CPI Buzz April 8, 2016

Jeremy Durham banished after AG probe finds 'inappropriate physical contact'

durhamHouse Speaker Beth Harwell banished Rep. Jeremy Durham to a new office building Thursday and limited his access to staff after a scathing Tennessee attorney general report found the Franklin Republican engaged in inappropriate physical contact and potentially poses a "continuing risk to unsuspecting women."

"Based upon the information gathered thus far, Representative Durham's alleged behavior may pose a continuing risk to unsuspecting women who are employed by or interact with the legislature," Attorney General Herbert Slatery said in a letter to House officials.

In accordance with the attorney general's findings, Harwell, R-Nashville, is limiting Durham's access to certain legislative buildings — including moving his office across the street — and he has been barred from having contact with almost all staff or interns as the investigation continues.       - Tennessean (subscription)

Megan Barry says bathroom bill could cost Nashville $58M

barryNashville Mayor Megan Barry says approval of pending state legislation that would regulate where transgender people can use the restroom in Tennessee schools could potentially cost Nashville $58 million in direct visitor spending from convention groups that may cancel events.

Barry, a Democrat elected last year, made that projection in a statement late Thursday, echoing sentiments of leaders of Tennessee’s budding tourism and film industries who expressed similar economic concerns and opposition to the bill earlier this week.

Barry urged state lawmakers to consider economic ramifications of that legislation, as well as separate Republican-sponsored state legislation, also opposed by LGBT advocates, that would let counselors and therapists refuse to see clients for religious beliefs.

Citing information from the Nashville Convention and Visitors Corp., Barry said three convention groups — representing an estimated $8.9 million in direct spending from conventioneers in the city— have said they would definitely cancel already-scheduled events in Nashville if the transgender-targeted bill is passed into law. Another nine convention groups — representing an estimated $48.8 million in direct expected spending — have said they would likely cancel events if it becomes law, according to the mayor’s office.

In addition, she said if all 12 of these groups canceled their Nashville conventions then Metro would lose $5.8 million in local tax revenue and the state of Tennessee would lose $4.4 million in state tax revenue.

“This legislation doesn’t reflect Nashville’s values and doesn’t do anything to improve the quality of life for citizens of our city or state,” Barry said in the statement. “If some lawmakers don’t see the value in recognizing people’s dignity and privacy, I hope they can at least see the negative economic impact and potential loss of revenue to Nashville and the state of Tennessee.”    - Tennessean (subscription)

Tennessee affordable housing mandate ban heads to Gov. Haslam

affordable housingLegislation that would prohibit municipalities in Tennessee from mandating that developers include affordable housing in new residential development is headed to the desk of Republican Gov. Bill Haslam.

The Tennessee House of Representatives voted 72-23 on Thursday to approve legislation introduced this session by Rep. Glen Casada, R-Franklin, that came as some in Nashville had started pushing Metro government to adopt a policy known as mandatory inclusionary zoning. The Senate version of the state bill passed overwhelmingly last month.

If Haslam signs the bill into law, Metro and other municipalities would have to turn to incentive-based models, or other means, to control housing costs instead of mandates. There are examples of both models in cities nationwide.

The House vote was largely along party lines with Republicans supporting and Democrats opposing the bill. Nashville Democrats Rep. Mike Stewart, Brenda Gilmore and Bo Mitchell each spoke out against the legislation during lengthy debate with Casada before its passage.
      -Tennessean (subscription)

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Appellate court strikes down Tennessee’s gang enhancement law

KNOXVILLE — Using a Knox County case, an appellate court has struck down as unconstitutional a Tennessee law that allows harsher penalties for crime-committing gang members.

The Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals ruled in an opinion released Thursday the state's gang enhancement law is so broad it allows gang members to suffer extra punishment for crimes that had nothing to do with the gang or gang activity and the misdeeds of other gang members in which they weren't even involved.

The court noted the 2012 law pushed by prosecutors and police was passed with good intent — to seek to quell gang violence — but was crafted so poorly it could apply to a member of a college fraternity. Like street gangs, fraternities use color schemes and symbols to show affiliation, and its members sometimes commit crimes that meet the law's overly broad definition of "gang-related crime," the court stated. The law defines "gang-related crime" as any offense in which a person either hurts or kills someone or threatens to hurt or kill someone while committing a crime. Hazing, the court noted, could qualify.

"It simply cannot be maintained that a statute ostensibly intended to deter gang-related criminal conduct through enhanced sentencing is reasonably related to that purpose where the statute in question is completely devoid of language requiring that the underlying offense be somehow gang-related before the sentencing enhancement is applied," the opinion stated.

The court said Tennessee largely stands alone in the nation for punishing criminals simply for being in a gang. Gang membership, even a criminal one like the mob, is not illegal in the United States. Florida enacted a similar law, but the Florida Supreme Court struck it down in 1999 for the same reasons now being cited by the Tennessee appellate court.

The appellate court left the convictions intact, opining there was ample proof to support them. But the court said the sentences boosted through the gang enhancement law could not stand since the law was constitutionally flawed — even though the trio's crimes fit the intended purpose of the statute. Good facts, the court held, don't negate bad law.

"Although we sympathize with the state's argument because it is amply apparent that the underlying offenses in this case were gang-related, we refuse to read a nexus requirement into the statute to eliminate its constitutional shortcomings," the opinion stated. "We respect the General Assembly's efforts to combat the scourge of criminal gang activity in our state, but it is not within our authority to rewrite this statute."
         - Knoxville News Sentinel (subscription)

Corker in Memphis, predicts Congress will take part in encryption battles

appleU.S. Sen. Bob Corker predicts Congress will wade into the debate over the powerful encryption techniques that Apple and other companies use to maintain the privacy of data on iPhones and similar devices.

"And I have concerns about where technology is going," Corker said in Memphis Wednesday, adding that encryption can help terrorist groups.

The Tennessee Republican chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and made his comments during an interview in the cafe of the Booksellers at Laurelwood in East Memphis. The cafe served as a quiet meeting spot during his multiday tour through Tennessee, in which he's meeting local leaders and constituents.

Any new law on encryption could impact millions of people around the world who use smartphones and computers.

Corker said he'd spoken a few weeks ago with Apple CEO Tim Cook, who challenged a court order to help unlock a password-protected iPhone that belonged to one of the shooters in the December attack in San Bernardino, California, which killed 14 people.

The Apple executive has argued that encryption protects consumers. "The government is asking Apple to hack our own users and undermine decades of security advancements that protect our customers — including tens of millions of American citizens — from sophisticated hackers and cybercriminals," Cook wrote in an open letter in February.    -  Memphis Commercial Appeal (subscription)


Shelby County Commission to release disparity study draft on Wednesday

shelbyThe Shelby County Commission will hold a special called meeting on Wednesday to accept and release the draft of the county's 200-plus page disparity study.

The document comes after the observers were evicted Monday from a committee meeting in which commissioners discussed the report with the county attorney in an executive session. Two commissioners, Walter Bailey and Mark Billingsley, took issue with the closed session Monday.

The $310,000 study conducted by Oakland, California-based Mason Tillman Associates found that businesses owned by white men received 88.32 percent of the county's contract dollars between 2012 and 2014, or $168.2 million of the total $190.5 million spent during that period.

Businesses owned by African-Americans received 5.8 percent of the county's contracts or $11 million and businesses owned by white women were awarded 5.15 percent or $9.8 million.

The special called meeting will be held at 9:30 a.m. on the first floor of the Vasco A. Smith Jr. County Administration Building, 160 N. Main.
    - Memphis Commercial Appeal (subscription)


Insiders: 90 percent predict contested GOP convention

Republican insiders overwhelmingly believe this summer’s national convention will require multiple ballots to select the presidential nominee.

That’s according to The POLITICO Caucus – a panel of operatives, activists and strategists in 10 key battleground states – with roughly 90 percent of respondents saying neither Donald Trump nor Ted Cruz will win the nomination on the first ballot in Cleveland.

It’s a marked shift from a month ago, when just half of insiders were predicting a contested convention. Since that time, Trump has romped to victory in states that awarded all its delegates to the winner, like Florida and Arizona. But Cruz bounced back this week in Wisconsin – and is also dominating in states like North Dakota, Colorado and Wyoming, where party insiders pick the delegates, not rank-and-file voters.

Cruz’s victory in Wisconsin, where he won 36 of the 42 delegates at stake, narrows Trump’s path to the nomination. Trump’s path is also impaired by his precipitous fall in national polling, which hurts the New York real-estate tycoon’s standing among both Republican voters and convention delegates who want to nominate a strong general-election candidate.

“Donald Trump has one chance to win the nomination, and that is on the first ballot. Right now, I put his chances at about 40 percent, and that will require him to get some number of delegates from the unpledged delegates in states like North Dakota, Colorado, Pennsylvania, and a few territories,” said an Iowa Republican, who, like all respondents, completed the survey anonymously. But while that Iowa Republican sees Trump performing well in upcoming primaries in New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and other Northeastern states later this month, the Republican warned that the map is less favorable in May.  Some insiders gave Trump, who needs to win just under 60 percent of the remaining delegates to clinch the nomination outright, an outside chance to win on the first ballot – but only if he over-performs in the upcoming states.

A number of Republicans squashed talk that someone other than the three remaining candidates, like House Speaker Paul Ryan, would win the nomination on the convention floor. “There is no way any candidate heads to Cleveland with 1,237 [delegates],” said a Colorado Republican. “And there is no way someone other than Ted Cruz or Donald Trump walks out of Cleveland with the nomination. Any talk of that is just speculation to fill airtime or wishful thinking among many Republicans.”

Democrats: It’s not panic time for Clinton.

demsBernie Sanders has won seven of the last eight contests, but Democratic insiders aren’t terribly worried about Hillary Clinton's condition as she limps closer to the clinching the party’s presidential nomination.

Asked if Clinton’s campaign should be worried about Sanders’ winning streak, including a 13.5-point victory in Wisconsin on Tuesday, only a combined 26 percent of Democratic insiders said the Clinton camp should be worried or very worried.

The majority, 51 percent, said Clinton’s team shouldn’t be too worried, and another 23 percent said they shouldn’t be worried at all – with most citing the upcoming primaries in New York and other Northeastern states as more favorable for Clinton. (Wyoming, which will hold caucuses on Saturday, is thought to be Sanders territory.)

“Sure, [Tuesday in Wisconsin] was a bad night for a process story, but in terms of the delegate lead, it had almost no impact at all,” said a Wisconsin Democrat. “She'll do well in New York and then soar through the rest of the contest.”

“It's all about the math,” added a New Hampshire Democrat. “He can't win.”      - Politico


Donald Trump’s campaign manager is a legend among his former colleagues—for all the wrong reasons.

Corey Lewandowski, the embattled manager of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, was mostly unknown to national political observers before the 2016 elections.  But he is infamous to former co-workers at Americans for Prosperity, some of whom describe him as verbally abusive, unprofessional, and occasionally misogynistic. 

“He was just a condescending, nasty brutish boor” said Pat Maloney, an Ohio regional field director for AFP when Lewandowski took the reins. “In a position of real power, he would make H.R. Haldeman in the Nixon administration look like a Boy Scout.” Maloney described Lewandowski’s management style as unusually aggressive, lacing his interactions with employees with expletives and calling individual staff to berate them, even when they were not his direct reports.

When Maloney missed a conference call to attend to his ill grandmother, Lewandowski called him at his grandmother’s beside. “My grandmother is literally dying, having Last Rites administered and I get a call from Corey chewing me out, asking who the hell did I think I was missing this conference call,” he said.” While his own dealings with Lewandowski were unpleasant, Maloney said he felt Lewandowski reserved his worst behavior for female employees. “There was definitely a misogynistic streak to this guy,” he said. 

Lisa Bast, another Ohio regional field director at the time, said Lewandowski once threatened to “come really down hard” on her if she didn’t get 50 people to attend an AFP event in Akron. After she missed a 7 a.m. conference call to prepare for the event, her phone rang. “Corey gets on the phone and defames my character. He called me incompetent, called me a loser,” Bast said. “He called me a f**king b**ch, yelling, ‘I am going to fire your f**king ass!’”

Bast later organized another volunteer event closer to the election, which featured Republican strategist Dick Morris. As a part of the preparations, she had ordered 125 box lunches for volunteers who attended; but when Lewandowski decided the lunch shouldn’t be shared unless the volunteers also made calls for the phone bank, Bast said Lewandowski threw all 125 lunches in the garbage. “Corey said, ‘If they don’t phone bank they’re not getting f**king fed.’”

According multiple AFP employees interviewed by Politico, Lewandowski’s treatment of some co-workers remained problematic, including a 2013 encounter with a female state director for AFP, whom called her a “c**t” in front of a group of AFP employees.

As the campaign began to staff up formally in the spring of 2015, Lewandowski had lunch at Trump Tower with Cheri Jacobus, a well-known Republican consultant.

Jacobus was there at the invitation of a friend affiliated with the super PAC supporting Trump who had approached her about a possible job. She was surprised when Lewandowski showed up to the meeting, which Jacobus said eventually became a conversation about Jacobus joining the campaign as communications director.

But she said a second meeting with Lewandowski was all it took to convince her she wanted no part of the Trump campaign.

“Corey ends up yelling at me, like some unhinged kid, asking me all of these questions,” she said. “What would be your Snapchat plan? How would you do the launch? Why in the hell would you go to Hannity first?!’ I’m thinking what am I even doing here?”

Jacobus said never spoke to Lewandowski again. But when she later criticized Trump in an appearance on CNN in January of 2016, Jacobus said became the target of both Lewandowski and Trump.

Lewandowski told MSNBC’s Morning Joe that Jacobus had approached the Trump campaign for a job “and when she wasn’t hired clearly she went off and was upset by that.” Trump later tweeted about Jacobus directly. “@cherijacobus begged us for a job. We said no and she went hostile. A real dummy!”

Jacobus said she’s been harassed by Trump supporters ever since. Lewandowski’s stormy tenure with Trump became headline news in March when he grabbed a female reporter for Breitbart News who was trying to question Trump, something he and Trump both denied. Lewandowski has since been charged with simple battery for the encounter. Meanwhile, Jacobus has sent Trump and Lewandowski a letter from her lawyer warning them to cease and desist from making defamatory statements about her.

None of the drama in Lewandowski’s current job, including the battery charges, surprises many of the people who worked with him in the past. “Typical Corey,” said a former AFP employee, who asked not to be named. “It didn’t surprise me. That’s not atypical at all.” Bast said her greatest concern about Lewandowski is the fact that she think’s he’s never been held accountable for his behavior leading up to this. “He was a loose cannon,” said Bast. “He is what he is and he needs to be exposed for the person that he is.”    - The Daily Beast

Bill Clinton’s argument with Black Lives Matter protesters is 2016’s Sister Souljah Moment 

Bill Clinton spent 13 minutes yesterday forcefully responding to Black Lives Matter activists who were heckling him. Speaking in an overwhelmingly African American neighborhood of Philadelphia, the city that will host this summer’s Democratic National Convention, the former president offered a spirited defense of his record on civil rights, his signature crime bill and his wife.

One of the protesters held a sign that declared, "Black youth are not super predators.” That’s a reference to when Hillary Clinton spoke in 1996 of “the kinds of kids that are called ‘super-predators’” and said “we have to bring them to heel.

Clinton pointed to the signs. “This is what’s the matter,” he said. “I don't know how you would characterize the gang leaders who got 13-year-olds hopped up on crack and sent them out onto the street to murder other African American children. Maybe you thought they were good citizens. She didn't! …You are defending the people who kill the lives you say matter! Tell the truth! You are defending the people who caused young people to go out and take guns.”

The 69-year-old went on an extended riff about why he and his wife are the ones who have really fought to make black lives matter:

"Because of that [crime] bill we had a 25-year low in crime, a 30-year low in the murder rate, and because of that and the background-check law, a 46-year low in deaths of lives by gun violence,” he said. “And who do you think those lives were that mattered? Whose lives were saved that mattered?"

Bill noted that Hillary, unlike Bernie Sanders, did not vote for the crime bill. "She was spending her time trying to get health care for poor kids,” he said. “Who were they? And their lives matter!” He also highlighted the Democratic front-runner's work for the Children's Defense Fund as a young attorney in Alabama and her work to stop the spread of HIV in Africa as secretary of state.     - The Washington Post

Thought for the day:


Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiam."  - Winston Churchill

Bonus - A little something for your Friday contemplation: 

We love it when politicians and plutocrats who were born rich, went to privileged schools and make seven figures, whine about the single mom who works two jobs and has to take Food Stamps to feed her kids.



CPI Buzz April 7, 2016

Merle Haggard dead at 79 

merleMerle Haggard, the working man’s poet, an architect of the Bakersfield Sound and a fiercely independent artist who influenced country music like few others, died Wednesday in California, surrounded by friends and family.

He had just turned 79 and had been in failing health for some time, leading to the diagnosis of double pneumonia and subsequent cancellation of several concert dates, including two nights at the Ryman Auditorium that were originally scheduled for March.

Over the length of his half-century career, Mr. Haggard recorded 38 No. 1 country singles and wrote some of the genre’s most revered classics, which have been recorded by Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, The Byrds, Vince Gill, The Grateful Dead and countless others.

Mr. Haggard’s life, which took him from a San Quentin prison cell to the Country Music Hall of Fame, was a truly American success story.  
    -Tennessean (subscription)

Haslam still weighing options on Bible bill

holy bibleGov. Bill Haslam on Wednesday said he is still weighing his options regarding a bill that would make Tennessee the first state in the country to name the Bible its official book. “We literally have not decided what we’re doing yet,” he said after an appearance at the groundbreaking ceremony for the state museum.

Haslam once again reiterated a position he’s maintained since last year, noting that he had constitutional concerns about the legislation. "The Tennessee state Constitution is actually more explicit than the United States Constitution in terms of establishing religion. The language is pretty strong about separating that (religion) from what we do as government,” he said. “As a person of faith myself, there’s nothing more important to me, but I also want to make certain that we’re not confusing the role of government with the role of faith.”

Haslam's comments come two days after the Senate narrowly approved the measure, which received approval in the House last year.
       - Tennessean (subscription)

Fantasy Sports Are On Shaky Turf In Tennessee After Attorney General's Opinion

draft kingsTennessee's attorney general says betting on fantasy sports constitutes illegal gambling, plain and simple. The two-page legal opinion was issue was published Wednesday.

The question for the interpreters of state law was whether assembling a fantasy team and betting money on its performance is a game of skill. Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery’s answer is no. He says that while participants may use skill to select players, winning is left to chance. "Namely, the participants do not control how selected athletes perform in actuality on a given day," Slatery writes.

Weather, referees and injuries are named as uncontrolled factors, leading Slatery to determine that fantasy sports are games of chance. Thus, putting any money on the outcome is illegal gambling. Paid fantasy sports are now considered illegal in more than a dozen states.

The attorney general of Alabama issued a similar opinion this week. The Texas AG ruled earlier this year, though both primarily came down against daily fantasy betting sites, such as Fan Duel and Draft Kings. In season-long leagues, money often changes hands informally, not through an organizing website.

Tennessee’s attorney general gives pretty straightforward instructions to the legislature if lawmakers want fantasy sports to be legal: They can pass a law to make an exemption, just like they did to create a state lottery.

The legislature is already working on regulations for fantasy sports, and industry groups believe the heavily-amended bill will effectively exempt fantasy sports from Tennessee gambling rules.  -WPLN


Podcast: Strickland speaks on first 100 days, de-annexation, crime stricklandand financial challenges

One hundred days into his term, Jim Strickland says he isn't having second thoughts about taking over as mayor of one of the South's largest metros — yet.

So far, much of his time has been taken up by unexpected financial challenges that have cropped up since he took over Jan. 1 from former mayor A C Wharton, including a now-defeated bill that would have allowed widespread de-annexation, potentially costing the city millions of dollars and thousands of residents.

And all the while, the city's tally of murders has risen steadily, and is now above 60 for the year, putting pressure on Strickland — who campaigned largely on public safety concerns — to begin delivering results.

Ahead of his presentation of the city budget to City Council on April 19, Strickland stopped by the InforMemphis podcast studio Wednesday to talk about his first 100 days, hot button topics ranging from de-annexation to the Greensward — and his priorities for the next 100 days.  
Listen Here - Commercial Appeal 


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Gingrich: Trump has made Ted Cruz look normal

trump cruzNewt Gingrich on Wednesday marveled at one of Donald Trump's biggest accomplishments in the 2016 race — making Ted Cruz appear normal. 

The former House speaker predicted that Cruz could be boosted at a contested convention by establishment support, something that would be unthinkable without an even more polarizing figure like Trump in the race.

“The challenge is entirely on Trump,” said Gingrich, who has been supportive of Trump. “He is not gonna get any help out of the establishment. They have reluctantly concluded that if, you know — Trump in a funny way has normalized Ted Cruz because without Trump, the establishment would be totally opposed to Cruz.”

Indeed, the senator has only garnered support from fellow Sens. Mike Lee and Lindsey Graham. But Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush have also backed his campaign as the best alternative to Trump. Gingrich pushed back on the notion that anyone other than Trump or Cruz could win the nomination. The 2012 convention rules, he said, were designed to block anybody from competing with Mitt Romney and now make it nearly impossible for someone who isn’t running in 2016 to become the nominee. The 2016 rules, however, won’t be set until the convention begins.

While it’s tough to see Cruz surpassing Trump in delegates, Gingrich continued, he has the campaign to win a multi-ballot convention. “What Cruz of course has done, very intelligently, is he has gone out and he has poached on the delegates that are going to be bound to Trump legally on the first vote, but they’re not bound after the first vote,” he said. “So what he’s trying to do is win elections in Louisiana, in Georgia, etc., where he picks up people that are pledged to help him once they meet their legal obligations. So Cruz, I think, will tell you he will actually get stronger on the second and third ballots. Trump probably won’t. Trump really has to rush to victory on the first ballot, I think.”

Gingrich said he could support either candidate as the nominee but joined the choir of people urging the New York billionaire to be more presidential. Trump has said he will, but doing so would be “boring as hell.”

Trump blasted Cruz and the establishment following a 13-point loss in Wisconsin — a message Gingrich decried as “self-destructive.”

For Trump to win, Gingrich said, his campaign has to give his convention manager Paul Manafort significantly more authority — “because Manafort’s the one real professional he has in the organization who has been through this before, who knows how to do it” — and pump more money into a more expansive daily grassroots delegate operation, in addition to being more presidential.

“The statement he issued last night was, frankly, just self-destructive,” Gingrich said about the missive, which stated, “Donald J. Trump withstood the onslaught of the establishment yet again. Lyin' Ted Cruz had the Governor of Wisconsin, many conservative talk radio show hosts, and the entire party apparatus behind him.”

It went on say, "Ted Cruz is worse than a puppet — he is a Trojan horse, being used by the party bosses attempting to steal the nomination from Mr. Trump.”

Gingrich on Wednesday said: “It was angry and it was hostile. It was demeaning. It’s everything that turns people off about him. He has had a great run, but he has to get to a new plateau if he’s gonna win.”  -Politico


What We Know (And Don't Know) About a Contested Republican 2016 RNCCConvention

Sen. Ted Cruz's win in Wisconsin Tuesday night over Republican front-runner Donald Trumpincreases the possibility of a contested convention -- a little-used process where no candidate has demonstrated support from a majority of delegates going into the convention.

Because of the percentage of delegates that Trump, Cruz and Gov. John Kasich would need to win moving forward -- at least 60 percent for the real estate mogul and more for the others -- things could get interesting and possibly confusing in Cleveland this summer. 

Questions Over Rules, Or Lack Thereof

Infrequency isn't the only reason why political experts don't know exactly what could happen in July. The fact that there hasn't been a contested convention since 1948 doesn't help when it comes to familiarity with the process. But another problem is that no two conventions are ever the same.

Even in situations where the party's nominee has already been picked before the convention, convention rules change every four years.

What that means is that the latest set of rules was set ahead of the 2012 convention, whereMitt Romney was selected as the nominee.

The Trump, Cruz and Kasich teams may not agree with those rules, and so a new set needs to be established and voted upon before the 2016 convention gets underway.

Why Is a Contested Convention Expected?

In order to become the Republican Party's nominee, a candidate needs to secure a majority of the available delegates.

This year, that magic number is 1,237 delegates. As of today, ABC News estimates that Trump has 743 delegates, Cruz has 517 and Kasich has 143 delegates.

That means that in order to hit 1,237, Trump would have to win 60 percent of the remaining delegates moving forward, Cruz would have to win 87 percent, and Kasich would have to hit a statistically impossible 131 percent.

Trump needs broad wins in states like New York and California and sweeping wins throughout the northeast in order to get close. Unbound delegates from Colorado, North Dakota or Pennsylvania will also be crucial and could push Trump across the line.

Likely Scenario for the Rules

Even though nothing has been set in stone -- and won't be until far closer to the convention -- there are certain procedures that have been standard for many years. Delegates will go through several rounds of voting until one candidate hits the magic number of 1,237 delegates.

Most state parties have their own rules for their own delegates regarding how many times they are required to vote for their pledged candidate. But by the third ballot, nearly all delegates will be free to vote however they choose.

Other national rules will be set by the rules committee, a panel of 112 party officials –- two from each state and territory –- who will have the power to change the rules just days before the convention, potentially making or breaking the presidential aspirations of candidates who fall short.

What About the Eight-State Rule?

The current GOP rules say that a candidate needs to demonstrate support from a majority of delegates in at least eight states in order to be considered for the nomination. It was originally aimed at stifling Ron Paul supporters at the 2012 convention. But party officials say this threshold could be lowered in the days before the convention to either allow (or block) certain candidates from getting nominated on the convention floor.  - ABC News


Exclusive: White House declines to support encryption legislation - sources

phone lockThe White House is declining to offer public support for draft legislation that would empower judges to require technology companies such as Apple Inc to help law enforcement crack encrypted data, sources familiar with the discussions said.

The decision all but assures that the years-long political impasse over encryption will continue even in the wake of the high-profile effort by the Department of Justice to force Apple to break into an iPhone used by a gunman in last December's shootings in San Bernardino, California. The draft legislation from Senators Richard Burr and Dianne Feinstein, the Republican chair and top Democrat respectively of the Senate Intelligence Committee, is expected to be introduced as soon as this week.

The bill gives federal judges broad authority to order tech companies to help the government but does not spell out what companies might have to do or the circumstances under which they could be ordered to help, according to sources familiar with the text. It also does not create specific penalties for noncompliance. Its stance is partly a reflection of a political calculus that any encryption bill would be controversial and is unlikely to go far in a gridlocked Congress during an election year, sources said.

Tech companies and civil liberties advocates have opposed encryption legislation, arguing that mandating law enforcement access to tech products will undermine security for everyone. Several lawmakers, including U.S. Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, a Democrat, have vowed to oppose any attempt to limit encryption protections in U.S. technology products.

Even some intelligence officials worry that enabling law enforcement agencies to override encryption will create more problems than it solves by opening the door to hackers and foreign intelligence services. Some also say it is unnecessary because the government has other means of getting the information it needs.

The Justice Department dropped its legal action against Apple last week, saying it had found a way to hack into the phone. Apple and others have called on Congress to help find a solution to the problem of criminals and terrorists using encryption to avoid surveillance. A separate proposal to form a national encryption commission to further study the issue is also not expected to be enacted this year.

Meanwhile, tech companies are stepping up their efforts to implement encryption and other security measures. The Facebook-owned messaging service WhatsApp announced this week that it had implemented complete encryption of its service - and now cannot get access to customer messages even if was ordered to by a court.  -Reuters

What New Rules on Inversions and Fiduciary Duties Remind Us About November

inversionRemember all those obituaries for the Obama presidency, the premature ones that predicted he would get nothing done in the eighth year of his presidency because of a recalcitrant Congress? Ask Pfizer about that. Ask the investment industry while you’re at it.

Much to the consternation of Republicans in Congress and their allies, the Obama administration has displayed a substantial amount of regulatory muscle this week. New Treasury rules restricting the tax benefits from corporate inversions–the maneuver in which a U.S. company mergers with a foreign firm and shifts its headquarters to the other, lower-tax country–disrupted the merger of drugmakers Pfizer and Allergan. Perhaps the regulations will be tested in court, but they’ve already accomplished the administration’s major objective–and will give other companies pause before attempting inversions.

The Labor Department’snew “fiduciary rule”–which gives stockbrokers and mutual-fund salesmen the same legal duty that many other financial advisers already have to make investments in the best interests of their clients when selling retirement products–began to reshape the investment business even before the final rule was published.

Some would argue that these are the sorts of far-reaching policies that should be made by Congress. And Congress could, of course, change the law and undo these new rules. Indeed, the Treasury rules are a lousy substitute for a thoughtful reform of corporate tax policy. But Congress can’t seem to do anything substantial these days: It created a vacuum and the Obama administration is filling it.

Regardless of one’s views of the merits of either set of rules, this is a timely reminder that it really does matter who is elected president in November.       - Wall Street Journal

Trump Blows Off Pro-Life Leaders

trump pro lifeDonald Trump just blew off pro-life leaders exactly one week after he angered the movement by calling for “punishment” for abortion.

Trump was reportedly expected to address Priests for Life and the 115 Forum conference during a conference call on Wednesday. But he bailed. Leslie Palma, a spokesperson for Priests for Life, told The Daily Beast that Trump did not dial-in.

Trump’s campaign didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. Last night, Ted Cruz handily defeated the mogul in the Wisconsin primary—thanks in part to support from conservative Christians, a very pro-life constituency.

Ted Cruz ally and prominent anti-abortion activist Troy Newmanpounced on Trump’s blowoff.

“To me, that’s just typical Donald Trump,” said Newman, president of Operation Rescue and a board member of the Center for Medical Progress, whose director was indicted over videos it distributed about Planned Parenthood. “We just don’t know exactly what he believes or who he is.”

Trump’s disconnect with pro-life leaders became painfully obvious after he told MSNBC’s Chris Matthews last week that he believed there should be “punishment” for women who get abortions. (Trump has since backtracked.) Virtually all mainstream anti-abortion groups reject this rhetoric, instead holding that women who get abortions are victims of the procedure. They quickly repudiated Trump.

And rival Ted Cruz’s team immediately pounced on Trump’s call for women to be punished. “Don’t overthink it: Trump doesn’t understand the pro-life position because he’s not pro-life,” tweeted Cruz spokesman Brian Phillips shortly after Trump made the comment. 

Pro-life leaders have long criticized Trump for what they see as an inconsistent record on their issue. Susan B. Anthony List, a group that boosts pro-life women candidates, held a press conference with pro-life women leaders at Bob Jones University in the lead-up to the South Carolina primary urging pro-lifers to oppose Trump.

And Trump’s past support for federal funding for Planned Parenthood has long concerned pro-life advocates. And Trump’s defense of late-term abortion in a 1999 Meet the Press interview has haunted his campaign.

“I am very pro-choice,” he said at the time—almost as if he was actually trying to write an attack ad against himself.

The scheduled call gave Trump an opportunity to start building trust with Catholic pro-lifers, but he blew it and left them disappointed. It would have been an easy way to simultaneously court two powerful constituencies, Catholic conservatives and pro-life leaders. Instead, he’s managed to alienate them — again.
   - The Daily Beast


Thought for the day:

"I was really too honest a man to be a politician and live."  - Socrates


And just because it's Thursday, here are two views of the Presidential Race for you:



CPI Buzz April 5, 2016

Supreme Court rejects conservative challenge to ‘one person, one vote’

The Supreme Court unanimously ruled Monday that states may satisfy “one person, one vote” rules by drawing election districts based on the total population of a place, a defeat for conservative interests that wanted the districts based only on the number of people eligible to vote.The case, Evenwel v. Abbott, was considered one of the most important on voting rights this term, and a decision the other way would have shifted political power away from urban areas, where Democrats usually dominate, and toward more Republican-friendly rural areas.

The court’s ruling left open the possibility that other methods of reapportionment might be constitutional. But the decision was clear that using anything other than total population would face certain Supreme Court review.   - Washington Post


Democrats turn to women to challenge Tennessee GOP

Democratic WomenOne candidate is a home-school mother of eight from Fayette County.

There's a former military officer, a Navy veteran and the head of a Nashville education nonprofit.

They range from as young as 28 to as old as 77.

In a push to bring more women into Tennessee politics, a record of at least 23 women from across the state are running as Democrats to challenge Republican-held state legislative seats in November — and they plan to make the passage of Insure Tennessee their battle cry.

It follows a quiet but steady recruitment effort by a network of Tennessee Democrats, party activists and self-described parent-teacher mothers, or "PTO moms," to find women — on social media, by reading letters to editors or talking to county party chairmen — willing to run for a seat in the male-dominated Tennessee legislature. Most, but not all, of the women are running for public office for the first time.

Efforts are strategic: Beleaguered Tennessee Democrats, who have suffered massive election losses for two decades in the state legislature, have struggled to field candidates in many rural districts and against longtime Republican incumbents. Republicans outnumber Democrats in the legislature 101 to 31. By fielding women, Democrats hope to capitalize from the perceived unpopularity among women of GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump.  
    -Tennessean (subscription)

The winning, losing bills from the Tennessee legislature

TN CapitolHere's a look at some of the winning and losing legislation during the 2015 session of the Tennessee General Assembly.


TENNESSEE BUDGET: Appropriating the state's annual $33.8 billion budget. SB1399.

GUNS IN PARKS: Stripping local governments of power to ban people with handgun carry permits from being armed in parks. HB0995.

COMMON CORE: Rebranding Common Core education standards and establishing a review mechanism. HB1035.

ABORTION CLINICS: Requires facilities or physician offices to be licensed as ambulatory surgical treatment centers. SB1280.

ABORTION-INFORMED CONSENT: Requires informed consent and a 48-hour waiting period before an abortion. SB1222.

ARMING CONSTABLES: Allowing certified constables to be armed where other law enforcement officers can carry firearms. HB1094.

CANNABIS OIL: Allowing possession of cannabis oil to treat seizures. SB0280.

CITIZENSHIP TEST: Making it a requirement to pass a U.S. citizenship test to gain high school diploma. HB0010.

FEDEX TAX BREAK: Phasing in a cap on aviation fuel taxes that could save FedEx more than $20 million per year. HB1147.

LIFETIME CARRY PERMITS: Creating $500 lifetime handgun carry permit. SB0700.

LONGEVITY BONUSES: Eliminating annual longevity bonuses for new state workers. SB0606.

MOTORCYCLE HELMETS-PARADES: Allowing motorcyclists to ride without helmets in low-speed parades. SB0469.

RACIAL PROFILING: Requiring written policies banning racial profiling in state police departments. SB0006.

RAPE KIT BACKLOG: Creates a protocol for the collection of sexual-assault evidence kits. SB0981.

REVENUE MODERNIZATION: Taxing software and video games accessed remotely and creating incentives for companies to distribute products in Tennessee. HB0644.

TEACHER POLITICS: Barring teachers from engaging in political campaigning during work hours. HB0158.

TRAFFIC CAMERAS: Banning most speed cameras after current contracts expire. SB1128.


INSURE TENNESSEE: Authorizing Gov. Bill Haslam to strike deal to expand Medicaid in Tennessee. SJR0093.

BIBLE-OFFICIAL BOOK: Making the Bible the official book of Tennessee. HB0615.

SCHOOL VOUCHERS: Creating a limited school voucher program in Tennessee. HB1049.

TUITION EQUALITY: Offering in-state tuition to non-citizens who are lawfully present in the United States. HB0675.

TENNESSEE WHISKEY WAR: Repealing state law setting requirements for which sprits can be marketed as Tennessee Whiskey. HB0638.

JUDICIAL APPOINTMENTS: Creating a mechanism for rejecting the governor's judicial appointments. SB001.

ABORTION ULTRASOUNDS: Requiring clinics to either display or describe ultrasounds to women seeking abortions. HB0002.

ALCOHOL BAN: Banning sale of alcohol to people with three or more drunken driving convictions. HB0744.

AUTISM COVERAGE: Expanding health coverage for children with autism. SB0960.

MOTORCYCLE HELMETS: Allowing adults with private insurance to ride motorcycles without helmets. SB0925.

MUNICIPAL BROADBAND: Allowing municipal broadband to be offered outside of electric utilities' service areas. SB1134.

OPEN CONTAINER: Making it a crime for passengers to have open alcohol containers in vehicles. HB0140.

PARENT TRIGGER: Making it easier for parents to convert struggling public schools into charter schools. SB0600.

PHYSICAL EDUCATION: Requiring schools to offer physical education classes to K-5 students. HB1070.

PRE-K FUNDING: Cancelling federal funding for pre-kindergarten programs if court requires universal pre-K. HB0159.

PUBLIC RECORDS: Allowing government agencies to charge for public record searches. HB0315.
   - Tennessean (subscription)


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Obamacare Didn’t Ruin Employer Coverage

obamacareDespite predictions that the Affordable Care Act would cause employers to drop employee coverage and force their workers to acquire it independently, The New York Times reports that most companies continue to provide health insurance. According to an analysis by the Congressional Budget Office, around 155 million Americans had employer-based coverage in 2016. The Kaiser Family Foundation also released data last month that is said to show the percentage of adults under 65 with employer-based insurance has remained steady for the last five years after steadily declining since 1999. Even while Obamacare has succeeded in insuring millions of low-income Americans, companies have apparently kept offering coverage because they get sizable federal tax breaks for doing so and because desirable candidates and employees continue to expect it.  
   - Daily Beast and New York Times


Five Dead in Tennessee Helicopter Crash

Five people were killed after a tourist helicopter crashed near the Smoky Mountains in east Tennessee on Monday, officials said. The Bell 206 sightseeing helicopter was destroyed by fire, according to Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen. It’s unclear what caused the helicopter to crash, but Pigeon Forge Police Department Chief Jack Baldwin said it was one of the worst crashes he’s ever seen. No homes were damaged and no one on the ground was hurt. National Transportation Safety Board investigators were at the scene, a spokesman said.  --CBS News

Haslam college plan passes Senate, heads to his desk

UTThe state Senate voted Monday to approve Gov. Bill Haslam's plan to create independent boards for six public universities in the Board of Regentssystem, essentially ensuring it will become law.

The plan — which is part of the Focus on College and University Success, or FOCUS, Act — won support from 31 senators. Only Sen. Jeff Yarbro, D-Nashville, voted against the plan. Sen. Mark Norris, R-Collierville, who carried the bill for the administration, said the bill represented "history in the making" that would lead to a “brighter future for all Tennesseans."

Lawmakers in the House passed the bill in March — it will head to Haslam's desk in the coming days.  - Tennessean (subscription)


Move Over 'Rocky Top'; Lawmakers Vote To Make The Bible Tennessee's Next Symbol

bibleTennessee lawmakers narrowly approved a proposal to recognize the Holy Bible as the state's official book Monday night, sending the resolution on to Gov. Bill Haslam for final consideration. The move came nearly a year after reservations from Republicans throughout the legislature appeared to derail the proposal, which would make Tennessee the only state in the country to name the Bible as an official symbol.

The measure, House Bill 615, cleared the Senate on a 19-8 vote — just two more than the 17 needed for passage.

Critics called the proposal both unconstitutional and sacrilegious. They also pointed out there are many versions of the Bible, none of which are specified in the resolution. Republican state Sen. Steve Southerland, the ordained minister from Morristown behind the proposal, ducked attempts to pin him down on his motivations. "I can't make it a religious or history book. The Bible is what it is," he said.

Southerland insisted though that the lawyers, including Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery, who have said the proposal is unconstitutional are wrong. He cited the U.S. Supreme Court's 2005 ruling that upheld a display of the Ten Commandments at the Texas Capitol.

Other opponents include the Tennessee chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. Minutes after the vote, it issued a statement calling the plan a "thinly-veiled effort to promote one religion over other religions." The group urged Haslam to veto it.

He has said placing the Bible alongside state symbols like the Tennessee cave salamander and the song "Rocky Top" would be disrespectful. But he's stopped short of promising a veto.  -WPLN


Tennessee Lawmakers Approve $50 Fine For 'Slow Poke' Drivers

slow pokeA bill aimed at "slow pokes" who block the left lane is headed to Gov. Bill Haslam's desk. The so-called Slow Poke Law, House Bill 1416, is meant to make it easier for police to ticket drivers who they deem are impeding traffic by driving too slowly in the passing lane. Such drivers can be fined $50.

Leaked documents show strong business support for raising the minimum wage

Whenever minimum wage increases are proposed on the state or federal level, business groups tend to fight them tooth and nail. But actual opposition may not be as united as the groups' rhetoric might make it appear, according to internal research conducted by a leading consultant 

for state chambers of commerce.

The survey of 1,000 business executives across the country was conducted byLuntzGlobal, the firm run by Republican pollster Frank Luntz, and obtained by a liberal watchdog group called the Center for Media and Democracy. (The slide deck is here, and the full questionnaire is here.) Among the most interesting findings: 80 percent of respondents said they supported raising their state's minimum wage, while only eight percent opposed it.

"That’s where it’s undeniable that they support the increase,” LuntzGlobal managing director David Merritt told state chamber executives in a webinar describing the results, noting that it squares with other polling they’ve done. “And this is universal. If you’re fighting against a minimum wage increase, you’re fighting an uphill battle, because most Americans, even most Republicans, are okay with raising the minimum wage.”

Inside Trump's 'privatized mercenary force'

trump thugsJANESVILLE, Wis. — One night last week, dozens of chanting activists filed into the lobby of a hotel here, demanding that it cancel a Donald Trump town hall set for the following day. Within minutes, three members of Trump’s advance security team were in the lobby, and things escalated quickly.

An official with the Trump advance security team, a 61-year-old former FBI agent named Don Albracht, began circling the room, putting his phone in the faces of protesters and filming them. As they chanted “build communities, not walls,” Albracht ripped a sign out of one protester’s hands, jutting his phone within inches of her face, as her comrades shouted objections.

When some of the protesters tried to return the favor by filming Albracht at close range, one of Albracht’s associates pulled a protester away, screaming at her and wagging a finger in her face, an exchange captured in a video taken by activists with the group Stand Up For Racial Justice.

Neither the Trump campaign nor Albracht would comment on the protest or the role of private security personnel like Albracht on Trump’s campaign. After a Trump speech on Wednesday in Appleton, Wisconsin, Albracht explained “our policy is that we’re not going to comment, because you just never know whether you’re going to get a fair shake.”

The fracas in Janesville was only one example of the aggressive tactics Trump’s security has been using to tamp down even peaceful protests. A POLITICO investigation revealed that Trump has assembled a privately funded security and intelligence force with a far wider reach than other campaigns’ private security operations: tracking and rooting out protesters, patrolling campaign events and supplementing the Secret Service protection of the billionaire real estate showman during his nontraditional campaign for the GOP presidential nomination.

The investigation ― which utilized Federal Election Commission reports, state licensing records, court filings and interview accounts or testimony from more than a dozen people who’ve crossed paths with Trump’s security ― found that the tactics of Trump’s team at times inflamed the already high tensions around his divisive campaign, rather than defusing them.

Trump has taken an active interest in his security at his events, often pointing out protesters for removal from the stage and taunting them as they’re escorted out. But he contended in a previously unreported affidavit filed last month that he didn’t know much about the security operations at his campaign or his company, and, as such, should not be compelled to testify in the pending case related to the September protest.
  - Politico


Thought for the day:

"If you tell the truth, you don't have to remember anything."   - Mark Twain


CPI Buzz April 1, 2016

Delegates ready to flee Trump at contested convention

GOP conventionThe reality of a contested convention has become more real than ever, with Donald Trump facing the risk of losing Wisconsin next week, meaning he’d have to win roughly 60 percent of the remaining delegates to win the Republican presidential nomination outright.

If Trump heads into the convention without the magic number of 1,237, already more than a hundred delegates are poised to break with him on a second ballot, according to interviews with dozens of delegates, delegate candidates, operatives and party leaders.  

In one of starkest examples of Trump’s lack of support, out of the 168 Republican National Committee members — each of whom doubles as a convention delegate — only one publicly supports Trump, and she knows of only a handful of others who support him privately.

Meanwhile, Ted Cruz has been whipping Trump in the quiet, early race to elect his own loyalists to become delegates to the convention, meaning that the Texas senator could triumph through delegates who are freed to vote their own preferences on a second ballot, regardless of who won their state.

“As far as the stealing of the Trump nomination, that’s a big concern for everybody,” said Diana Orrock, the RNC committeewoman from Nevada and the only one of 112 committeemen and women who openly supports Trump. None of the nation’s 56 state and territory GOP chairmen, also convention delegates, have endorsed Trump either. They are subjected to a mix of state-based rules as far as their obligation to back Trump on the first vote.

The risk of a routing at a contested convention is becoming more acute because of Trump’s uncertain standing going into Wisconsin’s primary on Tuesday. Two polls this week showed Cruz 10 points ahead of Trump in the state.

A loss in Wisconsin would hardly be devastating, but it would surely embolden the anti-Trump forces in other states, making his efforts to win the 60 percent of the yet-to-be-awarded delegates to reach the 1,237 figure needed to clinch the nomination outright that much more difficult, according to a POLITICO analysis.

“They’ve got to get their s--- together in Wisconsin,” said a top Trump ally in the South. “If he doesn’t have 1,237, I'd be very concerned with what happens in Cleveland.”  - Politico


U.S. Added Strong 215K Jobs in March

now hiringThe rest of the world economy and Wall Street may have been shaky, but American employers were full steam ahead in March, adding a stronger-than-expected 215,000 jobs, according to new figures Friday from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Average hourly wages rose 0.3 percent, up from the 0.1 percent registered in February. However, the unemployment rate edged up to 5 percent, a slight bump from 4.9 percent a month ago. So far this year, average monthly job gain have averaged out at 209,000.  - Daily Beast

Status of Jeremy Durham investigation remains unclear

durhamWith the General Assembly expected to adjourn before the end of April, Tennessee lawmakers remain uncertain whether Attorney General Herbert Slatery's investigation into Rep. Jeremy Durham will be concluded before the session's completion.

House Speaker Beth Harwell on Thursday said that although she would have liked to have seen a resolution before the assembly's conclusion, she doesn't want to rush Slatery.  - Tennessean (subscription)


Courtenay Rogers to run as Democrat for Glen Casada's House seat

courtenay rogersCourtenay Rogers, a single mother and technology marketing consultant from Franklin, has announced plans to run as a Democrat for the Williamson County state House seat held by Rep. Glen Casada, R-Franklin.

Rogers, a Navy veteran and active parent in the Franklin Special School District, said she picked up petition papers on Friday morning to run for the Democratic nomination for the House District 63 seat.

If she wins the Democratic primary, she would likely face an uphill election battle in November against Casada, who is chairman of the House Republican Caucus and has served in the state legislature since 2001.

In announcing her run, the 38-year-old Rogers accused Casada of bowing to special interests and being unable to represent the entire district.

“It’s very apparent that he does not speak for many of his constituents in Williamson County, including women, including minorities, including really anyone who’s not just like him,” Rogers said. “It’s just very apparent that he’s fueled by special-interest groups and that he votes 100 percent along party lines, and Williamson County, and especially District 63 is not all Republican.

“It is absolutely a time for a change, and it’s time for someone to come in and represent District 63 who has the ability to speak for all of Williamson County, not just a selected few.  - Tennessean (subscription)


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Legislature should stay out of school bathrooms

transgenderNext week, the Tennessee House education committee is planning to reconsider the transgender bathroom bill (HB 2414), just two weeks after voting to spend the summer studying whether schools need a law regulating who uses which bathroom.

The state would benefit from some study and reflection on the matter, and does not need to rush through a law to regulate a problem that does not seem to exist.

Today, our local schools manage requests for bathroom use on a case-by-case basis, and have no reported problems handling transgender issues, according to Metro Schools spokesman Joe Bass.

The bill, as introduced, would amend the Tennessee Code Annotated, Title 49, to require students in public schools and public institutions of higher education to use restrooms and locker rooms that are assigned to persons of the same sex as that shown on the students' birth certificates.

More than two dozen similar bills were filed in state legislatures across the country in the first two months of 2016, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.

When Charlotte passed an ordinance protecting public bathroom access for transgender people, North Carolina’s legislature called itself back to Raleigh for a special session to bring the city back in line. The North Carolina Legislature overturned the Charlotte ordinance and also banned all local governments from passing their own nondiscrimination ordinances. It also passed legislation mandating, like the Tennessee bill, students in the state’s schools use bathrooms corresponding to the gender on their birth certificate. (Additionally, just to emphasize to the state’s cities who is the master, the legislature legislated that cities cannot enact minimum wages higher than the state’s.)

Guerrilla tactics for the culture war?

The Tennessee legislature loves to wade into the American “culture wars” (another recent example is the Holy Bible as the "state book.") The birth certificate bathroom bill seems to be the legislature's participation in a nationwide guerrilla tactic.

When the legislature wades into these battles, what we generally find out is how muddy the issues are.  - Frank Daniels, III - Tennessean Opinion


Tennessee Lawmakers Pledge To Scrutinize Police Seizures Of Cash, Cars And Other Property

moneyTennessee lawmakers are demanding more information from law enforcement about asset seizures. The House voted unanimously Thursday to receive regular reports on how often police are taking property from suspects before trial.

Like many states, Tennessee lets law enforcement seize cash, automobiles and other property they believe have been used to commit a crime. It's then up to the property owner to prove those seized assets weren't used illegally — even when courts determine no crime was committed.  

House Bill 2176 would require the Department of Safety to report to the legislature each year the number of seizure cases opened, the number that also involved arrests, any types of property seized and how much cash was confiscated. The measure comes amid heightened scrutiny of asset seizure laws. Police departments across the country have been accused of abusing such laws, with some using the assets as a major source of revenue.

Critics have complained of lax oversight by judges and ethnic profiling. They've also said seizure laws have been written unfairly, with people whose assets were taken being forced to pay lawyers to reclaim their property — even when police declined to bring any charges.

2014 investigation by WTVF-TV in Nashville raised questions about asset seizure practices along Interstate 40. -WPLN


Tennessee House Votes To Go Tougher On DUI, Easier On Drug Offenders

weedThe Tennessee House of Representatives has approved a plan to lower the legal penalties for repeated drug possession and raise them for driving drunk six times or more. Lawmakers voted 80-7 Thursday to approve House Bill 1478. The proposal was put forward by Sumner County Republican William Lamberth, a former prosecutor. 

He says it'll make sure people with numerous DUIs spend more time behind bars. "And it allows for some mercy (for) those folks that are addicts that unfortunately get caught the third time with simple possession of drugs," Lamberth says.

The plan would turn drug possession into a misdemeanor. That means users — even those convicted three times or more — would receive less than a year in jail.

Meanwhile, people with six DUIs could get up to 15 years in prison. The measure also forces people convicted of carjacking to serve more time.

The state Senate could vote on the proposal next week.  -WPLN



After Being Called Sexist, Governor's Highway Safety Office Getting New Management And A New Name

highway safetyA state agency that came under fire last year for an anti-DUI campaign that was called sexist is being put under new management.

The Governor's Highway Safety Office is being transferred to the Department of Safety and Homeland Security. It's also getting a new name — the Tennessee Highway Safety Office. The agency had been under the state Department of Transportation. It was set up 50 years ago to work with the federal government on safety campaigns. It's perhaps best known for producing anti-drunk driving commercials.

But last year the office was criticized for a guerrilla marketing campaign aimed at young men. The agency distributed coasters in bars with messages like a warning not to buy a drink for the boss's "chatty," "clingy," "marginally good-looking" daughter.

The office withdrew the coasters and said it hadn't wished to offend anyone.  -WPLN


Shelby County Schools make up majority of state schools in the bottom 10 percent of academic performance

shelby county schoolsOf the 168 schools that make up the bottom 10 percent in academic performance in the state, 56 percent are located in Shelby County, according to new data acquired by The Commercial Appeal this week.

Those 95 schools include 54 in the bottom 5 percent — a designation with legal ramifications that allows the state's Achievement School District to take over.

The Tennessee Department of Education issues its official priority list of bottom 5 percent schools every three years, with the next edition set for the summer of 2017. The bottom 10 percent list, provided to the newspaper by the state, is an unofficial warning to local districts about schools that are struggling and could soon be eligible for state takeover.

Of the 95 schools, 11 are under the ASD, 13 are charters and the remaining 71 are operated by SCS. A school had to have at least two year's worth of data to make the list, which is why several ASD schools new to the district are not represented. Some schools may have closed last year but still had two years' worth of data that was included.

Shelby County Schools Chief of Academics Heidi Ramirez said it's no surprise that so many schools in the bottom 10 percent in the state are located in Shelby County.

"I hope it is a call to action for folks to recognize that as much great work as we're doing in Shelby County Schools, on the resource trajectory we are on, we need additional supports to accelerate progress," Ramirez said. The district is already facing an $86 million budget gap for next year.  - Memphis Commercial Appeal

The Obamas: Refusing to give in to the haters after years of threats and abuse

obama easter eggThe most popular license in America now?

A license to hate.

And one of the most popular targets is President Obama, the country’s first African American commander-in-chief.

It’s no secret that America’s first family has received an unprecedented number of threats over the past seven years.

But the fever pitch of hate and bile toward the president and his family have taken an even sharper tone thanks to the primordial swamp that is the current presidential campaign. It’s impossible to utter a single word about the White House, the first family or the president without a blast from the fire hose of haterade. I can see it in my email inbox.

A column about the White House Easter egg roll?

“So when is Obama to be killed?” another emailer wondered.

This was in response to Easter eggs, remember.

Disagree with Obama’s politics and policies, sure. That’s how it’s supposed to work. But there is a viciousness, a racist edge to the hate-speak that echoes the darkest days of American history.

And as Trump publicly mulls punishing women who have abortions, prattles on about his hand size and stages a nasty fight with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) over who has the hotter wife, he’s reminding a lot of Americans of what they admire about Obama.

Last week, Obama’s approval rating edged up to 53 percent, according to Gallup. His predecessor had a 32 percent rating at this time in his presidency. For someone who has been attacked the way Obama has, for a father and husband who has endured verbal assaults and physical threats to his family, the president’s demeanor has been dignified.

There have been dozens of people indicted on charges of threatening to harm him since he took office. In 2011, a gunman fired at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. from Constitution Avenue and at least seven bullets struck the White House when Sasha Obama and her grandmother, Marian Robinson, were home. Three years later, a fence jumper armed with a knife actually made it inside the mansion before being tackled by an off-duty Secret Service agent.

Sources in the security community told Washington Post reporter Juliet Eilperin that when he took office, Obama received triple the number of threats that previous presidents faced during the election and his first year in office.

Both the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center have seen huge jumps in threats against the president and the formation of hate groups during the past seven years.

Scary stuff. Yet while partisan politics deadlocks a crucial Supreme Court nomination and election-season rancor flares on both sides of the aisle, the Obamas refuse to give in to the ugly behavior and rhetoric around them.

The insults aren’t met with insults. The bile is not returned with vile responses.

The first family looks forward, past the haters. They embody respect that the highest office in the land deserves. And they are teaching a powerful lesson in class and civility to a country that sorely needs it.  - Petula Devorak, The Washington Post

 Happy Thursday!

min wage



CPI Buzz March 31, 2016

Trump: If abortions are banned, women who seek them should face ‘punishment’

trump abortionAPPLETON, Wis. — Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump came under fire Wednesday for saying that women should be subject to “some sort of punishment” for undergoing illegal abortions, a position that antiabortion and abortion rights groups alike emphatically denounced.

The GOP front-runner said during a pre-taped town hall hosted by MSNBC that criminal punishments would be appropriate for women seeking abortions if the procedure were made illegal nationwide.  Moderator Chris Matthews pressed Trump on the practical implications of banning abortions. “This is not something you can dodge. If you say abortion is a crime or abortion is murder, you have to deal with it under the law. Should abortion be punished?" Matthews said.

"The answer is that there has to be some form of punishment," Trump responded. "There has to be some form.” The real estate mogul repeatedly stated during the interview that he is antiabortion but did not weigh in on what specific punishments women would face if abortions were illegal.

The Republican front-runner faces a growing problem with women voters, which has emerged as a pressing concern for Republican leaders already aware of the party’s trouble with that demographic. Polling has shown Trump sliding heavily among women in recent months; his favorability rating among women has dropped 10 percentage points since November, standing now at 23 percent, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll taken this month. His unfavorable number is at 75 percent among women.

Trump’s critics — Republican and Democratic alike — have said they think the way he speaks about women is misogynistic and reduces them to their appearance. They point to his ongoing feud with Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly, whom he has repeatedly chastised in unusually personal terms. Those tensions flared again last week during a nasty fight with Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, his chief rival for the Republican nomination, after Trump retweeted an unflattering photo of Cruz's wife that compared her to Trump's wife, Melania, a former model. - Washington Post

Haslam abortion bill advances

planned parenthoodThe final piece of Gov. Bill Haslam's legislative agenda advanced in a House committee on Wednesday. The legislation pertains to bolstering reporting requirements for the disposition of fetal remains. The measure also would prohibit any form of reimbursement for any cost associated with shipping an aborted fetus or fetal remains.

In addition, the abortion-related measure would establish a mandatory interim assessment process for an ambulatory surgical treatment center that annually performs more than 50 abortions.

Haslam introduced the legislation in January in light of last year's release of a series of secretly taped conversations involving Planned Parenthood executives regarding fetal tissue.

In January, Planned Parenthood was cleared of any wrongdoing, while the two individuals who made the undercover videos were indicted by a grand jury in Houston. The announcement came just days after Haslam announced his legislative agenda. Since then, Jeff Teague, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Middle and East Tennessee, said his organization had been working with Haslam about its concerns regarding the fetal remains bill.

In mid-March Teague told The Tennessean he was particularly concerned about the requirement that doctors would have to discuss disposal methods with women seeking an abortion. "We think that's not appropriate," he said, adding that women seeking abortions are in an emotionally sensitive time.

Teague said much of what is actually in Haslam's bill is standard practice and procedure today. "Here in Tennessee we have never participated in a tissue donation program," pointing out the organization has complied with all state and federal guidelines regarding fetal remains.

Haslam's fetal remains bill has to go through one more House committee before it can be sent to the chamber's floor. The full Senate is scheduled to vote on the measure Thursday.  - Tennessean (subscription)

Senate committee kills de-annexation bill for now

memphisNASHVILLE — A full-court press by the mayors of three of the state's largest cities backed by Memphis business leaders led a state Senate committee Wednesday to defer action on the controversial municipal de-annexation bill to 2017.

After spending hours last week and this week hearing testimony for and against the bill and reviewing more than a dozen amendments, the Senate State & Local Government Committee voted 5-3 to send the bill to "summer study" for further examination after the current legislative session ends in late April.

That kills the bill for this year. And because 2017 is the start of a new two-year legislative term, the 110th General Assembly, the bill will have to start all over. It was a stunning reversal for a bill that appeared to be en route to passage after several compromise amendments were adopted by the committee Tuesday. The overall bill would allow residents of areas annexed into cities and towns to petition for referendums within those areas on whether they could separate from their cities.    - Memphis Commercial Appeal

Clinton email probe enters new phase as FBI interviews loom

emailFederal prosecutors investigating the possible mishandling of classified materials on Hillary Clinton’s private email server have begun the process of setting up formal interviews with some of her longtime and closest aides, according to two people familiar with the probe, an indication that the inquiry is moving into its final phases.

Those interviews and the final review of the case, however, could still take many weeks, all but guaranteeing that the investigation will continue to dog Clinton’s presidential campaign through most, if not all, of the remaining presidential primaries.

No dates have been set for questioning the advisors, but a federal prosecutor in recent weeks has called their lawyers to alert them that he would soon be doing so, the sources said. Prosecutors also are expected to seek an interview with Clinton herself, though the timing remains unclear.  

Many legal experts believe that Clinton faces little risk of being prosecuted for using the private email system to conduct official business when she served as secretary of State, though that decision has raised questions among some about her judgment. They noted that using a private email system was not banned at the time, and others in government had used personal email to transact official business.  

While she is not likely to face legal jeopardy, the emails could cause some political heartburn when the aides are questioned. However, short of an indictment or an explosive revelation, the controversy is not likely to alter the overall dynamics of the primary race or general election, political observers said.

"This is clearly disruptive to the campaign,” said Mark Mellman, a Democratic pollster. “It will take her off message and coverage about important aides being questioned is not coverage you'd like to have. However, this issue is largely dismissed by Democratic primary voters and baked into the cake for the general electorate.”   - Los Angeles Times


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Nation’s Longest Serving Medicaid Director — Darin Gordon — To Step Down From His Tennessee Job

darin gordonThe man who led the state's Medicaid program through painful cuts and an equally controversial plan to expand is leaving this summer. With 10 years on the job, Darin Gordon is the nation's longest-serving Medicaid director. But he says a decade at the helm of TennCare is long enough.

Gordon was picked to lead TennCare by Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen in 2006. His start came at a tumultuous time. The Medicaid agency was sorting through the 2005 decision to cut 170,000 adults from the rolls. Gordon's handling of the matter led Republican Bill Haslam to keep him on when he took over the governor's mansion.

"Everyone who knew about TennCare, that I respected, came to me after I was elected and said if you have any sense at all — they said that with some bit of doubt — if you have any sense at all, you will keep Darin Gordon in that job." Haslam says Gordon brought stability to TennCare. Gordon was also one of the principal architects and spokesmen for Insure Tennessee, Haslam's plan to expand Medicaid.

Gordon says the failure of that program to get legislative backing wasn't a factor in his decision to step down. He also hasn't found a job after TennCare. It was simply that the demands of the leading the agency were tough, Gordon says. "The 24/7 responsibilities of service have not always been easy on my family, and for that I'm sorry."

Gordon's last day will be June 30.   - WPLN


EPA drops complaint against Rep. Andy Holt - forced to comply with "order of consent"

andy holtThe Environmental Protection Agency has dropped its complaint against Rep. Andy Holt, R-Dresden, according to a news release.

According to documents from the EPA released last year, Holt received an administrative complaint from the agency in August. Included in the complaint was a possible civil penalty up to $177,500.

According to the complaint, Holt's northwestern Tennessee hog farm discharged a total of more than 860,000 gallons of wastewater from lagoons into a nearby creek without proper authorization. In the complaint the EPA had said the discharge violated the Clean Water Act.

Holt has said he self-reported the overflow after heavy rainfall.

The EPA withdrew the filing after Holt agreed to an order of consent on the closure of two lagoons on his property. The agency reserved the right to refile the complaint if Holt fails to comply with the order.

Holt said Wednesday that he was thankful for the people who stood by him and his family. He also took a swipe at how various media outlets reported on his situation.

“I suppose what I find most interesting about this whole situation is how the media took it upon themselves to play jury and executioner,” Holt said. “Multiple outlets made claims that the EPA had fined me hundreds of thousands of dollars. Obviously, none of that is true.”


Trump’s 24 hours of mayhem

trump chaosDonald Trump yanked the Republican Party toward a contested convention over the past 24 hours as he let rip an extraordinary series of statements on abortion, the Geneva Conventions, violence against women and his own commitment to supporting the GOP presidential nominee that seemed to obliterate the notion that the party will unite behind him anytime soon.

The fallout for Trump has been swift, as Republican rivals denounced the real estate mogul’s escalating attacks on a reporter who accused Trump’s campaign manager of battery and his suggestion that women should be punished for seeking abortions if the procedure is outlawed — a statement Trump quickly tried to walk back.

He also freshly rankled leading Republicans around the country for tearing up his previous pledge to support the eventual nominee, saying Tuesday night that “we’ll see who it is.”

The series of events gave mainstream Republicans new hope that they could prevent him from winning the nomination outright through pledged delegates. But they're also more worried than ever about a fractured party heading into the fall.

“Trump is an embarrassment for the party. He’s not a conservative, he’s not a Republican, he’s someone who’s simply for himself,” said Ryan Williams, a GOP consultant and veteran of Mitt Romney’s campaigns. “He’s set a new standard and is going to give a number of Republicans pause about supporting him if he’s the nominee. That’s Donald Trump’s fault and Donald Trump’s fault alone.”

Trump created yet another firestorm on Wednesday afternoon, when he lamented the existence of the Geneva Conventions. “The problem is we have the Geneva Conventions, all sorts of rules and regulations, so the soldiers are afraid to fight,” Trump said at an afternoon town hall.

But it was his comments regarding women — both his suggestion about criminalizing abortion and his escalating attacks on Breitbart journalist Michelle Fields — that set off the loudest alarm bells.

In a sign of how damaging his comments on abortion were, Trump swiftly reversed himself. The controversy started when MSNBC’s Chris Matthews pressed Trump on his statement that abortion “is a very serious problem, and it’s a problem we have to decide on. Are you going to send them to jail?”

After Matthews tried to draw him out on what should happen if abortions are outlawed, Trump responded, “There has to be some form of punishment.”

Bipartisan criticism was immediate, with Hillary Clinton calling the comment “horrific and telling” and Republican rival John Kasich strongly disputing Trump's assertion: “Absolutely not.”

The Trump campaign went into damage control mode, emailing out a clarifying statement. “If Congress were to pass legislation making abortion illegal and the federal courts upheld this legislation, or any state were permitted to ban abortion under state and federal law, the doctor or any other person performing this illegal act upon a woman would be held legally responsible, not the woman,” Trump said in the statement. “The woman is a victim in this case as is the life in her womb. My position has not changed — like Ronald Reagan, I am pro-life with exceptions.”

The statement on abortion compounded his inflammatory comments about Fields, the former reporter who accused Trump’s campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, of roughly yanking her arm as she tried to ask Trump a question earlier this month. Lewandowski was charged with misdemeanor battery on Tuesday.

On Wednesday, Trump stoked the controversy by accusing Fields of provoking Lewandowski in the incident and brandishing a pen as she tried to talk to him.

“Fox & Friends” co-host Brian Kilmeade challenged Trump on his account of the incident Wednesday morning, saying that campaign managers like Lewandowski "should not be putting their hands on reporters." He added, "Karl Rove didn’t do it. David Plouffe didn’t do it, David Axelrod didn’t do it. That’s why you have Secret Service, and that’s why you have your own security.”

Trump shot back, speculating that perhaps the three campaign managers had. “OK, and you don’t know that they didn’t do it, because I guarantee you they did, probably did stuff that was more physical than this," he said. "More physical, because this is not even physical. And frankly, she shouldn’t have her hands on me. Nobody says that. But she shouldn’t have her hands on me.”

While Trump has become a master at firing off controversial comments and earning kudos from his core supporters for his disregard for political correctness, the real estate mogul is making little headway in his recently stated goal of convincing the Republican Party to unify behind him as the front-runner.

Trump has a large lead over rival Ted Cruz in the delegate race, 736 to the Texas senator’s 463, but it’s not clear whether he’ll be able to secure the 1,237 delegates needed to clinch the nomination before the July convention. Poll numbers out Wednesday for Wisconsin’s primary next week were not encouraging for the real estate mogul. The survey from Marquette Law School, the state’s most reliable pollster, showed Cruz with a 10-point lead over Trump.

And the front-runner is winning few converts among centrist Republicans. At one point earlier this year, some on Capitol Hill and among the lobbyist crowd on K Street entertained the idea that Trump would be preferable to Cruz.

They had considered Trump someone with whom they could cut deals, and questioned whether he really believed the fiery rhetoric he employed on the stump. But his repudiation on Tuesday night of his promise to support the eventual GOP nominee — on top of a string of other controversial statements he's made over the past few weeks — made many Republicans deeply uncomfortable, making unity an even more unlikely prospect.

“As head of the party, it is disturbing for anybody — not necessarily Trump — saying that they may or may not support our nominee,” said Diana Waterman, chairwoman of the Maryland GOP. “At the end of it, we’re supposed to all come together. That includes the people who were not successful in getting there.”

Another party chairman from a state with an upcoming primary, who requested anonymity to share reservations about Trump, said his theatrics take the party’s focus off members' shared rejection of Clinton and Bernie Sanders.

“Unfortunately it seems that whenever Mr. Trump is worried he may not become the Republican nominee, he makes these sorts of comments,” the chairman said. “My concern about his latest comments is that it will only make it harder for him to convince longtime loyal grass-roots Republicans of his sincerity and to persuade them to rally behind his candidacy. All of the Republican candidates must always first consider the best interest of this country and not hurt feelings.”

But there is also risk to Republican leaders in being openly hostile to Trump. In a contested convention scenario, there is no guarantee that Trump supporters would get in line behind another candidate should the real estate mogul fall short, particularly if they feel that he has been treated unfairly by the party — and Trump has already claimed mistreatment. 

“How things are conducted going forward matters, and I’m really personally counting on our party leadership to set an example and come together,” said Steve Munisteri, former chairman of the Republican Party of Texas. Munisteri said that if Trump ultimately wins the nomination, he would expect supporters of Cruz and Kasich to put aside their differences and back him, regardless of what the candidates themselves do. But, he acknowledged, Trump backers are less predictable and could set the stage for a deeply damaging moment for the Republican Party.

There is also always the threat of a third-party bid, either from Trump himself if he doesn’t clinch the GOP nomination, or from another candidate brought in as an alternative to Trump, though Republicans well-versed in party rules note that there is limited time, and ballot access constraints could keep that headache in check.

But as the convention nears with Trump still leading the pack, despite his fiery statements, the Republican Party’s soul-searching will become even more dire. 

“I don’t envy my friends at the [Republican National Committee] right now,” said Williams, the Romney veteran. “It’s going to be a difficult task for the RNC to try to bring the party together.”  - Politico


Thought for the day:

"Nobody will ever deprive the American people of the right to vote except the American people themselves and the only way they could do this is by not voting."   -- Franklin Delano Roosevelt


CPI Buzz March 30, 2016

All three Republican presidential candidates back away from pledge to support eventual nominee

gop candsJANESVILLE, Wis. — None of the three remaining Republican presidential candidates would guarantee Tuesday night that they would support the eventual GOP nominee for president, departing from previous vows to do so and injecting new turmoil into an already-tumultuous contest.

Mogul Donald Trump, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich were each given a chance during a CNN town hall in Milwaukee to definitively state they would support the nominee. All three declined to renew their pledge. As recently as March 3, in a Fox News debate, all three said they would support the nominee.

“No, I don’t anymore,” Trump told CNN’s Anderson Cooper, when asked if he remains committed to the pledge. Trump said that he would instead wait to see who emerges as the nominee before promising his support, recanting the pledge he previously signed with the Republican Party.

“I have been treated very unfairly,” Trump added.

Trump and his team have braced for the possibility of a contested convention in recent weeks, as opposing forces have set their sights on denying him the nomination by preventing him from crossing the necessary delegate threshold.

Trump said Tuesday that he believes establishment Republicans and the Republican National Committee in particular have not treated him with respect.
   - Washington Post


Tennessee Comptroller: $11.4M in questionable DHS costs

DHSThe Department of Human Services is again under scrutiny, after a third audit in two weeks by the Comptroller revealed widespread management problems — and $11.4 million in questionable spending in the last fiscal year.

Most of the spending questioned in Tuesday's audit involved food programs for low-income kids. The programs have been pored over by lawmakers and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and have been the subject of an ongoing Tennessean investigation. Last week, the Comptroller issued two separate reports on private agencies now under criminal investigation for pocketing tens of thousands of dollars in food program funds that never made it to children.

The $80 million food program is intended to provide meals and snacks to kids who lack access to nutritious food in Tennessee, where one in five children is at risk for hunger. The funds come from the federal government, but DHS is responsible for overseeing the programs. DHS contracts with private agencies, providing the money for food purchases distributed in child care centers, after-school and recreational programs.

Tuesday's audit called into question more than 10 percent of the food program's annual operating budget, based only on a review of a small sample of private agencies participating. The audit described multiple violations of federal regulations and basic accounting practices, including a lack of documentation for monies spent on food, a lack of verification that the agencies DHS contracts with are eligible to participate in the food programs and staffing shortages at DHS that threatened its ability to provide oversight and prevent potential fraud, waste and abuse.  - Tennessean (subscription)



GOP lawmaker questions Haslam’s secret $30M development deal

haslamA state senator on Tuesday questioned fellow Republican Gov. Bill Haslam's proposal to earmark $30 million for an undisclosed economic development project in Tennessee. Sen. Bill Ketron of Murfreesboro cited state money spent on problematic economic development deals, including a shuttered polysilicon plant in Clarksville, a West Tennessee solar farm that still isn't operational, and a facility to study converting switchgrass to fuel that has been moved to Iowa.

"We continue year after year, and even going back to the prior administration, laying out large chunks of money for what we think might occur," Ketron said. "And they don't seem to materialize." State Finance Commissioner Larry Martin declined to elaborate on the development prospect other than to describe it as an "exciting project" during a Senate Finance Committee meeting.

The state routinely makes offers — and the Legislature rarely rejects — grants to companies that build new facilities or grow existing ones in Tennessee. Recent incentive money has gone to big projects like the new Hankook Tire plant in Clarksville and expansions of the Nissan plant in Smyrna or Volkswagen in Chattanooga.

Clint Brewer, a spokesman for the state Department of Economic and Community Development, noted that Tennessee has had a "claw-back provision" on the books since 2012 that allows the state to recoup incentive money if companies don't fulfil their investment or hiring promises.

"This administration has used capital project grants in previous budgets to allow the state to compete for high-profile economic development projects," Brewer said in an email.

State and local governments have poured nearly $900 million into the VW project since the company announced it would locate its lone U.S. plant there in 2008. Tennessee's incentive package to Volkswagen included everything from infrastructure and construction grants, tax credits and training funding to a "Volkswagen Chattanooga" sign on the roof of the plant that stretches the length of more than two football fields.

But Volkswagen has since drawn the ire of some legislative Republicans because of what they have perceived as the German automaker's failure to do enough to shut out unionization efforts at the plant. More recently, the state's investment have come into question because the diesel emissions cheating scandal that has engulfed the company.   - Memphis Commercial Appeal


Old Hickory Quarry Dispute Pits Congressman Against Army Corps General

cooperA limestone rock quarry in Old Hickory has prompted protests, new laws and even alawsuit to try to block it. Now the fight has shifted — to whether blasting would damage the nearby Old Hickory Dam.

It made for a testy news conference Tuesday when Army Corps Brigadier General Rick Kaiser came to Old Hickory to tour the dam with Congressman Jim Cooper, D-Nashville.

They had already traded editorials in The Tennessean (read Cooper’s here and Kaiser’s here).

Greeting the general’s arrival were a line of protesters with hand-painted signs on the one narrow road that leads to the lock and dam, as well as an adjacent beach and recreation area.

At a podium at the water’s edge, Cooper went first.

“It seems to be nearly unanimous, on a bipartisan basis, that the elected leaders of Davidson County think this proposed quarry is not just a bad idea but a terrible idea,” he said. “No one really knows … the risk of blasting near the levee.” 

Cooper wants Kaiser to intervene for the dam’s sake. But the high-ranking civil engineer and explosives expert — dressed in camouflage fatigues — said emotions were getting in the way of scientific evidence.

“Sometimes good science just doesn’t brief well,” Kaiser said. “My main priority is, number one, the safety of this structure known as Old Hickory, and the safety of those who are affected by this project.” Kasier and Cooper debated back and forth on soil quality, ground vibrations, the potential for flying rocks and even the history of the dam — and no matter the detail, they did not agree. There were several insinuations — and some barbs — all proffered from the podium as the other stood just a few feet away.  

The exchange escalated when state Rep. Bill Beck cast doubt on the general’s visit, reminding the crowd of the 2010 flood. “I’m not sure really what we’re doing here today besides the general telling us, ‘There’s nothing to worry about,’ just like they told us six years ago when we flooded downtown Nashville and down stream,” Beck said. “This is the same crew that told us there’s nothing to worry about at that time.”

“If that dam breaks, Nashville’s not gonna have a chance,” said neighbor Ronnie Baker. “They ain’t gonna get a fair warning about nothing. It’s going to be a bigger flood than the 2010 flood was.”  - WPLN

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Tennessee Senate committee approves Bible bill

A bill that would make the Holy Bible the official book of Tennessee was given approval in a legislative committee on Tuesday. With a 7-1 vote, the Senate Judiciary Committee advanced the legislation, sponsored bySen. Steve Southerland, R-Morristown.

bibleWhile the measure received approval in the House with a 55-38 vote last year, the effort was curtailed in the Senate, which opted to send it to committee.
Gov. Bill Haslam and Attorney General Herbert Slatery expressed opposition to the bill last year. The attorney general said the legislation violates the state and federal constitutions.

Senate leaders, including Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, previously expressed hesitancy to adopt the measure. When the bill was discussed last year, Ramsey said it would be fiscally irresponsible to have the state spend tax dollars to defend the legislation in court.

Tennessee's Bible bill attracted national attention last year because relatively few states have taken similar steps. Mississippi lawmakers considered a Bible bill this year but the effort died in February. Last year, officials in Louisiana took up their version of the Bible bill but it failed for lack of support.

With the judiciary committee's action, the measure heads to the calendar committee which will decide when to send the bill back the Senate floor.
  - Tennessean (subscription)


Tennessee virtual, traditional school costs hard to compare

school moneyDifferences among the state's virtual schools make it difficult to compare costs between virtual and traditional schools, according to a virtual school funding report released Tuesday.

The state's nine virtual schools vary greatly in funding, size and  and full- and part-time enrollment of students and employees, unlike traditional schools with set funding and full-time students.

The state comptroller report, which drew no conclusions about cost differences, comes nearly five years after a state law enabled school districts to establish virtual schools.

School districts can contract with for-profit providers to provide online services, provide their virtual school with its own annual budget or include a line item amount in the general school district budget for their virtual school.

Virtual schools, like traditional schools, receive a combination of state and local funds. The percent of state funds a school receives can be impacted by enrollment. Schools receive state funds, for example, if an out-of-district student enrolls in a virtual school full-time.

Only two schools, Robertson County Virtual School and Tennessee Virtual Academy, contract services with a for-profit entity.  - Tennessean (subscription)

Police body camera bill dies in House committee

body cameraNASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A controversial proposal that would have sealed off police body camera footage from the public is dead for the year.

Supporters said the measure would protect privacy rights of bystanders, victims and even police officers. Public records advocates said they had no interest in getting bystander or crime victim recordings and thought citizens should have access to records in cases where police were alleged to have used unnecessary force or to have violated their own department’s policies. It’s not clear how many police agencies in the state use body cams.

The measure, which was sponsored by Franklin Republican Rep. Glen Casada was supposed to be in place for a year. The matter was sent Tuesday to be studied after the legislative session.  - Knoxville News Sentinel

Trump sticking by his campaign manager despite battery charge

lewandowskiRepublican presidential front-runner Donald Trump defended his campaign manager as a “very decent man” Tuesday, hours after the staffer was charged with battery in Florida for allegedly grabbing a reporter and yanking her away from Trump.


Corey Lewandowski, 42, faces one misdemeanor count of battery as a result of the March 8 incident. He voluntarily went to police headquarters in Jupiter, Fla., and signed paperwork ordering him to appear in court May 4.


The police also released a video of the primary-night news conference, taken from the security cameras at Trump’s own golf club. It directly contradicted what Trump and Lewandowski said about the incident in the past. They had asserted that Lewandowski never touched the reporter, Michelle Fields. In the video, he does — grabbing her hard enough to pull her backward.

In the past, campaign staffers have been fired for far less. But Trump did not dismiss Lewandowski on Tuesday, and neither apologized. “I don’t discard people. I stay with people,” Trump said.

It was an extreme example of Trump’s approach to campaigning, one apparently based on the idea that the only mistake in politics is to apologize.

In this case, that approach seems to have backfired: By refusing to admit any fault, Trump and Lewandowski appeared to have transformed the grab of an arm into a weeks-long controversy, a criminal charge and a TV-ready illustration of how they have disregarded the truth.

As the day went on, Trump offered increasingly strident defenses of Lewandowski. All ran counter to his earlier statements that the contact never occurred. Trump conceded that Lewandowski had touched Fields but implied that it was Fields’s fault for “grabbing” at the candidate — although the photo Trump posted didn’t show a grab but rather the reporter brushing the candidate with the back of her hand.

Then Trump wondered whether he could file charges against the reporter. And then, at the end of the day, Trump was back to implying that Fields had lied about the incident — if the grab was as bad as she said, he said, why hadn’t she screamed?

Fields did not reply to a request for comment Tuesday. She resigned from Breitbart on March 14 after the news organization raised questions about whether Lewandowski had actually grabbed her. On Twitter, she responded Tuesday to one of Trump’s messages by saying, “Seriously, just stop lying.”

In the meantime, however, Trump’s hard-edged — and increasingly personal — approach to politics seems to be alienating the broader electorate he would need in a general election. Sixty-seven percent of Americans said they had an unfavorable impression of Trump in a Washington Post-ABC News poll this month, surpassing the highest negative marks for any presidential candidate in more than three decades of Post-ABC polling.  - Washington Post

Obama Announces New Measures to Combat Heroin, Painkiller Abuse

obamaATLANTA—President Barack Obama announced new steps Tuesday to combat a deadly epidemic of heroin and painkiller abuse in the U.S., including improving access to drug-treatment programs and expanding distribution of a drug that can reverse overdoses.

“When you look at the staggering statistics in terms of lives lost, productivity impacted, cost to communities—most importantly, cost to families—from this epidemic of opioid abuse, it has to be something that is right up there at the top of our radar screen,” said Mr. Obama, appearing in a panel discussion at the National Rx Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit here. The gathering of more than 1,800 counselors, health and law-enforcement officials, and others is billed as the largest summit aimed at addressing the opioid crisis.

“Because it’s having an impact on so many people…we’re seeing a bipartisan interest in addressing this problem,” he said. “But frankly, we’re still under-resourced.”

Among the new measures the Obama administration outlined was stepped-up enforcement of laws that require health plans’ coverage of mental-health and substance-abuse treatment to be comparable to medical and surgical benefits. A new rule by the Department of Health and Human Services will improve access to drug treatment for people enrolled in Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program by requiring such parity. The move is expected to benefit more than 23 million people, according to the White House.  - Wall Street Journal

 And a little something for your "Hump-Day"  - 





CPI Buzz, March 29, 2016

U.S. Capitol shooting: Antioch suspect has troubled legal past

capitol shootingThe Nashville-area man shot by police Monday after allegedly wielding a gun at the U.S. Capitol has had multiple brushes with the law in recent years, including in Washington, D.C., where he was arrested last fall after proclaiming himself "a prophet of God" inside the House of Representatives.

Larry Russell Dawson, 66, of Antioch is known locally as a onetime funeral director who lost his license, a Williamson school bus driver fired for harassing a teenage girl and a self-styled church pastor who launched a fundraising campaign in the name of raising the federal minimum wage. Dawson was transported to a local hospital Monday after he was shot by U.S. Capitol Police.

His condition is unknown, according to USCP Chief Matthew R. Verderosa, who noted that Dawson had been known to frequent the Capitol grounds. 
 - Tennessean (subscription)

Senate approves bill prohibiting affordable housing mandates

affordable housingA bill to prohibit cities from adopting a policy that would mandate affordable housing to be included in new residential projects was given approval in the Senate on Monday.

The legislation would prevent cities from requiring companies to have a certain percentage of existing or newly constructed residential units be reserved for affordable housing.

The Senate's action comes as poverty advocates in Nashville were pushing for the city to adopt such a policy, which is frequently known as mandatory inclusionary zoning.

Sen. Jeff Yarbro, D-Nashville, who attempted to amend the bill, criticized the legislation, arguing that it attempts to pick "winners and losers."
  - Tennessean (subscription)

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Billionaires Try to Buy the Supreme Court

follow the moneyRepublicans say ‘let the people decide’ the next justice, but plutocrats are helping them block Merrick Garland so they can place a conservative on the bench.

“Let the people decide” is the refrain of Republicans opposed to holding hearings for Supreme Court nominee Judge Merrick Garland, but they’re being bankrolled by an anonymous collection of billionaires—1 percenters so cowardly that they’re hiding behind tax laws to avoid revealing their identities.

Case in point: the “Judicial Crisis Network,” the right-wing front organization doing ad buys across the country to oppose Judge Garland getting a hearing. JCN is one of many 501(c)(4) “social welfare” organizations on the right and the left, and C4s don’t have to disclose their donors.That is the major reason that political spending by c4sincreased more than 8,000 percent between 2004 and 2012.

That doesn’t mean we don’t know anything about C4’s like JCN, however. Thanks to a 2015 investigation by the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics, we do know it was started in 2005 (as the “Judicial Confirmation network” meant to promote Bush’s judicial appointees ) by a group of arch-conservatives including Ann Corkery. Corkery isn’t listed on the JCN’s website, perhaps because the group doesn’t want “the people” to know she is also member of the far-right, literally self-flagellating Catholic order Opus Dei; a former director of Bill Donohue’s ultra-right Catholic League; and a board member of Hobby Lobby’s law firm, The Becket Fund, although her bio has been removed from Becket’s website too.

In other words, the leading opponents of Judge Garland’s confirmation aren’t citizens concerned about democracy, but a front organization started by a secretive religious extremist and funded by anonymous members of the Koch brothers’ network. Let the people decide, indeed.

The further one digs into this miasma of hypocrisy, wealth, and secrecy, the more incestuous it all becomes. For example, it turns out, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, that Neil Corkery, in addition to JCN, was also “president of its allied Judicial Education Project, and executive director of a charity called the Sudan Relief Fund, all of which paid him salaries; but he also drew paychecks from at least four other organizations: the anti-gay union National Organization for Marriage, ActRight Action, the Catholic Association Foundation, and Catholic Voices. His total earnings were almost $450,000 and his weekly workload was 105 hours in the first half of 2012.” He is also linked to the C4 group called the Annual Fund, itself launched in 2010 with a $2.4 million grant from Wellspring.

Sometimes the “vast, right-wing conspiracy” isn’t really that vast.

It is, however, deeply hypocritical. If the mantra of the anti-Garland crowd is “let the people decide,” why won’t they let the people know who they are? Why the layers of obfuscation and secrecy? If the Wellspring Committee funders really care about democracy, they’ll stop hiding behind tax regulations and shell corporations, and proudly disclose who they are and what they want to do.

Unless, of course, they know the people would decide to run them out of Washington.  - The Daily Beast

Federal report: Expanding Medicaid improves access to addiction, mental-health services

insure TNUp to 114,000 mentally ill or drug-addicted Tennesseans could receive help if the state expanded Medicaid, a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reportsays.

On Monday afternoon, the federal government released the report, which looks at the mental health benefits to states that have already expanded Medicaid and attempts to predict the potential effects on states that haven't yet expanded Medicaid.

In Tennessee, about 280,000 people now make too much to qualify for TennCare but not enough to receive subsidies to help them pay for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act's marketplace. Under the original legislation, those people would have been covered by an expansion of state Medicaid programs, but the U.S. Supreme Court then ruled that the federal government could not force states to expand their Medicaid programs.

But states that expand Medicaid, for which the federal government will pay 100 percent through the end of this year and then phase down to 90 percent by 2020, "have an important opportunity to fund … the most important tools" in fighting opiate abuse and other substance-abuse and mental-health issues, said Richard Frank, assistant secretary for planning and evaluation for HHS. That includes medication-assisted drug treatment and intensive therapy, he added.

Tennessee is among 20 states that have continued to opt out of expansion. Gov. Bill Haslam proposed an alternative, Insure Tennessee, that the federal government has approved, but it has stalled in the House and Senate, with legislators arguing that there is no guarantee the cost will not overwhelm the state.

But Frank said in other states, the cost of expansion was less than the cost of uncompensated care to hospitals that gets passed on to taxpayers and the insured. Haslam's plan, which has the support of the Tennessee Hospital Association, uses a tax on hospitals to pick up expansion costs where federal funds leave off. The program would end if either the federal government or the hospitals fail to pay their parts.

Federal numbers show more than 1 million Tennesseans had mental illnesses or substance-use disorders (or, often, both) in 2014. Of those, 270,000 had no insurance, and 114,000 of those had an income below at least 138 percent of the federal poverty level, the cutoff to qualify for Medicaid under the expansion — about $16,000 a year for one person or $27,000 for a family of four.

About 85 percent of uninsured families have at least one person working, the federal government said — about 73 percent have at least one full-time worker. Early intervention and access to services is better for business, Frank said.

"If left untreated, (mental illnesses) become more debilitating over time," Frank said. "By giving (people) an easy door into treatment, you have a chance at really improving their productivity. …

"There are huge economic gains and huge human gains that occur as a part of expansion."  - Knoxville News Sentinel

Tennessee Lawmakers Vote To Limit Number Of Stores Liquor Retailers Can Own

Liquor retailers will be limited to two stores, according to a plan approved by Tennessee lawmakers that re-imposes ownership restricti


ons lifted just two years ago. The state House of Representatives voted 72-16 Monday night to protect liquor store owners from competition with out-of-state chains preparing to move into Tennessee.

ing wine this summer. Liquor store owners asked for the limit, making it clear they hoped to ward away competition from superstore retailers. Some lawmakers expressed qualms about interfering, but others, including state Rep. Bud Hulsey, R-Kingsport, say they deserve protection.

"I do understand this thing about limiting free enterprise," he said before Monday's vote. "But I think we owe it to these small folks who want this two-store limit." The move represented a reversal for liquor retailers, which in 2014 approved of lifting a decades-old rule that let them own only one store. That was part of the wine-in-grocery stores law — the most dramatic rewriting of Tennessee's liquor laws in generations.

Tennessee lawmakers say it'd be unfair to force small liquor store owners to deal with such sellers at the same time they're trying to adjust to grocery stores taking a share of wine sales. Especially since liquor retailers built their businesses under the old regulations, which determined where their businesses would be placed and what products they'd stock.  - But since 2014, the courts have struck down another rule that said liquor store owners had to be residents of Tennessee. That opened the way for out-of-state competitors, including Total Wine, a liquor retailer with locations in 18 states.  -WPLN

Trump's popularity nosedives in critical stretch

Donald Trump wasn't wildly popular to begin with. And now he's becoming even more disliked among American voters, creating a significant threat to his chances of winning the Republican presidential nomination.

Trump is, by far, the GOP delegate leader – and the only candidate with a realistic shot at winning a majority of delegates before the July convention. But at the same time, nearly two-thirds of Americans view Trump unfavorably – and his image rating has declined since Republican voting began in February.

The danger for Trump is two-fold: His declining popularity is taking a toll on his standing in the 17 states that will hold primaries between now and the end of the process in early June. Losing some of these states – or even winning fewer delegates in proportional states – makes it more difficult for Trump to secure a pre-convention majority of 1,237 delegates.

That’s where Trump’s horrific poll numbers could haunt him again: If Trump misses the threshold to win the nomination outright in bound delegates, it will be more difficult to convince unbound delegates to put him over the top if they see him as a general election disaster-in-the-making due to his high unfavorability ratings among all voters.

How bad are Trump’s image ratings? The HuffPost Pollster average of recent national polls puts Trump’s favorability at only 31 percent, while 63 percent view him unfavorably.  - Politico

Shipley Running for Ramsey's Seat

Just what we need in the state Senate—yet another nutjob! Today comes the news that our old pal Tony Shipley is running for the Upper East Tennessee seat of Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, who is quitting.

You might remember it was Shipley who as a rookie state representative claimed to speak for God on the issue of gay adoption. That was when he famously told LBGT activists that a wrathful Jehovah might pick up Tennessee and plop all of us into the ocean for being too lenient toward gay people.

When Pith reported this, Shipley objected. "It made me appear to be ignorant and I'm not, not even close to ignorant," he said. 

Later in his illustrious three-term career in the House, Shipley did many stupid things (for instance, trying to rip up the Fourth Amendment to make it easier to combat terrorism). He earned the nickname "Capt. Apocalypse" from press wags for his propensity to lose his cool and shout and scream in public. He was beaten in the 2014 Republican primary.

State Rep. Jon Lundberg also is running for Ramsey's seat, and Lundberg is generally way more reasonable than Shipley. So that means Lundberg will face intense opposition from much of the Republican Party, including the state's gun freaks who are lining up behind Shipley.  -Jeff Woods, Pith in the Wind

Trump on His Sexist Comments: Women Liked It

trumpDonald Trump’s newest excuse for his long history of sexist comments toward women: Hey, the women were laughing. Questioned by talk-radio host Charlie Sykes about the many conservative women who say they are offended by the GOP presidential frontrunner’s treatment of women, Trump reiterated his campaign’s claim that he made such offending comments as “an entertainer.” Unconvinced, Sykes asked whether Trump thinks different rules apply for celebrities compared to politicians. “Well, the rules aren’t different, but I never thought I would run for office,” Trump said. “And many people—Howard Stern would interview me and everybody would be having fun, and the women would be laughing.”  - Daily Beast

 Thought for the day:

"The only maxim of a free government ought to be to trust no man living with power to endanger the public liberty."  - John Adams


CPI Buzz March 28, 2016

Week ahead: Bible, wine in grocery stores, tax relief

With the General Assembly set to conclude its work in mid- to late April, several committees are holding their final meeting. As lawmakers return to Nashville to continue working on a variety of different issues, they will discuss a contentious Bible bill, tax relief and legislation pertaining to wine in grocery stores. Here's a look at what's ahead:

Automobiles, drivers

A variety of bills related to drivers will be among the 12 items set for discussion in a Senate transportation meeting this week. One bill would require anyone who turns 21 to get a new license within a month after their birthday. Another would prohibit driving in the left lane of interstates and multi-lane highways, except when a driver is passing another vehicle. The measure has already been approved in the House. A third would allow Tennesseans to purchase a license plate with the Gadsden flag. The historic flag, designed during the American Revolution, has become a prominent symbol of libertarians and the tea party because it contains the words “Don’t tread on me” below a coiled rattlesnake. The three bills will be discussed when the Senate Transportation Committee holds its final meeting at 1 p.m. Monday.

Wine in grocery stores

bill that would allow grocery stores to stock their shelves with wine before July 1 is finally moving ahead. The measure has been contentious as lawmakers consider whether to include a limit on the number of licenses that a business owner can have. The Senate has already approved the bill, which has been deemed necessary given the extreme interest from grocers hoping to sell wine. The bill is on the House's regular calendar and will likely generate debate when it is discussed at 5 p.m. Monday.

The Bible

An effort to make the Bible the state’s official book failed late last year, but that doesn’t mean the debate is over. The issue was given new life late last week after it was added to the Senate Judiciary Committee’s final calendar for the year. Although the measure received approval in the House in April 2015 — amid concern from Gov. Bill Haslam and Attorney General Herbert Slatery — Republican leaders in the Senate ultimately sent the bill back to committee.

The contentious Bible bill will be among a jam-packed judiciary committee agenda that is expected to force the panel to meet over two days. The committee will gather at 2:30 p.m. Tuesday and then reconvene at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday.

Property tax relief program

Veterans groups around the state became frustrated with lawmakers last year after they made changes to a property tax relief program dedicated to disabled vets and the elderly. After Gov. Bill Haslam’s office found a subsidy program was not affordable, the legislature passed the “Save the Tax Relief Act,” which effectively reduced the amount those eligible for the program could receive. 

This year, some lawmakers are hoping to undo that work and restore the tax relief program to allow eligible recipients to be reimbursed for the first $25,000 of the full market value. The bipartisan initiative — led by Rep. Joe Pitts, D-Clarksville, and Sen. Mark Green, R-Clarksville — will be discussed in both chambers this week. The House Local Government subcommittee will take it up at 1 p.m. Wednesday. TheSenate State and Local Government Committee will discuss it either at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday or 2:30 p.m. Wednesday.

Records expungement

There have been no shortage of bills related to expungement — the process that allows someone’s legal record to be erased — this year in the legislature. Although the majority of them have come from Democrats, a few are being advanced by Republicans, including two that will be discussed in committee this week. One bill, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, and Rep. Jim Coley, R-Bartlett, would require that all court records be expunged within 60 days after a case is dismissed against a person. Another from Rep. Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby, and Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, would let a person petition the court for expunction of multiple convictions.  - Tennessean (subscription)


Heartbreak in Gatlinburg: Family, friends pray for couple killed in Brussels

The last time Sean Toomey saw Justin Shults was three weeks ago on the screen of a smartphone.

The chat felt rushed, the childhood friend of Shults recalled Sunday during a phone interview with The Tennessean. But the moment is one that has flashed through his head multiple times since terrorist attacks in Brussels tragically cut short the lives of Justin and Stephanie Shults.

During the video message, Toomey's now three-month-old daughter Katherine was shown the phone.

"As soon as she saw him, she wouldn't stop smiling," Toomey said. "It's a happy thought that has stuck with me since."

The family, friends and community where Justin Shults grew up remember a man who accomplished much in his short lifetime and the woman who shared those adventures alongside him. 

Continue reading at The Tennessean, a News Sentinel partner.  - Knoxville News Sentinel

Teachers' past misdeeds often slip past screening system

Hamilton County Schools human resources files clearly show questionable sexual conduct with students led former Ooltewah High School educatorJason Hamrick to resign. But when Hamrick was hired by Metro Nashville Public Schools at Johnson Alternative Learning Center at the beginning of the 2015-16 school year, Nashville school officials never checked those public records. In fact they rarely check those files when hiring any employees.

“He cleared the criminal background check, provided letters of recommendation from previous employers, and the hiring principal contacted the references on his application,” said Metro spokeswoman Janel Lacy in an email. None of those references were familiar with his discipline history at Ooltewah High, which included several reprimands for inappropriate acts with students, according to Stacy Stewart, Hamilton’s superintendent for human resources.

Nashville officials didn't know about that conduct until they received a tip from a former Hamilton schools employee. In February, six months after his hire in Nashville, Hamrick was placed on administrative leave with pay after Nashville officials learned he'd falsified details of his resignation. They say the leave was also warranted given his conduct in Hamilton County.

Without the tip, it's unclear whether Hamrick would still be in a Nashville classroom.  - Tennessean (subscription)

House Republicans Shoot Down MaKayla’s Law

Following the command of their lord and master, the NRA, House Republicans just voted down MaKayla’s Law, which was aimed at saving kids’ lives by making it a crime to store firearms unlocked and accessible to children. 
On a 7-2 party-line vote, the House Civil Justice Committee defeated the bill. It was named after an 8-year-old Jefferson County girl who was killed last year by an 11-year-old neighbor because she wouldn't let him play with her puppy. The boy used his father's shotgun.

Republicans didn’t say a word against the bill. They didn’t need to say anything. They’d already gotten their marching orders from the NRA, which sent out action alerts to its members against the bill and generated a ton of emails to lawmakers. To the NRA, gun rights trump child safety. 
Rep. Bill Beck, D-Nashville, chided the committee before the vote. “What are we going to say now?” he asked. “Guns don’t kill children. Children kill children? Is that not the saddest commentary on our life today?”

The bill’s sponsor is Rep. Sherry Jones, D-Nashville. She pointed out Tennessee is 9th in the nation for accidental shootings, many of which involve children. According to the Safe Tennessee Project, 12 Tennessee chlidren have been killed over the past 15 months after they or a friend or sibling picked up a loaded gun and fired it.  Many of the children have been toddlers or pre-schoolers.  Another 17 children have been injured. Said Jones:

"In our imperfect world and with our alarming number of children being accidentally shot, we need MaKayla’s Law, a law that will have no negative impact whatsoever on responsible gun owners but will punish only irresponsible gun owners whose actions lead to injuries and deaths of children. There are too many Tennessee children who are being injured and killed in these preventable tragedies. We can’t just sit by and do nothing. Clearly that approach is not working."  - Jeff Woods, Pith in the Wind


Todd Gardenhire's remarks about deleting angry emails draw fire

NASHVILLE — Hoping to puncture state Sen. Todd Gardenhire's political tires, Tennessee Democrats are taking the Chattanooga Republican to task over his remarks about deleting angry emails from advocates during discussion this week of his bill restricting use of state fuel taxes to construct bicycle lanes.

After getting a "negative recommendation" in the Senate Finance Subcommittee, Gardenhire's bill wobbled into the full Finance Committee this week. As first reported by the Memphis Flyer, Sen. Doug Overbey, R-Maryville, said emailed objections from bicycle enthusiasts have "filled up my inbox."

Gardenhire laughed and replied, "That's what they make that delete button for."

Final consideration of the Senate bill was delayed but the House companion bill, sponsored by Rep. Mike Carter, R-Ooltewah, narrowly passed the Transportation Committee and is headed to the House Finance Subcommittee.

State Democrats, who hope to knock off Gardenhire in the November general election, declared their outrage, calling Gardenhire's remark a "flagrant dismissal of constituent concerns."  - Chattanooga Times Free Press


Tennessee Lawmaker Among Parents Opting-Out Children From New Standardized Test

The number of parents opting their children out of state testing may be larger than normal this year.  An elementary school in Chattanooga had more than 200 students refuse the TNReady test this month. Parents are rallying in other parts of the state as well and Rep. Mike Stewart, D-Nashville, is among them. He and his wife decided to opt out their daughter after speaking out against it themselves.

Stewart says, “We just felt like, we’re telling people these tests are so wrong. We should step up and opt out. We should live with our convictions." His issues are the same shared by a lot of parents. He says the delayed rollout of TNReady caused children unneeded stress and cut into valuable instruction time.

The test was initially computer-based but after widespread crashes, the state reverted back to paper. This resulted in missed deadlines and prolonged testing periods. The state has concluded that teachers won't be held accountable for results, and schools want the same exemption. It's left some parents asking, “What’s the point?”

Typically, refusing to complete a standardized test would negatively impact a student’s grade. But that requires schools to receive test scores before grades are finalized in May, which isn’t possible this year due to the expected delays. If a parent doesn’t want their child taking the test they have two alternatives: They can keep their kids at home or tell them to turn it in blank.

Rep. Stewart does see one upside all of this: These complications give the state a reason to reassess what he calls a “fetish” with standardized testing. Stewart added, “Testing has it’s place [but] it has gotten completely out of control to where the tests are driving what is going on in the classroom year round.”

School districts are not required to keep track of opt-out numbers because the state doesn’t officially recognize it as an option for students. Blank answer sheets are simply referred to as “irregularities.”  - WPLN


Bipartisan skeptics doubt Haslam’s outsourcing plans

Poor timing and questionable numbers: That’s how legislators are viewing a business justification plan for outsourcing facilities management across Tennessee.

The Office of Customer Focused Government tells state senators, if all departments opt in, the state could save $35.8 million by the second year of a contract under study for building operations and services – without laying off state workers or cutting pay and benefits.

The savings would come through increased worker training to cut sub-contractor costs and reduced purchasing expenses using the vendors’ ability to buy materials on a larger scale, the analysis states.

Widespread skepticism – on a bipartisan scale – is the primary response.

Sen. Steve Dickerson, a Nashville Republican, contends mixing state services with a private company’s drive for profit “starts to misalign incentives.”

“And when they tell me they’re going to hire the same people at the same price with the same benefits, and yet they’re still going to save money, to me it strains credulity that you can do that,” Dickerson says.

Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, who holds a good deal of clout, says he doesn’t accept the numbers, either, though he could eventually. But his biggest concern is timing, since the administration didn’t present its plan to the Senate State and Local Government Committee until the second week of March.  
- Tennessee Ledger

Why some Republicans are feeling shame

Back in the fall, when Donald Trump dubbed Jeb Bush “low-energy,” Carlos Gimenez grew a little concerned. By last month, when Marco Rubio and Trump engaged in childish name-calling, the Republican mayor of Miami-Dade County thought the GOP presidential race had gotten “out of hand.” Now, after a ­tawdry week that has focused on the wives of Trump and Ted Cruz, Gimenez is certain that the race has moved totally “out of bounds.”


At a moment when the party had hoped to turn its attention to a general-election matchup against Hillary Clinton, Repub­licans were instead caught in an uncomfortable back-and-forth over allegations of adultery and jabs at the physical appearance of the wives of Trump and Cruz. That dispute took on renewed vigor Sunday, when the two candidates went at it again on the morning shows.

On ABC’s “This Week With George Stephanopoulos,” Trump accused Cruz of helping to orchestrate an attack on his wife from the anti-Trump Make America Awesome super PAC, which placed an ad on social media featuring a racy photograph of Trump’s wife, Melania, from an old magazine photo shoot.

“Don’t forget, I call him ‘Lying Ted.’ I call him that because nobody that I’ve known — I’ve known a lot tougher people over the years in business, but I’ve never known anybody that lied like Ted Cruz,” Trump said.

Trump has offered no evidence that Cruz worked in concert with the super PAC; such collaboration would be a federal crime.

Appearing on “Fox News Sunday,” Cruz denied playing any role in the ad and denounced it. He slammed Trump for retaliating by retweeting side-by-side photos of his wife, Heidi, and Melania meant to disparage Heidi’s appearance. “It is inappropriate, it is wrong, it is frankly disgusting to see a candidate attacking the spouse of another,” Cruz said.

Cruz has also accused Trump and his associates of pushing a false story to the National Enquirer about him having extramarital affairs. Trump has denied playing any part in the story. Cruz has forcefully denied the Enquirer story.

The other Republican in the race, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, said in an interview that his party is verging on a dangerous point of no return. The luridness has weighed not only on Republican elected officials but on voters as well. In a recent CBS News-New York Times poll, 60 percent of Republican primary voters said the campaign has made them mostly embarrassed for the party rather than mostly proud. The survey was conducted before the Cruz-Trump fight involving their spouses erupted.  - Washington Post

Arizona’s voting outrage is a warning to the nation

It’s bad enough that an outrage was perpetrated last week against the voters of Maricopa County, Ariz. It would be far worse if we ignore the warning that the disenfranchisement of thousands of its citizens offers our nation. In November, one of the most contentious campaigns in our history could end in a catastrophe for our democracy.

A major culprit would be the U.S. Supreme Court, and specifically the conservative majority that gutted the Voting Rights Act in 2013.

The facts of what happened in Arizona’s presidential primary are gradually penetrating the nation’s consciousness. In a move rationalized as an attempt to save money, officials of Maricopa County, the state’s most populous, cut the number of polling places by 70 percent, from 200 in the last presidential election to 60 this time around.

Maricopa includes Phoenix, the state’s largest city, which happens to have a non-white majority and is a Democratic island in an otherwise Republican county.

What did the cutbacks mean? As the Arizona Republic reported, the county’s move left one polling place for every 21,000 voters — compared with one polling place for every 2,500 voters in the rest of the state.

The results, entirely predictable, were endless lines akin to those that await the release of new iPhones. It’s an analogy worth thinking about, as there is no right to own an iPhone but there is a right to vote. Many people had to wait hours to cast a ballot, and some polling stations had to stay open long after the scheduled 7 p.m. closing time to accommodate those who had been waiting — and waiting. The Republic told the story of Aracely Calderon, a 56-year-old immigrant from Guatemala who waited five hours to cast her ballot. There were many voters like her.

Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton, whose government does not control election management, is furious about what was visited upon his city’s residents. The day after the primary, he wrote U.S. Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch asking her to open a Justice Department investigation into the fiasco. It was not just that there weren’t enough polling places, Stanton charged. Their allocation also was “far more favorable in predominantly Anglo communities.” There were fewer voting locations in “parts of the county with higher minority populations.”

In a telephone interview, Stanton made the essential point. Long lines are bad for everyone. But they particularly hurt the least advantaged, who usually have less flexibility in their schedules than more affluent people do. It is often quite literally true that poor voters can’t afford to wait.

“If you’re a single mother with two kids, you’re not going to wait for hours, you’re going to leave that line,” Stanton said. As a result, Stanton said, “tens of thousands of people were deprived of the right to vote.”

A Democrat, Stanton asked himself the obvious question: “Am I suggesting this was the intent of the people who run elections in Maricopa County?” His answer: “In voting rights terms, it doesn’t matter.” What matters, he said, is whether changes in practice “had a disparate impact on minority communities,” which they clearly did.

And there’s the rub. Before the Supreme Court undermined Voting Rights Act enforcement, radical changes in voting practices such as Maricopa’s drastic cut in the number of polling places would have been required to be cleared with the Justice Department because Arizona was one of the states the law covered. This time, county officials could blunder — let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that there was no discriminatory intent — without any supervision.

Now let’s look ahead to Election Day this fall. Michael Waldman, president of the Brennan Center for Justice, notes in his important new book, “The Fight to Vote,” that Republicans have “moved with strategic ferocity” to pass a variety of laws around the country to make it harder for people to cast ballots.The Brennan Center reports that 16 states “will have new voting restrictions in place for the first time in a presidential election.”

Imagine voting debacles like Arizona’s happening all across the country. Consider what the news reports would be like on the night of Nov. 8, 2016. Are we not divided enough already? Can we risk holding an election whose outcome would be rendered illegitimate in the eyes of a very large number of Americans who might be robbed of their franchise?

This is not idle fantasy. Arizona has shown us what could happen. We have seven months to prevent what really could be an electoral cataclysm.

Read more from E.J. Dionne’s archivefollow him on Twitter or subscribe to his updates on Facebook.

Tennessee bill pushes quicker notification of lead in drinking water

With lead increasingly becoming an issue across the nation in the wake of the crisis in Flint, Mich., one Tennessee lawmaker wants to ensure that the public is notified more quickly when lead is found in drinking water supplies.

Currently, Tennessee law requires water utilities to notify customers within 30 days if water tests positive for high levels of lead. But a bill sponsored by state Rep. Jason Powell, D-Nashville, would change that to between 24 hours and 72 hours.

“Everyone drinks water,” Powell said. “This is just about making sure a resource that we all use is safe. There is some ambiguity about notifying the public of lead found in the drinking water. I think there needs to be clear standard guidelines.” The bill is similar to federal legislation recently approved by the U.S. House.

In Tennessee, there are currently two water utilities out of compliance with state rules over high levels of lead, according to state environmental officials. State regulators say the results were likely due to sampling errors and one agency is out of compliance because of how it notified residents.

Lead, even in small doses, poses a health threat, especially for pregnant women and young children. Lead can damage growing brains and cause reduced IQs, attention disorders and other problem behaviors. Infants fed formula made with contaminated tap water face significant risk. Adults are not immune, with evidence linking lead exposure to kidney problems, high blood pressure and increased risks of cardiovascular deaths. The EPA stresses there is no safe level of lead exposure.

"In Tennessee, we have a problem because TDEC's budget continues to be cut by the lawmakers," she said. "They could be doing more to protect the people of Tennessee than they are, if they were better funded by the legislature."

The bill is expected to go before the House Business and Utilities subcommittee on Wednesday, Powell said.  - Tennessean (subscription)

Billy Moore's Report from Washington

The House was in session for three days last week before adjourning for the Easter Recess. The Senate has been recessed since March 14. The Senate returns April 4; the House returns April 11.

The House originally intended to pass a fiscal 2017 budget resolution last week, but the resolution lacked majority support. Instead, Representatives voted to reform the Federal Trade Commission's merger rules and to send a temporary extension of aviation programs to President Barack Obama for his signature. 

When they return, House Republicans hope to pass a budget by creating a mechanism making $1.07 trillion in appropriated spending contingent on the enactment of at least $140 billion in cuts to mandatory spending.  The idea that appropriations might advance without enactment of the mandatory spending cuts has prevented House leaders from winning the votes of Freedom Caucus Republicans for budget.

The mechanism to implement the idea has not yet identified. It would need to strong enough to win over the Freedom Caucus. At the same time, it would need to have an escape clause to prevent another government shutdown weeks before the November election.

The impasse led Representative Tom Cole, member of the House Budget Committee and chairman of the Appropriations Labor-HHS-Education Subcommittee, to observe that a September Continuing Resolution is more likely than not, even though appropriators are moving forward on appropriations bills.

The House Military Construction-VA Appropriations Subcommittee voted out their fiscal 2017 spending bill last week and the full committee expects to vote on the proposal April 13. To facilitate the full committee markup, Chairman Harold Rogers would be expected to set a spending limit for each subcommittee's spending bill. If a budget agreement has not been reached by then, the markup may be postponed to prevent it from upsetting the budget negotiations. 

President Obama returned from Cuba and Argentina on Saturday.

                             - Billy Moore is a partner at ViaNovo, a Washington, DC strategic consulting firm.


Thought for the day:

“Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers.” ~ Voltaire 





CPI Buzz, March 25, 2016

Couple from Tennessee and Kentucky still missing; two Americans confirmed killed in Belgium attacks

belgiumA U.S. official says at least two American citizens have been confirmed killed in this week's attacks in Brussels.

The announcement comes as Secretary of State John Kerry is visiting the city to express his condolences to the Belgian people.

Speaking after meeting with Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel, Kerry said the "United States is praying and grieving with you for the loved ones of those cruelly taken from us, including Americans, and for the many who were injured in these despicable attacks."

He did not give a specific number but a senior official said the families of two Americans had been informed of their deaths in Tuesday's attacks. The official, who was not authorized to speak to the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity, did not have further details.

Meanwhile, relatives of the couple from Tennessee and Kentucky said they were told earlier in the week that their family members had been located, but then were told shortly thereafter that the couple had not been located.

It is unclear what led to the mistake, and the whereabouts of the couple are still unknown. 

At least four Americans were reported missing after the attacks, NBC news reported.  - Chattanooga Times Free Press

What Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey's reign meant to red Tennessee — and what his resignation means for its future 

ramseyA 60-year-old auctioneer with a big personality from far East Tennessee, who likes to chew tobacco and farm at least a couple cows, Ramsey couldn't be more resolute that it's time for him to go. But his absence will leave a power void in a legislature that he largely defined (and corralled) in recent years.

Ramsey's effect on state government depends on the lens through which you view Tennessee politics. Most who live and die by the legislative session each January through April will remember Ramsey as a renaissance man for the GOP and a straight shooter with a high-pitched twang, quick mouth and a commanding presence.

But those outside the bubble of state politics may remember Ramsey more for the headlines he's made and the fights he's picked. Like contending that Islam isn't a religion. Like announcing he couldn't say for sure President Barack Obama wasn't born in Kenya. Like calling global warming a farce because it's cold outside.

He's also pooh-poohed extending food-stamp money to poor people during the recession (for fear people might expect too much from government), and he ushered through legislation requiring a driver's license or a handgun carry permit to vote (although the state had a hard time producing the examples of voter fraud that would justify such a move).

He's taken on the Tennessee Supreme Court's three Democratic-appointed justices, endorsed not telling the whole truth during elections, and demanded that heads roll at the University of Tennessee's office of diversity for its perceived war on Christmas. He once chided a reporter for suggesting that not everyone can afford a Chevy Tahoe the way the Ramsey family can. All along, he relished the opportunity to say handgun carry permit holders are above reproach, even after a fellow Republican representative was caught drunk-driving with a loaded pistol holstered in his car.

This year the lieutenant governor turned his attention to immigration. He urged the state attorney general to sue the federal government over placing Syrian refugees in Tennessee, despite insistence from Gov. Bill Haslam that the system is sound and fine. If the AG refuses, the legislation Ramsey pushes all but promises the two speakers will find their own lawyer and sue the feds themselves.

Despite that and other bouts of heartburn Ramsey has given the governor, Haslam says he spent months begging the lieutenant governor to stay.

The two ran against each other for the 2010 Republican nomination for governor — a bid Ramsey says he never plans to repeat — with the sitting lieutenant governor coming in a distant third and Haslam going on to a landslide in the general election. Ramsey spun his loss into a win, positioning himself as the most powerful Republican in the state as the new governor was still figuring out where the bathrooms were and new House Speaker Beth Harwell was learning what it means to lead a chamber of 99 members — a task akin to herding cats, even when most of those wayward felines are fellow Republicans. 
 Andrea Zelinski, the Nashville Scene

Tennessee Senate Approves Loser-Pays For People Who Unsuccessfully Sue State Officials

durhamA proposal to force plaintiffs to pay if they unsuccessfully sue state officials is making its way to Gov. Bill Haslam's desk. The state Senate approved the measure Thursday. The House approved a separate version earlier this month. Both call for making people pay legal costs if they sue state officials and lose.

Opponents say that will intimidate people with legitimate grievances out of filing lawsuits. They say government officials' legal bills could run to tens of thousands of dollars — money that would often go to state lawyers and high-priced private firms.

They note the proposal comes as one state lawmaker, Representative Jeremy Durham, has been accused of sexual harassment.  - WPLN

Haslam's college plan passes in House

UTGov. Bill Haslam's plan to restructure Tennessee's largest system of public colleges won support in the House Thursday, moving it one step closer to becoming a law.

The vote — 71 for, 19 against — was an illustration of the plan's broad range of support from state lawmakers. But an hour of debate on the bill made it clear that even its supporters have questions and concerns about its implications.

The plan — which is part of the Focus on College and University Success, or FOCUS, Act — would create individual boards for Tennessee State University, Middle Tennessee State University, Austin Peay State University and three other universities included in the Tennessee Board of Regents system.

The Board of Regents would continue to oversee the state's 13 community colleges and 27 technical colleges.

In an argument that echoed the governor's position, Rep. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough, said it was not effective to task the Board of Regents with overseeing community colleges, technical colleges and universities with unique missions.

East Tennessee State University, which would get its own board under the FOCUS Act, is in Hill's district.

"It is unrealistic to expect (the Board of Regents) to be able to, when they have their meetings, focus on ETSU," Hill said. "We need a board that is singularly focused on ETSU, on (Tennessee Technological University), on MTSU. We need a board that does nothing but focuses on that university."

But lawmakers repeatedly mentioned concerns that have surfaced with the plan, including that it might increase competition among the universities or leave the universities without the clout they had as part of a larger system.

Rep. Gerald McCormick, R- Chattanooga, the main sponsor of the bill, acknowledged he shared some of the concerns discussed Thursday, including that the Board of Regents would be weakened in its new structure.  - Clarksville Leaf Chronicle

 Insiders to Trump: No majority, no nomination

trump nomA majority of Republican insiders say Donald Trump should not get the GOP presidential nomination if he falls short of winning a majority of delegates – even if Trump amasses more than any of his opponents.

That’s according to The POLITICO Caucus – a panel of strategists, activists and operatives in seven key swing states. Roughly six-in-10 Republicans said the party should nominate another candidate if Trump finishes with a plurality, rather than the required 1,237-delegate majority necessary to claim the party nomination.

“Rules is rules. You have to get a majority,” said a Virginia Republican who, like all respondents, completed the survey anonymously. “That's the problem with our country: No one ever wins anymore.” The majority of insiders who want the party to choose someone else if Trump only wins a plurality of delegates said they are motivated by questions of electability, Trump’s capricious campaign style and personality.

“The GOP would be crazy to aid in the hostile takeover of our party by a candidate who has never been able to espouse a single consistently conservative view,” the Iowa Republican said. “Donald Trump admires Putin while attacking the last Republican president. He doesn't deserve the nomination even if he were to win more than 1,237 delegates. Hillary would slaughter him in the general election. #NeverTrump”

But many Republicans are not on board with the stop-Trump-at-any-cost crowd: 42 percent said Trump should be the nominee if he wins the most delegates on the first ballot without capturing a majority.

They fear what would happen if party insiders denied Trump on the convention floor. One Florida Republican called it “political suicide” to wrest the nomination from Trump’s hands.

“It would be a mistake for the Republican Party to blatantly ignore the millions of voters who participated in the primary process to only have party leaders and establishment figures say, ‘Thanks but no thanks, we will take it from here,’" added an Iowa Republican. “Republicans often complain about the Democrats’ use of superdelegates, [but] what may transpire in Cleveland could be even worse and give new meaning to the ‘Mistake by the Lake.’”  
- Politico

Support for SCOTUS hearings remains strong, CNN/ORC poll 

mcconnell handFollowing President Barack Obama's nomination of Merrick Garland to fill the open seat on the Supreme Court, a new CNN/ORC poll finds two-thirds of Americans want the Senate to hold confirmation hearings on his candidacy, and a majority of Americans say the Senate should ultimately vote to confirm him.

According to the survey, 52% say Garland ought to be confirmed, 33% that the Senate should not vote in favor of his nomination. Another 15% are unsure. That's about on par with public support for Obama's previous two Supreme Court nominees, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, as well as other current justices on whose nominations we have polling, including Samuel Alito, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Clarence Thomas. Chief Justice John Roberts is the only one to enter the confirmation process with significantly greater public support: 59% said the Senate should vote in favor of his nomination.

Most Democrats (80%) and a plurality of independents say Garland should be approved (48% vote in favor, 37% against), but Republicans lean against it: 26% say the Senate should vote to confirm, 54% against. Assessing Garland himself, 45% say they have a positive impression of him so far, 34% are neutral, 14% negative. Just 13% say they feel he is not qualified to serve on the Supreme Court, around a quarter say he is among the most qualified candidates out there. A majority, 56%, say that as a Supreme Court justice, he would be "about right" ideologically, more than said so about any other recent nominee. Just 25% say they think he would be too liberal as a justice.  -CNN

Bill allowing private schools to adopt gun policy heads to Haslam

guns in schoolsA bill that would allow private schools and universities the ability to implement a handgun policy is headed to Gov. Bill Haslam’s desk. The measure, sponsored by Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, and Rep. Tilman Goins, R-Morristown, received approval in the House on Thursday in a 79-12 vote.

Proponents of the legislation argued it would give private K-12 schools and higher education institutions the ability to decide whether to allow valid permit holders to carry their weapons in school buildings. Because the legislation makes no changes for the state’s public schools, where weapons are banned, opponents have argued it establishes a separate system for private schools.

Rep. Mike Stewart, D-Nashville, noted that the bill does not necessarily force private schools to adopt a policy to allow guns, to which Goins explained the legislation simply allows school boards to create a policy. If a school did not take action on a policy, guns would still be prohibited, he explained.

The measure received approval in the Senate earlier this week in a 29-4 vote.  -Tennessean (subscription)

Donald Trump can’t stop saying nasty things about women. It could cost him.

melaniaA nasty feud that escalated Thursday between Donald Trump and his chief Republican rival over their wives set off a new wave of alarm among establishment Republicans, who fear that the GOP front-runner would drive away female voters in a general-election fight with likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

Trump’s gender problem flared again this week as he and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas traded insults while Cruz’s wife, Heidi, became the target of vitriol on social media from Trump and his supporters. At one point, the real estate mogul retweeted an unflattering image contrasting Heidi Cruz’s appearance with his wife, Melania, a retired model.

“The images are worth a thousand words,” read the caption on the photo that Trump retweeted to his 7.2 million followers.

The altercation underscores the striking nastiness of the GOP primary race and the uncomfortable gender politics surrounding Trump, who has a long history of making incendiary remarks about women and their appearance. Trump has shown little reluctance in attacking his female rivals — or some of his rivals’ spouses — in ways that strike many as sexist or demeaning, and many fear that the insults are a harbinger of the gutter rhetoric to come if he faces Clinton in November.  - Washington Post

Thought for the day:

"The empty vessel makes the greatest sound."
      -  William Shakespeare

And one more, because it's Friday

"To do is to be." - Descartes
"To be is to do."  - Voltaire
"Do be do be do!"  - Frank Sinatra

CPI Buzz March 24, 2016

2 agencies accused of pocketing thousands intended for hungry kids

TDHSTwo agencies under the oversight of the Department of Human Services are the subject of criminal probes over allegations they misappropriated hundreds of thousands of dollars in public funds intended to provide food and snacks to low-income children, according to investigations by the Tennessee comptroller.

Patsy Simpson, the former executive director of the Cherry Tree Food Program in Clarksville, spent more than $56,000 on renovations and maintenance of her Clarksville home, including a $38,000 gazebo, new windows, vinyl siding, tile floors and other renovations, the investigation found. Simpson spent thousands more on gas, restaurants and retail stores. In total the investigation questioned $181,135.59 spent by Simpson and her agency between Oct. 1, 2012, and June 30, 2015.

While Simpson was allegedly spending food program monies on home repairs and dining out, the operator of a different Clarksville in-home day care was maxing out her credit cards and forgoing Christmas presents for her own children to buy meals and snacks for the low-income children from military families she cares for up to 12 hours per day. The expected $1,200 in monthly reimbursements for the food from Cherry Tree never came.

"How can someone take from a program that's designed to help give nutritious food to little children," said Raelene Gilbert, owner of Little Rugrats day care and a single mother to five children of her own. "I'm angry. I care for kids from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. most days, and of course I have to feed them.

"I hope they handcuff her (Patsy Simpson) and put her in jail for the rest of her life, not because of what she did to providers, but to kids."

Gilbert's anger is directed at the owner of Cherry Tree. But on Wednesday, the comptroller laid much of the blame on the state Department of Human Services, which has been called to account for its management of an $80 million program intended to address food needs in the deepest pockets of poverty across the state. The comptroller also noted a lack of oversight by the agency's board of directors.

The department and its commissioner, Raquel Hatter, have come under scrutiny by lawmakers after an audit by the comptroller last year questioned millions in spending on the food program, and a subsequent investigation by The Tennessean found that unscrupulous contractors who had committed fraud in other states were accepted into DHS programs that contract with agencies to distribute food. The head of the food program resigned in July, reporting to federal authorities that there was a lack of staff and training to properly oversee the program.

Concerns about a lack of DHS oversight prompted state. Sen. Jim Tracy to propose a measure that would require DHS to conduct background checks on all agencies that receive taxpayer funds to feed children and submit reports every three months to the legislature about fraud, waste and abuse in the program. The measure passed in the Senate unanimously and is making its way through the House.

On Wednesday, Tracy, a Shelbyville Republican, called the comptroller's findings "troubling and unacceptable." "It's very serious to me," Tracy said. "You’ve got this money designed to go for food for children, and you’ve got people using taxpayer money for their own personal gratification, whether on a house or gazebo. That's awful That is why the public is upset about it. I’m upset about it. It just makes you sick that money for food for children is being used this way."

Tracy's legislation, if it passes, "would put more pressure on DHS to do the monitoring properly."  - Tennessean (subscription)

Tennessee lawmaker buys gun easily, brings it to the legislature

mike stewart gunIn an effort to highlight a need for enhancing background check requirements, Rep. Mike Stewart brought a newly purchased semi-automatic rifle to Legislative Plaza on Wednesday.

Stewart, D-Nashville, had the military-style weapon with him during a House Civil Justice Subcommittee meeting where he presented two bills that would bolster requirements for background checks.

While holding an AR-15 style rifle, Stewart said he purchased the weapon on Tuesday after finding a seller on the Internet. Within hours of his purchase, Stewart said he picked up the weapon in the parking lot of a restaurant in Davidson County, without ever undergoing a background check.

“Luckily I am not a member of a drug cartel. I am not on a terrorist watch list. I am not a longtime criminal with a big record of felony convictions and violence," he said, adding if he had gone to Walmart he would’ve had to undergo a background check.

“Right now we put our legitimate gun dealers at a significant disadvantage,” he explained, noting if a terrorist tried to buy a similar weapon at a store that sells guns they would be blocked.

Stewart had two background check related-bills on the subcommittee's calendar. Onebill sought to create a Class C misdemeanor for someone who sells a weapon without conducting a background check on the buyer.

While discussing his legislation, Stewart said he paid $750 to obtain two 30-round magazines and a weapon similar to the one he used while serving in the military in Korea.

“I’m basically as well armed as when I was a soldier in the military,” he said.

The arguments for enhancing background checks come after President Barack Obama issue new federal guidelines in January, in an effort to force anyone selling guns to obtain a federal license and perform background checks on buyers. The guidelines were met with immediate criticism from Republicans and gun advocates. - Tennessean (subscription)

It's Weird that Republicans Find Guns So Scary

ak47Democratic State Representative Mike Stewart brought a gun to the state capitol on Wednesday. It was a gun he was able to purchase without a background check and he brought it to show his fellow legislators how said loophole works. For some reason, his appearance at legislative plaza with a gun upset his Republican colleagues.

WPLN reports:

Still, Republican lawmakers like Ooltewah's Mike Carter, were not amused.

 "Mr. Chairman, I don't mean to interrupt," Carter pleaded as Stewart showed the weapon to spectators. "But this gun could be loaded—"

"No, it could not."

"No sir. You obviously don't own one. You do not have it properly safe. Do not point that gun at me if you can't assure me that gun cannot shoot."

Weird, huh? Republicans have voted for guns in everyplace. They won't even legislate that parents have to keep their guns secured away from children. Guns are supposed to be perfectly safe. So, why would Mike Carter be at all nervous about Stewart having a gun at work? I don't get it.

It's almost like, when confronted with the same circumstances they've forced the rest of us into, they're scared shitliess and they don't like it. And yet, somehow, they demand we live more bravely than they do.  - Jeff Woods, Pith in the Wind


Tennessee House Set To Vote On Whether Counselors Can Turn Away Clients Over Views

lucyAfter a lengthy fight, a plan to let therapists opt out of counseling clients because of their religious beliefs is heading to a full vote in the state House of Representatives.

The measure was approved Wednesday by the House Health Committee. It essentially trumps a 2014 ethics decision by the American Counseling Association, which declared therapists couldn't turn away clients over their religious grounds.

"It's not about, 'I need to protect me,'" he said. "It's that I cannot help you if we have a fundamental difference of values about the principles by which we understand our world."

One point in the debate was whether counselors should be able to decline children who say they are being bullied, particularly over their sexual orientation.

The committee eventually decided not to make a bullying exception before sending House Bill 1840 on for a final vote.

Companion legislation passed the state Senate in February.  - WPLN


The most baffling moments from Donald Trump’s Washington Post ed board interview

trumpBuried deep in the transcript of Donald Trump's interview with The Washington Post's editorial board on Monday is a question and response that it's hard not to see as neatly encapsulating the entire Trump phenomenon.

Post publisher Fred Ryan asked Trump if he would consider using a tactical nuclear strike against the forces of the Islamic State, were he president. Trump responded that he didn't want to "start the process of nuclear," then reminding the editors that he was "a counter-puncher."

"Remember, one thing that everybody has said, I’m a counter-puncher," Trump said. "Rubio hit me. Bush hit me. When I said low energy, he’s a low-energy individual, he hit me first. He spent, by the way -- he spent 18 million dollars’ worth of negative ads on me. That’s putting..."

Ryan jumped in. "This is about ISIS," he reminded Trump. "You would not use a tactical nuclear weapon against ISIS?"

"I’ll tell you one thing," Trump replied. "This is a very good looking group of people here. Could I just go around so I know who the hell I’m talking to?"

It's at 56:10 in the audio above. Listen to it. It's remarkable. The editors introduced themselves, and the topic was dropped. (For good measure, on his way out of the meeting, Trump called digital editor Karen Attiah "beautiful.")

Immediately prior to the question about the nuclear strike, for example, Trump spent 550 words and several minutes defending the size of his hands ... and correlated appendages. Why did he bring up size during the debate? "I don't want people to go around thinking that I have a problem."

Donald Trump has been practicing talking around questions from the media for a very long time, and in a sit-down with the editorial board of The Washington Post, he offered few (if any) specifics. He deflected a serious question about handling the Islamic State first by comparing it to the campaign and then with a simple diversion. Remarkable.

Oh, he also complained about The Post's coverage of him (save for the objectively great Robert Costa). "The Washington Post never calls me," he moaned. "I never had a call, 'Why – why did you do this?' or 'Why did you do that?' It’s just, you know, like I’m this horrible human being. And I’m not."

We suspect that his press secretary doesn't tell him about the times she fails to respond to our emails.  - Washington Post

Mitch McConnell and the Republicans Play Politics With the Supreme Court

mcconnellChief Justice Roberts warned against the Supreme Court being viewed as overly political. “If you have a sharply political, divisive hearing process, it increases the danger that whoever comes out of it will be viewed in those terms,” he said this February. “And that’s just not how—we don’t work as Democrats and Republicans.”

The Republicans’ refusal to consider the president’s nominee flies directly in the face of Roberts’s warning, delivered just days before Justice Antonin Scalia’s unexpected death. The dangerous subtext of their refusal to now consider Judge Merrick Garland is that seats on the court are reserved for particular parties—undermining the entire premise of the court, and greatly increasing the risk that it will be further politicized.

Back when Scalia was confirmed, advise and consent meant approving nominees that were well qualified, not nominees senators agreed with ideologically. Scalia, the conservative darling of a generation, was confirmed by a vote of 98-0. On the opposite side of the ideological spectrum, Ruth Bader Ginsburg was confirmed seven years later by a vote of 96-3.

While liberal groups have consistently pressed President Obama to appoint nominees who would bring a progressive ideology to the bench, he has instead appointed well-qualified nominees who follow the facts and the law and respect the institutional confines of the court’s role. 

The bogeyman Republicans warned against turned out to be a straw man. That seems especially true with Merrick Garland, who described the role judges play in terms not unlike Roberts’s umpire analogy: “The role of the court is to apply the law to the facts of the case before it—not to legislate, not to arrogate itself the executive power, not to hand down advisory opinions on the issues of the day.”

So as the Republicans cast dire warnings about President Obama’s nominee, it’s worth asking, rather than Garland who Donald Trump would nominate to the Supreme Court? Sarah Palin? Sheriff Joe Arpaio? Ben Carson did say he was promised a position. Ideology—not their appreciation for the facts and the law—would be the screen for a nominee in a Trump administration.

The logic behind Sen. McConnell’s Supreme Court standoff wouldn’t qualify for the LSAT test. What other aspects of the president’s job do Republicans—who historically have been advocates for executive power—believe he should stop doing in his final year? Aside from the nomination, it’s clear they will not consider his budget. 

Should he disassemble the National Security Council and stop making foreign policy decisions? Should Social Security be put on hold for the year? What if, God forbid, another justice is unable to continue to serve. Should two seats on the court remain open indefinitely, litigants be damned?

Conversely, what aspect of Sen. McConnell’s job does he plan to do this year? Aside from Garland, he’s said he won’t consider any major legislation before the election, even policies he agrees with like expanding trade. He’s reduced his responsibilities to one job—preserving his own. 

McConnell prominently displays a portrait of Henry Clay in his office, intended to project symbolism. He will not, however, be remembered as a great compromiser or an institutionalist, but instead as a historic obstructionist.  - Politico


Brussels Taxi Hero Shows How We Stop Terror Attacks

brusselsA driver said to be of Moroccan heritage risked his life by leading police to the ISIS bomb factory in Brussels. He must become an inspiration for communities to unite against terror.

BRUSSELS — He saw something and he said something.

The cab driver who took three mass murderers to the Brussels airporton Tuesday thought the way they handled their baggage was weird. There were too many suitcases—very heavy suitcases. They said they’d ordered a van, but all he had was a sedan. According to some accounts, one suitcase had to be left behind. And they didn’t seem to want him to touch those bags.

Drivers get used to strange passengers, but when this one heard news that bombs had gone off at the airport, he went straight to the Belgian police and led them to the apartment where he’d picked up those three men with their heavy bags in the Schaarbeek neighborhood of Brussels.
The police search turned up a trove of bomb-making materials: 15 kilos of powerful TATP explosives made from raw materials common in beauty supply stores—acetone (nail polish remover) and hydrogen peroxide (hair bleach)—but in much greater quantities than the average vanity unit. There were 150 liters of acetone and 30 liters of peroxide: truly a bomb-making factory.

With clues from the scenes of carnage and the mother lode of material at the bomb factory, authorities were able to identify Ibrahim el Bakraoui as the man in the middle in the now famous CCTV image of three men pushing trolleys through the Brussels airport, where he blew himself up. The other two, one of whom also died, and one of whom ran away, have not been identified.

The forensic dots between the atrocities in Brussels and in Paris began to connect. But that is little consolation amid fears that more ISIS terror cells are operating in Western Europe, and just biding their time before they hit again.

How to stop them?

That cab driver, and people like him, may hold the key. For obvious reasons, his name has not been leaked to the press, but according to sources in a position to know, he is, as many of the terrorists were, of Moroccan descent. But he volunteered information that has been critical to the ongoing investigation, and has helped it move along much more quickly than it might otherwise have done.  Daily Beast

Tennessee bathroom bill gets new life in House, advances in Senate

rest roomOne day after a subcommittee halted a controversial bill that seeks to require students to use bathrooms that match their sex at birth, the bill was given new life in the House and advanced in the Senate.

The measure, sponsored by Rep. Susan Lynn, R-Mt. Juliet, and Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, would create a statewide policy that opponents say could result in putting the state's Title IX funding in jeopardy.

Although the House Education Administration and Planning Committee voted against the bill on Tuesday, when the committee reconvened on Wednesday, Rep. Jim Coley, R-Bartlett, made a motion to force the committee to reconsider its action.

Coley later admitted it was an attempt to bring back bills the committee has previously taken action on, including the controversial bathroom bill, which was unanimously sent to summer study by the committee.  - Tennessean (subscription)

Blackburn bill calls for more teacher background checks

schoolEvery teacher in the country would need to undergo a criminal background check before they could be hired, under provisions in federal legislation proposed by U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn.

The legislation is intended to stop teachers who've committed violent or sexual acts against children from finding their way into other classrooms. In addition to the checks at hiring, districts would need to "periodically" re-check their teachers. Those districts could, but are not required, to share the results of those checks with other districts where the teacher is looking to work.

"This is increased due diligence, it is increased vigilance. It is a way for parents to have another confirmation that their children are going to be safe within the walls of that school, once they drop their children off at that school," Blackburn said.

The Brentwood Republican's measure comes on the heels of USA TODAY NETWORKand Tennessean investigations into teacher background check systems nationwide. That reporting found Tennessee is one of 11 states that require background checks for hiring, but allows local districts to conduct those checks. Although state law requires first-time teaching applicants to submit to a background check from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, sometimes checks aren't happening or pertinent information isn't discovered through the process.

The Tennessean specifically found several teachers with long track records of inappropriate behavior who were allowed to continue teaching. For more than 20 years, James Aaron Swafford faced allegations of inappropriate relationships with children, at one point being fired for striking a student, and yet he was able to continue teaching in Tennessee after admitting to sending love letters to a 16-year-old girl while teaching in North Carolina.

The state Board of Education's disciplinary system, to some degree handicapped by state law, doesn't bar teachers who've committed sexual or violent acts from teaching in the future.

The Brentwood Republican's measure comes on the heels of USA TODAY NETWORKand Tennessean investigations into teacher background check systems nationwide. That reporting found Tennessee is one of 11 states that require background checks for hiring, but allows local districts to conduct those checks. Although state law requires first-time teaching applicants to submit to a background check from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, sometimes checks aren't happening or pertinent information isn't discovered through the process.

The Tennessean specifically found several teachers with long track records of inappropriate behavior who were allowed to continue teaching. For more than 20 years, James Aaron Swafford faced allegations of inappropriate relationships with children, at one point being fired for striking a student, and yet he was able to continue teaching in Tennessee after admitting to sending love letters to a 16-year-old girl while teaching in North Carolina.

The state Board of Education's disciplinary system, to some degree handicapped by state law, doesn't bar teachers who've committed sexual or violent acts from teaching in the future.  - Tennessean (subscription)

Billy Moore's Washington Report

billy mooreIf everything had gone according to House Republican leadership plans, Representatives would be voting this week on a budget that sets discretionary spending at $1.07 billion, as agreed in the budget deal last year, paired with $150 billion in mandatory spending cuts. Instead, the budget debate has been postponed in order for Republican leaders to round up votes for the partisan measure.

Senate Republican leaders planned for their members to begin the Easter recess unified in opposition to President Barack Obama's nomination of D.C. Circuit Court Chief Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court. Instead, Republican unity cracked almost immediately following Judge Garland's nomination, including one Republican suggesting Senators "man up" and vote. It is not likely the division is sufficient yet to force a vote on his confirmation. has been postponed in order for Republican leaders to round up votes for the partisan measure.nary spending at $1.07 billion, as agreed in the budget deal last year, paired with $150 billion in mandatory spending cuts. Instead, the budget debate

The House meets for three days this week to debate the Federal Trade Commission's authority to regulate mergers and to extend aviation programs. Representatives will then recess for two weeks to return April 12; the Senate is on recess and will return April 4.

Last week, the House approved a small business broadband initiative and legislation to ease environmental regulation of coal plants. The Senate advanced a temporary aviation authorization that the House will pass Monday, clearing the bill for the President's signature.

On Sunday, President Obama arrived in Havana, hoping to cement his opening of diplomatic, business and cultural relations with Cuba.

The President's job approval, measured weekly by a Gallup sample of 3,500 adults, was over 50 percent for the second week in a row. The rise in President Obama's approval enhances his campaign utility for Democrats his fall, although there are risks to any campaign that seeks a presidential third term. Franklin Roosevelt is the president to literally win three terms; George H.W. Bush was last to win a figurative third term. 

 - Billy Moore is senior partner at ViaNovo, a leading Washington, DC strategic counseling firm.  

Thought for the day:

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


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