Friday, May 27, 2011

The 107th Tennessee General Assembly - The Good, the Bad, and The Ugly

View of Tennessee Capitol
The 107th Tennessee General Assembly concluded it's 2011 session last week. It was an interesting session, to say the least. They argued over Tennessee's version of a "Birther Bill," wine in grocery stores, the budget, taxes, illegal immigration, and other stuff. It my opinion, it was a case of the good, the bad, and the ugly. Today's post is a brief review of the session.

Back on March 25th, I ran a post about some of the bills that had been proposed by some of Tennessee's big "gubmint" Republicans. Many of those bills died a slow death as they should have. However, one of them, an ugly one, became law. Here's a quick look at most of the bills included in that post and their fate :
  1. SB 257 / HB 1822  - The DNA and Genetic Testing bill - the bill was sponsored by Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and would have required a DNA sample to be taken from anyone arrested for a felony charge - NOT convicted, just arrested. I was extremely surprised that Ramsey would even suggest such a bill. It amounted to allowing unreasonable searches and seizures. Fortunately, Ramsey received a lot of heat over the bill and it went away quietly.
  2. HB 910 / SB 785 - "The Animal Fighting Enforcement Act" - I referred to this bill as "The Michael Vick Act." I thought this bill was a waste of time this session because Tennessee has much bigger problems that the legislature should have been dealing with. Fortunately, it was voted down in subcommittee and went away. 
  3. HB 1112 / SB 1568 - "The White-tailed Deer Breeding and Farming Act" - In my opinion, this was the "silliest" bill of the year. If passed, the state would have been in the deer-breeding regulating business. The deer are doing quite well on their own. There's thousands upon thousands of them in Tennessee. Once again, Tennessee's got bigger fish to fry. This bill was taken off notice and went away.
  4. HB 427 / SB 418 and HB 428 / SB 416 - these bills would have required state agencies to report to the Government Operations Committee whenever they fine one of their licensees more than $1000 or suspend one for more than seven days. It would also have set up another committee to evaluate the appropriateness of such fines or suspensions. My problem with the bill is that it created more bureaucracy. Plus, the legislature should stay out of such situations and let each agency police it's licensees. This "bureaucracy bill" was taken off notice and went away.
  5. HB 153 / SB 74 - Bill's passage would have forbidden children under five years of age from riding on a motorcycle. I understand the safety concern behind the bill. However, let parents be responsible for their kids, not the state. This nanny state bill died a slow death. It was sent to a "Summer Study Committee."
  6. HB 1537 / SB 1503 - This was another nutty bill. It would have required pharmacists to counsel with and basically "profile" any customer purchasing a decongestant to evaluate whether they intended to use the medication for methamphetamine production. Pharmacists would have been expected to be law enforcement. The bill was also taken off notice. Bye, Bye.
 Now, let's take a look at some of the bills considered and acted upon by Tennessee's 107th General Assembly.

The Good

HB 1378 / SB 1669 by Rep. Joe Carr (R) and Sen. Jim Tracy (R) - The bill is also known as "The Tennessee Lawful Employment Act" and will require Tennessee employers to enroll in and actively participate in the E-Verify program administered by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. They must do so by October 1, 2011. Basically, it requires employers to verify the immigration status of each employee. For new employees, employers must check their status within 14 days from the time employment begins. The bill's goal is to help combat illegal immigration.

HB 324 / SB 352 by Rep. Curry Todd (R) and Sen. Mark Norris (R) - The bill could also be called "The Voter Photo I.D. Bill" and requires that a person show proof of citizenship when registering to vote. It also requires the coordinator of elections to compare the statewide voter rolls with the department of safety database as a way of identifying voters who may not be U.S. citizens. The goal of the bill is simple - keep illegal aliens from voting.

SJR 127 by Sen. Mae Beavers (R) is a joint resolution by the legislature proposing a state constitutional amendment protecting the lives of the unborn. Specifically, the resolution states that "... nothing in the Constitution of Tennessee secures or protects right to abortion or requires the funding of an abortion." I am often one of Sen. Beavers biggest critics. However, when it comes to the sanctity of human life, we agree 100% of the time. We both believe that all human life is precious and that the unborn must be protected because they cannot speak for themselves. Sen. Beavers has long been a defender of the unborn and for that I salute her. Well done Senator.

HB 1141 / SB 261 by Rep. Cameron Sexton (R) and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey - The bill raised the exemption limits on the Hall Income Tax. The tax is paid on dividends received from corporations based outside Tennessee and non-bank interest. The exemption was raised for taxpayers over 65 years of age to $26,200 for single filers and $37,000 for married couples filing jointly. It takes effect January 1, 2012. In other words the first $26,200 of such income isn't taxed for single filers nor the first $37,000 for couples. The Sheepdog likes tax cuts and this one has been needed for a long time. This bill will encourage retirees to move to Tennessee.

HB 130 / SB 113 by Rep. Debra Maggart and Sen. Jack Johnson - Many referred to this bill as "The Anti-Collective Bargaining Bill." It ended collective bargaining for teachers unions. Most of my life, my opinion of unions has been rather neutral. I didn't really support them, but I wasn't really opposed to them either. However, some of the behavior I've seen from unions in the past few years, particularly the union bosses, has completely turned me off on them. There was a time when unions were needed to facilitate good working conditions and good benefits. Nowadays, there are adequate labor laws to protect employees, so I'm not really sure unions are even needed. Plus, I feel that unions take away individual liberty. The "collective" is about what's good for the whole and prevents an individual from doing what's best for them or their family. Good and bad employees get the same pay and benefits, and it's often difficult to get rid of a bad employee or reward a good one.

Sheepdog's analysis of bill : Some feel that the state legislature has spent the last two years attacking teachers. However, proponents of this bill claim it will be good for education. I think the jury is gonna be out on it's effect on education for quite a while. I don't think that simply busting teachers unions is gonna improve the education system of this state. I believe the state legislature has really missed an opportunity in the last two years in regards to education. Last year, they initiated "The Race to the Top" Program. It required student test scores to have a larger weight in teachers' evaluations. That's simply not fair. Teachers only have a student for 8-9 hours a day. That's all they should be responsible for. Parents / guardians are responsible for the kids the other 15-16 hours. Many kids come to school from a bad home life. They may be poor, hungry, abused, be in turmoil at home, or come from a broken home. I've heard teachers say that they need parents to get more involved, because sometimes they feel like babysitters instead of teachers. All of these things can effect a kid's motivation to learn and whether or not they can be taught effectively. No politician will say anything remotely like what I just did, because it would be political suicide. The state can change all the rules and regulations it wants, throwing millions of dollars at education, but until parents / guardians and other family members get more involved in the educational process, nothing will change. Teachers, principals, school administrators, and school systems can't do it all. It takes a team working together, including parents / guardians, teachers, principals, etc., to assure a child gets a good, quality education.

The Bad

HB 283 / SB 519 by Rep. Vance Dennis (R) and Sen. Mike Bell (R) - This bill was referred to as "The Employer Parking Lot Bill." Concealed carry permit holders had been anxiously awaiting for this bill to become law for years. Originally, it was meant to protect employees who carried a handgun in their vehicle for personal protection while commuting back and forth to work. If your employer had a no-guns policy, the bill would prevent them from firing you or taking other disciplinary action if they searched your car and found your firearm. The key was that if the property was posted, you HAD to leave your gun in your car. It would allow employees the freedom to protect themselves during their commute to work, but at the same time, it would also protect the employer's property rights. However, due to some political maneuvering, the bill was completely changed from being a bill about protecting individual freedom. The bill that passed only protected the employers. It only says than an "... employer permitting a person with a handgun carry permit to carry a handgun on the employer's property does not constitute an occupational health and safety hazard to the employees." The politicians in the state legislature were too busy helping their big business buddies "CYA" on this bill. They sold out Tennessee's gun owners.

The Ugly

The original 2011 methamphethamine tracking bill was SB 325 / HB 234 by Sen. Mae Beavers (R) (at right) and Rep. Debra Maggart (R). This bill was one of the ones I highlighted in my "big gubmint" Republicans post mentioned earlier. In my opinion, this was the worst, big government, nanny state bill of the session. It implemented a requirement that pharmacists must enter all over-the-counter decongestant purchases into a national electronic database. It went nowhere, at first, due to significant opposition. Then, the bill came back as SB 1265 / HB 1051 with a significant difference - it would make a parent or guardian guilty of child endangerment if they knowingly exposed a child less than 8-years old to the methamphethamine manufacturing process. What's significant about that ? With that stipulation in the bill, supporters can claim, "It's to protect the children." Once they play that card, the debate's over because if you express opposition, they'll ask, "Why do you hate children so much ?" No politician wants to be stuck with that label. It's political suicide. Saul Alinsky would be proud of such maneuvering on this bill. After all, he wrote the book on it. However, it's a bogus argument and totally irrelevant. The bill was about more big government control and regulation. Someone in the General Assembly should have had the "cojones" to fight it. I praised Sen. Beavers earlier, but she, as the sponsor, blew it on this one.

The Tennessee legislature doesn't understand that such registration databases do NOT prevent crime. Criminals will find a way around them. These type registration schemes only punish and hassle law abiding citizens and result in an invasion of privacy. No federal database of "whatever" has any business knowing how much decongestant the average citizen purchases. One individual that I talked to who spends a lot of time on capitol hill claimed "they had to do something and it was the best they could get." Isn't that the same argument that was used for TARP, the car company bailout, and the $787 Billion stimulus bill ? They all had one thing in common - they failed. This bill will, too.

Sheepdog's analysis of bill : If I had been the Tennessee legislature wanting to combat meth, I would have done something different. I would have significantly stiffened the penalties for meth production. It would mean longer jail sentences, stiffer fines, and I'd go after their property, too. For instance, I would allow law enforcement agencies to use meth raids as fundraising activities. During a meth raid, I would allow law enforcement to seize the property where they find meth being manufactured, stored, or sold. After the suspect is convicted, the property is sold at auction. The minimum bid would be set at whatever the cleanup costs were to make the seized property inhabitable. Local law enforcement would first be reimbursed for those expenses, and then any excess auction proceeds go into the coffers of that agency to provide for needed equipment and personnel. Any bank accounts and / or cash would also be subject to seizure. After a few meth dealers lose their property, the word will get out and the dealers will look for some other kind of work or leave Tennessee. Problem solved. Punish the dealers, not Tennessee's law abiding citizens.


The Tennessee General Assembly's 2011 Session could be referred to as "what could have been." When Republicans won a larger majority in the legislature plus the governor's office in 2010, they said their focus would be on decreasing the size of government, improving education, and making it easier for businesses to create jobs. They really didn't do any of that. I would suggest they get their priorities back on those three things when the 2012 session opens next January, or they may see their majority shrink in November of 2012.
Enhanced by Zemanta

No comments: