Not Obama That’s Killing The Coal Industry

Peabody Energy’s bankruptcy is further proof that coal is just not a viable U.S. industry anymore.

Peabody Energy, the world’s largest privately-owned coal company, filed for bankruptcy on Wednesday — and it wasn’t because of President Barack Obama’s so-called war on coal.

Peabody cited “unprecedented industry downturn” in its its statement announcing the bankruptcy filing. “Industry pressures in recent years include a dramatic drop in the price of metallurgical coal, weakness in the Chinese economy, overproduction of domestic shale gas and ongoing regulatory challenges,” the St. Louis-based company said.

Yes, the Peabody statement does cite “regulatory challenges” — but only after listing much more powerful market forces undermining the industry globally.

Peabody Energy joins Arch CoalAlpha Natural Resources, andPatriot Coal among American coal companies that have filed for bankruptcy in recent months.

While environmental regulations do affect the industry, the major Obama administration rules that coal’s defenders claim will gut the industry and shut down coal-fired power plants haven’t yet gone into effect. The Clean Power Plan, which curbs greenhouse gas emissions at new and existing power plants, has been paused by the Supreme Court, for now. But even if it survives in court, statesdon’t have to submit plans for meeting the targets until 2018. The high court also blocked a rule on mercury emissions last year.

So it’s not Obama’s regulations that are killing coal. What’s driving the coal industry into bankruptcy is the free market — competition from cheaper, more abundant natural gas and renewable energy. Meanwhile, the costs of mining coal have increased. Coal production decreased in 2015, and the Energy Information Administration projects it will fall an additional 16 percent this year.

Coal is just no longer a profitable industry in the U.S.     - The Huffington Post

 Thought for the day:

Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.    - John Adams in his successful defense of the British soldiers who fired on Boston rioters during "the Boston Massacre."

The game has rules.





CPI Buzz April 13, 2016

Beth Harwell creates health care task force; critics call it a 'joke'

Amid calls for Republican leadership to do more to provide health care to the working poor, House Speaker Beth Harwell announced Tuesday the creation of a legislative task force that will look at ways to improve access to care.

The move was billed as an attempt to increase access to care for the working poor, but Democrats branded it a "pathetic" attempt to direct attention away from Gov. Bill Haslam's controversial health care plan. Flanked by Haslam and Republican lawmakers at an afternoon news conference, Harwell said she reached out to experts at Vanderbilt University's School of Medicine last year after the failure of Insure Tennessee.

The "3-Star Healthy Project" is the result of those conversations: a task force that aims to offer proposals to federal health officials that could be implemented as pilot projects throughout the state. The announcement comes with suggestions for possible programs, but few specifics. The task force is supposed to find ways to make TennCare, the state's Medicaid program, more efficient and accessible. Harwell said the task force will consider pilot projects that could phase in "conservative ideas" for changes to the program.

With little time for discussion or details finalized, and having had no conversations with the federal government yet, the task force is doomed to fail, House and Senate Democrats argued. Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Jeff Yarbro, D-Nashville, said there are no Democrats or senators on the task force, joking it appeared as though more thought went into the task force logo than its mission.

"What a sad political joke. What a political charade," said House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Stewart, D-Nashville.

"We came up here today to hear a health care announcement and we heard about potentially creating a task force that may think about doing pilot programs that has never spoken with the federal government. This is not a plan. This is a complete joke."

U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Nashville, later blasted the proposal on Twitter.

At least a few of the ideas listed in the news release — including asking those enrolled to take more responsibility for their own care — were a part of Insure Tennessee, the governor's plan to use federal funds to expand health insurance access to hundreds of thousands of low-income Tennesseans.
  - Tennessean (subscription)

Will Haslam Veto HB 1840?

Ah, it's that time of year again. The temperature is rising, the flowers are blooming and pressure is mounting on Gov. Bill Haslam to veto unseemly legislation. 

With the end of this legislative session in sight, lawmakers passed a bill Monday that allows mental health therapists to reject patients based on "sincerely held principles."

The bill, HB 1840, is now headed for Haslam's desk and he must decide whether to sign it, veto it or allow it to become law without his signature.

The Senate had passed a version of the bill earlier in the year that referred to "sincerely held religious beliefs" but agreed Monday to conform with the House version which uses the "principles" language — language opponents of the bill say is absurdly vague and could only create more room for discrimination.  And there are plenty of opponents.  

Monday morning, GLAAD, perhaps the most prominent LGBT advocacy organization, held an event calling on the music industry to speak out against the counseling bill as well as the Bathroom Bill still pending in the legislature. Celebrity opponents include Chris Carmack, of Nashville, Miley Cyrus andChely Wright

There' also this, from the Associated Press:  The American Counseling Association said Tennessee would be the only state to allow counselors to refuse to treat patients if the bill is signed into law. The organization called the measure an “unprecedented attack” on its profession.

So what will Haslam do? Pith asked the governor's office if he had any comment on the bill or reaction to calls for him to veto it. We received this predictably pointless statement (their standard comment when asked about a bill at this stage):

"The governor is deferred to the will of the legislature on this bill as amended. As with every piece of legislation that comes to him, he will review it in its final form before taking any action."

For what it's worth, Haslam has only vetoed three bills since taking office in 2011. In 2012, he vetoed a bill that would have forced Vanderbilt University to end a policy requiring on-campus students groups to let any student join and run for office in an organization. In 2013, he vetoed the so-called Ag-Gag bill, which would have made it a crime to videotape animal cruelty or abuse and then fail to turn in the evidence to authorities within 48 hours — a bill critics said would actually end up punishing would-be whistleblowers and was perhaps designed to do so. And in 2014, the governor vetoed a bill aimed at "flash mob" retail vandalism, because he said the amended bill had the "unintended consequence" for reducing criminal penalties on polluters.
       - Steven Hale, Pith in the Wind - Nashville Scene


Undocumented students urge new life for tuition bill

Undocumented students from across Tennessee came to Legislative Plaza Tuesday to try to convince lawmakers to give new life to a bill that would slash their tuition at public colleges.

Wearing placards that described their career aspirations — some said they were future educators or entrepreneurs —  more than 100 students chanted their demand for tuition equality on the steps of War Memorial Auditorium. Without it, some of them said, the prohibitive cost of higher education would keep them from pursuing their dreams.

Under state law, undocumented immigrants who want to go to public colleges must pay out-of-state rates that are often two or three times higher than those offered to Tennessee citizens.

A bill that would have given some undocumented students in-state tuition last year won support from Gov. Bill Haslam and dozens of lawmakers, including some conservative Republicans who had been vocal opponents in the past. The bill ultimately failed by one vote in the House of Representatives, where critics said such a change would give undocumented students an unfair advantage over U.S. citizens.   -  Tennessean (subscription)

Tenn. courts will make it easier to wipe criminal records

Tennessee courts are going to make it easier for people who have been arrested but never convicted of a crime to have their criminal records wiped clean.

A bipartisan group of legislators, judges and criminal justice officials gathered Tuesday to announce a statewide court initiative in which judges will ask eligible people if they want their records expunged.

Many people don't know they have that right or face barriers to clearing their names, like taking time off work and going back to a courthouse to fill out paperwork, supporters of the initiative say.

The records can hurt people when they try to find a job, get a loan, find housing or get a professional license. Some lawmakers and others say people who are not guilty of crimes shouldn't have to face hurdles when it comes to getting their records cleared.   - Memphis Commercial Appeal


Corker on developing GOP budget: ‘It’s a hoax.’

Tennessee’s Sen. Bob Corker is quoted in a Politico report on how congressional Republicans are backing away from plans to push their own federal budget plan this year.

The reality lays bare a few critical dynamics. Republicans have undermined one of their core arguments for governing. On key fiscal matters, they have not been able to normalize legislating and hopes for regular order have been dashed. And that Congress can completely forgo a budget without consequence shows that the non-binding process means little, and proves to be just an annoyance for the party in power.

It’s all enough to make some Republicans want to abandon the broken process altogether.

“It’s a hoax. The assumptions that are made are totally unrealistic, there’s no policies behind them to follow up. So I’m in favor of is a total redo of the entire budget process, because it’s such a joke as it is right now,” fumed Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee. “It is meaningless relative to our fiscal discipline.”

In 2012, as Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell eyed the majority leader job, he committed to doing a budget “every year” when he got the majority. In 2014 he reiterated plans to pass a budget, which the GOP did last year in a late-night series of votes. All along House Republicans — led by now Speaker Paul Ryan — had been passing their own budgets, often at the risk of being attacked by Democrats.      - Humphrey on the Hill, Knoxblogs

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Ryan rules out White House bid, once and for all

"I do not want, nor will I accept, the Republican nomination," the speaker declares at a news conference.

On Tuesday, the House speaker went even further, urging delegates to the 2016 convention in Cleveland to limit the pool of potential nominees to the dozen-plus people who waged campaigns over the past year and a half. 

“I would encourage [delegates] to put in place a rule that says you can only nominate someone who actually ran for the job,” Ryan said Tuesday afternoon at a news conference at the Republican National Committee headquarters, which he called to extinguish the presidential speculation once and for all.

Ryan (R-Wis.) took himself out of the running a year ago and has said repeatedly since that he does not want to be nominated. But the doubters persisted, noting that he also swore off running for speaker last fall after John Boehner resigned. With speculation swirling once again after his weeklong trip to the Middle East, Ryan decided to issue one final denial.

“Let me be clear,” Ryan said, standing in the RNC lobby on Capitol Hill. “I do not want, nor will I accept, the Republican nomination.”

He wasn’t done.

“Let me speak directly to the delegates on this: If no candidate has a majority on the first ballot, I believe you should only choose a person who actually participated in the primary. Count me out,” he said. “I simply believe that if you want to be the nominee — to be the president — you should actually run for it. I chose not to. Therefore, I should not be considered. Period.”   - Politico



Donald Trump will almost certainly not be the Republican nominee if he cannot win on the first ballot in Cleveland

If Donald Trump cannot get 1,237 delegates on the first ballot at the Republican National Convention in July, his campaign will be all but over – except for the shouting.

Many delegates who will be bound to support Trump on the first, and in some cases second, ballot tell us both publicly and privately that they will defect to Ted Cruz or whoever has momentum once they’re freed up from their obligation. In some places, such as North Carolina, the Cruz campaign has put their most loyal and reliable grassroots supporters into the Trump delegate slots at district-level conventions.

Trump has lashed out so hard in recent days because this reality is finally sinking in. "The system, folks, is rigged … It’s a rigged, disgusting, dirty system,” he said in New York yesterday. “When everything is done, I find out I get less delegates than the guy who got his a** kicked." This dynamic is also why he’s redoubling his focus on locking up the nomination during the primaries that remain through June.

This problem is not unique to Trump. Veteran strategists who have worked contested GOP conventions at the state level agree that the front-runner’s support usually tends to peel off if he cannot break 50 percent on the first ballot. The pressure will be especially high in this case because Trump is such a polarizing figure.

-- Cruz is poised to pick up at least 130 more votes on a second ballot in Cleveland, according to an analysis by Ed O’Keefe, who has been studying the delegate selections made by states and territories. “That tally surpasses 170 delegates under less conservative assumptions — a number that could make it impossible for Trump to emerge victorious,” Ed writes. “When the presidential nomination vote is held at the convention, 95 percent of the delegates will be bound to the results in their states for the first vote … But if Trump falls short, the convention will cast a second ballot in which more than 1,800 delegates from 31 states — nearly 60 percent of the total — will be unbound and allowed to vote however they want. By the third round, 80 percent of the delegates would be free, sparking a potential free-for-all that could continue for several more rounds.” Meanwhile, we know of no one who is bound to Cruz or someone else on the first ballot and would like to vote for Trump on the second.

-- To be sure, Trump can still win the nomination on the first ballot if he keeps winning primaries over the next two months and gets his act together at the conventions that are picking the delegates.     - Daily 202, The Washington Post

Donald Trump vs. the 'rigged, disgusting, dirty system'

"The system, folks, is rigged. It’s a rigged, disgusting, dirty system."

Yes, the "rigged economy" was Bernie Sanders's focus on his visit there, as it has been for months. But that line was Donald Trump's.

"Donald Trump built his business empire by exploiting the rules of business to his favor with brash skill, working corporate bankruptcy regulations, eminent-domain laws and the tax code to suit his bottom line," Jose A. DelReal reported from upstate New York.

"But now Trump finds himself struggling to cope with a different set of rules — those governing the GOP nominating contest, which he and his campaign have failed to control with the same deftness he brags about as an entrepreneur. ...

"Trump, who scheduled a rally here Tuesday, has responded by lashing out at party leaders, at his rivals and at the delegate process, arguing that the system is 'totally corrupt' and that Cruz is 'stealing' delegates at state conventions.

"'The system, folks, is rigged. It’s a rigged, disgusting, dirty system. And only a non-politician would say it,' Trump said Monday night in Albany, N.Y. '...And then when everything is done, I find out I get less delegates than this guy that got his ass kicked.'

Donald Trump has the lead in the GOP delegate chase, and odds are he'll keep it (even if he doesn't win a pre-convention majority.) Bernie Sanders is trailing in the Democratic delegate chase, and odds are he won't catch up. But with both of them vocally unhappy with how the delegate process is playing out, it appears that some of their supporters are increasingly turning their ire on delegates themselves.     - Daily Trail, The Washington Post


Top Republicans may skip GOP convention

A number of high-profile Republicans, fearful of a potential melee in Cleveland this summer, are considering skipping the Republican National Convention and campaigning back home instead. With the presidential campaign hitting a fever pitch and Donald Trump warning about riots if he's denied the nomination, some House and Senate Republicans tell CNN that it makes more sense to spend time with voters back home rather than be associated with the drama engulfing their party.

But even some leading party stalwarts are planning to skip the convention. Asked Tuesday if he'd attend the convention, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush told CNN: "No."

"Unlikely," GOP Sen. Kelly Ayotte said when asked if she'd be in Cleveland in the midst of her tough bid for a second term. "I've got a lot of work to do in New Hampshire, I have my own re-election and I'm going to be focusing on my voters in New Hampshire." The decision underscores the dilemma confronting Republicans in being tied too closely to the top of the ticket -- particularly incumbents from swing states worried that Trump's divisive candidacy and Ted Cruz's rigid brand of conservatism will doom their chances at keeping power in both chambers of Congress.
Quietly, some officials in the highest rungs of Republican leadership are advising their rank-and-file members to stay away from Cleveland. One top GOP party leader, who asked not to be named so they could discuss internal thinking, told CNN privately that he has advised his colleagues to hold campaign rallies and town halls in their home states during the time of the July convention. A senior Senate GOP leadership aide echoed that sentiment.
Publicly, some were clear that staying in Cleveland wasn't in their best interest.

"I'm up for re-election," said Sen. Richard Burr, R-North Carolina, who is weighing skipping the convention. "I'm more valuable outside of Cleveland than inside of Cleveland." Skipping a convention is often a way for moderate members of both parties to put some distance between themselves and a nominee who could alienate supporters in their districts.

But even some tea party-aligned conservatives are planning to stay home in 2016.   - CNN


Thought for the day:

"I beg you be persuaded that no one would be more zealous than myself to establish effectual barriers against the horrors of spiritual tyranny, and every species of religious persecution."  George Washington

Happy Wednesday, Mr. Speaker.





CPI Buzz April 12, 2016

The Senate confirmed a judge today. No, not that judge.

The Senate did something Monday that has become rare and is threatening to become even rarer: It confirmed a federal judge.

Waverly D. Crenshaw Jr. of Tennessee won confirmation to a district court judgeship on a 92 to 0 vote. He is one of 14 nominees to lifetime judicial seats pending on the Senate calendar; another 13 of President Obama’s district court nominees and five appeals court nominees are awaiting committee action.

Crenshaw’s confirmation Monday came amid the much-higher-profile battle over the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Merrick B. Garland. But the partisan conflict over lower court nominees has been simmering for much longer. 

Democrats who are pushing the Republican leaders of the Senate have trained their attention on the growing number of federal judgeships that have been declared in “judicial emergency” by the U.S. Judicial Conference — a number that now stands at 33 with Crenshaw’s confirmation. They have also sought to highlight the seemingly meager pace at which the Republican-controlled Senate has processed Obama’s judicial nominees in the past 15 months compared to the Democratic-controlled Senate’s treatment of President George W. Bush’s nominees in 2007 and 2008.

In that period, Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) noted Monday, Democrats confirmed 68 judges. Crenshaw, meanwhile, is the 17th judge confirmed by Republicans since they took control of the Senate in January 2015. “Senate Republican leadership is failing our Federal judiciary with their obstruction of judicial confirmations,” Leahy, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in a statement entered into the Senate record.

Conservative activists, meanwhile, are pressing McConnell to shut down the judicial confirmation process entirely — a process that traditionally wraps up in the early summer of a presidential election year in any case.

“Confirming another Obama judge to a lifetime appointment will simply embolden this president to continue circumventing the Congress and ignoring the Constitution,” said Dan Holler, vice president for communications and government relations for Heritage Action for America.    - The Washington Post


Nashville Musicians, Tennessee Attorney General Warn Of Fallout From Transgender 'Bathroom Bill'

The state's top lawyer is warning of potentially dire consequences to Tennessee and local school districts if lawmakers move forward with a plan to require transgender students to use the bathroom of their birth sex.

The determination comes as LGBT groups are stepping up efforts to defeat the measure. They say Tennessee faces a national backlash — like that experienced in North Carolina, Georgia and Mississippi — if Gov. Bill Haslam signs the proposal or a related bill that would let therapists turn away clients for religious reasons.

The opinion from Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery was released Monday at the request of state Reps. Mike Stewart, D-Nashville, and Harry Brooks, R-Knoxville. In it, Slatery says House Bill 2414 opens local school districts to litigation. The measure, which is still making its way through the legislature, calls on transgender students in K-12 and college to use the bathrooms of their anatomical sex, rather than the gender they identify with.

The attorney general notes that the U.S. Department of Education has taken the position that ignoring gender identity violates Title IX, which bars sex discrimination in public education. That means districts could be stripped of federal funding if they try to enforce the law.

"In sum, if a transgender student is required by a school district in Tennessee to use a restroom or locker room that is consistent with his or her anatomical gender rather than his or her gender expression or gender identity, and if that student files a complaint, DOE, applying its current interpretation of Title IX, will almost certainly require the school district to permit the student access to the facility consistent with his or her gender expression," the attorney general writes.   - WPLN


Bill to let counselors deny services heads to Gov. Haslam

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A Tennessee bill that would allow mental health therapists to turn away patients based on the counselors' religious beliefs and personal principles passed Monday and is on its way to the governor.

The American Counseling Association said Tennessee would be the only state to allow counselors to refuse to treat patients if the bill is signed into law. The organization called the measure an "unprecedented attack" on its profession.

The measure is part of a wave of legislation across the country that opponents say legalizes discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. Supporters say it takes into account the rights of everyone.

In February, the Senate passed the bill that could allow counselors to turn away patients based on "sincerely held religious beliefs." Last week the House passed a version that would allow therapists to turn away patients based on the "sincerely held principles of the counselor or therapist."

Tennessee Republican Gov. Bill Haslam told reporters last week that he can "understand the reasoning" behind the bill but wanted to see the final version before he decides whether to sign it into law.   - Tennessean


After 16 Years, Tennessee Foster Care System Has Met 136 Reform Goals

Tennessee’s foster care system could complete a federal lawsuit that demanded better treatment of abused and neglected children. A judge heard Monday the Department of Children’s Services has met all 136 of the reform goals that were first ordered 16 years ago.

As of this year, DCS has met all requirements for how it protects children, finds them adoptive homes, and trains foster parents.

The department had to change because of a class action lawsuit that was named after a little boy — he’s known only as Brian A. He and other foster children endured horrible treatment, prompting experts to spend more than a decade trying to improve DCS.

Along the way, the department has been nationally recognized for some improvements, like its speedy adoptions. But problems with child abuse cases and a faulty computer system that didn't properly pay foster parents kept DCS under the watch of U.S. District Court Judge Todd J. Campbell, and a panel of experts housed within the department.

Now the agency must keep up its good work for the rest of the year, and the lawsuit — and oversight — can end.   - WPLN


Memphis bond board’s problems draw THDA action

The Tennessee Housing Development Agency has prohibited the Health, Educational and Housing Facilities Board of Memphis from issuing additional bonds for low-income housing pending a resolution of its mounting problems, according to a letter from the Nashville-based agency.

John Baker, former executive director of the housing facilities board of Memphis, resigned his post last December after working there for 17 years. His replacement has not been named.

The agency is also dealing with the aftermath of a bond issued to Global Ministries Foundation to buy the troubled Warren and Tulane apartments. In February, GMF lost funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development after the nonprofit failed to provide good living conditions to its tenants. As a result, bond holders received a default letter and the value of the $11.8 million bond decreased to 30 cents on the dollar.

THDA's Executive Director, Ralph Perrey, said the local board should temporarily stop issuing bonds so it can deal with the bond for Warren and Tulane, which is attracting local and national media attention, and while it looks for Baker's replacement.

"It concerned us that the agency is in transition," Perrey said Monday. "They are working through a number of issues that attracted local and national media. We wanted them to deal with those issues without adding to their workload."

Perrey said in the letter dated March 21 that THDA directed two developers to other agencies that can issue bonds.  - Memphis Commercial Appeal


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Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton Hold Strong Leads in New York Ahead of Primary, Poll Finds

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton hold double-digit leads in New York and are poised to regain their footing in their home state’s primaries next Tuesday, a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News/Marist poll finds.

On the Republican side, Mr. Trump holds a 33-point lead over his closest rival, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, 54% to 21%, while Texas Sen. Ted Cruz trails both, as the top pick of 18% of likely Republican primary voters.

Mrs. Clinton maintains a 14-point lead in the Democratic contest, outpacing Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders 55% to 41% among likely Democratic primary voters. The former secretary of state’s lead is built on strength among women, African-Americans and Democrats age 45 and older.


The survey results will be welcome news to the two front-runners, who have both lost ground in recent weeks. Mr. Trump is looking to bounce back from a decisive loss in last week’s Wisconsin primary, while Mrs. Clinton has lost eight of the last nine Democratic contests.

“Right now, the front-runners look like they will erase recent setbacks and add significantly to their delegate margins,” said Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion, which conducted the survey. “New York is not likely to enhance the hopes of those trying to close the gap in the delegate hunt.”         - The Wall Street Journal


Analysis -- ABC's RICK KLEIN on a "rigged" GOP convention

Donald Trump is railing against a "rigged" and "disgusting" "crooked, crooked system," and even posted a video of a supporter burning his Republican Party ID card. So that's one way to campaign. The other might be to learn - and learn to play by - the rules of delegate selection, as byzantine as they are. That doesn't appear to be the Trump way, in fitting with a campaign that's emphasized bluster over organizing, and has built up the so-called "establishment" as a useful foil. It's a tactic designed to keep his base energized - but that's not now, and never has been, Trump's problem. Arguing about a rigged game to the people who will decide it - the delegates themselves - is like trying to convince an umpire that he's in the tank for the other side. There's still a chance that none of this matters, if Trump picks up enough delegates in New York and beyond. But if Trump falls short of 1,237, it's hard to see Trump's argument carrying the day among the assembled delegates in Cleveland.

The art of the hustle!

Donald Trump’s ‘Charity’ Is a Money-Making Scam

Not only does the GOP frontrunner avoid giving any of his own money to charity, he manages to make some serious profits from his ‘donations.’

No wonder Donald Trump calls himself an ardent philanthropist. He has likely made millions off it.

He is not just some cheap miser who avoids digging into his pocket for charity, as The Smoking Gun and The Washington Post have described him. He does not simply avoid giving. He gets. Maybe his book should have been called The Art of the Hustle.

His biggest score appears to have come in 2006, and if he ever releases his tax return for that year, we will learn if he is a felon or just a liar. Either way, the self-proclaimed “ardent philanthropist” seems to give precious little money to charity while receiving millions in deductions by donating land he valued at somewhere between 13 and 50 times what he paid for it.

Back in the 1990s, Trump paid $2 million for two parcels of land totaling 436 acres north of New York City with the hope of building a pair of golf courses. He initially sought to overcome various environmental obstacles and permitting hurdles by applying his self-described mastery of deal making. He placed a phone call to the then supervisor of the Westchester County village of Yorktown, Linda Cooper. “Linda, just let me build the golf course—I’m rich, you’ll like it,’” Trump said, by her recollection.

Cooper would tell the press that Trump “just didn’t want to go through the rules. He’s like the bully on the playground,” Cooper told the Journal News. “Whether you are a big person or a little person, you have to follow the same rules. If he chooses to stop the process, so be it.”

The rules remained the rules, and Trump did indeed choose to stop the process in 2002. “You have done a terrible disservice to your constituents who have sadly lost out on a tremendous opportunity,” Trump said in a letter to Cooper.

Trump suggested to reporters that he had been making a sacrifice to begin with. “My problem is that I can make much more money with housing than I can with a golf course,” he said. He announced, “I have put a ‘For Sale’ sign out,” and said it was sure to attract “every developer in Westchester.”

He had yet to sell the land four years later, when he donated it to New York State for a park.  The park would of course be named after himself.

A reporter asked the value of the land in question. “People have told me about $100 million,” Trump said. The press took that to mean the donation was worth $100 million, an impression Trump made no effort to dispel. A town planning official would later suggest that the land was more likely worth in the vicinity of $15 million.

The question now is whether Trump claimed the $100 million valuation as a charitable deduction in his income tax return for 2006. That would seem to constitute tax fraud, a felony. But a list of Trump’s supposed charitable donations compiled by his campaign and given to the Associated Press is topped by this entry:  “LAND DONATED TO NYS OFFICE OF PARKS—YORKTOWN, NY—436 ACRES…$26,100,000.” 

That appraisal would be more in keeping with reality and on the honest side of outright fraud if he used it in his tax return. He would not be a felon after all, just a liar who exaggerated the value of the land by some $73,900,000.

He has said, “I fight like hell not to pay a lot of tax,” so he almost certainly sought a big-time tax break from the donation. 

Even the much smaller deduction resulting from the $26.1 million valuation would likely still be worth millions more than the $2 million he paid for the land. Talk about ardent philanthropy! 

Trump also remains that rare soul who made money off the 9/11 attacks. He gave little if any of his own money in the aftermath when the whole world was offering to help, but he accepted $150,000 to offset supposed business losses at his building several blocks from Ground Zero. By contrast, Rosie O’Donnell gave $1 million the day after the attacks.  Trump has called her a fat pig

On Saturday, Trump seemed to reduce his 9/11 net profit by presenting the September 11 Memorial with a check for $100,000 while making his first visit there. But The Washington Post reported that the check was actually drawn on the Trump Foundation. And Trump does not seem to have given anything to the foundation that bears his name since 2008. The funds handed out in his name have actually come from such various sources as a World Wrestling Federation, a Queens carpet wholesaler, and a prominent ticket scalper known as The Ticket Man. 

On Monday, a spokesman for the September 11 Memorial was unable to confirm that Trump’s check had indeed come from the foundation rather than The Donald himself. Should the money prove to have come out of his pocket, he will remain $50,000 ahead from 9/11. 

Meanwhile, Donald J. Trump State Park was closed in 2010 as a result of budget cuts. Signs prominently bearing his name are still posted not only at the entrances, as required by the agreement, but on nearby parkway exits.

Only his 2006 tax return will show if Trump is a felon or a liar. 

Only all his tax returns—which the IRS says he has no reason not to release despite his talk about audits —will tell the full story of The Art of the Hustle.

     - The Daily Beast


Thought for the day:

"Anger is never without a reason, but seldom with a good one."   - Benjamin Franklin


April 11, 2016

Today's Must-Read:

How Fox News Unwittingly Destroyed the Republican Party

The Republican Party is in a pickle. The Party itself despises its own two leading presidential candidates, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. This is a remarkable oddity just in itself. But there is good reason for it. Both of these candidates are so extreme and disastrous that they will almost certainly never be able to win a national election for the Republican Party.

But much worse, if and when one of these candidates does becomes the Republican Party’s nominee for president, the Party could very well be torn asunder into factions. One wing would split off to support the extremist candidate, and the other more moderate wing would be so embarrassed by what the Republican Party had become that they might even abandon the Party altogether. And forget about attracting new members into the Party because it would be too mean and extreme. This could devastate the Party for years or even decades to come. So the Republican Party now finds itself teetering on the precipice of disintegration.

The Republicans, however, have no one to blame but themselves. This is a crisis of their own creation. And it didn’t just happen overnight. The Republican Party has been fomenting anger and discontent in the base of its own Party for years. The mechanism through which this hate has been disseminated has been the network of extremist media of right-wing talk radio and the Fox News Channel, which is essentially talk radio transposed onto television.

Just think of all the right-wing “superstars” who spew messages of anger and hate every single day throughout the land over this enormous megaphone. Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Ann Coulter, Laura Ingraham, Ben Shapiro, Dana Loesch, Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, to name a few.

And make no mistake, spewing hate has a significant impact upon society. It is the equivalent of modern-day propaganda where the population is barraged with a stream of consistent messaging. As ordinary people go about their daily lives, they are exposed repeatedly, day-in and day-out, to the same messages in numerous different forms and by numerous different people. Pretty soon, these messages begin to sink in and take effect. The audience begins to adopt a worldview consistent with these messages, regardless of the degree of truth. It is a remarkable phenomenon.

The extremist right-wing network of Fox News and talk radio was not created by politicians, and it is not funded by a political party. It is not supported by donations from people seeking political expression. No. It was created for one central purpose: to make money. The founding motivation and the driving force behind all of this propaganda of hate and anger that is being disseminated throughout our society is nothing more than the almighty dollar. The profit motive. It is a business. Pure and simple. And, as it turns out, the business of peddling hate and anger is a fantastically profitable one at that.

Rush Limbaugh raked-in $80 million for himself in 2015 alone. Sean Hannity was paid $30 million. Glenn Beck is personally worth over $100 million. Bill O’Reilly’s television show, “The O’Reilly Factor,” generates over $100 million per year in advertising revenue. If these front-men are making this much money, well then you know that their corporate masters are making even more.

Fox News has dominated the ratings as the number one cable news channel for the last 14 years and reportedly earns over $1 billion in profits annually, making it a golden goose in the overall Fox corporate empire. Fox itself is one of the most valuable brands in the world with sales of over $13 billion. And the tycoon behind Fox News, Rupert Murdoch, is personally worth $12 billion.

This is Big Business.

It is no joke. We are not talking about some folks just yearning to express their opinions. No. This operation is not being driven by politics or by a desire to promulgate political viewpoints. No. This operation is being driven by money. Big Money. This is what it’s all about.

Of course, politics is involved as well. No doubt. The content spewed by this media network is highly political in nature and it champions right-wing issues, right-wing politicians, and the right-wing Republican Party. This is no accident. In fact, it makes perfect sense when viewed through an economic perspective.

Corporate profits are greatly impacted by governmental policies. Corporations, therefore, desire the government to be controlled by whichever political party is the most favorable to corporate profits. And this, of course, is the Republican Party. So it makes perfect sense that this extremist media network would use its megaphone to attempt to influence politics by urging support for the right-wing Republican Party.

Interestingly, the Fox media empire that is dominated by the tycoon Rupert Murdoch is shockingly reminiscent of the media empire from around 1900 that was dominated by the tycoon William Randolph Hearst. Mr. Hearst was notorious for printing false information in his media network of newspapers in order to influence public opinion and politics. Instead of using his vast media network to objectively and fairly report news and disseminate information, Mr. Hearst used his media network as an instrument of power by controlling the content and distorting the truth in order to manipulate public opinion for his own benefit. So we have seen this playbook before.

Today, the bottom line is money. Politics is secondary. While the media content is highly political, the purpose behind influencing politics is to serve the primary objective of protecting the big profits. Just think what would happen if the Republican Party suddenly proposed a tax on excessive corporate media profits. This right-wing network would shift away from the Republican Party so fast your head would spin. Bill O’Reilly would be sporting tie-dyes and Birkenstocks.

Corporate profits is what led to the creation and expansion of this extremist right-wing media network. And it is indeed a cozy little business model. The network builds an audience by appealing to people’s fear, insecurity, and anger, and simultaneously directs its audience to support the right-wing political party that best protects the network’s own profits. 

It’s like a rigged game. The content disseminated over the network masquerades as being objective and informative, but in reality the content has instead been carefully designed to promote the network’s own business interests. Pretty nifty.

What is best for corporate profits, however, is not necessarily best for a democratic society.

From a political perspective, it is certainly not healthy to incite anger and hate within a nation’s own population. And it is not very wise to inflame hostility and rage against a nation’s own government. From a business perspective, sure, it is perfectly understandable because a corporation can exploit this and profit handsomely from it. But from a political perspective of creating a cohesive society and maintaining peace and harmony among the population, this is disastrous.

Responsible politicians certainly know better and would never endorse any enterprise seeking to inflame anger and hostility in the population. A true political leader would not participate in any such conduct, but instead would speak out against it. A true political leader would not condone the dissemination of false and misleading information, but instead would seek to correct it with accuracy. A true political leader would not sacrifice unity in society in order to capture a few easy votes, but instead would uphold his or her principles and integrity even at the risk of losing votes.

But politicians in the Republican Party could not resist. The extremist right-wing network of Fox News and talk radio had built up an audience that could easily be exploited for political support. Even though the extremist media network was fomenting anger and hatred that is disastrous for society overall, the network could also be used to deliver political votes to Republican politicians.

And there it was. The Republican Party had made a deal with the devil.

An unholy alliance was formed. The Republican Party would allow the extremist right-wing network to promulgate its destructive propaganda throughout society in order to generate its enormous profits, and in exchange, the network would direct its audience to vote for the Republican Party. The allure of easy votes was too great. Exercising true leadership was too difficult.

So for years and years, the extremist right-wing media network spewed out content full of anger, hate, and division. And Republican politicians jumped on the bandwagon. They began preaching the same destructive messages and appearing on the extremist right-wing network all across the nation. And guess what? It worked.

The base of the Republican Party grew more and more angry. Their resentment against our very own government grew ever greater. Their sense of victimization became ever more acute. Their fury at the establishment boiled over. And then, predictably, it backfired.

The base of the Republican Party became a Frankenstein. It became radicalized into an extreme movement that turned against the established order, including the leadership of the Republican Party itself. It has become a monster of its own that is now roaming the countryside and terrorizing the very political party that created it.

This is the reason behind the rise of candidates like Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. The Republican Party establishment despises these candidates, but the Party has no idea how to slay these dragons. These candidates now pose the enormous threat of potentially causing a giant split within the Party that could lead to the utter destruction of the entire Republican Party itself. It is a remarkable story.

The Republican Party has enjoyed its dance with the devil. Now it must pay the piper.  -Huffington Post

Tennessee Legislature - The week ahead: Bathroom bill, Hall tax, diversity funding

Two weeks ago Gov. Bill Haslam announced his annual budget amendments, signaling the end of the legislative session was near. This week lawmakers will continue wrapping up their work, including taking up the bills that will make up next year's budget. As was the case last week, lawmakers will have to consider both important and controversial bills before they leave Nashville. Here are a few things things to watch:

     Bathroom bill

Last week a bill to make the Holy Bible the state's official book made national headlines after lawmakers sent it to Haslam. This week lawmakers are set to continue discussing another controversial bill — one that would force students in Tennessee to use the restroom that corresponds with their sex at birth. Opposition to the measure has been rising lately, with Miley Cyrus, Nashville Mayor Megan Barry and a variety of businesses, including Viacom, expressing their concerns. But proponents of the measure, including Rep. Susan Lynn, Sen. Mike Bell and the Family Action Council of Tennessee, are showing no sign of backing down.

The Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee is scheduled to take up the controversial legislation at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday or 2:30 p.m. Wednesday.

     Online gaming

On the heels of a recently released opinion from Attorney General Herbert Slatery in which he said any fantasy sports contest amounts to "illegal gambling" in Tennessee, lawmakers are set to consider legislation that would authorize a licensing structure to allow for certain fantasy sports.

The measure was already given approval in the Senate but will have to move past theHouse Finance, Ways and Means Subcommittee, which is scheduled to meet at noon Tuesday.

     Hall tax

The battle over the state's 6 percent personal income tax on interest and dividends earned from investments — known as the Hall tax — will resume this week. There has been no shortage of bills introduced targeting the tax, which opponents argue places an additional burden on businesses and retirees who are simply trying to make ends meet.

Those defending the tax point out the state, as well as local and county governments, would lose hundreds of millions in taxes if it were completely eliminated. The Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee is expected to take up as many as 10 Hall tax-related bills at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday or 2:30 p.m. Wednesday.

     UT Diversity funding

The University of Tennessee-Knoxville's diversity office has generated significant interest among lawmakers this year after a series of controversies. Although a Senate committee spiked one attempt to slash the diversity office's funding, another effort remains alive. 

This one would divert the office's money to a program that would place decals of the national motto on local and state law enforcement vehicles.

On Wednesday, the Senate Education Committee will meet at 1 p.m. to discuss the bill. The House Finance Ways and Means Committee will take it up at 3 p.m. Tuesday.

     Budget bills

It may not be the most interesting thing to watch, but passing a balanced budget is constitutionally required in Tennessee. Ever since Haslam introduced his proposed budget in January, lawmakers have been grappling with finding ways to add their additions and ideas. The Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee will first take a crack at the budget bills at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday or 2:30 p.m. Wednesday. In the event that there is money left over, there are no shortage of ideas and bills afloat that many lawmakers would love to see be used to fill in the gaps.    - Tennessean (subscription)

Is Tennessee’s food safety system reliable? Maybe not

Lifting the steam pan lid, Yvonne Rodriguez takes her thermometer, cleans it with a sanitary wipe and slides it into the mashed potatoes. She checks the temperature in two or three more places and makes a note on a form, neatly held by her metal clipboard.

The note says, “Mashed pot. placed on steam table not reheated to 165° F. Reading 57° F.”

That is an alarm bell for anyone interested in food safety because food held between 40 and 140 degrees is a breeding playground for a host of foodborne illnesses.Rodriguez  is one of a dozen inspectors who perform about 13,500 inspections and re-inspections annually for the Metro Public Health Department, under contract for the state.

Shelf-life and temperature are renewed points of emphasis for the Tennessee State Department of Health’s restaurant inspection program, which underwent a significant overhaul last year for the first time since 1978.

The onus is clearly on the restaurants to do the right thing, day in and day out, making the health department simply the second line of defense in the battle for food safety. While that may seem scary, large outbreaks are remarkably rare compared with the volume of food prepared and served every day. However, for companies such as Chipotle, outbreaks of salmonella, E. coli and the norovirus sickened hundreds of customers and employees across more than a dozen states in 2015.

It also showed how our collective appetites can quickly change. According to a recent study by AlixPartners, a global business consulting firm, “28 percent of diners surveyed say they would never eat at a chain affected by a food-safety outbreak, regardless of the geographic location of the outbreak.” A triple-barreled maelstrom of vomit on both coasts certainly gets the attention of the dining public, along with questions about what exactly is being done to make sure our food is safe. It also begs the question whether restaurant scores, without context, really mean anything.

In Tennessee, however, it remains difficult for everyday diners to make informed decisions on food safety. Even with online databases and a new mobile app created by the State Health Department, information about many scores and violations is more than nine months out of date because of data glitches that still aren't resolved. The state of Tennessee took an awfully long time to catch up with the rest of the country on restaurant inspections. It only began using the 2009 FDA Food Code guidelines on July 1, 2015.

“Tennessee was one of the last states to adopt the new regulations,” says Hugh Atkins, director of Environmental Health for the state, noting that a significant overhaul of the program had not happened in almost 40 years. Atkins cited the evolution of food trends during that time, such as the charcuterie boom, sushi and sous vide cooking (long, low temperature cooking with vacuum-sealed bags in hot water baths) as examples of what has changed.

Compared to other states, such as New York, Pennsylvania and California, Tennessee’s restaurant inspection program is largely toothless, unless repeated violations require the revocation of a permit. In Tennessee there are no fines associated with violations and poor grades, only more inspections, and about the only ways  the health department  would immediately close the doors of a business would be the imminent threat of an outbreak or something like raw sewage coming up through the plumbing.    - Tennessean (subscription)

Nashville Scene Editor Jim Ridley Dies at 50

Jim Ridley — the editor, heart and soul of the Nashville Scene, a film critic with few peers, and one of the most beloved and respected journalists the city has known — died today around noon at St. Thomas Midtown Hospital. He had collapsed after suffering a cardiac event in the Sceneoffices on March 28, and never regained consciousness. He was 50 years old. 

Services are planned for Saturday, April 16, at Woodfin Funeral Chapel in Murfreesboro. Visitation will be 9 to 11 a.m. with services to follow. A GoFundMe account has been set up to cover medical expenses, funeral expenses and to support his family.   
     - Nashville Scene

Our System of Justice Is Broken

After Corey Batey was found guilty on Friday of fewer charges than he was found guilty of last year, the victim released a statement that said, in part: "Despite the hard work of the exemplary prosecutors who've worked tirelessly on this case, I can only conclude that our system of justice is broken."

If you followed the trial, it's hard to disagree with her. On the face of it, she was the "perfect" victim. She was unconscious and unaware of what happened to her. Multiple people saw at least portions of something they knew was very bad (even if they didn't have the guts to act on it) happening to her. And her attackers made video of the attack and shared it with friends. Then they attempted to cover up their crimes. 

She'd been through two trials and only seen one conviction.

If this is the best the system can do with assailants who documented their attack, what does that bode for victims who have the misfortune of being attacked by people who don't take pictures or shoot video?    -  Nashville Scene


Is Tennessee still open for business?

One of the recurring themes of Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration is that Tennessee is open for business. That attitude has led to unprecedented growth, especially in the Nashville area, leading to a boom in jobs, record-setting tourism numbers and population growth because people want to live, work and play in Middle Tennessee.

Nashville has appeared on numerous national publications’ lists for quality of life, jobs, recreation and food, fashion and music culture. Tourists and investors from London to Tokyo to Ottawa have sought to strengthen ties with the Volunteer State.

However, that progress is in peril if Tennessee lawmakers decide that they want to join a handful of other states seeking to humiliate and marginalize its minorities, be it because of religion, sexual orientation or gender identity. That could send the message that Tennessee is not serious about being open for business. In turn, that will have serious effects on the growing economy.

Butch Spyridon, CEO of the Convention & Visitors Corp., said it plainly: “When the state starts introducing legislation that affects our ability to do business, it is not helpful and needs to be rethought. Our success in the hospitality industry is predicated on a welcoming and friendly environment. We don’t need to do anything to diminish or hinder the success that is driving the state’s economy.”

That includes legislation in the Tennessee General Assembly seeking to require students in public schools and colleges to use bathrooms that correspond to the sex listed on their birth certificate. It is a slap in the face to transgender individuals, blatant ignorance of intersex individuals, and a burden on educators who would be effectively forced to verify the genitalia of their students before letting them use the facilities.

North Carolina is already seeing the backlash for its bathroom bill. PayPal has canceled its plan for a global operations center in Charlotte. As quoted in the Wall Street Journal, CEO Dan Schulman said: “The new law perpetuates discrimination, and it violates the values and principles that are at the core of PayPal’s mission and culture. As a result, PayPal will not move forward with our planned expansion into Charlotte.”

Imagine if a CEO said the same thing about Tennessee. Imagine if that led to producers of the popular TV show “Nashville” filming elsewhere even as the state islooking to invest $8 million to keep the show in the city for a fifth season. That show has helped tell the city’s story across the globe. This will not be a proud moment in Tennessee history if we, through our lawmakers, choose to embrace a legacy of discrimination, not just because of the business the state will lose, but because it is the inhumane thing to do. 

Recall the backlash that faced Indiana in 2015 over its Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which forced lawmakers and the governor to revise it and water down its effect of allowing business owners to discriminate against others based on religious beliefs. 

Legislators have already effectively endorsed Christianity as the religion of the state by passing the Bible bill last week, which Haslam will hopefully veto. He also will hopefully veto any legislation that seeks to discriminate against the citizens he is charged to protect.

If Tennessee is truly open for business, it would be open for business to all people, not just those deemed worthy by the majority of legislators.
   -  David Plazas Editorial in The Tennessean (subscription)

GOP all but guaranteed ‘super majority’ status in Tenn. again in 2017

NASHVILLE — Seven incumbent Republican state senators and 30 GOP state representatives were virtually assured of re-election last week when no opponent filed a petition to run against them in either the August primary or the November general election.

On the other side of the partisan coin, 13 Democratic incumbent representatives face no challenge to re-election from within their own party or from a Republican. That includes Knoxville's Rep. Joe Armstrong, who is facing trial on federal tax evasion charges — though Armstrong does have a general election opponent in perennial candidate Pete Drew, who is running as an Independent again this year.

In the Senate, only one of the 16 seats up for election this year is held by a Democrat — Sen. Sara Kyle of Memphis. She faces a primary challenge from former Sen. Beverley Marrero, also of Memphis. No Republican is seeking that seat.

The seven Senate seats where Republican incumbents are assured of re-election are held by Sens. Becky Duncan Massey of Knoxville, Frank Niceley of Strawberry Plains, Ken Yager of Kingston, Ferrell Haile of Gallatin, Joey Hensley of Hohenwald, John Stevens of Huntingdon, and Mark Norris Collierville.

One of the more prominent Republican-held Senate spots in play is the 4th District 4 seat being vacated by Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey. State Rep. Jon Lundberg of Bristol and former state Rep. Tony Shipley of Kingsport are among four Republicans vying for the party nomination to succeed him.

In East Tennessee, Sen. Doug Overbey, R-Maryville, faces a primary challenge from Scott P. Williams, also of Maryville, but no Democrat filed in the 2nd Senate District. Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, faces no GOP opposition but finds three Democrats competing in August for the right to oppose him in November.

Elsewhere in the state, Senate Education Committee Chairman Dolores Gresham of Somerville faces a Republican primary challenger, while incumbent Republican Sens. Jim Tracy of Shelbyville, Janice Bowling of Tullahoma, Steve Dickerson of Nashville and Mark Green of Clarksville face opposition in both primary and general elections.

The lineup of contests in the Senate guarantees that Republicans will continue to hold at least 23 seats after the November elections — enough to still be considered a "super majority," which is more than two-thirds the total seats. They hold 13 of the seats that are not up for election this year and 10 where no Democrat is running this year. Currently, Republicans hold a 28-5 advantage in the Senate.  - Knoxville News Sentinel


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Lobbying expenditures on Tenn. lawmakers increases in 2015

The multimillion-dollar business of influencing Tennessee's Legislature saw increased payments to lobbyists and a jump in expenditures by their clients on wining and dining last year, according to new figures compiled by the Tennessee Ethics Commission.

On the other hand, the amount of money going to so-called lobbying-related expenditures — typically advertising or phone bank messages that urge residents to call their legislators to voice support or opposition to a pending bill — declined from 2014 levels.

Combining all types of spending in 2015 that was disclosed, as much as $74 million was spent on lobbying during the year, compared to maximum reported spending of $69.2 million in 2014. But it also could have been as little as $30 million in 2015, up from about $27 million in 2014.

The figures are not precise because of the way lobbyist-compensation and lobbying-related expenditures are reported. Under a law enacted in 2006, lobbyists and their employers must report such spending only within ranges — for example, between $50,000 and $100,000 — and need not give an exact figure. One category is simply "less than $10,000."

This is in contrast to some states that require precise reporting of all payments to lobbyists — a notion staunchly and successfully opposed by Tennessee lobbyists' lobbying during the special session on reform of state government ethics statutes a decade ago that put the present law in place. The special session came a year after five legislators were charged with bribery-related offenses in an FBI investigation. Before then, there was no reporting requirement whatsoever for lobbyist spending.

There were 569 lobbyists registered to represent 1,913 clients in Tennessee during 2015, according to Drew Rawlins, executive director of the Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance. In 2014, 557 lobbyists registered to represent 1,880 clients.   - Tom Humphrey, Knoxville News Sentinel

Report: Trump Gave $0 to Charity

A list of Donald Trump’s donations over the past five years, compiled in a list by his campaign, did not include a single contribution of his own money, a Washington Postanalysis reported. Trump has claimed he’s given more than $102 million to charity in the last five years. But the Post found of the 4,844 donations listed in the campaign’s report, most of the contributions consisted of free rounds of golf at his courses for charity auctions and raffles. The newspaper also reported the largest donations on the list were land-conservation agreements to waive development rights on some of his properties. While many of the Republican presidential frontrunner’s gifts came from the Donald J. Trump Foundation, that organizaiton did not receive a personal check from Trump between 2008 and 2014.   -The Daily Beast


The GOP can’t avoid fights over LGBT issues in the South

Battles erupting across the country over gay rights and other social issues have put Republican candidates in a pinch, deepening fissures between the business interests and social conservatives whose support they depend on, and forcing them to go on the defensive nationally amid changing cultural winds.

In the past month, three states have passed laws intended to protect rights of those who oppose same-sex marriage, and half a dozen have enacted new abortion restrictions. And in Tennessee this week, the legislature passed a law making the Bible the official state book.

The cultural fights already led PayPal to cancel plans to expand its operation in North Carolina, which last month banned anti-discrimination protections based on sexual orientation and mandated that transgender people in government buildings and public schools use bathrooms that match the sex indicated on their birth certificates.

In a hint of the discomfort inherent in this issue for the Republicans, the GOP presidential hopefuls have been silent on the North Carolina legislation as well as a measure signed into law this week in Mississippi that allows church-affiliated groups and private businesses to decline providing services if doing so would violate their religious beliefs. The Democratic candidates, meanwhile, have been strong in their condemnation. “Refusing to serve LGBT people because of who they are is discrimination. End of story,” Hillary Clinton’s campaign tweeted. Conservative support is not unanimous: Two Republican governors have vetoed such bills, and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) said Thursday that her state does not need a law that dictates bathroom use by certificate, after a legislator introduced a bill similar to North Carolina’s.

The Tennessee legislature is considering a bill that would require public school students to use the restroom that matches the sex indicated on their birth certificates. Gov. Bill Haslam (R), who is not up for reelection this year, has expressed disapproval of the measure. But a different kind of bill has drawn fire in Tennessee this week — one that would declare the Bible the state book.

The measure sparked controversy, not only out of concerns from Democrats that it would violate the separation of church and state but also from Republicans who think it demeans the holy book, putting it in the same category as the Eastern box turtle as the state reptile and milk as the state beverage. Both Haslam and the attorney general have raised questions about the constitutionality of the legislation. Haslam has not said whether he will sign the bill.    - The Washington Post


Trump’s Ascent Poses Risks for Down-Ballot GOP Candidates

Mr. Trump’s presidential candidacy has been marked by often-incendiary remarks on topics that include border security and the dangers posed by various ethnic groups. In announcing his candidacy last summer, for example, the New York billionaire claimed some Mexican migrants were drug dea

But while Mr. Trump’s hard-line positions and from-the-gut style have helped catapult him to the top of the Republican presidential field, they pose risks for down-ballot Republicans, particularly those running in communities with a higher share of minorities, college graduates or higher-income voters. That is especially true for Mr. Hurd, whose district is 67% Latino and 17% foreign-born, according to census data.lers and rapists. 

David Wasserman, who analyzes House races for the Cook Political Report, recently downgraded Republicans’ chances of holding six of their seats and upgraded prospects for Democrats in holding four of theirs, citing the likelihood that Mr. Trump or Texas Sen. Ted Cruz would be the GOP presidential nominee. In the House, Republicans claim their biggest majority since 1928, and Republican-controlled state legislatures used the latest round of redistricting to make many of the swing seats safer.

At this point, Mr. Wasserman doubts Democrats will win the 30 seats needed to retake the House in the fall, but he said Mr. Trump, in particular, could alienate large chunks of more-educated and higher-income voters and motivate minorities who don’t always cast ballots to come out against him, particularly Latinos. All three groups view Mr. Trump less favorably than other Republicans. 

“Trump at least gives Democrats some signs of life,” Mr. Wasserman said. “If you are talking about a landslide election in the fall—which looks possible—we’re in uncharted territory.”    - The Wall Street Journal


Billy Moore's Report from Washington

Last week, the Senate started work on an aviation bill. House members return from the Easter Recess Monday to take up three regulatory relief initiatives. Appropriators will kick the spending process into gear, with Senate leaders hoping to advance the process before recriminations over Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland throws sand in the spending gears.

Most Senate Republicans, led by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, say the next president should choose the replacement for Justice Antonin Scalia and refuse to even meet with Judge Garland. Some Republicans up for reelection in November are meeting with the nominee, including Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley.

Democrats demand Republican senators "do their job" on the Garland nomination, but have not yet signaled how they would force a vote or react if their confirmation effort is foiled. The appropriations process could face Democratic retaliation later this year. 

Senate appropriators begin subcommittee work on spending bills this week. House appropriators may advance bills in both subcommittee and full committee. The early, active spending process erodes any need for either chamber to take up a budget resolution, eliminating hopes for big mandatory spending cuts or international tax reform this year.

This week's House agenda includes legislation to bar to consumer broadband Internet rate regulation, defund the Financial Stability Oversight Council and allow small banks to incur higher amounts of debt when acquiring another firm.

Senators are working through amendments to a 14-month extension of aviation programs. Leaders are negotiating Democratic demands the extension of renewable energy tax credits. The energy and Flint, Michigan water bills are in the wings awaiting compromises to clear them for floor action.

The Obama Administration implemented final rules last week that requires retirement finance advisers work in the best interest of their clients and to limit the ability of U.S. corporations to merge with foreign competitors to avoid taxation.

Billy Moore is a partner at ViaNovo, a strategic advisory firm with office is Washington, DC, Dallas, Austin, and Mexico City.

 Thought for the day:

Educate and inform the whole mass of the people... They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty.
              - Thomas Jefferson


And because you need a little laugh for your Monday - 




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