Capitol View Commentary: Friday, April 20, 2012
By Pat Nolan, Senior Vice-President, DVL Public Relations & Advertising
April 20, 2012
THE RESURRECTIONS CONTINUE; LAST WEEK; SENATOR JOE HAYNES ON INSIDE POLITICS; TAX BREAKS FOLLOWED BY A TAX HIKE; THE FINAL SUMMITT
THE RESURRECTIONS CONTINUE
For measures declared "dead" a couple of weeks ago by legislative leaders, the "guns in parking lots/car trunks" bills looked quite alive and well earlier this week when they came out the House Consumer and Employee Affairs Committee. They did the same coming out of a Senate sub-committee last week.
These guns bills have been the most controversial of the session, splitting two major Republican constituent groups (business versus guns groups) with state colleges and universities also expressing concerns about the proposal. This battle between 2nd and 7th Amendment advocates has put all the GOP leadership squarely on the spot looking for some common ground which so far has proven elusive.
Now there are renewed predictions by both Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey and Governor Bill Haslam that the bills still won't make it this year. But is that right? Supporters of the measures, in particular the National Rifle Association are threatening to pull the bills straight to the floor of both houses if necessary to gain approval before lawmakers go home (which is still scheduled by the end of the month).
If they've got the votes to pull it out of committee (which takes a two-third majority) then surely supporters can then easily pass the bill and override any possible gubernatorial veto. So far, Governor Haslam has not made any such threats. But given how he allowed the recent "Monkey II" bill to go into law permitting questioning by teachers and students iabout scientific theories surrounding materials such as evolution/creation and global warming a veto (which only takes a simple majority to override) might be out of the question again given the large majorities the bill might garner for passage.
This particularly leaves Lt. Governor Ramsey in the middle. He believes the current bill is still too broad and that a compromise needs to be reached. He's not sure what that compromise is, and he doesn't really think that something can be worked out this session. But if the NRA can deliver on its threats (and get its votes on the board), push may come to shove rather quickly in the next couple of weeks.
Meantime another of the "crazy" bills thought to be "dead" this session has come back to life. "Don't Say Gay" legislation would make it illegal to teach about homosexuality in elementary and middle schools in the state as a part of sex education classes (even though the state doesn't have sex ed classes on those levels). Nevertheless, raising concerns that unnamed "outside groups" are coming into some Tennessee school systems and teaching things they shouldn't in this area, the bill sponsors want to get this measure on the books. In doing so however, they are reportedly breaking promises to legislative leaders and the Governor to shelf the proposal.
Now just getting out of committee doesn't mean any of these bills with new life will actually pass (although "Don't Say Gay" has already passed the Senate and therefore only need House approval). But all this does indicate that even if it's now past the Easter season, resurrections can still take place in the General Assembly on Capitol Hill.
Despite a seemingly never ending avalanche of last- minute legislation (especially on hot-button social issues such as abortion and even one that requires high school students be taught that hand-holding is "a gateway sexual activity"), my sources on the Hill say lawmakers will wrap up their session this coming week (including passing an operating budget) and go home for the year! But don't give out that deep sigh of relief too soon. It may take an extended week of meetings going into Friday or even Saturday to get things done and keep the promise made by GOP legislative leaders that the General Assembly would be done before the end of April.
The annual World's Biggest Fish Fry in Paris, TN is set for Friday. It's a very popular event for lawmakers, so that will likely be a major incentive to our elected representatives "to fish or cut bait" as early in the week as possible although, to use some other fishing analogies, the last hours of the Legislature can always lead to last minute snags as lawmakers get their lines (key legislation) all tangled up. So pass the hush puppies and the tartar sauce!
SENATOR JOE HAYNES ON INSIDE POLITICS
The end of the session means the final days on the Hill for many lawmakers who are retiring from public service. The list is longer this year, in part due to redistricting. It also includes Nashville State Senator Joe Haynes who is stepping down after 28 years and 7 terms.
He is my guest on INSIDE POLITICS this weekend as he reflects on his political career and the state's political scene today.
INSIDE POLITICS airs several times each weekend on THE NEWSCHANNEL5 NETWORK. That includes Sunday morning at 5:00 a.m. on the main channel, WTVF-TV, NEWSCHANNEL5. The show also runs several times on NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS. The airtimes are 7:00 p.m., Friday; 5:00 a.m. & 5:30 p.m., Saturday and 5:00 a.m. & 12:30 p.m., Sunday.
THE PLUS can be found on many local cable TV systems, including Comcast Cable channel 250, Charter Cable channel 150 and NEWSCHANNEL5's over-the-air digital channel 5.2.
If you don't have cable service or live outside the Nashville area, you can watch excerpts of this week's and previous INSIDE POLITICS shows here on newschannel5.com.
TAX BREAKS FOLLOWED BY A TAX HIKE
Final approval by the Metro Council has been given for a 12-year, 60% property tax break for those (Gaylord Entertainment & Dollywood Co) developing a new $50 million water and snow park to be located near Opryland here in Nashville. The development is expected to generate hundreds of jobs and millions in new taxes for the community. So Council leaders say the tax break is a good deal for Nashville.
It is the third such agreement approved by city leaders in recent months. HCA and LifePoint Hospitals got similar tax breaks for locating a new data center and a headquarters office building respectively in Davidson County. But there are some in the community who disagree about the merits of these tax breaks and you are likely to hear their arguments again in the next few weeks as Mayor Karl Dean is expected to recommend to the Metro Council an overall property tax increase (the first since 2005) of something less than 56 cents to fund the city's next budget which goes into effect July 1 .
While indications are that the Mayor has the 21 votes he needs for approval from the Council (the increase is not large enough to require a public referendum), spirited opposition is expected. Already there is a Facebook page, Homeowners Against A Property Tax Increase, up and running out in cyberspace and you can expect other efforts to stir up public opposition.
One councilmember, Robert Duvall, a frequent critic of the Dean administration and a likely opponent of any take hike, recently sent the Mayor a letter demanding that he tell citizens that he doesn't plan to raise taxes. Duvall called all the speculation about potential higher taxes "media noise."
Well, it's probably not just noise, even though the overall allocation of any proposed tax increase remains unclear. Mayor Dean has taken pride during his 5 years in office that he (and the Metro Council) have always fully funded the budget requested by school leaders. That may be more difficult to do this year since the School Board has sent in a spending plan that is $79 million more than the current education budget. Most of the extra money would go to raise starting salaries for teachers to $40,000.
That would make Nashville much more competitive in attracting and keeping good teachers but it might take so much of the tax increase (if implemented fully and immediately) there would be no new money left for other parts of Metro Government, including a pay raise for city workers, who have gone without one for several years now.
So there will be some drama to unfold when the Mayor makes his annual State of Metro address to the Council on May 1. That's when the "media noise" becomes a reality and the debate will begin in earnest.
THE FINAL SUMMITT
Everybody knew this was coming. But still there was a bit of shock and a lot of sadness to see Pat Summitt step down as head coach of the University of Tennessee's women's basketball team after 38 years. But it's the right decision and at the right time.
After disclosing eight months ago that she was in the early stages of dementia, Summitt showed great courage under sometimes trying circumstances this past season and the result, while not a 9th national championship, was a SEC Tournament championship and an Elite 8 berth in the NCAA Tournament.
But the success of Pat Summitt goes so far beyond her record number of wins for any college basketball coach (nearly 1200). It's what she did for women, particularly the hundreds of young women whose lives she shaped over the past four decades. That includes the fact that every one of Summitt's athletes who have completed their eligibility while she's been coach also left the University of Tennessee with a degree. And isn't that what going to college (and playing sports) is really all about?
As he so often does in times like these, I think Senator Lamar Alexander said it best in the speech he made on the floor of the Senate, the day Coach Summitt announced she was stepping aside to become Coach Emeritus.
"Women's college basketball will never be the same without Pat Summitt and Women's College Basketball would never be what it is today if it weren't for Pat Summitt."
Pat Summitt has been a major role model for young women who never got the chance to play for her. She is also now a role model for those suffering illnesses such dementia for the grace, courage and fighting spirit she has displayed since she learned of the disease. At her farewell news conference earlier this week, Coach Summitt said it's been a real "privilege" to coach at the University of Tennessee. It goes both ways, Coach, because it has surely been a privilege for us to watch you coach basketball (even for fans of rival teams such as Vanderbilt) and just to watch how you have lived your life.
The announcement by President Barack Obama that he is awarding the nation's highest civilian honor to Coach Summitt, the Presidential Medal of Honor, is so appropriate. When the day comes later this year that the award will be presented at the White House, Washington should be ready for the biggest influx of orange the District has ever seen. And there may not be a dry eye in the house.