published Monday, April 25th, 2011

Republican conservatives push social agenda

NASHVILLE — GOP hardliners’ social agenda will be on full display in the General Assembly this week, with serious moves toward changing state policy mixed with mostly symbolic protests against what sponsors see as either federal lassitude or overreaching.

Nearing the back stretch of a session dominated by Republicans, the beleaguered House Democratic Caucus chairman said he feels like he’s in “Alice in Wonderland.”

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Chairman Mike Turner, of Nashville. “It’s kind of like I’ve fallen down a rabbit hole.”

Republicans swept the House, the Senate and the governor’s office in November’s elections, and Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, is unperturbed by the criticism.

“They’ve been calling us right-wing kooks for the last decade, and it is now 64-34 [GOP majority] in the House and 20-13 in the Senate,” he said, chuckling.

“Baby, keep pouring it on, because the people of the state of Tennessee are with us on most of these issues.”


One bill coming up in the House Health and Human Resources Committee on Wednesday is aimed at demonstrating state sovereignty.

The “Health Care Compact” bill would let states band together to spend federal health care funds without federal interference. If it becomes state law and is accepted by Congress, the bill could put state lawmakers in control of $11 billion in federal spending for the elderly, according to a fiscal analysis.

“I don’t think it’s a real issue. It’s not going to happen,” said House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga. “The federal government’s not going to turn Medicare over to the states.”

Ramsey, asked if the bill actually could become law, said, “Maybe not.”

“Is there a little bit of making statements about this, that the federal government has overstepped their boundaries in pushing unfunded mandates and using the [Interstate] Commerce clause where it should never be used? That’s what the Health Care Compact is all about, in making that statement,” Ramsey said.

Asked by reporters why House and Senate Republicans are spending time on the bill, then, McCormick replied, “Well, I’m not. But we got 99 members and anyone who wants to bring a bill about any subject can bring it.”

He added, “You just can’t tell our people you can’t bring a bill because you consider it to be far out there.”


The first Republican majority since 1869 has generated an explosion of legislation from social conservatives and tea party sympathizers. Some bills have created problems for not only for Gov. Bill Haslam, less conservative than some lawmakers, but for other Republican lawmakers and state businesses.

• Tonight, the House is scheduled to consider a bill that would overturn a Nashville Metro Council ordinance that bans discrimination against gay, lesbian and transgender people by city contractors.

The bill has been promoted by Tennessee Family Action Council head David Fowler, a former Republican state senator from Signal Mountain. Fowler could not be reached for comment late last week.

• A bill coming up Tuesday in the Senate Judiciary Committee would let higher education employees from janitors to professors carry guns on campus if they have permits and take a special course.

• Last week, the Senate voted 24-8 for a Joint Resolution 127, which would ask voters in 2014 to amend Tennessee’s Constitution to say that it does not protect a woman’s ability to obtain an abortion.

The measure is intended to overturn a 2000 Tennessee Supreme Court decision. The House companion bill has yet to start moving. The amendment has the support of most if not all Republicans and many Democrats.

Also last week, the Senate voted 18-10 for a bill mandating a voucher program for low-income students in the state’s four largest counties, including Hamilton.

Republicans also are pushing an Arizona-style measure that would let state and local police enforce federal immigration laws. It comes up in House and Senate committees this week.

Haslam and the business owners have voiced reservations about a bill that mandates all businesses use the federal E-Verify system to ensure people they hire are in the U.S. legally.

And a Ramsey-backed bill to end collective bargaining for teachers is still alive.


Turner said some GOP leaders are “embarrassed” over some of the bills introduced.

He cited a “birther” bill, later pulled, that would have required presidential candidates to show proof of citizenship before they could be on the ballot.

The bill was aimed at President Barack Obama, who some critics don’t believe is a U.S. citizen despite his having released his Hawaii-issued birth certificate.

Republicans are “not putting anything forward on jobs,” Turner charged. “They’re not putting forward anything on trying to make the lives of Tennesseans better.”

Rep. JoAnne Favors, D-Chattanooga, questioned “why we are spending so much energy and time on issues that would probably be constitutionally invalid.”

Some conservative-backed social-agenda bills already have been pulled.

Last week, for example, Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, took off notice his “Academic Freedom Act” which would have allowed educators to discuss “controversies” about scientific theories including evolution and global warming.

Ramsey is not supporting the effort by some Republicans to let public university employees go armed.

“I’m discouraging the [Senate] sponsor from bringing it up this year,” Ramsey said. “That’s something that doesn’t need to be brought up.”

But he supports a bill allowing gun owners with carry permits to keep weapons in vehicles parked on employers’ parking lots.

Both Ramsey and McCormick said they see no problem with the Legislature stepping into the domain of local governments in areas like the anti-gay bias ordinance and efforts to block cities from enacting “living wage” ordinances.

“I’d say the states created the federal government,” McCormick said. “The state also created the local governments. So we do have a role. When they can’t come to some kind of logical conclusion at the local level, it is legitimate for us to step in.”

He said it is “also legitimate for us to step in to create a consistent business environment across the state.”

GOP leaders argue that legislation such Haslam’s effort to curb jury awards in personal injury lawsuits creates a business-friendly atmosphere that will promote job growth.

about Andy Sher...

Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...

Comments do not represent the opinions of the Chattanooga Times Free Press, nor does it review every comment. Profanities, slurs and libelous remarks are prohibited. For more information you can view our Terms & Conditions and/or Ethics policy.
rockman12 said...

WHAT ABOUT JOBS? We need JOBS, JOBS, JOBS. Why are you Republicans wasting time on issues that do not matter at this time. Most of what you want to do will be over turned in courts anyways. What employer is going to want to move to Tennessee when their employees can keep a GUN in their vehicle so that when they get pissed at their boss they can go get it out of their car and KILL the boss or coworkers that they are mad at. Businesses have the right to determine what items an employee carries or has on that businesses PRIVATE PROPERTY. Guns do not belong on any school or college. Overturning any discrimination law will end up in court with the state paying a major legal bill. Don't be wasting my tax dollars by having to hire lawyers to defend dumb laws. The "birther" issue? THE STATE OF HAWAII ISSUED OBAMA'S BIRTH CERTIFICATE, this is not an issue and is a waste of tax dollars even talking about it and the Republican governor of Arizona already vetoed their bill as "over reaching". When you Republicans get done the states debt will be as large as the federal government and we will not have any jobs at all. At least it will be another 100 years until you control the state of Tennessee again. START WORKING ON REAL ISSUES LIKE GETTING MORE COMPANIES TO RELOCATE IN TENNESSEE SO THAT WE THE CITIZENS OF THIS STATE CAN GET BACK TO WORK. JOBS NOW, JOBS NOW, JOBS NOW!!!!!!!!

April 25, 2011 at 4:10 p.m.
Legend said...

Today's republican party has no connection whatsoever to the party of Lincoln's time. That party and its' ideas died with Lincoln. The party of Lincoln would disown today's party.

Today's republican party is actually an extension of Nixon. Even many of their wordings with liberal this and liberal that are terms Nixon used. Today's party is filled with mean spirited and divisive tactics.

Republicans fail to tell anyone just how many jobs in the private industry rely on those social programs, and would be negatively affected if those programs are cut or done away with altogether.

Today's republican party is deceitful, malicisious and vindictive. Many would like nothing better than to watch as the rest of us start to fight amongst one another; ripping one another apart as they stand on the sidelines and sip mint julip spiked tea.

Hopefully, at some point, the real Republican Party will take a stand and kick these hijackers of the party to the curve. Exposing their true nature.

April 25, 2011 at 8:10 p.m.
chet123 said...

see you at it again libertarian4freedom to slave them black folk and work them for my lazy and greedy interest..............thanks GOD for lincoln!!!! I know you think black fought for the south to enslave them...WHAT A JOKE!! i can see slaves being given GUNS!!!What these idiot wont you got to have a dead soul...just a dead man walking and talking a lie!!!

April 27, 2011 at 9:23 p.m.
chet123 said...

Glad the majority of white people are not like you!!!

April 27, 2011 at 9:24 p.m.
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