Committees prepare to close for 2010 session

Senate Committees approved several important bills this week as they prepare to close for the 2010 legislative session. The focus will shift next week to the state budget as the State Legislature plans to conclude the 106th General Assembly within three to four weeks.

Among legislation approved this week were two resolutions designed to fight back against the overreach of power from Congress, which includes the passage of the massive federal healthcare bill last month. Senate Joint Resolution 897, sponsored by Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey (R-Blountville) and approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee, urges Tennessee’s Attorney General to join a growing number of other states in challenging the unconstitutional provisions in the federal government takeover of the nation’s health care system. The resolution states the General Assembly shares the concern with these other states that mandated insurance coverage for citizens within their boundaries violates the Commerce Clause and the Tenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey asked Tennessee Attorney General Robert Cooper to make preparations for protective legal action last December after the federal bill was approved by the U.S. Senate. He has continued to call upon the Attorney General to join other states in their efforts to oppose the unconstitutional provisions of the measure since the final passage by the U.S. House of Representatives on March 21.

“Eighteen states – over one-third of the United States – are pushing back on this unconstitutional federal healthcare mandate,” said Lt. Governor Ramsey. “Not only is it unconstitutional, it will destroy state budgets across the nation. It is time for Tennessee to join other states in saying ‘no’ to this budget-busting disaster. We can’t print money like they do in Washington, D.C. We have to live within our means.

“Congress has attempted to justify its power to adopt the national healthcare law through the Commerce Clause of the U. S. Constitution,” said Senator Mike Faulk (R- Church Hill). “As I understand our national healthcare regulations, today, we can’t buy healthcare insurance from outside Tennessee. There is nothing sold across state lines now. What Congress seems to be saying is the power to regulate commerce across state lines includes the power to regulate commerce within a state. I don’t think that’s what the Commerce Clause of the Constitution says and I’m convinced it’s not what the founding fathers meant.”

Similarly, the Senate State and Local Government Committee and the full Senate approved Senate Joint Resolution 715, which asks Congress to submit to the states for ratification an amendment to stop the practice of passing unfunded mandates and programs to the states, except in a situation of financial emergency as declared by a two-thirds vote of their membership.

“The most recent act by Congress on healthcare could cost the state as much as $200 million annually,” said Senator McNally, who is Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. “This is at a time when we are already struggling. Also, one other part of that bill, which the state’s insurance plan is reviewing, is how much it would cost in additional insurance premiums, so we expect that the cost will increase.”

The proposed amendment would prohibit the federal government from authorizing state participation in federal programs or services unless funding is guaranteed by the federal government for the full duration of the programs or services. If federal funds are not appropriated for the program or service, the law enacted or regulation promulgated would become null and void.

Senate Judiciary Committee approves Resolution to let citizens decide whether the state’s Attorney General should be elected

The Senate Judiciary Committee has approved a resolution sponsored by Senator Mae Beavers (R-Mt. Juliet), calling for an elected State Attorney General (AG). The resolution, Senate Joint Resolution 698, would amend the state’s Constitution to allow a popular election every four years.

“Tennessee is the only state in the nation that allows the State Supreme Court to select the attorney general,” said Senator Beavers, who is Chairman of the Judiciary Committee. “Forty-three states already select their attorney generals through popular election and it is time for this General Assembly to also show their confidence in the collective wisdom of the people of Tennessee.”

In six other states, the Attorney General is selected by either the popularly elected Governor or the popularly elected state legislature. Beavers said that when Tennessee’s Constitution was written calling for nomination by the Supreme Court Justices, the court was popularly elected.

“Tennessee is the only state in the nation in which the people have neither a direct nor indirect voice in the selection of their Attorney General,” Beavers added. “Someone has to be accountable to the people, and yesterday’s AG opinion on the Health Freedom Act shows once again, the importance of having an Attorney General who represents the will of the people of this state.”

The amendment process would require approval by both the 106th General Assembly currently in session and the 107th, which will take office in 2011. If approved, the question would then go to voters in a statewide referendum in the year 2014.

“Along with the overwhelming majority of Tennesseans and 96% of the rest of this nation, I feel that the citizens of this state ought to have a ‘say so’ in the highest legal office in Tennessee,” she concluded.

Legislation aims to reduce risk of child abduction

The Senate Judiciary Committee has approved legislation, sponsored by Speaker Pro Tempore Jamie Woodson (R-Knoxville), that aims to reduce the risk of child abduction in Tennessee. The bill, Senate Bill 3065, would provide courts with guidelines to follow regarding potential child abductions and to provide courts with appropriate measures to prevent these crimes.

“Child abduction is a serious problem,” said Speaker Woodson. “In 2002, over 260,000 children were abducted. Certainly, having open communications between courts and a clear set of guidelines will be very helpful to our Tennessee courts in reducing these terrible crimes.”

According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, 78% of these children were abducted by a family member. The Center claims families going through custody disputes and divorce proceedings are the highest risk group for potential abduction.

The legislation would provide judges with information about abduction risk factors so that they can place appropriate restrictions to prevent abductions. Among factors included are whether the respondent has previously abducted or attempted to abduct the child; has threatened to abduct the child; has engaged in domestic violence; has refused to follow a child-custody determination; has strong family or cultural ties to another state or country; or other related factors. Using these guidelines the court must determine that there is a credible risk of child abduction, and then the court may consider preventative measures.

“There are a wide variety of factors that will be considered by the court,” added Woodson. “ While courts currently have discretion to take many of these steps, some courts are not particularly familiar with the wide variety of both domestic and international abduction signs. This bill lays out a list of factors that should be considered to determine whether there is a credible risk that a child will be abducted in order to reduce this crime on the front end before great emotional or physical harm occurs to the child.”

In Brief

Unemployment — Tennessee’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for February 2010 was 10.7 percent, unchanged from the January rate of 10.7 percent according to newly released statistics. The United States unemployment rate for the month of February was 9.7 percent. County non-seasonally adjusted unemployment rates for February 2010 show that the rate decreased in 78 counties, increased in 10 counties and remained the same in seven counties.

Voter Registration — The Senate State and Local Government Committee has approved Senate Bill 194, which would require voter registration forms to carry a disclaimer that clarifies giving false information to register to vote carries a criminal penalty. The legislation, sponsored by Senator Dewayne Bunch (R-Cleveland), also requires that the applicant affirm that they are lawfully in the United States.

Veterans / State Parks – The full Senate has passed legislation to instruct the Division of Parks and Recreation to designate one day per year during which access to and use of all state parks would be free of charge for all veterans. The bill, Senate Bill 3212, includes use of campgrounds, and golf courses, as long as the veteran shows proof of their status.

Manhattan Project Historical Site / Oak Ridge — The full Senate voted this week to urge Congress to include Oak Ridge in any new national park unit being considered in conjunction with the Manhattan Project Sites. The proposal, Senate Joint Resolution 761, is sponsored by Senator Randy McNally. The National Park Service recently proposed a Manhattan Project National Historical Park at Los Alamos, New Mexico, even though more than 60% of the Manhattan Project budget was spent at Oak Ridge. Currently, there are no national parks that preserve Manhattan Project resources or tell the story of the top-secret World War II project that created the world’s first atomic bombs.

Finance Group upgrades state’s credit rating — Tennessee’s credit rating has been upgraded by Fitch Ratings from a AA to a AAA rating, according to Senate Finance Committee Chairman Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge). Fitch is a leading global rating agency which provides the world’s credit markets with independent credit opinions. Fitch, together with Moody’s and Standard and Poor’s, are the three nationally recognized statistical rating organizations designated by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

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