Legislative Update, February 18, 2017

Tennessee General Assembly information, click HERE. For information on State Senators, including phone numbers and email addresses, click HERE; for House members, click HERE. For information on legislation, click HERE.
Don't forget that you can now watch the Senate committee meetings and floor sessions online by going HERE; House committee meetings and floor sessions online HERE.
Phone calls can go to the legislative Switchboard at 615-741-3011 or to the Toll Free number 1-800-449-8366+1 last four digits of office phone number (available online).

"Were my soul trembling on the wing of eternity, were this hand freezing to death, were my voice choking with the last struggle, I would still, with the last gasp of that voice, implore you to remember the truth: God has given America to be free." -- Patrick Henry

Well, things are REALLY beginning to move fast. If you have never been to Plaza to see your government in action, I invite you to do so. Being there in the midst of all the near 'chaos' and decision making processes will help you understand how important your prayers are for wisdom, discernment, courtesy, and understanding.  In addition, except for those lawmakers who live in middle Tennessee, these men and women are away from home and their jobs, all week, ever week, keeping long hours. YOUR prayers can make a great deal of difference and remember, each of us have to live with the decisions made at the Capitol!!

Most weeks I have a hard time putting everything we do at the capitol into a single paragraph. Fortunately, there was an ongoing theme this week: medical marijuana.  I arrived at the plaza late, but when I got to the cafeteria Ms. Bobbie was already in a meeting. She had found out, we had allies in our fight against the medical marijuana bill! Later we sat in on the health committee, where they were hearing very one sided testimony regarding the bill. Representative Kumar, and other committee members, asked some wonderfully pointed questions on the biased testimony. It was nice to know we have people both in the pews and behind the podium fighting beside us

As every week passes the Legislature seems to get more hectic and busy. On Wednesday, Mrs. Bobbie and I ran from committee, to offices, and back to other committees, only stopping briefly for lunch. The first thing we did was go to the Senate floor. There were many interesting topics among the committees on Wednesday, including a presentation from the Office of the Governor speaking on the IMPROVE act, and a testimony on medical marijuana. It will be interesting to see how these bills and topics will come about through the coming weeks.

Last week, the Veterans held their Day on the Hill. Rep. Judd Matheny, who is a Vet, posed with Maggie in front of the 'Wall". This week the City of Memphis outdid themselves with their 'Day on the Hill'!

HJR 0031 by *Goins
Memorials, Congress - Supports U.S. statehood for Puerto Rico.

EXCERPT: Over the past 30 years, Puerto Rican politics has been dominated by more liberal, blue state-leaning policies.  Of the eleven governors who presided over the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, nine have been Democrats.  By total time in office, Republicans have been in power for about 12 per cent of the time.  In general, these governors have opted for increased spending, expanding governments, increasing welfare and other transfer payments from the Federal Government, and higher taxation in the hopes that revenues would come close to supporting government spending programs.   

EXCERPT: Puerto Rico’s poverty rate is nearly double that of Mississippi, the most impoverished state in the US. Puerto Rico’s poverty rate hit 44.9%, according to new data released today by the US Census Bureau—that’s nearly double the poverty rate in Mississippi, the most impoverished of the fifty states. It’s the latest in a string of bad economic news for the self-governing US territory.
Puerto Rico’s rap sheet isn’t so different from that of many troubled European countries. It’s been in a recession since 2006—longer even than Greece. And like many euro zone countries, it can’t inflate its way out of its problems because it uses the US dollar.

EXCERPT: The outcome is now partly in the hands of Congress, where House Republicans are seeking to build support for legislation that would empower a federal panel to oversee Puerto Rico’s budget and a restructuring of its debt. Given its economic state, investors view major defaults as increasingly inevitable: bonds backed by the government’s full taxing power that mature in 2022 traded last week for 57 cents on the dollar, nearly half what they sold for a decade ago.

STATUS:  An attorney from Puerto Rico who lives in Rep. Tillman Goins' district gave an impressive testimony supporting HJR31. Rep. Littleton asked about the extremely high poverty rate and debt that the exists, but nevertheless, the Resolution was passed out of the subcommittee and is scheduled in full committee on Tuesday.

ACTION: PLEASE contact members of the State Government Committee and, based on the information above, ask them to OPPOSE HJR31.

SB 0803 by *Dickerson,(HB 0495) by *Faison
Controlled Substances - As introduced, requires court clerks to forward, within six weeks instead of 45 days, information to the Tennessee bureau of investigation regarding convictions of persons to be included on the drug offender registry. [NOTE:  This is a 'caption' bill and the text of the actual bill will be added in committee as an amendment.]  
The Faison-Dickerson bill allows for 50 grow houses statewide, with each allowed to run one on-site dispensary and two storefront dispensaries. It has strict requirements for security and licensing for those facilities. The bill would also require doctors to get a special marijuana prescribing card and a limit on which ailments can be treated with marijuana. However, keep in mind, under federal law, this is ILLEGAL.

Dr. Suzanne Sisley, MD, Scottsdale Research Institute and Roberto Pickering, a Veteran with PTSD, testified in at least three different committees over Tuesday and Wednesday supporting medical marijuana, in at least one committee without opposing testimony.  Pickering uses the 
eatable form, which is the way children and others has access to the drug
. In each committee I was pleased with the thoughtful questions that were asked and the points that were made, especially with a senator calling attention to  newborns in Colorado: Hospitals Reporting More Colorado Babies Being Born THC-Positive

The best news is that we are not in this alone.  I was thrilled to learn that we have some allies in the effort to STOP this legislation.  Testifying against legalizing medical marijuana was Jerry Estes, Executive Director of the District Attorneys General Conference and Michael Warren, MD, Deputy Commissioner for Population Health, Department of Health. We also learned that the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation will be opposing it and a couple of lobbyists from a well known firm.  Stay tuned.

SB 1165 by *Hensley , (HB 0739) by *Daniel
Education, Higher - As introduced, enacts the "Tennessee Student Free Expression Act."

‘MILO Bill’ Filed in Tennessee to Ensure Freedom of Speech on College Campuses
by Lucas Nolan9 Feb 2017
A Tennessee bill designed to protect freedom of speech on college campuses, known as “The MILO Bill,” was filed today with a press conference held afterward.
The press conference was held by Martin Daniels, the representative for Tennessee’s 18th district. Senator Joey Hensley was also present at the meeting, explaining the need for the bill, titled, “Tennessee Freedom of Speech on College Campus Bill,” and the desired outcome of the legislation.
“We just want to ensure that our public universities give all students the right to free expression,” said Senator Hensley. “Too many times we’ve seen classrooms where the professor doesn’t want to hear both sides of an issue, we’ve heard stories from many students that, honestly, are on the conservative side that have those issues stifled in the classroom. We just want to ensure our public universities allow all types of speech.”


Hearings were held in the Senate Transportation Committee, the House Transportation Subcommittee and the House Transportation full Committee this week. We heard lots of testimony, but no specific bill was discussed. There is still a lot of skepticism about the Governor's plan. We learned, among other things, that there are 962 projects across the 95 counties waiting, that the last tax increase was 30 years ago, and that electric vehicles would see at $100 fee, there would be a three percent increase in rental charges, in addition to the seven cent increase of the gas tax and the 12 cent increase in diesel fuel.

Tennessee Gov. Haslam tax plan spurs debate: Baby formula, caviar and 'fat cats'
February 16th, 2017 by Andy Sher
NASHVILLE — A nationally known conservative economist says Tennessee lawmakers shouldn't include a tax cut on groceries as an offset to Republican Gov. Bill Haslam's proposed gas tax hike.
Arthur Laffer, who advocated "supply side" economics to slash taxes to spur economic growth during the Reagan administration, praised Haslam's proposed cuts in state corporate taxes during a House Transportation Subcommittee's meeting on Wednesday. Those would stimulate Tennessee's economy, said Laffer who lives these days in Brentwood near Nashville.
But Laffer called the governor's idea of also lowering the 5 percent grocery tax to 4.5 percent "silly pandering... that's not helping the poor."
He also said cutting corporate taxes would encourage companies to expand, hire more people and help more people out of poverty.
In addition to cutting corporate taxes, Haslam is also recommending accelerating the previously approved Hall tax on interest and dividend income. That largely benefits wealthier Tennesseans.

Norris Filing Catch-All Bill for Variations of Proposed IMPROVE Act
Monday, February 13, 2017
NASHVILLE – Tennessee Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris is filing legislation for the Haslam administration to catch all transportation tax and revenue-related bills in an effort to “start anew” and minimize confusion.
Amid rancor from nearly every corner of the General Assembly, Norris says his bill will be “broad enough to welcome all comers to the well and let them bring forth their amendments along with the governor’s bill so we can sort of all sing from the same hymn book.”
The Collierville Republican points out legislators are proposing numerous plans in reaction to Gov. Bill Haslam’s IMPROVE Act and notes, “if you have a number of plans, you don’t have any plans.”


SB 0771 by *Beavers,(HB 0888) by *Pody
Students - As introduced, requires 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

NOTE:  This should have been nipped in the bud. Several years ago, in the Senate hearing room some protestors invaded the room, and interlocked their arms to each other and to the chairs.  A recess was called and the Capitol Hill troopers came into the room and cleared it out, then the meeting went on as scheduled.

'Bathroom bill’ news conference stopped by protesters
A press conference State Rep. Mark Pody, R-Lebanon, and Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mount Juliet, was first disrupted by protesters, then cancelled on Wednesday afternoon. Some of the protesters then followed the legislators into a Legislative Plaza hallway, confronting them with slogans and critical commentary, until Beavers and Pody were escorted from the Plaza by state troopers.
The Wilson County lawmakers had announced in an email to media they would “discuss HB888/SB771 (Bathroom Bill) and HB892/SB752 (Defense of Natural Marriage Act)” at the news conference.
The “bathroom bill” would requires transgender persons to use the rest room designated for their birth gender.


Protesters prompt McNally to push tighter security
A day after shouting protesters stopped two legislators from holding a Legislative Plaza press conference, Lt. Gov. Randy McNally said Thursday that a return to tighter security measures at the state Capitol complex is needed.
From The Tennessean:
McNally said… that he is considering reinstating a policy that was eliminated to require visitors to the legislature to have an ID scanned and wear a badge while visiting. He said some of the behavior from protestors, like preventing them from getting on elevators and leaving “shouldn’t occur.”
“We’re in favor of going back to have a little more security,” McNally said.
The move would require a joint effort between both Senate and House leadership.
McNally said it may require an entry process similar to what is used in most schools, which require visitors to scan an ID at an entry point and wear a visitor’s badge.

Mark Lovell violated legislative sexual harassment policy, state investigation finds
Joel Ebert and Dave Boucher , The Tennessean
Published 12:15 p.m. CT Feb. 17, 2017
An investigation by a special Tennessee House committee determined former lawmaker Mark Lovell violated the legislature's new sexual harassment policy, according to information obtained by The USA TODAY NETWORK - Tennessee.
Although the specific accusations against Lovell are not included in the public investigative memo, the release confirms a probe did take place and the committee found Lovell guilty.
"Based upon the completed staff investigation, which included interviews with all parties, the Ethics Subcommittee finds that Representative Lovell violated the policy," states the memo dated Friday and included in Lovell's personnel file.
"Mr. Lovell resigned his seat as a member of the House of Representatives," the memo reads. "Mr. Lovell has been advised to avoid all contact with the complainant and other parties involved in this complaint."
Lovell, 58, announced his resignation from the House of Representatives on Tuesday.