- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Recent editorials from Tennessee newspapers:

March 25

News Sentinel, Knoxville, Tennessee, on the Senate and outreach funds:

A dubious legislative practice is ending in the Tennessee House of Representatives but continuing in the Senate.

State lawmakers have a long-standing tradition of helping each other out in re-election campaigns by transferring among themselves money intended for constituent communications.

State Sen. Richard Briggs and state Rep. Martin Daniel, both Knoxville Republicans in their first terms in office, filed bills this session to ban the practice. Another bill, originally filed by House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick but now shepherded by Daniel, would expand the time limit on the use of the funds.

The use of these public funds for what amounts to political purposes should end, either by legislation or, as House Speaker Beth Harwell admirably did late last week, by setting new legislative rules.

Legislators receive funds every year for constituent communications, money that is supposed to go toward keeping the folks back home abreast of events in Nashville and otherwise staying in touch with voters. A common, if suspect, practice is for legislators who are not facing re-election challenges to transfer their funds to colleagues who are facing challenges as Election Day nears. The recipient can then send materials or otherwise contact constituents under the guise of keeping the voters informed. In reality, these are campaign messages.

Senators get $6,832 per year, while House members get $2,016 annually. Money left over at the end of the year can stay in the accounts, leaving many legislators with huge bundles of cash to distribute to colleagues as they see fit. Senate Speaker Pro Tempore Bo Watson, R-Hixson, has amassed more than $100,000 in his account.

The Briggs-Daniel bill would have banned these transfers altogether. McCormick’s bill would expand “blackout period” - the time frame in which legislators could not use the money for constituent contact - from 30 days prior to an election to 90 days.

The Briggs-Daniel bill apparently struck a nerve in the Legislature’s Republican leadership.

Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey persuaded Briggs to drop the bill and will continue to consider approval of the transfers on a case-by-case basis. In other words, the status quo will be maintained in the Senate.

Harwell, on the other hand, decided to change the House rules to achieve the same end. While her move does not have the force of law and the rule can be changed at any time, Harwell is acknowledging the importance of fairness in the electoral process. Incumbents already have enough advantages; allowing them to use thousands of dollars in public money - funds they never were entitled to control - without reporting the transfers as campaign contributions run counter to the spirit of fairness that ideally should permeate American elections.

Constituent communication can lead to better governing, but money set aside for one district’s representative should not be spent to aid the re-election of a representative of another district. Ramsey should follow Harwell’s lead in making changes to the administrative rules to stop the transfer of these funds.




March 25

The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, Tennessee, on bipolar gun rights:

The Tennessee General Assembly continues to be bipolar this session when it comes to proposed legislation regarding gun-carry rights.

A House subcommittee last week killed a bill that, as it was amended in the Senate, would have allowed students to keep guns in their cars on public college campuses in Tennessee. Three other bills have failed, including one that would remove the background-check requirement for a gun purchase by permit holders.

However, a bill giving permit-holding employees a right to sue an employer for sanctioning them for keeping guns in their vehicles on company-owned property has passed. And a bill prohibiting town, city and county governments from banning handgun-carry permit holders from going armed in local parks is still in play. While we do not disagree with the right to go armed with the proper permit, it is unreasonable to deny a private company or local government the right to say whether it wants firearms on its property.




March 23

Paris (Tennessee) Post-Intelligencer on health care law:

The law that Republicans love to hate, the Affordable Care Act, is five years old today, and the furor over it shows no signs of subsiding.

Like it or not, what opponents insist on calling “Obamacare” remains the law of the land.

“Five years ago, we declared that in America, quality affordable health care is not a privilege, it’s a right,” the president said. “And I’ll never stop working to protect that right for those who already have it, and extend it to those who don’t.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky is equally adamant: “Obamacare has been one rolling disaster after another. . Fewer choices, higher costs, increased taxes, broken promises - and it’s still not working like the president said it would.”

The final judge, apparently, will have to be history. In the meantime, reports by blue-ribbon panels and such don’t seem to be settling anything.

At least parts of the law seem destined to wind up before the U.S. Supreme Court.



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