Top Tennessee Democrat says GOP backs outsourcing despite verbal opposition

Top Tennessee Democrat says GOP backs outsourcing despite verbal opposition

May 16th, 2017 by Andy Sher in Politics State

Protesters unfurl a banner at the legislative office complex in Nashville, Tenn., on Tuesday, March 8, 2016, that lists names of people who signed a petition opposing Republican Gov. Bill Haslam's plan to outsource maintenance work at more state buildings, including on college campuses. The demonstrators unfurled banners, chanted and sang in the hallways outside the Senate committee room where the Haslam was administration was scheduled to present its "business justification" for privatization efforts later on Tuesday. (AP Photo/Erik Schelzig)

Photo by Erik Schelzig

NASHVILLE - State Senate Minority Leader Lee Harris, D-Memphis, says that although GOP majority lawmakers in the General Assembly spoke against and signed letters opposing Republican Gov. Bill Haslam's outsourcing efforts, they did nothing to actually stop it.

"Democrats have put forth bill after bill after bill to slow or stop this plan, but we needed the active support of the Republican majority," Harris said today in a news release.

Harris said GOP members "wouldn't support sending outsourcing contracts to the legislature for approval," a bill that he and Rep. John Ray Clemmons, D-Nashville, sponsored last year. 

"This year," Harris said, "I had a relatively small bill to simply say that parks should not be held to a profit-making standard under Tennessee law."

He said it was "odd" that Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, and fellow Republicans from rural areas "fought aggressively against" the change.

"After failing to support three different approaches to slow or stop outsourcing, I have come to one conclusion about Republicans in the Tennessee legislature," Harris said. "The reason outsourcing efforts continue is because Republicans in the Tennessee legislature support outsourcing."

Although Harris didn't mention it, Bell did successfully press for the state's constitutional officers, who are elected by the General Assembly and serve on the State Building Commission, to move more aggressively in setting stricter oversight parameters on the Haslam administration's planned outsourcing of hospitality operations at Fall Creek Falls State Park.

At the time, Bell said he thought the Legislature, as a co-equal branch of state government, should assert itself on the issue with regard to the six-member Building Commission, five of whose members are elected by the General Assembly to positions that put them on the powerful panel. 

Sen. Janice Bowling, R-Tullahoma, meanwhile, pushed to block outsourcing at Fall Creek Falls.

A bipartisan majority of Tennessee lawmakers, including Bell and Bowling, also signed the letter calling on the Haslam administration to halt further outsourcing in parks and higher education facilities management until the General Assembly can study the overall issue.

Haslam ignored the letter.