Sunday, June 12, 2011

Mainstream Issues Figure in "Justice for All" Rally

Posted By on Sun, Jun 12, 2011 at 11:20 AM

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Sunday afternoon’s “Justice for All” rally at 3 p.m. at First Congregational Church in the Cooper-Young area has become an opportunity to mix a defense of civil liberties and alternative lifestyles with advocacy for a series of mainstream political issues, moving all of the above to the front burner of local attention.

Conceived originally as a means of protesting specific legislative acts in the 2011 session of the Tennessee General Assembly, the rally has picked up steam from ongoing developments affecting two social programs — family planning services, the hot-button aspect of which is a concerted effort by a Republican-dominated state government to abolish the participation of Planned Parenthood; and the local Office of Early Childhood and Youth (OCEY), threatened with imminent defunding by the Shelby County Commission.

OCEY: A rosier prognosis attaches to the latter issue. Even before a fresh salvo of support for OCEY from sources like The Commercial Appeal editorial page, influential blogger Tom Jones, and, most importantly, county mayor Mark Luttrell, the commission’s 8-3 to divest the Office of $450,000 last Monday was due for formal reconsideration and likely overhaul.

First of all, commission chairman Sidney Chism’s vote against funding was widely regarded as a “prevailing-side” vote, meaning that, sizing up the likely result of Monday, he voted the way he did so that, as a member of the prevailing side, he could call for a re-vote on Monday, June 20, when the commission meets again.

Switch Chism over, and the margin becomes 7-4. Add votes on OCEY’s behalf from two Democrats, Steve Mulroy, who was vacationing last Monday, and James Harvey, who was in attendance but had left before the vote on OCEY, probably in response to the unexpected appearance in the county building of a woman with a private grievance screeching threats and insults at him. The margin now becomes 7-6.

All that would be needed to reverse last Monday’s judgment would be a crossover of one vote — probably from a Democrat, probably from Justin Ford. Most likely not from Henri Brooks, whose vote against OCEY was interpreted by several colleagues as a continuation of her feud with Division of Community Services director Dottie Jones.

Jones has argued, as did Commissioner Mike Carpenter last Monday, that defunding OCEY would simultaeously leave the county short of some $6 million in state and federal funding routed to OCEY in its role as clearing house for a variety of child-related programs.

Family Services and Planned Parenthood: As the Flyer first reported on Friday, Shelby County Health Department director Yvonne Madlock is resolved to involve “partners” in dealing with family planning services channeled by the state from Title X federal funds, would not exclude Planned Parenthood as a potential partner, and has petitioned the state Health Department for additional time to arrange something.

The state Health Department had set Friday as a deadline for previously uncommitted county health departments — read those of Davidson and Shelby counties — to respond to the state’s imperative that local county departments function as the sole recipient of funding and dispenser of family planning services. Davidson gave in; as of the weekend at least, Madlock, on behalf of Shelby, had not, and state Health Commissioner Susan Cooper granted her an additional week to decide.

The backstory of all this is Republican conservatives’ efforts to defund Planned Parenthood, which had previously dispensed family planning services in both Davidson and Shelby counties. A bill, sponsored by state Senator Stacey Campfield (R-Knoxville), was passed to the end of detaching the non-profit organization from such services by mandating that funding and administration of them be the sole responsibility of county health departments. Though it boasts a full array of services related to family health issues, Planned Parenthood is considered by social conservatives to be a front for abortion.

But the discovery of a mystery clause in the bill seemed to restore the status quo, under which Planned Parenthood could be a player.

That led to a full-court press from Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey and other leading Republican officials — including, at least nominally, Governor Bill Haslam and state House Speaker Beth Harwell of Nashville — to achieve the purpose of excluding Planned Parenthood from family planning by executive means. Hence the arm-twisting from Commissioner Cooper, who dispatched a letter last week urging Madlock and her Davidson County counterpart to accept full responsibility for family planning services.

Madlock’s essential reason for demurring is that the Shelby County Health Department, especially at a time of budget retrenchment, is not able to provide comprehensive family planning services all by itself. She is holding out for a partnership arrangement and hopes to use the extra week’s grace period to accomplish one. As for Planned Parenthood, her tentative pronouncement is that she is predisposed to “neither include nor exclude” the organization.

Planned Parenthood’s many local supporters will doubtless be out in force at the Justice for All Rally.

Another act of state government sure to be protested at the rally is arguably, like the family services matter, a case of overriding the options of local government. This was HB600, a bill prohibiting local jurisdictions from enacting their own workplace discrimination ordinances. Passed by the GOP-controlled legislature and signed into law by Governor Haslam, the bill overturned a freshly passed ordinance by the Nashville Metro Council and pre-empted potential ones by the Memphis City Council and the Shelby County Commission.

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