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Tennessee Capitol Report – March 1, 2015

Tennessee Capitol Report – March 1, 2015


(male announcer)
Tennessee Capitol Report is
made possible in part by.. (male)
Some games
aren’t played for glory. Some are played for
more important reasons. That’s why we partner with
schools to re-energize physical education and
shape the state. (male)
And with support by
the following members of the Tennessee Credit Union League. With additional corporate
support from A-T-and-T. Rethink possible. [theme music] Welcome to
“Tennessee Capitol Report.” I’m Chip Hoback and
for the next half hour, we’ll provide an overview of the
key issues being considered by Tennessee legislators in 2015
We’ll meet the leadership of the 109th General Assembly
shaping the direction of the new session. On today’s show, we’ll talk with
Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey and the Speaker of
the House, Beth Harwell. In January, the House and the
Senate met in a Joint Convention for the inauguration of Governor
Bill Haslam to begin his second term in office but in February,
it was time for our legislature to get to work. Let’s take a look back at
some of the news events from the opening days of the
109th General Assembly. The 109th General Assembly was
quickly pressed in to duty in a special session called by
Governor Haslam to consider his new healthcare plan. After nearly two
years of hard work, we have a Tennessee
specific plan that addresses health outcomes and cost. This is not Obama Care. If it was, it wouldn’t have
taken us this long to negotiate and I could have saved
a lot of trips to Washington and a whole
lot of phone calls. Insure Tennessee is a two
year PILOT program that will not create any new taxes for
Tennesseans and will not add any state costs
to the budget. Once the hundred percent federal
match is lowered to its eventual 90%, the Tennessee Hospital
Association has committed that the industry will cover any
additional cost to the state. The program will automatically
terminate in the event that either federal funding or
support from the hospital changes in any way. (Chip)
But the plan died
quickly in the Senate Health and Welfare
Committee in spite of Maryville Senator Doug
Overby’s passionate arguments. But on the issue of whether this
is good public health policy.. Again, really the testimony
as far as public health policy was unanimous. Insure Tennessee is
good public health policy. (male)
Four ayes, seven nays,
zero present not voting. (male)
Motion fails. (male)
Thank you, Mister
Chairman and members of the committee for your
time and consideration. Joint Convention
come to order. (Chip)
On February 9th, the
Legislature opened its regular session with the Governor’s
annual State of the State address when he pressed for
increased education funding. There is nothing more
important to our state than getting
education right. That’s why in this year’s
budget we are proposing nearly $170 million more
for K-12 education. (Chip)
And business tax reforms. To remedy that, we will file
the Revenue Modernization Act, which aims to level the playing
field in terms of sales tax and business taxes. We are committed to Tennessee
remaining a low tax state. This proposal simply brings us
in line to better compete with other states and to not put
our own state businesses at a disadvantage, which
we are doing today. (Chip)
With Governor Haslam’s
budget proposals in hand, the work is now underway at
the 109th General Assembly. [applause] We’re coming to you from the
beautiful Legislative Library at the State Capitol, right
across the hall from the Senate Chambers, where our first
guest presides as Speaker, Lieutenant Governor Ron
Ramsey is our guest here. Good to see you, sir, and
welcome to the first edition of the
“Tennessee Capitol Report.” Good to be here, Chip. Love doing these. (Chip)
Now we had some significant
weather events last week. And it caused quite a bit of
damage across the state in both snow and ice in
Middle Tennessee. Some counties in the plateau are
still having electrical outages. What has been the economic
impact of that storm so far? I’ve not seen a dollar figure
but we’re more concerned about what the
impact on lives. I know we’ve lost about 30 lives
now in the state of Tennessee. That was the latest update. And I’ve been staying in
constant contact with David Purkey with Homeland Security
and they’re doing with TEMA. They’re coordinating
with the T-H-P, with the local emergency
management authorities, as well as
National Guard. Although we’ve had the National
Guard mobilized at least once to try to get people
off the interstate. They didn’t work out the how to
use them but they were mobilized and ready to go. So, the bottom line is we’re
concerned about the lives and make sure people are safe. And it’s a shame that,
especially Middle Tennessee with the ice. Northeast Tennessee,
where I live, we hadn’t had ice. Right now we have about a foot
of snow up there and expecting more tonight. So, it’s an unusual weather
pattern but I think we’ve weathered it well — no pun
intended — to make sure we get past this and keep
lives lost to a minimum. It also affected the schedule of
the Legislature because we had to take some time off. How is that affecting the
schedule going forward? Not a lot. Thank goodness it happened at
this time of the year if it’s going to
happen this time. Because the first
week or two of session, what we’re doing is just having
a first reading and second reading on bills as
required by our constitution. And then those bills
are assigned committees for committee hearings. So, we’re back in the
committee hearings now. And even though we
missed one day last week, we were here. We only had 24
members at one time. It takes 22 to
have a quorum. But we could at least go
through that first reading and second reading. Keep everything on schedule. So, we’re a little bit behind. Yeah, a little bit. But in the great
scheme of things, we’ll be able to make that
up over the next few weeks. This special session was called
to go over the Insure Tennessee plan from the Governor. And it took a
couple of years to plan. And in a couple of
days, that was gone. Tell us the impact of
that and what the plans are going forward. I think it was a little
premature to bring it to a special session looking
back on the Governor. I’ve talked about this. There was
nothing in writing. The plan from the federal
government that was just a verbal agreement with
the Federal Government. I’ll be honest with ya. I don’t trust the Federal
Government sometimes in writing, let alone if it’s a
verbal agreement. And so, most of
us want to say, “We want to see this written
down on a piece of paper.” There are a lot of
other unanswered questions. We begin by saying we’re
going to cover about 260-, 270,000 people. Then the figure starts
inching up to about 400,000. There was questions to whether
actually this is supposed to be a two year
PILOT program. At the end of the two years,
when the federal money leaves, at least part of it, we
could dis-enroll these people. Well, could we actually
dis-enroll them because it will be federal lawsuits
and everything else. There’s a lot of
unanswered questions. And let’s be honest, too. The whole Affordable Care Act
slash Obama Care is not popular with anyone right now
if you see any polling. This was
not Obama Care. It was not
Affordable Care Act. But still, it was
tied to that somewhat. And that raised a
red flag for people. So, there’s a lot of
unanswered questions. We may visit this again. Probably not this year. I think the Governor will try to
get things in writing a little more and figure
out where we are. So, healthcare is a
concern with a lot of people across the state. It’s in every election. You hear people
talking about healthcare. Is there anything in
this legislative session involving healthcare? We’re looking at a lot of things
and TennCare in particular, how we provide that to people
and make sure we’re doing it efficiently, working with
hospitals on where we go there. Are we doing that
the most efficient? One thing in particular
we’re looking about is the C-O-N processes,
Certificate of Need. Would more competition
actually help us in the state of Tennessee to hold
down healthcare costs? So, yes, every year. Because a few years ago
when Governor Haslam came in probably, we were down to
about where 25% of our budget was TennCare. We’re back up over
the 30% mark now. So, the reason that we aren’t
funding higher education better than we should be is
because of the healthcare and runaway costs. So, we want to address
those costs and make sure the taxpayers are getting
their best bang for the buck. And education, the rankings
of the state of Tennessee have increased and gotten better
over the last several years. One, what do you attribute to
that to and what changes are there coming in
education this year? And you can’t
attribute it to one thing. It’s like
a jigsaw puzzle. Everything went together. If you think about what all
we’ve done over the last four years in Governor
Haslam’s administration, we’ve had tenure reform to make
tenure something that you earn. We’ve done away with
collective bargaining. Because I’m one that don’t
believe that public employees should have that right
to collective bargaining. We’ve done a teacher evaluation
system that adds to that to make sure that teachers are evaluated
on an annual basis to help them improve as
a professional. We’ve put
the charter schools. We’ve had an Achievement School
Districts in areas where we had failing schools. So all this plays together
and you can’t put your finger on one thing. So, and I will say that’s one
of my — what I think a crowning achievement over
the last few years. We’ve always been a
relatively pro-business state. We’ve always been
relatively well run fiscally. But we’ve been
failing educationally. We’ve had our heads in the sand
that 46th and 47th in the nation was good enough. And it’s not good enough. And so, we’ve raised
those scores now in to the low thirties. And our goal over the next
couple of years is to get in to the upper rankings above 25
in the state of Tennessee. We’re going to
continue moving forward. The standards that we’ve put in
place are now being reviewed by the state of Tennessee,
the whole Common Core issue, to make sure we have
Tennessee standards, not Washington D.C.
standards. And I encourage your viewers to
log on to our website we have in the state of Tennessee because
we’re taking comments to the public, comments from the
teachers and everyone else to make sure we do have
the correct standards. But we’re
not backing out. We’re moving forward, pedal to
the metal because I am proud of what we’ve been able to
do over the last few years in education improvement. And how important is the funding
for education and increasing the funding and pay standards
for teachers, etcetera? I think the Governor has hit
the nail on the head there. We’ve always fully funded
what’s called the B-E-P, the Better Education Program. We’ve always done that. That at least keeps us from
going backwards as we have in funding for higher ed. With K through 12,
we’ve never done that. And if we’re asking more from
our teachers — and we are. And they’re
fulfilling that role, too. So, I have two sisters that are
teachers and I hear from them how it’s tougher. But they actually enjoy it
because they see the outcome. But if you’re going to do
that, you need to pay them well. And the Governor has made a
promise that we’re going to be the fastest improving
state in the nation in raising
teachers’ salaries. And we hit a little bump in the
road last year when we had the — revenues weren’t coming in. Hopefully we’re making
up for that this year. Because, again, if you
ask people to do more, you ought to be
willing to pay them more. And we’re doing
that in Tennessee. And the Governor has got a new
plan to make some of the higher education free for the first
two years in community colleges. And that’s being
paid for by the lottery, if I’m not mistaken. So, what are your
expectations for that program? Well, I think that
could be revolutionary. I do. And we’re the only state in
the nation doing this right now. Over the years,
because we are frugal, because we are a well-run state,
we’ve built up a nest egg in the lottery to make sure
that it was run well. We end up having about half a
billion dollars sitting there. So, we’ll take that out and
use the interest off of that, not touching actually the
money that is sitting there, and be able to
fund this program, the Last Dollar Scholarship. And again, we.. If you hear
anything from employers, we have a great work ethic
here in the state of Tennessee. The life standards in general. People love
where we are. But we are —
have been falling behind some in training for jobs. And nothing is more important
to that than using this to go to two year school to get a
degree or the college of applied technology to get a degree in
welding or whatever it might be. And so, I think this will
revolutionize what we’re doing in the state
of Tennessee. We’ll watch as the president
comes in to be honest and tries to say,
“This is such a great idea. Let’s take it nationwide.” Well, we figured out
how to pay for that. They haven’t. And so, I think that’s very
important that if you’re going to do something like that, show
me how you’re paying for it. And I hope
they don’t do that. I’m perfectly happy with
where we are in the state of Tennessee. We have
control over this. The last thing I want
to do is turn it over to the
federal government. I think it
could be ruined. So, you’re strongly in favor
of education being controlled in Tennessee? Absolutely. We’re doing a
great job right now. Let’s just keep it
here to where everyday.. The last week or
so, we’ve had some.. The new
commissioner of education, the new executive director of
the state board come in and keep us briefed on what
we’re doing in Tennessee. And it’s
very impressive. Well, thank you very much for
being our guest on the first edition of the
“Tennessee Capitol Report.” We look forward to
talking to you in the future. I love doing these. They get the word
out to the people. Just let me know when you want
me to do it and I’ll be here. Being here at the State Capitol
reminds us of Tennessee’s rich political history. We can go across the hall and
look out the window and see the statue of
President Andrew Jackson, one of the more prominent
features on the Capitol grounds. For our very first show, we
thought it would be fitting to take a look at our historic
Capitol with this video produced by the Tennessee
State Library and Archives. [soft music] (male narrator)
The state Capitol
building in Nashville is one of the architectural
and historical treasures of Tennessee and of
the entire nation. Completed before the
start of the Civil War, this national historic landmark
is one of the nation’s oldest working state
houses still in use. A structure of
great artistic beauty, the Tennessee State Capitol is
also the seed of government and a place that embodies the
rich history of this state. It has stood for over 150 years
and witnessed events of great importance to the
American people. Many people, great and
ordinary, have passed through its marble corridors. Presidents, school
children, famous singers and tourists alike. The State Capitol is without
question the premier historic building in Tennessee, an
iconic symbol of our identity as Tennesseans. It is one of the classically
beautiful state houses of America. Tennessee has affected the
history of the country and shaped the
world in many ways. Outside the
Capitol are statues and monuments celebrating
famous Tennesseans. In addition to Jackson’s statue,
the grounds include the tomb of President and Misses James
K. Polk and the statue of World War I hero Alvin C.
York, the embodiment of Tennessee’s
volunteer spirit. The General Assembly flag that
flies over the Capitol beneath the American and Tennessee
flags is rich in symbolism. Red for America, Blue
for respect of Tennessee and white for purity. The three stars represent
the three grand divisions of the state. Golden wheat symbolizes
the agricultural heritage of the state. And the gavel represents the
power of the people as vested in the state’s
legislative body. The flag flies above the Capitol
only when the General Assembly is in session. To this day, the state Capitol
stands proud as an edifice of democratic government. It stands not only for our
government but for the people and events that have
shaped the Volunteer State. This graceful building
still reminds us of the forward looking vision of those who
built it perhaps more than any other structure that
is still with us today. The Capitol embodies
Tennessee’s rich heritage. Dignified and majestic, it is
a symbol of innovation that is grounded in tradition. Thank you to the Tennessee
Secretary of State’s office for that video. If you want to see
the entire film called “Tennessee State Capitol:
Grounded in Tradition,” it’s available on YouTube. And now more Tennessee
history with us right now. The first woman to serve
as Speaker of the House, Beth Harwell, joins us. Thank you for stopping by and
spending some time with us. Wanted to kind of start off with
a fun little clip of kind of how you do business on
a day-to-day basis. For most people watching this
that haven’t seen the house in session, it’s kind of organized
chaos and it moves very quickly. We wanted you to watch this
clip and react to it for us. (male)
Madam Speaker, I’m moving
off Senate Joint Resolutions Congratulatory memorializing
lying on the desk be placed on the consent calendar
pursuing to rule number 17. (Harwell)
Without objection. So, order. Next order, Mister Clerk. (male)
Resolutions lying over. (Harwell)
Leader McCormick. Sold. [laughter] It does come across
that way, doesn’t it? It does, it does. It’s fast
paced moving and.. Explain to us
how all that works. Apparently there is business
being done at a very fast pace. Right. Well, a lot of it is
parliamentary procedure that my members are very familiar with
because they’ve been hearing it. If you’ve heard it
for the first time, it seems like we’re
moving a little fast. But as we get in to the
actual debate of bills, it will slow. And my job really as Speaker is
to make sure that proper decorum is followed on the floor and
parliamentary procedure is followed, as well. You’ve been Speaker
for three years now. And prior to that, you’ve
been around the House for quite some time. What was the main difference
in the transition of going from just being a House
member to being Speaker? Well, I guess I never fully
realized how much came through the Speaker’s office. Everything from the staff that’s
here employed to the contracts that come through to serving on
the State Building Commission. There’s a lot of
responsibility in being Speaker. It’s a job that I thoroughly
enjoy and I’m honored that my colleagues let me
serve in this capacity. And I think the real
challenge is getting, you know, 98 very diverse
personalities that care deeply about their districts all on
the same page and moving in the same direction. And that’s my
challenge on the daily basis. How much has that
changed from the first year to the third year? Well, I guess I’m a little
more at ease in the job, a little more
comfortable with the rules. And, you know, again, I will
say I have such appreciation for my members. This is a body that
never ceases to amaze me, the integrity and the quality
of the people that I serve with here in the
General Assembly. These are all folks that
are part time down here. They don’t
visit their districts. They live
in their districts. And that keeps them
close to the people. And I think that’s a refreshing
thing and I really think it’s what the founding fathers had
in mind when they created the branches of government. And you got an office right next
door to the beautiful Library. Absolutely, a
beautiful State Capitol. And, you know, I invite the
public to come down and see it. It’s a beautiful
historical chamber. And it doesn’t matter how
many years I’ve served. Every day I walk in to
that House of Chamber, just a little chill, just a
little excitement to be able to be a part of it. There’s been some good news
recently on tax collections being up. And it gives the state a little
more money to play with there. Does that bode well for some of
the pay raises that the Governor has proposed for state
employees and teachers and things like that? It does. And this is a
fiscally conservative state, a well-managed state. We go out of our way if we get
additional revenue to look for ways to return it to
it’s rightful owner, which is
the tax payer. We have reduced and eliminated
a number of taxes since the Governor has
been in office. But I do think now it’s time to
focus on making sure that we’re paying our state employees
and our teachers fairly. Well, we thought we were going
to talk a lot about healthcare and that didn’t make
it out of committee. So, what are some of the key
issues that you’ll be facing on the House floor? Well, you mentioned
the first, of course, is always the budget. It’s the most important
thing we do every year. And Tennesseans should never
take for granted that we have a balanced budget every year. We are a low debt
and low tax state. And that’s a wonderful gift that
we give to you as citizens and to your children. And the second thing I think
is always a high priority and that is education. And we will begin, again,
looking at some education issues this year. So, we’re looking to
increase spending in education. And what are some of the
areas that you think they’ll be looking at to do so? Well, teachers’
salaries, of course. And we want to get to the point
where we’re rewarding teachers for doing a good
job in the classroom. That’s ultimately what we
want to do because we have some teachers that are
working very hard. We’ve shown the greatest
improvement of any state in the union. And that’s remarkable. But we still have
a long way to go. We put some
reform in place. We want to make sure that our
standards stay high and that our evaluation is working hand in
hand with what we’re teaching in that classroom. The governor has talked about
the Drive to 55 initiative. For those that might not
be aware of what that is, explain to us the basics of
the Drive to 55 initiative. As we look at the
future of our state, we know that jobs are going
to require advanced degrees, degrees past high school. So, we want to
encourage, number one, a higher high school graduation
rate and encourage as many children as possible to
go to a technical school, a career school or college so
that they’re prepared for the work force
that’s ahead of them. And, of course, they have to get
there by passing high school, as you said. And the ratings for Tennessee
education has been moving up. It has
been moving up. We still have a way to go but
we’re making great strides on encouraging more children to
graduate and helping them move to the next step
in their career. Now I know you reserve the right
to comment on stuff before it gets on
to the floor. But what
kind of things? There’s people talking about
the laws changing on abortion restrictions and
gun rights legislation. And there’s a lot of issues
that are starting to bubble up. What can we look
forward to in this session? Well, we usually do have those
emotionally high charged issues. And those are two
definitely of them. I think with abortion what we
want to do is be reasonable and bring ourselves in compliance
with the states around us so that our laws are constitutional
and protect the women that are involved in
the procedure. We’re not going to
try to outlaw abortion. We’re going to try to protect
the women that are involved. I think with gun rights, we
usually have a few bills that surface on those. But we want to balance the
rights of private ownership and gun rights. And hopefully we’ll
be able to do that. We have
in the past. We’ll do it
again this year. Now there’s the
second amendment, of course,
in the constitution. And how do the state’s laws
coincide with the federal law? Well, we tried to
work hand in hand. In some ways, our state laws are
a little more lax when it comes to gun ownership. And we, of course, require a gun
permit in the state of Tennessee to make sure that those
people who have a gun are properly trained. And I think that’s
important to keep that in place. Okay. That’s one of the things that
people have been talking about. In the State of
the State address, Governor Haslam proposed a new
revenue measure to change the business tax collections. I think he called it the
Revenue Modernization Act. Do you think it’s important
to change the revenue side and maybe balance out
how things are working with businesses paying taxes? Sure. I mean, you know, we are
a state that does not have an income tax. We rely
on sales tax. So, you always have to look at
what are you taxing and are you taxing it fairly. And I think the Governor and
his attempt is to make sure that businesses that are located
maybe out of state but do business in the state of
Tennessee are also paying their fair share in taxes. The defeat in Insure Tennessee
has put your colleagues right in the cross hairs of critics
who say that this proves that Republicans don’t care about
poor people or those in need. What’s your
reaction to that? Well, I disagree. I saw my members really struggle
and listen to a week of debate and pulled in
experts from other states, really analyze the program. And ultimately, our
responsibility is to the tax payer of this state. And I think my members were
uncomfortable getting in to a relationship with the federal
government where we had nothing in writing that they
would live up to their end of the agreement. And also, we have a
responsibility not to push on to future generations a program
that we didn’t know how we were going too fully fund
it come year four, five, six. So, I think ultimately my
members made a good decision. We will do more
for those people. We want to make Tennessee
a healthier place to live. And we’ll work
toward that goal. And, you know, it doesn’t
preclude the governor from going back in two years and
reinitiating conversations with the federal government. And hopefully we’ll have a
president that will be open to a block grant. And we’ll be able to put true
reform in to healthcare in the state of Tennessee. Speaker Harwell, thank you very
much for spending your time with us on
“Tennessee Capitol Report.” Thank you. My pleasure. Do politicians really care
about their constituents, especially the poor? Legislation can’t fix
every problem but Tennessee’s government did show a
compassionate side recently when officials gathered to
package 50,000 meals to re-stock Tennessee’s Food Banks in the
“Campaign Against Hunger.” You know, we sometimes take for
granted the abundance of food in this nation
and we shouldn’t. [instrumental music] We have thousands of people
in Tennessee that suffer from hunger and
food insecurity. Every day at the Food Bank,
we’re providing food for hungry children,
families and seniors. And so, today, for others to see
what we do every day and get the joy from it, it’s just
an awesome experience. All three branches of government
have come together to pack bags of food
for the hungry. I look forward to
doing this again. It’s the third
time I’ve done it. And every time is more
special than the last. It’s a great example of
Tennesseans working together to help
those in need. It’s a hands-on experience to
know that a needy family or a needy child is
going to eat this food. And it’s events like these
that give us the resources, the Food Banks in
the state of Tennessee, the resources to
feed the hungry. It’s just another reason for all
of us to be proud of this state that we call home. Thank you to Jesse
Alvey for that story. That’s our
show for today. It has been our pleasure
to bring you the news, the newsmakers
and the issues facing the Tennessee General
Assembly in this session. The next few months will be
critical and we’ll continue to keep you engaged
with our lawmakers on “Tennessee
Capitol Report.” I’m Chip Hoback. [theme music] (male narrator)
“Tennessee Capitol Report”
is made possible in part by.. (male)
Some games aren’t
played for glory. Some are played for
more important reasons. That’s why we partner with
schools to re-energize physical education and
shape the state. (male)
And with support by the
following members of the Tennessee Credit
Union League. With additional corporate
support from A-T and T. Rethink possible

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