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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Senators Refuse to Consider Ban on Mountaintop Removal Mining; Democrats Let It Happen

Posted By on Wed, Mar 20, 2013 at 10:58 AM

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Who needs Rocky Top? The Scenic Vistas Act just went down for yet another year in the state Senate. It was an ignominious end, with the knuckle draggers on the Energy, Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee refusing to even give the bill a motion for approval.

"Do we have a motion on the bill?" asked the chairman, Sen. Steve Southerland, R-Morristown. "Do we have a motion on the bill? Do we have a motion on the bill? The bill dies for lack of a motion."

One Democrat on the committee, Sen. Charlotte Burks, fled the room before the bill came up. Another one, Sen. Ophelia Ford, was missing in action, too. That left the sponsor, Democratic Sen. Lowe Finney, to twist in the wind. He knew what was coming and pleaded with the committee to listen to testimony against blowing the tops off our mountains. But the committee refused as coal miners in attendance burst into cheers.

"I hope the committee will be open to what we’re bringing before you today," Finney said. "And if there’s a way to make it better, I’m all for it. I hope we can start with the basic approach that we have a real treasure in East Tennessee, and this is one way we can work to protect what we have."

With some conservatives hopping aboard the bill this year, environmentalists hoped for a different result. But this idea is going no where as long as King Coal is playing Senate speaker Ron Ramsey like a Grand Ole Opry fiddle.

Update: In a press release, Appalachian Voices singled out the committee's missing Democrats for criticism, suggesting they sold out to the coal industry despite their past support for the bill.

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Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Wine-in-Supermarkets Bill Dies in House Committee; Chairman Apologizes to Angry Shoppers

Posted By on Tue, Mar 12, 2013 at 2:18 PM

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One minute we thought we were about to start guzzling wine conveniently purchased in our neighborhood supermarket, and the next minute our happiness is smashed again. The House Local Government Committee has just voted 8-7 to kill the wine-in-supermarkets bill. This legislature is a wild roller-coaster ride!

The committee chairman, Rep. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough, was the crucial no vote. Supporters expected him to vote yes but he flipped because he said he was upset that they moved to cut off debate quickly and force the committee to decide. That motion was made by Rep. Mike Stewart, D-Nashville, who mistakenly thought Hill would vote yes and the bill would pass.

House Speaker Beth Harwell—one of the bill's supporters—attended the meeting and would have kept the bill alive by breaking a tie vote. She didn't get the chance.

Hill said he reversed his position and betrayed Harwell because he wanted to debate and vote on 10 amendments that never were brought up. Can you imagine a committee chairman pulling such a stunt when Jimmy Naifeh was House speaker? Hill stabbed Harwell in the back with her sitting right there in the room with him.

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Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Wine-in-Supermarkets Lives to Fight Another Day

Posted By on Wed, Mar 6, 2013 at 12:30 PM

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House Speaker Beth Harwell popped the cork on legalizing the sale of wine in supermarkets, casting the deciding vote to spring the long-suffering bill out of a subcommittee today. The vote was 5-4 to send the bill to the full committee. Before anyone gets too excited, Harwell is making no predictions about its future in the House.

"I think we’ll continue to garner support for this piece of legislation as lawmakers listen to their folks back home," she said afterward. "I’ll take one day at a time. No predictions."

By House rule, Harwell can vote on any committee, and she exercised that right for the first time this session to save the wine bill. It narrowly escaped the Senate State and Local Government Committee a couple of weeks ago. That was the first time wine-in-supermarkets had ever cleared any committee in umpteen years in the legislature. That took backroom arm-twisting by Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey.

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Thursday, February 28, 2013

Despite Newtown, Tennessee Legislature Expands Gun Rights Again

Posted By on Thu, Feb 28, 2013 at 11:10 AM

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The Republican supermajority in the state House swatted down a slew of Democratic amendments this morning—rejecting attempts to exempt parking lots at elementary schools, day-care centers and colleges—then passed the guns-in-cars bill by a vote of 72-22 and sent it to the governor for his signature.

Only a couple of months after the Newtown, Conn., shootings as the rest of America debates restrictions on firearms and ammunition, the legislature now has adopted a major new expansion of gun rights in Tennessee.

“Today we’re telling businesses they must allow guns on their property, and the question is, what will we do next?” House Democratic leader Craig Fitzhugh asked. Rep. Johnnie Turner, D-Memphis, wondered if "God forbid, guns in churches" is on the NRA's to-do list.

It’s a big victory for the NRA, which has demanded this so-called safe commute law for years. It lets the state’s nearly 400,000 handgun carry permit owners keep weapons in their vehicles in parking lots at work or school or anywhere else they please.

The Tennessee Chamber of Commerce & Industry and big employers—such as Volkswagen, FedEx and the University of Tennessee—always have managed to beat it back in the past, citing security issues and claiming the right to control their own properties.

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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Wine-in-Supermarkets Bill Narrowly Survives Committee Vote

Posted By on Tue, Feb 26, 2013 at 11:51 AM

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For the first time, the wine-in-supermarkets bill has escaped a legislative committee. A few minutes ago, the Senate State and Local Government Committee voted 5-4 for the bill, which despite its broad popular appeal always has died ignominiously in past years.

We can thank Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey for today’s vote. He twisted arms in the backroom to ensure the bill made it out of committee. On the Senate floor, Ramsey says the bill’s on its own. But with upwards of 70 percent of Tennesseans demanding wine on their supermarket shelves, he insisted that it deserved a full Senate vote, at the least. Viva la RonRam!

In the umpteen years this bill has been introduced in the legislature, it always has fallen victim to a seemingly unbeatable lobbying combination: the liquor industry and Christian crazies.

This year, the bill’s sponsors are taking a different tack and they think it’s a game-changer. They’ve altered the bill to allow referendums on the issue in cities that already permit liquor by the drink or retail package stores. This way, weak-kneed lawmakers can claim they’re not really voting for wine in stores but only to let the people decide.

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Tuesday, February 5, 2013

O'Day Resigns as Children's Services Commissioner

Posted By on Tue, Feb 5, 2013 at 10:21 AM

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Tennessee Children’s Services Commissioner Kate O’Day resigned today just before she was to face questioning from lawmakers about deaths of children under her agency's watch.

“Kate has informed me that she felt the time was right to step down,” Gov. Bill Haslam said. “She was concerned that she had become more of a focus than the children the department serves. I appreciate Kate’s service to this administration and to our state. She has done a lot of good work in identifying longstanding problems that have hampered the department, and we will build on those efforts as we move forward.”

O'Day has come under heavy criticism for her agency's care of children. The state Senate Health and Welfare Committee was to hold hearings on the department's operations tomorrow. Some Democrats had called for O'Day's resignation.

In January, Chancery Court Judge Carole McCoy ordered the department to surrender records of more than 200 children who died or nearly died since 2009 after having some contact with the agency. That ruling came in a lawsuit by media outlets to open the records. O'Day became the agency's commissioner in 2011 when Haslam took office.

Update: Rep. Sherry Jones calls O'Day's resignation "long past due." She adds, "There are still many questions that need to be answered about the administration of DCS over the past two years.”

Friday, December 14, 2012

Developing: Connecticut School Shootings

Posted By on Fri, Dec 14, 2012 at 12:42 PM

Following the horrible news out of Newtown, Conn., on the AP:

NEWTOWN, Conn. (AP) — A shooting at a Connecticut elementary school Friday left 27 people dead, including 18 children, an official said.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation was still under way. Another official, speaking on condition of anonymity for the same reason, said the gunman at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown was killed and apparently had two guns.

A law enforcement official in Washington said the attacker was a 20-year-old man with ties to the school and that one of the guns was a .223-caliber rifle. The official also said that New Jersey State Police were searching a location in that state in connection with the shootings.

The outpouring of fury and grief online is staggering, with as much argument over the handling of the story (whether to interview the young witnesses) as over gun control issues. Right now, I'm wishing, like countless other parents, that I had my arms held tight around my kids.

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Friday, December 7, 2012

The City Paper Wins Judgment in TSSAA Open Records Suit

Posted By on Fri, Dec 7, 2012 at 2:56 PM

The Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association was declared to be subject to the Tennessee Open Records Act, in a judgment rendered Friday. The City Paper had filed suit against the organization for access to public records.

The CP reports:

Responding to a lawsuit filed by The City Paper earlier this year, Chancellor Claudia Bonnyman granted the newspaper’s motion, agreeing that the TSSAA is the state’s de facto regulatory body for high school athletics and therefore subject to records requests.

As part of an investigation into recruiting violations at Montgomery Bell Academy, The City Paper requested documents from the TSSAA in January but was denied by the organization. The paper petitioned the court for access to the records in February.

The TSSAA had previously been declared a state actor in a 2001 Supreme Court decision involving a dispute between the association and Brentwood Academy over recruiting rules.

“This is a good day for open records,” said editor Steve Cavendish. “We strongly believed that the TSSAA is the equivalent of a state body. They’re the only game in town for high school athletics. Their actions affect student athletes across the state, both public and private. The Supreme Court said so in 2001, and we’re glad the chancellor did today.”

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Monday, November 5, 2012

Belle Meade Country Club Admits First Black Resident Member

Posted By on Mon, Nov 5, 2012 at 1:55 PM

After months of deliberation and hearsay, Pith has it on authority that the tony Belle Meade Country Club has admitted its first resident African-American member.

That person is Waverly Crenshaw, a partner at the prominent Nashville law firm of Waller Lansden Dortch & Davis, Pith has learned from a club member who wishes to remain anonymous. Pith previously reported on Crenshaw's candidacy in January.

Attempts to reach Crenshaw by phone were unsuccessful. However, the source provided Pith with a screenshot of a club periodical, which lists Crenshaw as a new resident member sponsored by Robert E. Boston, also of Waller Lansden:

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Thursday, October 25, 2012

Appeals Court Upholds Tennessee's Voter Photo ID Law

Posted By on Thu, Oct 25, 2012 at 3:43 PM

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The state Court of Appeals upheld the voter photo ID law today but still managed to piss off Republicans by ordering election officials to accept Memphis public library cards at the polls.

“This is the definition of 'legislating from the bench' and, frankly, is unacceptable,” the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Debra Maggart, snarled in a press release.

The GOP outrage is new evidence—if any is needed—of the party’s true goal in ramming this law through the legislature. That purpose mainly is to suppress the votes of black people, and especially the ones in Memphis who really annoy Republicans by actually running their city and taking their voting rights seriously. If they vote in large enough numbers, they can—and have—swung statewide elections for Democrats. And now they have managed to do an end-around the legislature, and they can hand out their own photo IDs for voting.

Does anyone think it would upset Maggart so much if the court was letting voters in, say, Ooltewah, use their library cards?

As for today’s decision on the law’s constitutionality, the plaintiffs' lawyers correctly argued it sets a dangerous precedent. The judges concluded it’s enough for Republicans to say the law is aimed at stopping voter fraud. They didn’t have to prove it. That’s something they can’t do, of course, because no such fraud exists. In so ruling, the court handed lawmakers carte blanche to restrict voting rights in just about any way they please for whatever reason they might concoct.

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