published Saturday, March 23rd, 2013

Nashville Notebook: Bradley County sheriff fires back at critical lawmakers

Bradley County, Tenn., Sheriff Jim Ruth fired back late this week after a long-distance tongue-lashing from state lawmakers in Nashville.

Members of a House subcommittee smacked Ruth around Wednesday over a column he wrote earlier this month. Ruth is supporting a bill that would require a doctor's prescription for drugs such as Claritin D or Sudafed, which contain pseudoephedrine. The drug is a key ingredient in methamphetamine.

In the column, Ruth wrote, "The politicians, lobbyists, pharmaceutical companies and meth dealers that are blocking a new, effective law have made for some strange bedfellows."

Some lawmakers took that as an accusation of corruption. Lancaster Republican Terri Lynn Weaver, for instance, said Ruth should "have the cojones" to come to her office "and look at me eyeball to eyeball and tell me I'm on the take."

In a statement Friday, Ruth stuck to his guns. He said a December survey showed most law enforcement members in the state see meth as the No. 1 problem.

"I predicted I would come up against strong resistance, and I have," Ruth wrote. "I see the wording and intent of my articles have been misquoted by some in an effort to come back at me as I indicated in those very same articles would happen."

He said the statewide database used to track pseudoephedrine sales doesn't work and federal money for meth lab cleanups is expected to dry up within the year.

"The families and victims of the meth problem have not had a serious advocate so far. Someone needs to speak for them, and that's why I'm taking a strong stance."

Hotel taxes

Efforts by local governments to require online websites like Hotwire.com to remit more hotel-motel sales taxes to them died in the Senate State and Local Government Committee this week.

Members voted 7-1 against the bill.

The websites buy hotel reservations at discounted prices and sell them for higher prices online but still often below what hotels and motels charge. The amount of tax the websites remit to local governments is now based on what they pay for the rooms, not the amount they charge to customers.

Brick-and-mortar hotels and motels say that's unfair to them. Local governments, meanwhile, would have liked to see more revenue.

Carr seeks funds

Fourth Congressional District Republican hopeful Joe Carr recently sent out a fundraising letter to potential donors.

While it doesn't mention the name of U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn., whom Carr is thinking of challenging next year, some speculate it works in a subtle dig at the Jasper physician and his abortion controversy.

"And let me be clear," Carr says in the letter. "I'm not a better or worse person than anyone running for this seat. I am not morally superior, nor will I be portrayed to be morally inferior. That judgment is reserved only for our Creator."

Carr, a state representative from Lacassas who has yet to officially announce a bid, has previously criticized DesJarlais. A physician who has campaigned as pro-life, DesJarlais of Jasper drew headlines last fall after interviews and documents revealed he had sex with his patients and encouraged one to get an abortion back in 2000. DesJarlais won a second term over a Democrat, but court documents later showed he supported his ex-wife's two abortions while he was married to her.

DesJarlais, who has remarried, says he has changed his life for the better. State Sen. Jim Tracy, R-Shelbyville, has announced officially he is running against DesJarlais.

Hammond bill

Gov. Bill Haslam signed a slew of recently passed bills this week into law, including a measure that allows Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond to designate a representative to serve on the county's Emergency Communications District Board (911).

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, and Rep. Mike Carter, R-Ooltewah, was introduced at Hammond's request. It also affects the Knox County sheriff.

When explaining the bill last month, Carter said in passage of a previous statewide 911 bill sheriffs from Hamilton and Knox counties were excluded for some reason.

"That results in Sheriff Hammond missing virtually every meeting because of his duties," Carter said.

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, ...

about Judy Walton...

Judy Walton has worked 25 years at the Chattanooga Times and the Times Free Press as an editor and reporter focusing on government coverage and investigations. At various times she has been an assistant metro editor, region reporter and editor, county government reporter, government-beat team leader, features editor and page designer. Originally from California, Walton was brought up in a military family and attended a dozen schools across the country. She earned a journalism degree ...

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