As much as Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey says he favors allowing guns in the Capitol, he expects legislators to strip out that provision to ensure the original guns-in-parks bill becomes law without a veto.
“The bottom line is I do want the guns-in-parks to pass. I don’t want the governor to veto it or even let it” become law without his signature, he said Tuesday after speaking at the Tennessee Republican 1st Tuesday luncheon. “I think we’ll get something out of conference committee that will be palatable to both houses.”
Like the House Speaker, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey also wants to see a conference committee tackle overall confusion over where guns will remain banned, such as specifying whether gun carry permit holders can bring guns into parks adjacent or used by schools.
Ramsey says he would expect a conference committee to add in language that removes restrictions on carrying guns in parks used by schools. A bill introduced earlier this session carrying that language was shelved in the House and lacked of a second but passed in the full Senate.
Although the legislature has yet to send the bill to a conference committee to hash out a compromise, both Ramsey and House Speaker Beth Harwell told the Post they expect any conference committee meeting or pre-meetings to be made public.
“I want it to be very open. I do. All of our conference committees, as far as I’m concerned, are opened to the public just like every other. As a matter of fact, they ought to be video streamed,” said Ramsey. “I’ve been very upfront about that. It used to, you walk across the hall to the legislative library and shut the door. That’s not the way I want it. These need to be open.”
It took the House 45 seconds to non-concur with legislation that would allow gun carry permit holders to bring their firearms into the Capitol and Legislative Plaza.
In a swift vote without debate, the House voted 74-17 to reject the amendment added by Senator Jeff Yarbro, a Nashville Democrat looking to foil a largely Republican plan to allow guns in parks despite the objections of local governments.
“I would prefer that it go to conference (committee) and iron out some things that I think need to be addressed,” said House Speaker Beth Harwell who said she wants to see the capitol complex taken out of places where guns would be allowed and expects Rep. Jeremy Durham to suggest ironing out language about how close guns can be to parks used by schools.
The legislation, which removes local government’s authority to ban guns in their parks, now moves back to the Senate which approved the amendment 28-0. The upper chamber will likely also vote to non-concur, Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris told the Associated Press.
“Well, Gardenhire feels like a sitting duck down there. He needs all the protection he can get,” Norris laughed to Post Politics before the evening's floor session.
Gov. Bill Haslam, not a fan of the legislation in either form, told reporters Monday he has “major concerns” with the bill but stopped short of staying he would consider a veto.
A Senate vote can come as soon as Thursday but may not happen until Monday, according to the Senate clerk’s office.
House Speaker Beth Harwell didn’t know what to say about the Senate voting to allow guns in the Capitol and Legislative Plaza Wednesday morning, but said this afternoon she doesn’t like it.
“The amendment is not well-written and was not offered in a constructive fashion. It would be my preference that we non-concur,” she said in a statement.
The bill is expected on the House floor Monday evening, according to the speaker's office.
If anyone thought the first Senate committee to vote on the governor’s Insure Tennessee plan was stacked, they should have looked at committee No. 2, said Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey.
Had Insure Tennessee squeaked out of the special Senate Health Committee last week, it “didn’t have a prayer” in the special Commerce Committee it was facing next.
“As a matter of fact, I was very cognizant of the fact of giving it a fighting chance in first committee,” said Ramsey, who said he matched four adamant no votes against four lawmakers who’d been reported in the media as being in likely favor of the bill, then filled in the other committee spots with two legislators he believed could be persuaded.
But more than a week after that committee voted 7-4 against the governor’s bill to capture federal dollars to fund the lion’s share of a Tennessee-crafted Medicaid expansion for mostly working-poor residents, House Democrats are pushing to give the proposal another go.
Democrats, who are in the minority of two chambers of Republican super majorities, say they have legislation that would allow the governor to authorize Insure Tennessee, another providing a full expansion of Medicaid, and another to repeal legislation requiring the General Assembly OK an expansion.
“We may not all agree on the right approach, but we can’t just sit by and do nothing. And I think it’s time for the legislature to stop coming up with excuses and start bringing forward ideas,” said Nashville state Sen. Jeff Yarbro.
A leading coalition that supported Insure Tennessee said as much as it plans to drive conversation about the low-income working class’ lack of access to affordable health care and explain the negative effect it has on health care providers and the rest of the state, the group likely won’t get behind the Democrats’ efforts that don’t specifically authorize Insure Tennessee, said a spokesman. Any other legislation would have to win approval by the group’s board.
“Our members agreed to do one thing and that’s to support Insure Tennessee,” said Joe Hall, communications director for the Coalition for a Healthy Tennessee.
Both Ramsey and House Speaker Beth Harwell say they are ready to put the governor’s plan behind them, at least for this year.
“It might be that two years from now, we wake up with a Republican president, look at going after it again and coming back with a block grant,” said Harwell. “That would a selling point here in the General Assembly. Does that continue to be on the minds of legislators, of community leaders? Of course it does. Do I think we want to spend a lot of time during the regular session? Nah, I don’t think that.”
Standing in front of the General Assembly for the third time in so many weeks, Gov. Bill Haslam said he wants to get the “right answer” on health care and education standards while following through on a giving teachers a pay raise and restructuring state worker pay.
After his annual State of the State address that avoided tackling controversial issues, the governor released a $33.3 billion budget plan for the legislature to take up. Both are available here.
Here’s what lawmakers had to say about the governor’s speech and his plans for this year’s legislative session:
Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, regarding health care and education standards: “Excellent speech. He hit on exactly the things he needed to hit on. First of all, that the Insure Tennessee special session is over, let’s move on. Something may come back, but when it does, let’s address it at that time. And then of course on education, he said when we leave here, be able to look back and say you’ve actually made a difference in the state of Tennessee. And let’s be honest, we’ve always been relatively pro-business, we’ve always been relatively well-run. But the one thing we’ve always lacked is improving education scores in the state of Tennessee. We’ve done that the last four years, and I’m one that realizes that Common Core is dead, but at the same time we’ve got to maintain these high standards. We have to.”
House Speaker Beth Harwell, D-Nashville, regarding the governor’s speech: “I think more than anything, you walk away realizing the governor has tremendous good will in this body, receiving standing ovations, so everyone wants to see him continue to be successful as our governor. So, I think you’re going to see a good working relationship between the legislature and the governor.”
Harwell regarding continued focus on health care and education standards: “I think everyone agrees with that. I think this whole nation needs to continue to work on health care. There needs to be total, true reform in the health care system. We can’t sustain it as a nation. And if you look at the Tennessee budget, what goes into TennCare, that’s not sustainable either. I think he’s right, it’s a long-term issue for our nation…. I think the governor, I think he said it clearly: we need to develop Tennessee’s standards by Tennesseans for Tennessee students. And that’s what we’re going to do.”
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, regarding the $33.3 billion budget proposal: “I think the fact that it’s a conservative budget and it’s one that’s based on some fairly conservative revenue estimates, that could always change. Unfortunately, recently we’ve seen a lot of up and down fluctuation in the collection of revenues, particularly in the franchise and excise tax and he mentioned that. But I’m hopeful for the proposal he had on F&A collections, we can make that a little more stable in the future. Because it’s paid in advance, it’s going to have some degree of instability.”
Senate Commerce and Labor Committee Chairman Jack Johnson, R-Franklin, regarding education standards and budget proposal: “For those like myself who’ve always had concerns about the federal involvement in Common Core and acquiescing or abdicating our state sovereignty with regards to education standards, I thought he hit it head on. Let’s develop Tennessee standards here. They can be high standards but they can be standards that we create here in Tennessee for Tennessee students... I think that the focus and really drawing attention to the fact, the complexity of our budget situation. We’re painting a picture of, we have $500 million in increased expenses in the state, we have $300 million to spend on it, which is pretty easy math. You end up with about $200 million in reductions that have to be made. And those are tough decisions, but I applaud the governor for focusing on education, giving teachers a raise which are long overdue. That’s very good news for the state of Tennessee.”
Senate Minority Leader Lee Harris, D-Memphis, regarding proposed teacher pay increases and health care: “I think last year the governor took some real hits. I think he took some real hits for making a proposal and then backing off of it a little bit. And so I don’t think he’s going to go down that road again. I think he’s going to stick. Even tonight with respect to Insure Tennessee, even though he didn’t win — whatever that means — on Insure Tennessee, it didn’t pass, we didn’t get to consider it, he pretty much stuck, He stuck firm out there, he said, ‘Hey, Insure Tennessee was a good idea. We still have this problem out here. I’ve offered up one solution.’ And impressively, he challenged the legislature to come up with a solution on its own. He’s been pretty firm, and I have to give him credit, he was pretty firm on those kinds of things.”
Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Jeff Yarbro, D-Nashville, regarding a proposed 4 percent increase in teacher salaries: “We’ve heard this story before but this is a promise I think the governor has a moral obligation to keep and it is incumbent on us in the legislature to fight for and make a real priority. It’s one thing to make a promise. It’s a whole other thing when the going gets tough to make sure teachers aren’t the first thing on the chopping block.”
The governor’s most powerful political ally said she’s read up on his Insure Tennessee plan but, for now, refuses to sign on to support it.
“I’m keeping an open mind,” said House Speaker Beth Harwell — who controls a politically divided Republican caucus as well as represents a district that includes hospitals like Vanderbilt.
“Obviously, my hospitals are in favor of it. They will, of course, financially benefit from the program. I’m going to send out a survey to my district,” Harwell said after the close of the opening day of the legislative session Tuesday. “To be honest with you, I haven’t heard a lot of citizens call me about it. I have had the hospital administrators talk to me about it. We’ll see how that survey turns out,” she said.
Harwell, who was voted unanimously to a third term as the chamber’s Republican House speaker, will oversee the 99-member body as it wrestles with the governor’s plan to expand Medicaid by way of using vouchers and incentives to reward healthy behaviors and transition people to private coverage. Republican lawmakers are critical of expanding the program, last year demanding their legislative approval before any expansion could go into effect. The General Assembly will begin to vet the legislation in a special session Feb. 2.
“You know, I think we need to be respectful that members represent different areas of this state and therefore they’re going to have differing viewpoints,” she said.
Mistaking the name of the program as “Impact Tennessee” instead of “Insure Tennessee,” Harwell said “good, strong Republicans” will be for and against the program, but added, “I want us to treat each other with respect.”
Welcome back from the holiday interlude. Here’s what to expect from the legislature in the coming weeks:
Tuesday, Jan. 13 - The 109th General Assembly will gavel into session for the first time at 12 p.m., launching a two-year cycle of filing, debating and passing legislation. Lawmakers will begin the session by electing House and Senate speakers. Both House Speaker Beth Harwell and Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey are expected to run unopposed. During this week, the elected speakers are expected to release legislators' committee assignments.
Wednesday, Jan. 14 - Legislators will meet in a joint session, likely at 9 a.m., this time to elect the state treasurer and comptroller. Those positions are currently manned by David Lillard and Justin Wilson, who are both expected to win reelection.
Thursday, Jan. 15 - Both chambers will meet together again, this time for mandatory ethics training.
Friday, Jan. 16 - The House and Senate are both expected to gavel in, although they’ll break before 10 a.m. to pack food for five major food banks feeding people in Chattanooga, Knoxville, Memphis, Nashville and the Tri-Cities. That evening will kick off the governor’s string of inauguration events, beginning with free music at the Acme Feed & Seed at 1st and Broadway.
Saturday, Jan. 17 - After an 8:30 a.m. prayer service at the Ryman Auditorium, Gov. Bill Haslam will give his inauguration speech on War Memorial Plaza. The 11 a.m. outdoor event will last an hour, according to Joe Hall, spokesman for the governor’s inauguration committee.
Festivities will continue that evening with the first couple’s celebration dinner at the Omni Hotel at 6:30 p.m., an event with a $250 ticket cost which permits access to a ball to follow at 8 p.m. Entrance only to the ball is $50, and proceeds go toward paying expenses to put on inauguration day events, said Hall.
Sunday, Jan. 18 - The governor and first lady will open the residence to tours from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and legislators still in town for the weekend’s events will likely be headed home. The General Assembly likely won’t resume official business until the first week of February as they break for what staffers expect will be a two week organizational period. When lawmakers return, they anticipate spending the first week or two in a special session focused on Haslam’s plan to expand Medicaid to low-income Tennesseans by way of his Insure Tennessee proposal. Haslam has yet to officially set the date for the special session.
Rep. Rick Womick’s official letter announcing his intent to run against House Speaker Beth Harwell for the chamber’s top job charges she has “compromised our trust and has abused the prestige of her office over the last 3.5 years by silently amassing over $1.3 million dollars in personal political wealth.”
An excerpt, from the letter dated Nov. 21, 2014:
At the expense of the very legislators who elected her as Speaker, she has quietly consumed large sums of available PAC money for her Harwell PAC and Personal Campaign Finance account. Apparently, it has been for one self-serving purpose; so that she can run for and become the next Governor of Tennessee. I’m sorry, but the purpose of this caucus is not to provide a funding mechanism, on the backs of our members, that allows the Speaker of the House to build a campaign war chest for election to statewide office! Her actions and leadership at the very least, have been insincere, but to an even greater extent, they are unethical.
The letter goes on to argue Harwell, who two years ago invested in fending off then-Caucus Chairwoman Debra Maggart before she was defeated, sat on the sidelines when a political action committee with ties to the governor targeted five incumbent tea party legislators in the August primary election.
POSTDATA: WARRANTY DEEDS