Friday, May 13, 2016

State Safety Commissioner Gibbons to Return to Memphis in Dual Role

Former District Attorney General will once again be at the forefront of local crime control.

Posted By on Fri, May 13, 2016 at 12:17 AM

As Dr. K.B. Turner of the University of Memphis Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice and other officials looked on, state Safety Commissioner Bill Gibbons expressed enthusiasm Thursday  about his soon-to-be new duties in Memphis.  Gibbons will have a dual position as Crime Commission president and director of the new Public Safety Institute at the University. - JB
  • JB
  • As Dr. K.B. Turner of the University of Memphis Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice and other officials looked on, state Safety Commissioner Bill Gibbons expressed enthusiasm Thursday about his soon-to-be new duties in Memphis. Gibbons will have a dual position as Crime Commission president and director of the new Public Safety Institute at the University.
Some five years after departing his position as District Attorney General for Shelby County to become state Commissioner of Safety and Homeland Security. Bill Gibbons has come home. And, as before, he will be at the forefront of local crime-control efforts.

This time, however, his title will be the dual one of president of the non-profit Memphis Shelby Crime Commission and director of the new Public Safety Institute, to be housed in the University of Memphis School of Urban Affairs and Public Policy.

The announcement of Gibbons’ new position had been contained in a news release on Wednesday from the office of Governor Bill Haslam, who had hired Gibbons away for his state duty in 2011, and it was made official in a Thursday-afternoon ceremony at the Urban Child Institute in the presence of numerous representatives of local government and law enforcement and of the University.

Gibbons will continue in his state office through August 31 and will assume his new duties on September 1.

In a press release passed out to the media, UM president M. David Rudd expressed pride in the new partnership with the Crime Commission and noted, “The U of M has a strong history of research using technology and analytics to pioneer new ways to prevent and solve crime. We are excited to be able to contribute to a reduction in crime in the Memphis area. This is an important step in advancing the growth and development of our community.”

More informally, Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland, who had been involved in the joint discussions leading to the creation of Gibbons’ new positon, resorted to an athletic metaphor in remarks at the ceremony. Noting that the University had apparently scored previous coups in its engagement of highly touted new football and basketball coaches, Strickland called the hiring a “home run,” and, in relation to the other hires, a “triple play.”

(Parenthetically and coincidentally, this week’s Flyer editorial took note of the previous University hires in similar fashion.)

Subsequent speakers among the numerous officials celebrating the Gibbons appointment kept to the “home run” metaphor as a legitimate indicator of the group enthusiasm.

In his own remarks, Gibbons expressed gratitude to Governor Haslam for allowing him to serve at the state level, where, in addition to heading the Department of Safety, he also chaired the Governor’s Public Safety Subcabinet. “I love my job,” he said, but was looking forward to his new duties, which, he hoped, would allow him to have a continuing relationship with his erstwhile colleagues in state government.

Gibbons paid tribute to President Rudd as a “can-do” leader and to the University as a progressive, forward-looking force in a Memphis community that, he said, “I care about more than any other place in the world.” He made reference to Strickland’s emphasis on crime control as a primary issue locally and said he was in full agreement. He said he “rejected” the notion that the city’s current crime rate was something the community had to accept as a norm.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Holly McCall, Would-Be Opponent of Disgraced Legislator Durham, in Memphis Fundraiser

Candidate in state House District 65 served as Tennessee press representative for Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign.

Posted By on Fri, May 6, 2016 at 12:29 PM


Legislative candidate Holly McCall (r) at her Thursday night event in Memphis. - JB
  • JB
  • Legislative candidate Holly McCall (r) at her Thursday night event in Memphis.
Holly McCall, running as a Democrat in District 65 (Williamson County) with the hope of having as a fall opponent disgraced GOP incumbent Jeremy Durham, took her campaign to Memphis Thursday night for a reception/fundraiser at the Jay Etkin Gallery in the Cooper-Young entertainment district.

The special drink offered guests at the bar was a “Rachel Jackson,” a champagne-based drink, chosen to remind guests that House Speaker Beth Harwell had reacted to alleged serial acts of misconduct by Durham (and an adverse finding by state Attorney General Herb Slatery that the legislator presented a hazard to “unsuspectring women” ) by relocating his office from the War Memorial building to the Rachel Jackson Building, across the street from the Capitol.

Durham was also subjected by Harwell to severe restrictions including a prohibition against speaking with staff members or interns (especially female ones) without supervision and a ban on his presence in Legislative Plaza or the Capitol when the legislature is not meeting.

Despite these unusual constraints and despite the fact that virtually every prominent leader of his own Republican Party has called on him to resign, Durham has filed for reelection, though he has two GOP primary opponents.

McCall, like Durham a Franklin resident, is a longtime Democratic activist who served most recently as press representative for the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign in Tennessee.

Kelsey, Norris Lukewarm on House Health-Care "Road Show"

At NFIB "State Issues Roundtable," the two GOP state senators express skepticism regarding House Speaker Beth Harwell's task force on Medicaid expansion, due for a Memphis hearing on Tuesday.

Posted By on Fri, May 6, 2016 at 9:40 AM

State Senator Brian Kelsey (standing) took his turn addressing local NFIB members on Wednesday, while state Senator Mark Norris and state Representative Mark White waited their turn. At left is state NFIB director Jim Brown, who moderated the "State Issues Roundtable." - JB
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  • State Senator Brian Kelsey (standing) took his turn addressing local NFIB members on Wednesday, while state Senator Mark Norris and state Representative Mark White waited their turn. At left is state NFIB director Jim Brown, who moderated the "State Issues Roundtable."


 At a “State Issues Roundtable” sponsored by the National Federation of Independent Businesses at the Regents Bank Building in Memphis on Wednesday, the three featured GOP legislators — state Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville), Senate Judiciary chair Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown), and House Education chair Mark White (R-Memphis) — took turns pointing with pride and viewing with alarm.

Surprisingly, several hosannas were thrown in the direction of Democrats. State NFIB director Jim Brown made a point of telling the local NFIB members that two Democrats — state Rep. John DeBerry (D-Memphis) and state Senator Reginald Tate (D-Memphis) “did great” in annual evaluations done by his conservative organization. And in an animated discussion of health care issues, former Democratic Governor Phil Bredesen got praised while current Republican Governor Bill Haslam did not. (Haslam did get cited for leadership in education reform.)

“Governor Bredesen, a Democratic Governor, figured this thing out better than any of us,” said Norris, citing Bredesen’s severe pruning of the TennCare rolls, especially of “able-bodied, childless adults,” a decade ago. Both Senators made it clear that they were no fans of the House “task force” on health-care solutions appointed by House Speaker Beth Harwell and now conducting hearings around the state. The predominantly Republican, bi-partisan group will be in Memphis on Tuesday.

“It remains to be seen how serious this is as a task force,” said Kelsey to the NFIB group, while Norris, after recalling the House’s taking a back seat to the Senate in vetting Haslam’s ill-fated “Insure Tennessee” proposal, opined to the group, “I find it curious that the House now has this road show.” Both Kelsey and Norris made it clear they thought no further action should be taken on Medicaid-expansion issues until after the presidential election, and, in brief interviews afterward, both characterized the House task force’s activities as being a likely waste of time and resources.

(In his public remarks about holding off on dealing with Medicaid-expansion until after the election, Kelsey suggested that the issue would ultimately be resolved on the federal end and converted that into a plug for his current candidacy for Congress in the 8th District.)

White emphasized the importance of timely communication by constituent groups of their sentiments on pending legislative issues, noting that in the session just concluded a de-annexation bill had been rushed through the House, garnering his and other members’ votes, before representatives of the City of Memphis made their objections to the bill’s terms clear and explicit. (The bill would get an extended vetting in the Senate State and Local Government committee, which remanded it to summer study.)

All three GOP legislators made clear their sympathy with the NFIB’s distrustful view of governmental expansion, and Norris made a point of touting the passage in the 2016 session of SB2389/HB2068, now Public Chapter 859, placing public agencies under strict legislative oversight, limiting their powers to those “conferred on them by statute or by the federal and state constitutions” and requiring them to justify the continuation existing rules and procedures.

Friday, April 29, 2016

“Scrapping the Test” and Starting Over

Rep. Parkinson calls for extended ASD moratorium, re-evaluation of procedures after failure of state’s testing vendor; Harris, Love concur on need for change.

Posted By on Fri, Apr 29, 2016 at 12:37 AM



Love, Parkinson, and Harris at the press conference on TNReady's failure - JB
  • JB
  • Love, Parkinson, and Harris at the press conference on TNReady's failure
Three local public figures concerned with public education appeared together at a press conference in Raleigh on Thursday to deal with the fallout from the cancellation of the state’s contract with Measurement, Inc., the North Carolina firm that proved unable to deliver this year on its educational testing regimen — meant to assist the new TNReady program for judging the performance of both public-school students and their teachers.

State Rep. Antonio Parkinson, who led the discussion, called for extending to three years the current moratorium on expansion of the state’s Achievement School District and for a “hold harmless” process of thoroughly revamping TNReady school-testing procedures during the same period.

He was backed up by state Senator Lee Harris, who slammed the failure of the state’s vetting process to uncover a record of past performance deficiencies on Measurement, Inc.’s part, and by Shelby County Schools board member Stephanie Love, who called on parents to have their children boycott further testing this year.

Harris also professed to be aghast at the amount of time devoted to testing in state schools, as much as “six whole weeks.” He said the process clearly could be streamlined and recommended other methods for evaluating teachers, like the kind of peer review process employed at the University of Memphis Law School, where he is a faculty member.

Parkinson made a point of exempting new Department of Education Commissioner Candice McQueen from responsibility for the Measurement, Inc. debacle, but he said the DOE was faced with a need for “restoring trust at the top.”

The state’s contract cancellation earlier this week came about because of the vendor’s failure to deliver the promised testing materials for grades 3 through 8. The Measurement, Inc. firm had succeeded in delivering materials to test high school students, but, as Parkinson noted, with the contract cancelled, there was nobody to grade the results.

TNReady, the state’s home-grown effort to supplant the unpopular Common Core evaluation regimen, “has never been ready,” Love said. She said her own 10th-grade child would not be taking the Measurement Inc. test this spring and advised other parents to follow suit.

Parkinson made an effort to locate the Measurement Inc. failure within a pattern of other DOE miscues, including forced closures of schools, a too-rapid acceleration of school takeovers, interference with local school-improvement efforts like SCS’s IZone curriculum, and turnovers in the administration of both the Department and the ASD program.

Another issue underscored by both Parkinson and Memphis Education Association executive director Keith Williams, who attended the press conference, was the need to determine how much taxpayer money had gone down the drain in the relationship with Measurement, Inc., and how much might be recoverable.
Parkinson, who has requested the assistance of state Comptroller Justin Wilson’s office in making such determinations, estimated that the state had so far expended some $46 million against the original $108 million contract.

He expressed a general sympathy, too, with Williams’ lament that the state had chosen to our-source the testing process rather than to use the educational experts available in such state institutions as Vanderbilt University, the University of Tennessee, and the University of Memphis.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Rev. Billy Kyles, Local Civil Rights Lion and MLK Friend, Dies

The longtime pastor of Monumental Baptist Church was at the side of Dr. King when the civil rights icon was slain at the Lorraine Motel.

Posted By on Tue, Apr 26, 2016 at 9:46 PM


The Memphis minister who was only feet away from Martin Luther King on the night the civil rights icon was slain at the Lorraine Motel and who had planned on being Dr. King’s dinner host that night in 1968, has passed away, 49 years later.

The 82-year-old Rev. Samuel "Billy" Kyles died Tuesday evening at Baptist East Hospital. Born in Mississippi, he was raised in Chicago and came to Memphis in 1959 to become pastor of Monumental Baptist Church, where he served until ill health forced his retirement in 2014.

Kyles never stopped being a pivotal local figure, involved in virtually every cause that, as he saw it, benefited the struggle for rights and dignity of black Memphians.

But, from the night of that tragedy in Memphis on, Kyles, who was already involved with the national civil rights movement, became one of its essential figures — the source of anecdotes from and about the martyred hero and a permanent testament to his memory.

In 1993 I was one of several local media figures who traveled with a group of Memphians, mainly African Americans, in a Memphis-in-May-sponsored tour of the Ivory Coast (Cote d’Ivoire) in West Africa. Rev. Kyles and his delightful wife Aurelia were in the group.

From time to time the tour bus would be stopped to allow Kyles, whose memory had been jogged by this or that sight along the road, to relate some little-known incident in King’s life and ministry.

Nobody begrudged those moments. Collectively, they were something like a seminar. In 2008, Kyles and his chronicler’s role were the subjects of an Academy Award-nominated film, The Witness: From the Balcony of Room 306.

But, for all his national and international renown, Kyles continued to be an energetic preacher and pastor for his home congregation and a vital member of the Memphis community, a participant in all kinds of ecumenical, multi-ethnic citizen efforts, and someone sure to be involved as one of the leaders of any development aimed at raising the condition of his fellow African Americans.

Upon hearing of Kyles’ passing, Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland released this statement: “I am saddened tonight to learn of the passing of Rev. Samuel “Billy” Kyles, truly a civil rights icon. I was fortunate to get to know him and visit his church, and will always treasure his commitment to Memphis and to the cause of civil rights.”

9th District Congressman Steve Cohen said, "“Reverend Kyles was a legendary clergyman and civil rights advocate. I extend my sympathies to his devoted wife and wonderful children.”

Other testaments are sure to pour in, not only from the numerous Memphians who knew and respected Kyles, but from admirers around the world.

In 2009, Rev,. Kyles (tall man in center) was one of the hosts, along with Rev. Ben Hooks and Pitt Hyde, for the Dalai Lama in a visit to the fateful Room 306 where Dr. Martin Luther King was slain in 1968. - BIANCA PHILLIPS
  • Bianca Phillips
  • In 2009, Rev,. Kyles (tall man in center) was one of the hosts, along with Rev. Ben Hooks and Pitt Hyde, for the Dalai Lama in a visit to the fateful Room 306 where Dr. Martin Luther King was slain in 1968.

The Shelby County Democratic Party Is in Crisis Mode Again

For the second year in a row, the party has missed financial deadlines and is operating with an acting chairman

Posted By on Tue, Apr 26, 2016 at 8:48 AM

Challenges by Del Gill (back to camera) to SCDP chair Randa Spears were a recurrent fact of life during a stormy year for the local party. - JB
  • JB
  • Challenges by Del Gill (back to camera) to SCDP chair Randa Spears were a recurrent fact of life during a stormy year for the local party.

Yes, Virginia, there are functional, thriving Democratic Party organizations in Shelby County. There are the Germantown Democrats, whose monthly meetings at Coletta’s on Highway 64 are well-attended events attracting a variety of speakers on political and social issues. There are the Democratic Women of Shelby County, who include a cadre of committed activists. There are the Young Democrats, who are attracting new blood into the party and who are constantly interfacing with local elected officials to disperse useful information about governmental processes.

Nor is this a complete list, notes Dave Cambron, president of the Germantown club. The aforementioned organizations and several others, he notes, continue to conduct useful meetings, assist with political campaigns, and serve as organizational nuclei for interested Democrats, in and out of election years.

So yes, Democratic Party organizations are live and well in Shelby County.

It’s just that the Democratic Party of Shelby County, the official organization which in theory is the party’s flagship, may not be one of them. Cambron, a former SCDP vice chair who served a brief term as acting chairman last year during a difficult moment for the local party, declined to comment on what is shaping up as another period of crisis.

As of earlier this month, the party lacks a chairperson, former chair Randa Spears having resigned for reasons that may have something to do with her desire to focus more on the duties of her job at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital but may also have to do with what various Democrats describe as a kind of chaos that has descended upon the Party’s affairs.

These Democrats say that Spears, who was elected chair of the party in March of 2015 in the wake of a financial scandal involving previous chair Bryan Carson, has had to contend with persistent tension at party meetings involving Del Gill, her runner-up in the chairmanship election who, at meeting after meeting, has employed an unrelenting variety of parliamentary maneuvers to challenge the chair’s control.

Gill, of course, does not see himself as the problem. Rather, he appears to regard himself as a long-term, committed party member who has so far been unfairly frustrated from realizing his own leadership ambitions. He sees himself as a Democratic purist who has mastered both Roberts’ Rules of Order and the party’s own regulations, while his foes see him as pedantic to a fault, disruptive by nature, and egregiously self-absorbed.

In any case, he has to be regarded as a leading candidate for the local party’s chairmanship, which will be up for grabs again in June at a meeting presided over by Sheriff’s Department Lt. Michael Pope, a former party vice chair now serving as acting chairman. Several members of the party’s executive committee say privately they intend to resign if Gill is elected.

The leadership vacuum is just one of the party’s problems, of course. Another is that, for the second year in a row, the local party has failed to meet deadlines for filing financial reports with the state Registry of Election Finance and faces the prospect of stiff financial penalties as a result.

Then chairman Carson, Spears’ predecessor, was forced to resign in early 2015 when it was found that the party had not only missed the state Registry’s deadlines but that, as was revealed in an audit conducted by party member Diane Cambron, Carson could not account for some $6,000 in party fund expenditures.

It was then that David Cambron, Diane Cambron’s husband, became acting chair. He served in that role until the election of Spears in March, 2015.

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Friday, April 22, 2016

The Sausage Factory in Nashville

The life, death,and limbo-hood of a bill to benefit veterans, the elderly, and the disalbled. Or: How Politics and Policy Get Ground Together in the General Assembly

Posted By on Fri, Apr 22, 2016 at 1:28 PM


NASHVILLE — One of the last points of contention between factions of the Tennessee legislature concerned HB 2156/SB 1796, a bill to amend the state’s property tax relief program for the elderly and disabled veterans.

News got around about an amendment to the House version of the bill filed by the minority House leader, Craig Fitzhugh (D-Ripley), that would restore cuts made in the previous year to the relief amounts available. In effect, the beneficiaries would enjoy the state's sanction for avoiding a considerable amount of the property taxes they might otherwise be liable for.

This was a policy issue, and a volatile one, inasmuch as — with the interests of veterans and, ipso facto, the issue of patriotism, involved — the pros and cons did not divide along specific party lines. Both parties held caucuses Thursday morning, and the Republicans were focused explicitly on what to do about the Fitzhugh amendment, which, if made subject to a roll call vote, would create potential embarrassments at election time.

Which is to say, it was a politics issue, as well. Not for the first time, two chief ingredients —politics and policy — would be ground together in a legislative sausage.

GOP caucus chair Glen Casada (R-Franklin) moderated his party’s discussion and, after about an hour of it, summed up what he saw as four alternatives, involving such possibilities as moving to defer the issue for a year and substituting their own version of the Fitzhugh amendment. In the end, there was no agreement on a particular strategy, just a determination to neutralize, one way or another, what Fitzhugh had in mind.

Say what you will about the frankly self-serving aspect of the GOP caucus session, it was held in broad daylight, with media admitted. When the Democrats got ready to do theirs, caucus chair Mike Stewart (D-Nashville) announced that it 
Casada in the GOP causus - JB
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  • Casada in the GOP causus
would be held “in private,” though he later acknowledged that the Democratic discussion was a mirror image of the Republican one, devoted almost entirely to the matter of how to keep the Fitzhugh amendment alive and a matter of well-noted public record.

When the House convened to hear the issue, neither set of partisan motivations got much mention, of course.

Rep. Bill Dunn (R-Knoxville), chairman of the House Calendar and Rules committee and a budget hawk, invoked both parliamentary and parimonious motives in maintaining that the Fitzhugh amendment would set a wrong precedent, in being submitted directly from the floor rather than in committee and that it might risk disrupting budget allocations already approved. Other Republicans had similar sentiments.

Fitzhugh and other Democrats objected on the basis of a higher obligation to the interests of the veterans and the elderly. Rep. Antonio Parkinson (D-Memphis), an ex-Marine, took this position to its rhetorical apex. “I’m trying to control myself…That we are even having this discussion! Why are we talking about it?” He contrasted the sacrifices of life and limb on the part of the state’s veterans with the evident determination of “the elite of our state…to eat and eat and eat” from the trough of special privilege.

There was more from both sides of the issue, most of its repetitious , and several attempts to end discussion failed of approval. House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick (R-Chattanooga) wandered over to the press cubiicle at one point, wearing a wicked grin. "How's the Godless atheist caucus?" he jested, then opined wearily, in the manner of a co-conspirator,. "This stuff could go on all night! "

At a given point, it became obvious that enough Republicans — Rep. John Ragan (R-Oak Ridge), Rep. John Forgety (R-Athens), and assorted others, veterans themselves in the main — were prepared to support Fitzhugh.

There ensued a quick sleight of hand, whereby a quick vote of approval for the Fitzhugh amendment by voice vote came and went — so quickly that Democratic caucus chair Stewart missed it, and, once he became aware of it, denounced it as “trickery.” The issue here was clear: he had been cheated of his desire to see as many cost-cutting Republicans as possible go on the record as opposing veterans’ benefits.

Fitzhugh, in the true sense of the phrase, became the Man of the Hour. During the next 60 minutes or so, the bill, with his amendment attached, was shunted through the House Finance, Ways and Means Committee and the House 
Fitzhugh bringing his amendment - JB
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  • Fitzhugh bringing his amendment
Calendar and Rules Committee, where Rep. Ragan, official sponsor of the amended bill, professed himself satisfied with the House having come by “some pretty good sausage.”

“Yeah, but it’s sausage on a credit card,” groused Chairman Dunn.

In any case, it seemed to be a rare victory, both on political and on policy grounds, for Fitzhugh and the Democrats.

And predictably, late in the day came a press release from the indefatigable Ken Jobe, press secretary for the House Democratic Caucus. It was (talk about wearing your message on your sleeve!) entitled “Fitzhugh Restores Tax Relief for Disabled Veterans, Elderly from Republican Cuts.”

Fairly enough, it stated, “Previously, the state would pay tax on the first $175,000 of a veteran’s home and on the first $25,000 for elderly homeowners.  But the new law lowered the limits to $100,000 for veterans.  Elderly or disabled homeowners would be capped at $23,000. The [Fitzhugh} amendment restores the tax refunds to previous levels.”

And, by way of summing up, it attributed to Fitzhugh (a man of courtly eloquence in his own real-speak) the following boilerplate: “What Republicans did to our elderly and our disabled veterans last year was the absolute wrong move.  Our disabled veterans and senior citizens have paid a great physical, mental and emotional price to ensure our liberties. Although we can never fully pay them back for what they have done for our communities, our state and our nation, we can make sure that we uphold our promise to assist with their property taxes.” 

So forth and so on, and so far, so good. Yet, as the release acknowledged in its very last line, “The bill now needs to be reconciled with the Senate version.”

And, in fact, as the House would be informed late in the day, the
Stewart (right) claiming "trickery" - JB
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  • Stewart (right) claiming "trickery"
 Senate, arguably an even more rigidly GOP-dominated body, had declined to accede to three of the House amendments, including the one by Fitzhugh.

The House-Senate conference report, which was approved Friday morning, recommended, in no uncertain terms, “that all amendments be deleted.” And so they were.

Essentially, the report hewed to the Senate version of the bill, which kept most of the provisions found odious and austere in the unamended 2015 version, though it raised last year’s caps on untaxable property from $23,000 to $25,000 and suspended any reference to periods of service or income limits the for veterans newly admitted to the program.

This outcome kept spending levels constant with the amount, involving a modest increase in funding of just under a million dollars, appropriated in this year’s budget, and, though there was a good deal of back and forth, particularly from two dissenters — Rep. Ragan, a retired Air Force colonel, who votes with GOP conservatives on most issues but on this one sided with the Democratic position, and Rep. Karen Camper (D-Memphis).

In the end, Ragan abstained from approving the committee report, and Camper, a veteran herself, voted No. But it was a done deal. The only concession to the idea of upwardly revising the financial benefits for vets and the elderly was a consensus that the issue should be, and would be, revisited next year — though an amendment to that effect was rejected for lack of a motion in its favor from the Senate side.

That was not the finale, however. When the House got its chance to approve the conference report, Rep. Camper produced a minority report, with the Fitzhugh amendment restored. Miraculously, given the obvious desire of most members to get done with official business and get home, a motion to table her report failed.

There followed a recess, where the two caucuses quickly reconsidered things and evidently Camper’s balloon floated back to earth. Back in session, in any case, her report did get tabled, and, presumably because everyone realized it was awfully late in the game, the majority conference report — sans the Fitzhugh amendment — was readied once more for approval.

Camper, Ragan, Forgety and Rep. Eddie Smith (R-Knoxville) all expressed regrets, along with a compensatory claim that that, as Ragan said, they could take “half a loaf” (presumably the abolition of income and term-of-service limits) back home, and, as Forgety said, next year would bring another opportunity “to make our disabled veterans and disabled elderly whole.”

Before the vote was taken, Ragan advised members to vote their conscience and said, “I hope your conscience tells you that the sausage-making process we’ve been involved in is better than nothing.”

The vote came: 58 to 18 in favor. But there was, as all agreed, always next year.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

War and Peace on the Legislative Floor

Some contests were won, some were lost, and some snarled the process of adjournment, forcing an extra day for this session of the Tennessee General Assembly.

Posted By on Thu, Apr 21, 2016 at 8:34 AM

Left hanging Wednesday night in the Tennessee House of Representatives was a measure to phase out the state's Hall Income Tax on inrerest and dividends. The Senate version of the bill would cut the tax from 6 percent to 5 percent in the coming year and continue reductions at 1 percent a year until the tax's elimination in 2021. - Conservative militants in the House like Rep. Billy  Spivey (R-Lewisburg) demanded a quicker trigger, however, one tied to increases in state revenue growth. Here Spivey (center) is being reamed out  for the obstruction by a furious Rep. Charles Sargent (right), the Franklin Republican who chairs  the House Finance, Ways and Means committee, while Rep. Ron Lollar (R-Bartlett), another foe of the proposed change, observes. - At stake, for Lollar and others, was the pending loss of shared revenues for cities and counties provided by Hall Tax revenue. - The imbroglio was left  to be resolved, along with other pending matters, in a meeting of the Finance Committee Thursday morning. - JB
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  • Left hanging Wednesday night in the Tennessee House of Representatives was a measure to phase out the state's Hall Income Tax on inrerest and dividends. The Senate version of the bill would cut the tax from 6 percent to 5 percent in the coming year and continue reductions at 1 percent a year until the tax's elimination in 2021.Conservative militants in the House like Rep. Billy Spivey (R-Lewisburg) demanded a quicker trigger, however, one tied to increases in state revenue growth. Here Spivey (center) is being reamed out for the obstruction by a furious Rep. Charles Sargent (right), the Franklin Republican who chairs the House Finance, Ways and Means committee, while Rep. Ron Lollar (R-Bartlett), another foe of the proposed change, observes.At stake, for Lollar and others, was the pending loss of shared revenues for cities and counties provided by Hall Tax revenue.The imbroglio was left to be resolved, along with other pending matters, in a meeting of the Finance Committee Thursday morning.
 


Sweet reason prevailed in at least one other matter, however, as is indicated by this handshake of reconciliation  between Rep. Glen Casada (R-Franklin), the GOP caucus chair, left, and Rep. Karen Camper (D-Memphis), after Casada decided to withdraw a crippling amendment, one with a stout fiscal note , from a bill by Camper. Her bill  would  create a task force to study the creation of a department of juvenile justice. - Casada's change of mind , which allowed easy passage of the final measure, occurred some two hours after he had added the amendment in a debate that had obvious partisan overtones. - JB
  • JB
  • Sweet reason prevailed in at least one other matter, however, as is indicated by this handshake of reconciliation between Rep. Glen Casada (R-Franklin), the GOP caucus chair, left, and Rep. Karen Camper (D-Memphis), after Casada decided to withdraw a crippling amendment, one with a stout fiscal note , from a bill by Camper. Her bill would create a task force to study the creation of a department of juvenile justice. Casada's change of mind , which allowed easy passage of the final measure, occurred some two hours after he had added the amendment in a debate that had obvious partisan overtones.

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Wednesday, April 20, 2016

State House Declines to Override Haslam Veto of "Bible Bill"

Vote is 40 aye, 50 nay, and 4 abstaining, as numerous members shift sides.

Posted By on Wed, Apr 20, 2016 at 4:04 AM

Foes of the override discuss strategy before the vote. L to r : Reps. Antonio Parkinson and Raumesh Akbari, Democrats from Memphis, and Rep. Mike Stewart (D-Nashville). - JB
  • JB
  • Foes of the override discuss strategy before the vote. L to r : Reps. Antonio Parkinson and Raumesh Akbari, Democrats from Memphis, and Rep. Mike Stewart (D-Nashville).

NASHVILLE — At times it seemed like the legislative debate it was. At other times it seemed like a contest on which side could quote the most scripture — and to what purpose. And, at still other times, (for most of the time, in fact) it played like the pure politics that it also was.

This was the long-awaited vote in the state House of Representatives on Wednesday, April 20, the final day of the Tennesssee General Assembly’s 2016 session, testing the veto power of Governor Bill Haslam on a bill which, in the waning days of session, declared the Holy Bible the official state book of Tennessee.

The bill had passed the House week before last by a margin of 55 to 38. It subsequently passed the state Senate 19-8. But Haslam had exercised one of his rare vetoes — on the dual grounds that the bill manifestly transgressed against the no-establishment-of-religion clause of the federal Constitution and, by making the case for the Bible’s proposed status as a mere historical document, “trivializing” a sacred document.

Variations on that argument were heard fairly consistently during Wednesday morning’s session from opponents of the override — who included several members who had originally voted for the measure.

Just as predictably, proponents for the override repeated arguments frequently made during the original debate on passage — either that the measure contained no religious significance whatsoever or that it did in spades. And sometimes both arguments at once.

In the event, after almost two hours of debate, there were enough crossovers of erstwhile bill supporters to the side of the Governor to defeat the override by a vote of 40 for, 50 against, and 4 abstaining.


Bill sponsor Jerry Sexton (R-Benn Station) had begun his presentation of the override by declaring, "I speak 
Rep. DeBerry waxing eloquent - JB
  • JB
  • Rep. DeBerry waxing eloquent
for the people. They don't have a voice in this chamber except for the voice that I have." In fact, though, there were other voices in support of the override, whether or not "for the people." One such was Rep. Tilman Goins (R-Morristown), who said, "We cannot diminish the Word of God.:

Arguments of that sort were dealt with by Rep. Johnny Shaw (D-Bolivar), who had originally voted in favor of the Bible-as-state-book bill, but now thanked the Govenor "for reminding us we're trivializing the Word of God, and went on to add, "You cannot hide behind the cross as a sinner" and "If we really want to be honoring the Bible, we ought to make sure that everybody in this state is covered health-wise."

Rep. Antonio Parkinson (D-Memphis) was on similar ground with an observation from the gospel of Matthew: "When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites...who "love to be seen by others."

Rep. Steve McManus (R-Cordova) argued in a more secular manner, citing the "establishment" clause of the Constitutiion and saying, simply, "We do not have authority as legislators to pass this bill."

One of several objectors to that notion was Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver (R-Lancaster), who sang a hymnal line or two and enthused: "What if we pass this, and Tennessee becomes 'the state on the hill," showing the world."that Tennessee reverences God's Word." Enshrining the Bible as the official state book would "fan the flame," she said.

Rep. Mark White (R-Memphis), who, like Shaw, had originally voted for the bill, urged caution that members not "pass a law" without attendint to the more important duty of "changing hearts." He said, ""Let's make sure we are comfortable in passing laws...: Jesus Christ didn't come into world to make laws."

Back and forth it went, and several legislators, notably Rep. John D
Bill sponsor Jerry Sexton (R-Benn Station) meets with reporters after defeat of override. - JB
  • JB
  • Bill sponsor Jerry Sexton (R-Benn Station) meets with reporters after defeat of override.
eBaerry (D-Memphis), a minister, made the point that neither Aye voters nor Nay voters were either more or less godly  than those members on the other side. "This vote does not define me," said DeBerry. "Start living faith."

(DeBerry would get the most tumultuous response from the membership when he declared, about those  — presumably business interests — who threatened to leave Tennessee if the legislature should take this or that position, ""If folks tell us 'we're going to leave Tennessee,' tell them to go!")

At length, after several motions to end the debate and "call the question" had failed, the memberrship seemed to talk itself out and finally took time out and voted. The defeat of the override was surely a relief both to the Governor and to the members of the state Senate, who had girded for their own lengthy debate on the issue if the House had acted otherwise.



MTK

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Thursday, April 14, 2016

Haslam Vetoes 'Bible-as-State-Book' Bill

Says bill both trivializes Bible and violates church-state provisions.

Posted By on Thu, Apr 14, 2016 at 11:42 PM


veto_bible_bill.jpg

Gov. Bill Haslam has vetoed SB1108/HB615, the bill, passed by both chambers of the General Assembly, that would make the Bible the official state book of Tennessee.
In a letter to House Speaker Beth Harwell announcing the veto, Haslam said, inter alia:

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

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

It remains to be seen if attempts will be made by the legislaturre to override the veto, with the General Assembly scheduled to adjourn next week.

The Governor's letter can be accessed  below:

1153_001.pdf

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Friday, April 8, 2016

One More Time: Cohen vs. a Ford

County Commissioner Justin Ford files late in the 9th; it’s Kyle vs. Marrero again in House District 30; PLUS more races.

Posted By on Fri, Apr 8, 2016 at 8:51 AM

Cohen (l), Ford - JB
  • JB
  • Cohen (l), Ford

Right up to Thursday’s filing date, it looked as though 9th District congressman Steve Cohen might get a pass in this election cycle, either unopposed or with insubstantial opposition. The actual threat content of a Justin Ford candidacy can be debated, but the second-term Shelby County Commissioner is a member of the once powerful and still extant Memphis political clan, and Ford’s eleventh-hour filing on Thursday has to be taken seriously.

An interesting anecdote from the 2006 general election campaign, when Cohen, then the Democratic nominee for an open congressional seat, was faced by an “independent” candidacy from Jake Ford, brother of outgoing Congressman Harold Ford Jr. (whom Cohen had faced in the 1996 congressional race) and son of former Congressman Harold Ford Sr. : Late in the campaign, Cohen was on track to win easily, and he got what he regarded as a feeler from a Ford supporter: Would he participate in a unity meeting with his independent opponent if Ford chose to formally withdraw from campaigning? “No,” said Cohen, a partisan of Tennessee athletic teams. “I want to beat Alabama. This [Jake Ford’s campaign] is a weak team, but it’s still Alabama!”

(It should be said that Cohen, once ensconced in Washington, has had an off-and-on sympatico relationship with Harold Ford Sr., the family patriarch and a legendary lobbyist and political broker.)

Beyond Justin Ford’s challenge, there are two other Democratic filees, both perennials: M. LaTroy Williams of Memphis and Larry Crim of Antioch., and assorted unknowns or small fry on the Republican and independent side.

Some key races:

STATE SENATE, DISTRICT 30: Former Senator Beverly Marrero has filed to run against incumbent Democrat Sara Kyle, re-igniting both the grudge match she lost in 2012 to former Senator (now Chancellor) Jim Kyle, Sara Kyle’s husband, in a battle of redistricted incumbents and her loss to Sara Kyle in a vote by the Shelby County Democratic Committee to select a successor to the Judge-elect Jim Kyle. Vernon Johnson Sr., a perennial, is also running in the Democratic primary. A sole Republican is Luis Rodriguez, an unknown.

STATE HOUSE, DISTRICT 95: Incumbent Controversial Republican incumbent Curry Todd has three Republican opponents — Diane George, Mark Lovell, and Dana Matheny.

STATE HOUSE, DISTRICT 96: Incumbent Republican Steve McManus *has a primary opponent in Price Harris. Two Democrats —Earl LeFlore and Dwayne Thompson — are running.

STATE HOUSE, DISTRICT 85: Democratic incumbent Johnnie Turner is opposed in the primary by former Memphis Education Association head Keith Williams and London Lamar.

STATE HOUSE, DISTRICT 97: Republican incumbent Jim Coley is unopposed in his primary; a Democrat, Charley Burch, is also running.

STATE HOUSE, DISTRICT 90: Democratic incumbent John DeBerry has a primary opponent in Tami Sawyer.

MTK

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

At Last, Does Cohen Get an Election-Year Pass?

It looked that way last week, as a candid and expansive congressman boasted to the Economics Club of a "YUGE' year of successes.

Posted By on Wed, Apr 6, 2016 at 12:26 AM

Cohen at the Economics Club - JB
  • JB
  • Cohen at the Economics Club


“[FedEx Founder] Fred Smith treats packages better than Delta Airlines treats their passengers”: 9th District congressman Steve Cohen last Wednesday in a luncheon address to the Memphis Economics Club, thereby launching a duel complaint (1) at the failure of Congress to establish comfortable seating standards for air travel, and (2) at Delta, for closing down its Memphis hub and drastically cutting flights from Memphis International Airport.

The congressman was none too charitable, either, with President Obama, handing the President the following grades on an alliterative trio of issues Cohen has considered urgent: A on Cuba, but C-minus on Commutations, and D-minus on Cannabis. Overall, however, Cohen felt that Obama should be credited with a positive agenda and a successful Presidency.

Cohen weighed in on behalf of greater expenditures for the National Institutes of Health as against spending taxpayer money of weapons systems that benefit influential political donors but have no practical purpose in national defense.

The Democratic congressman was unexpectedly kind to his Republican colleague from the adjoining 8th District, Stgephen Fincher, whom he praised for helping to facilitate a positive congressional vote for the Import-Export Bank. And he had praise also for Tennessee’s two GOP Senators, Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, whom he credited with “not being part of the logjam” in Congress.

And Cohen was not above a bit of perhaps justified self-congratulation, ticking off a list of things he’s accomplished, then mimicking Donald Trump’s voice to boast “lots of wins this year, and some of them were YUGE!”

It is beginning to seem clear that, for the very first time since his first successful congressional race in 2006, Cohen is actually going to get a pass this year. No serious challenger in sight after the drop-out, several weeks ago, of state Senator Lee Harris; M. LaTroy Williams, a perennial, has filed, as has Cohen. Justin Ford, a member of the well-known political clan and a Shelby County Commissioner, picked up a petition in January, but there has been no obvious follow-through since. 

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

UPDATE: De-annexation Bill Killed for Session

Senate State and Local Committee votes 5-3-1 to send bill to summer study -- in other words, has put off action on measure until next year.

Posted By on Wed, Mar 30, 2016 at 4:00 PM

NASHVILLE — In a surprise action, the state Senate’s State and Local Committee has voted 5-3-1 (with chairman Ken Yager voting aye) to approve a motion by Senator Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro) sending the controversial de-annexation bill (HB 779/SB 749) to summer study.

Voting in the minority on the motion were the bill’s Senate sponsor, Bo Watson (R-Hixson) and Senator Mark Green (R-Clarksville), a key co-sponsor. It was Green's absence on Tuesday that had postponed a vote until Wednesday's reconvening of the committee.

The action means that all possible action on the bill is over with until, at earliest, the legislative session that begins in January 2017.

"We really had no idea this was going to happen. But it was the best possible result, obviously. This is really a victory for the entire state," said Phil Trenary, the Greater Memphis Area Chamber of Commerce head who had been in Nashville last week and this week opposing the bill.

Though the suddenness of the committee's action took Trenary and other onlookers by surprise, it had become obvious that the bill was in for rough sledding once it hit the Senate committee, where chairman Yager (R-Kingston) supervised a systematic vetting of its contents and numerous witnesses had criticized it in detail.

Some indication of what was to come was the fact that numerous amendments weakening the bill's force were passed in committee on Tuesday by lopsided votes.

Though six witnesses on Tuesday testified to the commmittee in favor of the bill, it had become obvious from previous testimony of bill opponents last week that resistance to it was serious, influential, and in depth.

Not only Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland but the mayors of two other affected cities, Chattanooga and Knoxville, had warned of the bill's potentially ruinous effects, fiscal and otherwise, on targeted cities. Representatives of the state's business community, including Pitt Hyde of AutoZone, and two ranking officers of First Tennessee Bank, seconded that point of view.

Even senators considered friendly to the idea of allowing urban de-annexation procedures had visibly cooled to the provisions of the de-annexation measure sent over from the House after swift ands lopsided passage there.

Those provisions had limited the bill's effects to only five urban areas which had pursued state law in annexations that the bill, in a provision whose constitutionality was in doubt, considered "egregious."

Other objectionable provisions included the bill's allowance of a low ceiling -- 10 percent of an annexed area's population on a petition -- to call a de-annexation referendum.


PREVIOUSLY (3-29-16): The ongoing debate in the General Assembly on a bill to allow de-annexation by areas of Memphis and other Tennessee cities that were annexed since the passage of Public Law 1101 in 1998, was renewed Tuesday in the state Senate’s State and Local Committee.

Two amendments to the House bill were approved last week by the Senate committee — one clarifying certain issues of debt obllgations remaining for any de-annexed residents and another expanding the reach of the bill to all municipalities statewide, not just Memphis and the four other urban areas alleged to have pursued “egregious” annexations since the 1998 date.

Both those amendments were regarded as concessions to the delegation that testified in the committee against the bill last week — which included Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland, Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke, and Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero, as well as AutoZone founder Pitt Hyde and two officials of First Tennessee Bank.

Phil Trenary - JACKSON BAKER
  • Jackson Baker
  • Phil Trenary

Last week’s testifiers made the point that the de-annexation bill received by the House was overly punitive and potentially financially ruinous to the cities affected. (Strickland testified that de-annexation by all the areas annexed by Memphis since 1998 could cost the already cash-strapped city the loss of property tax revenues ranging from $27 at minimum to a maximum of $78 million.)

Chairman Yager began the renewed hearing on Tuesday before a standing-room-only audience, noting that the witnesses against the bill last Wednesday had been opposed to it and professing a desire “to be fair-minded on an issue this polarizing,” then announcing that six new witnesses favoring the bill would be heard.

The first was Patricia Possel of South Cordova, who said, “The city of Memphis tried to silence us,” and went on to note that her area had been annexed July 1, 2012, more than four years before the next scheduled election in South Cordova.

She called the situation “taxation without representation,” and spoke, in a trembling voice, of the murder of a neighbor, Susan McDonald, in 2015 — clearly, an indication to her that crime had followed upon her neighborhood’s annexation by the city as something of a direct consequence.

Finally, she said, there had been “no disclosure” of any kind to her or other homeowners, at the time of their purchasing property, that they were located within one of Memphis’ annexation preserves, about to lose its independence.

Next up was Terry Roland, the chairman of the Shelby County Commission, who announced that he had heard “bad numbers” being testified to by representatives of the city last week and wanted to present “the straight skinny.” According to his own figures, the de-annexation from Memphis of South Cordova and Windyke-Southwind, the last two areas annexed, would result in a financial gain to Memphis of $3 million — not, as had been claimed, a deficit of $13 million.

Roland also spoke, as he has for years, of the constant departure of citizens from Memphis because of high and unreasonable property taxes. He said that 68,000 people had left Shelby county for DeSoto County, Mississippi in the years 2001-2010.

Roland did concede that if all 10 areas annexed by Memphis since 1998 were able to de-annex themselves (as the original House bill provided), the city would end up the loser, financially, but he made it clear he considered that prospect far-fetched.

The two Shelby County witnesses were followed by John Emerson of Alamo (who had been introduced by Yager earlier as “the father of de-annexation” and who pronounced it absurd that representatives of cities habitually spoke as if there a law of nature that urban municipalities could only expand and never contract.

Three residents of Chattanooga suburbs that had been annexed followed, with variations on some of the themes already addressed. (One of them announced that he did not turn on TV to watch “baseball, football, or Dancing With the Stars,” but was a regular watcher of congressional hearings and stayed up late to watch them. He had determined from that practice that public political debates and processes were essentially shams.)

From that point, the stream of amendments that was interrupted by the close of last Wednesday’s hearing ensued again — the first of them authorized by chairman Yager himself and directly addressing the complaint that Strickland had made of the original House bill — that, while it did require newly de-annexed citizens to continue paying their share of the city’s general obligation debt on a pro rata basis, it did not stipulate anything regarding residual pension and OPEB obligation on the part of those residents.

The Yager amendment would include pensions and OPEB obligations on a pro-rated basis.

Senator Bo Watson of Hixson, a suburb of Chattanooga, and a sponsor of the de-annexation bill, challenged the logic of including those debts, which Watson suggested were “pay-as-you-go” by their nature and that ex post facto assessments would be improperly doubling up on charges to the residents.

He was backed up on those allegations by Senator Todd Gardenhire, another Chattanoogan, who testified from his point of view as a former member of a U.S. Department of Labor committee on pension obligations. In the course of seconding Watson’s assertions that including the new assessments would be double-billing de-annexed residents, Gardenhire got off a series of negative observations regarding the past fiscal performance of the city of Memphis.

Most of those observatios recapitulated criticisms made by state comptroller Justin Wilson about city bookkeeping practices during the administration of former Mayor A C Wharton. “The city of Memphis was not run like a business,” Gardenhire said. Even so, the amendment was passed by the committee 6-1. It began to seem possible that the optimism for a favorable resolution expressed last week by Strickland and Chamber of Commerce president Phil Trenary might be justified.

That sense was furthered somewhat by discussion later of other new amendments, notably including one by chairman Yager that would raise from 10 to 20 percent the percentage of residents necessary to validate a petition for a de-annexation referendum. This one ultimately passed 7-0, and among those committee members agreeing with Yager that “the bar should be raised” on requirements for a de-annexation petition was state Senator Mark Norris (R-Collierville), a nominal supporter of the bill’s intent.

Not everything was roses. An amendment from state Senator Reginald Tate (D-Memphis) limited the Memphis areas eligible for de-annexation to South Cordova and Southwind-Windyke failed for lack of a second. And another, contemplated by Yager, requiring 66 percent, rather than a simple majority, for passage of a de-annexation referendum, was withdrawn by the chairman.

Asked afterward to assess Tuesday’s actions on the bill, the Trenary said the amendments made the bill “more realistic” but said he still continued to oppose it and was hopeful that the legislature as a whole ultimately would.

Roland’s reaction was one of satisfaction also, and he expressed the hope that the effect of the bill might still be limited to the two recently annexed areas of South Cordova and Southwind-Windyke. “They’re the only ones that are organized,” he pointed out.

An ultimate vote by the committee on the amended bill was delayed out of courtesy to the bill’s main sponsor, state Senator Mark Green of Clarksville, who was absent. (It was Green who last week compared the alleged “egregious” annexations by Memphis and other cities to a Russian occupation of Poland, and Norris wondered somewhat archly on Tuesday how the residents who moved to “Poland” in recent years should be counted in determining the right ceiling for a referendum petition.)

It is hard to imagine Green being altogether favorable to the amendments accepted Tuesday, but, in any case, whatever his opinion or the committee’s vote on the bill, the bill is not likely to be headed to the floor of either House or Senate anytime soon.

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Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Memphians Upbeat on Thwarting or Changing De-Annexation Bill After Hearing

Senate State and Local Committee vets measure, will continue next week.

Posted By on Wed, Mar 23, 2016 at 3:48 PM

Mayors Berke and Strickland after testifying in Nashville, Wednesday. - JACKSON BAKER
  • Jackson Baker
  • Mayors Berke and Strickland after testifying in Nashville, Wednesday.




NASHVILLE -- After a two-hour hearing on the now-famous de-annexation bill by the state Senate's State and Local committee, both Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland and Chamber of Commerce president Phil Trenary professed themselves satisfied that progress had been made toward either de-toxifying the bill or defeating it outright.

Two amendments were discussed and voted on, the first returning the House version of the bill to the status of a previous Senate version that applies the provisions of the bill statewide, thus eliminating the controversial winnowing down of target cities to five "egregious" offenders in the House bill that passed overwhelmingly last week.

That amendment passed 8-1. A second amendment  that clarified aspects of debt repayment required of de-annexed areas and left the way open for widening the scope of those debts passed 7-1. Ready in the hopper, when the committee reconvenes on Tuesday is an amendment that would include pension and OPEB obligations among those debts remaining on the tax bills of de-annexed citizens.

Both amendments were regarded as congenial by members of the large delegation in attendance from Memphis. Trenary said, "I think everybody's eyes have been opened up here." He and Strickland both indicated they thought the House bill was destined to be a thing of the past.

The very fact that the State and Local Committee only scratched the surface of a flock of amendments and will need to reconvene on Tuesday is an indication that things are moving in the direction of the Memphians in attendance. Chairman Yager did say, however, that the clock would not run out on the bill, that a version readymade for voting would be ready next week for House-Senate conferencing and a final vote.

Testifying before the committee on aspects of the bill were Strickland and fellow mayors Andy Berke of Chattanooga and Madeline Rogero of Knoxville, as well as Pitt Hyde of Auto-Zone, and David Popwell and Jim Vogel of First Tennessee Bank.

Strickland repeated reservations about the bill he had previously stated — including the fact that the city stood to lose 110,000 residents under the provisions of the House bill and financials losses amounting to 12 percent of its annual budget. Further, he said, the city would fall from 23rd largest in the nation to 33rd and be faced with a profile of instability that would adversely influence potential business/industrial clients looking to relocate.

Although Berke and Rogero did not envision results for their cities that drastic, they each testified that urban and state affairs would be put in a state of uncertainty and confusion if the House version became law. Hyde and the First Tennessee officials underscored the negative effects the bill would have on economic prospects for Memphis.


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Monday, March 21, 2016

State Senate Puts Off Action on De-Annexation Bill, Sends It Back to Committee

Pause is temporary, as bill will be reconsidered in State and Local Committee at noon on Wednesday; stout lobbying effort from city assisted in result.

Posted By on Mon, Mar 21, 2016 at 5:14 PM

State Senator Lee Harris arguing for bill's referral
  • State Senator Lee Harris arguing for bill's referral

Nobody’s going anywhere just yet. The bill (HB0779/SB074) pending in the General Assembly that would allow de-annexation by any area annexed by Memphis since 1998 has been referred back to committee.

Several factors combined to produce that result on Monday — including reservations about the bill expressed by Lt. Governor Bill Haslam and Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey) and phone calls to legislators by Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland, abetted by on-site lobbying in Nashville on Monday by Memphis Chamber officials and City Council members.

But the actual mechanism that took the bill off the Senate floor and staved off a floor vote came on a motion by Senator Ken Yager of Kingston, chairman of the body’s State and Local Committee, who found the version that passed the House last week to be “totally unacceptable…bad law and bad policy.”

Yager based his objections mainly on the bill’s singling out a five cities (including Memphis) out of the 350 or so muinicipalities in Tennessee and its use of the hazy term “egregious” to describe annexations by those cities.

After the Senate sponsor, Bo Watson of Hixson, quarreled with that judgment and after a good deal of ensuing to and fro in debate, the Senate agreed to suspend the rules and refer the bill for reconsideration to Yager’s committee, which will hear it during a specially called session on Wednesday at noon.

Mayor Strickland and the Council and legislators representing Memphis itself have opposed the bill for numerous reasons, including the fact that, they say, it could cost the city $28 million annually in revenue and the loss of some 110,000 inhabitants, wreaking unintended consequences and havoc overall.

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