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State legislators head back to their "district offices," whatever those are

State legislators head back to their "district offices," whatever those are

The General Assembly was supposed to conclude after the first full week of May, so naturally it ended after the third full week of May. Two weeks late, if one consults recent history, is pretty much par for the course, if not better than par. What hath the state legislature wrought? Quite a bit actually, with a little—make that a lot—of help from their Uncle Phil.

Poor old TennCare, the state's alternative to the federal Medicaid program and everyone's favorite budgetary whipping boy, was (finally) substantially reformed at the behest of Gov. Bredesen, who called for limits on prescription drugs, doctor visits and hospital stays. It turns out that TennCare's provisions of unlimited medical services at virtually no cost to many enrollees without regard to the actual need for those services was eventually going to bankrupt the state. Who knew?

Bredesen also pushed through a workers' compensation reform package that for many Democratic special interests—labor unions and trial lawyers in particular—is absolute heresy, because it lowers potential benefits for workers injured on the job, and, by extension, potential fees for trial lawyers. Business folks like the idea for obvious reasons. No one else really gives a damn, to be perfectly honest, as the service economy has essentially rendered workers' comp a non-issue for most people nowadays.

What people really do care about is the state budget, which for the second year in a row was passed with little to no rancor, despite a last minute attempt to make a little political hay about funds being expropriated from cities and counties to augment the state's own accounts. A nice thought, but it went nowhere, because the hard truth is that most Tennesseans don't really care how the state budget gets balanced so long as it doesn't involve an income tax. Mission accomplished. Thus far.

The requirements for high school seniors to get lottery scholarships have also changed. Originally, an ACT score of 19 along with a grade point average of 3.0 was the magic combination for a student to get a lottery scholarship, while homeschoolers had to score a 23 on the ACT. Now college-bound students must score at least 21 on the ACT or obtain 3.0 grade point averages regardless of their schooling situation. Nashville's own state Rep. Sherry Jones didn't support the new requirements on the theory that public school students have to pass "Gateway" tests while homeschooled students do not, even though the Gateway exams—end-of-course proficiency tests in English II, Algebra I and Biology—don't seem to have anything at all to do with grade point averages, the ACT or the price of tea in China.

In other news, the state will now require nursing homes to have sprinkler systems installed over a two-year period, the police can now pull you over solely for not wearing a seat belt, and day care vans must now be equipped with alarm systems that remind drivers getting out of the vans to ensure that no children are still on board. As opposed to simply shutting down any day care center incompetent enough to employ a person who would need such a reminder.

Finally, late Thursday night when you weren't supposed to be looking, the General Assembly voted to adjust its salary in the form of pay raises tied to state employee raises starting in 2007. Actually, there's nothing really wrong with this. Legislative pay is ridiculously low—it's been a mere $16,500 annually since 1988—and the time for a pay raise is well overdue.

What's odd is the doubling of the monthly "office allowance" for legislators from $525 to a flat $1,000 starting in November of this year. Ostensibly, this money is to pay for offices in the legislators' home districts. One problem: Unlike, say, members of the U.S. Congress, few if any state legislators have "district offices" at all. No matter. They get the money anyway, which effectively means that they're getting a cut of their pay raises a few years early, "district office" or no.

Fireman's fund

It's probably not the prospect of an extra $1,000 a month that's motivating Joelton's Gary Moore, but the Democrat may give incumbent House member Tim Garrett a surprising run for that money during the August primary for the District 50 seat.

Moore is former president of the Nashville Firefighters Association, the local affiliate of the politically influential International Association of Firefighters (IAFF), and the current president of the Tennessee Professional Firefighters Association. As such, Moore stands to reap significant financial contributions from the AFL-CIO-affiliated IAFF and others in labor union circles. Garrett himself has acknowledged as much and is working hard to stave off the threat.

Moore's predictions of raising $50,000 to $75,000 aside, he has learned that unseating a 20-year incumbent won't be easy, especially one as savvy as Garrett.

"Tim is not taking me lightly," Moore says. "I was kind of hoping he would."

Feel free to e-mail Roger at rabramson@nashvillescene.com.

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