Political Notebook: McCormick: 'Tread carefully' on city police, fire unions

Political Notebook: McCormick: 'Tread carefully' on city police, fire unions

February 15th, 2015 by Staff Reports in Politics

Tennessee House Republican Leader Gerald McCormick

Tennessee House Republican Leader Gerald McCormick

Photo by Patrick Smith /Times Free Press.

McCormick: 'Tread carefully' on city police, fire unions

State lawmakers should "tread carefully" on a bill that would ban municipal governments' agreements with police, firefighters and other public employees, House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, says.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, and Rep. Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin, extends the existing ban on union contracts to any agreement with local government, including memorandums of understanding.

Such MOUs are voluntary and nonbinding, and thus "unenforceable," according to a 2000 analysis by the University of Tennessee's Municipal Technical Advisory Service.

But McCormick said such agreements "have given the firefighters and police officers a seat at the table."

"I think we need to keep an eye on the unions in city halls, but I think we need to be very careful about the police and fire unions in particular," McCormick said. "I think in general they've been pretty responsible. ... I just think we need to tread carefully when it comes to our firefighters and police officers."

The leader doesn't feel that way, however, about the Service Employees International Union.

"I think the concern is more of this SEIU union that's coming in and basically wanting to run the city governments and get the cities in bad financial situations. There's some legitimate concern there."

Tennessee and local governments are already barred under state law from striking formal contracts with unions.

State workers' insurance 'not a subsidy,' TSEA says

The Tennessee State Employees Association says it's "disappointed" that the state's health insurance plan figured into the recent debate on Gov. Bill Haslam's Insure Tennessee proposal.

"Our state health insurance is not a subsidy," TSEA President Bryan Merritt said in a news release. "It's a benefit of employment that every state employee earns by their service to the state of Tennessee, including our state legislators."

The Times Free Press reported that 116 of 132 representatives and senators are on the state plan, with taxpayers picking up 80 percent of the costs of monthly premiums. Supporters of Haslam's Insure Tennessee plan to cover low-income residents said repeatedly that taxpayers should at least get the same benefits they're paying for politicians to have.

The TSEA said state employees get a reduced salary in exchange for the benefit and adds that, while state legislators "may be classified as part-time employees, they are subject to being 'on call' to their constituents seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day. They earn their right to state insurance every day."

Democrats hope to revive Insure Tennessee proposal

Two Democratic lawmakers have introduced bills to revive the Insure Tennessee plan.

"Democratic lawmakers agree this issue is too important to let drop just because the governor's own party let him down," House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Stewart said. "We are committed to finding a way to bring affordable health care to Tennesseans."

State Sen. Jeff Yarbro introduced Senate Bill 885, which repeals a law passed last year that requires the Legislature's OK before the governor could expand the state's Medicaid program, known as TennCare.

He also filed joint resolutions authorizing Haslam to pursue his Insure Tennessee proposal, which Democrats said could face different odds in the regular committee system, and authorizing a full expansion of TennCare.

Separately, Sen. Lee Harris filed a bill making part-time state employees eligible for the same health insurance that part-time legislators receive.

"It's not good enough for lawmakers to make political excuses and not support some kind of plan," Yarbro said. "The General Assembly passed a law to make sure we were involved on this issue, and now it's time to see if we're up to the job."

Graves supports continuing small business expensing

U.S. Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ga., said he voted for federal legislation that would make current small business expensing levels permanent.

"This legislation could provide the extra certainty needed for small business owners to hire another employee, expand their company's operations or make a long-term investment," Graves said in a news release.

"It will also provide job security for small business employees and their families by ensuring the cost of business does not skyrocket after the current expensing levels expire, potentially putting jobs at risk."