Saturday, May 28, 2005

Payday

Talk about preventing another Tennessee Waltz has already started in the legislature. One idea that many have talked about (and blogger Matthew White made a mention of it on his blog South end Grounds) is the idea of a full time legislature. The argument by those who've mentioned it in the halls of the legislature is that full time legislators would be paid more, and by virtue of a larger salary, corruption would be ended.

The big complaint is that we “only make $16,500 a year.” This is true, but also misleading. Our base salary is $16,500 (for 45 days of actual work) per year. But as legislators we also receive $12,000 per year for “office expense” (I know of no legislator that has a office outside of the house), not to mention health care coverage, which in this day and age is worth an enormous amount. We also receive 33 cents per mile for travel expense (it adds up).also a 401k plan. On top of that, we receive $141.00 per day as living expenses every day that we are here-even if it's only for fifteen minutes.

I have heard there are some legislators who abuse this per diem privilege. They come to their office when not in session, make a few calls and ask their secretaries to put them down on the books for full pay. Perhaps other than the leadership, there's really not a lot of reasons for a legislator or senator to be down here often.

Session could in fact be shorter if we worked full time during session. Instead, most days are half days in order to stretch out the number of days to boost per diem.

I am not going to address free meals or trips, maybe in another post. But my point is this: put your mind at ease. No one here is going to starve by being honest.

The next time you hear your state representative or senator whine how tough the job is or how he or she is underpaid, tell him/her to quit. There are plenty of good people in Tennessee who will fill their shoes. Saying that usually changes their tune quite quickly.

Our caucus and the Governor

The Republican caucus had a meeting with Governor this morning. He brought up how we need a bipartisan effort, how he works with us to help the state, and how he invites us to attend when grants are given out in our districts. He said we need to work together for our state to fix TennCare, how he has an open door policy and how he returns phone calls so help him out now.

I raised my hand and was recognized to ask the Governor if we were in fact working together to fix TennCare, then why hasn't the most qualified person-a doctor and a legislator, Dr. Hensley--been allowed to serve on the TennCare oversight committee.

Dr. Hensley has a wealth of knowledge and is basically shut out because of partisanship. The Governor more or less mumbled a bit about working in a system. In other words, he was saying “tough.”

Others stood up and spoke to the same issue. Others spoke with regard to the meth problem and how they have specific knowledge of the problem as well as effective solutions, but they too were shut out for the same reasons .

Others stood up and confirmed that they were in fact invited to the grant announcements, but how they were also told if they showed up, the grant would be cancelled.

Some said how they had called the Governor's office and were told that they were so “inept”, that they would not get to talk to the Governor. I know these legislators, and they are not inept.

The Governor did not know what to say. We talked about TennCare some more. The Doctor said how nice it was to finally meet the Governor and get to speak to his staff for once.

We went upstairs and voted on the budget. Dr. Hensley's amendment was killed, even though it was improved since my post yesterday and even covered more people for no more money.

We passed the budget as it stood. Even though there was a lot of good in the budget, there was too much waste-and it turned my stomach. I voted against it.

I heard a rumor

Sen.Ford quit the senate today. Wilder read it from the well minutes ago.

Friday, May 27, 2005

The other boat

There is an alternative plan to the Governor's “safety net.” The long and short of it is that the Governor's plan insures 100,000 people who are uninsured. The group being chosen by the Governor have access to health care coverage, but for different reasons don't have any or have chosen not to purchase it. They cost less per person to cover because they are for the most part, healthier. His plan will also give some funding to local clinics as well as initiate a dial a nurse program, none of this plan is eligible for federal matching funds.

A different plan being proposed by Doctor Hensley, a fellow state representative from Hohenwald, covers a smaller number of enrollees, 60,000-but this group is comprised of much sicker people, with permanent or chronic problems, or older and permanently disabled type individuals.

This pool is uninsurable (no one will sell them insurance at any price). This is different than being uninsured as the above group. Many of these enrollees are currently paying premiums to the state now, and will continue to pay if left on the program. To cover this group would be much more expensive to the state, but with this plan we continue to receive federal matching funds (therefore the cost is the same.)

We are currently down to one plan or the other, and the budget waits for one or the other to be chosen. I know I did not give enough details about either plan-both have many more details as well as pros and cons. I have seen little from the Governor concerning any real reform. I have seen a lot of political strategizing.

I trust the doctor and the amendment he has put forward. I support Doctor Hensley's plan. I feel strongly he has carefully studied what is best for both the enrollees and the taxpayers.

SS Tenncare

Governor Bredesen is a successful businessman with much touted experience in healthcare and HMOs. But it must be noted, that he made money in healthcare by removing high-risk people from their health plans. He has brought this same management style and strategy to TennCare.I'm going to use an analogy I'll call, the SS TennCare:

Pre-TennCare, there were a large number of folks who had their own insurance program of some sort or another. It was like a good, little boat floating along and riding the waves in the ocean. All of a sudden, along comes the luxury cruise ship the SS TennCare. Everyone abandons their private ships and climbs aboard the big new cruiser. It cruised along ok for a while, but with neglect it began to sprink leaks, take on water, and start to sink. The only problem is that by this time, the cruiser has let all the private boats float away-none are even on the horizon.

The captain says he doesn't want to plug the holes and bailing out the water takes too long-he's got to keep it sailing. His solution? Lighten the load by throwing passengers overboard.

Well, the Governor, (oops, I mean the captain) is throwing people off as fast as he can and hoping there is no mutiny. The passengers he has thrown overboard are starting to scream and swallow water when what do you know? A shipment of “surplus” lumber arrives from shore. The captain orders a small boat built---it won't be big enough to hold everyone he's thrown overboard---just the ones that are screaming and flailing the loudest and strongest.

The small boat is slapped together and the crew is invited on deck at the last minute to help him heave it into the water (in a year). Now everyone is hoping the new boat floats because the captain doesn't want to hear the screaming anymore. The new crew has their fingers and toes crossed in hopes that boards don't start flying off. They know the new boat isn't big enough or sturdy enough. They look around and see people in the water grabbing sticks and toothpicks-anything they can to keep them afloat.

One lowly ensign finally speaks up. “This won't do. Call back the other boats. They have made the easy money chartering around the rich passengers for too long. It is time to carry some of the poor passengers again if they want to sail in these waters.”

The ensign addresses the captain: “We need to fix the holes in the SS TennCare-we need to start bailing and plugging. You're throwing together makeshift boats, but you promised to fix this boat first.Use the lumber to fix this boat now or help the people in the water now before they all dround while we fix up a good boat”

To be continued...
Sequel release date: undetermined time in the future.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Session when ?

It was supposed to be at 9 am ,that is when everything was going down so all bills got rolled to afternoon session 1pm session was rolled to 4pm ,4pm has been rolled to 6pm many legislators are still walking around like it is 9/11 .

more to go ?

Well, well, well, I have been talking about ethics for a while and some hated my ranting but now you are seeing how big the problem is. I want to let you know I still think this is just the tip of the iceberg. More names are still supposedly to come down and I don't think that they went after all the people that would have probably taken the money. Rumors are rampant as to who will be the next to go .I personally am glad to see this happen lets get them all, sweep them all out, its time to clean house. Still though ,I think it will be tough to convict because our laws are so loose. it could come down to when the people took the money . I just was told Bowers is out already .I guess she made bond will see about the rest .Session was put off till 4 pm today .
I want to reiterae this is ALL just rumor I am hearing more may go down I hear they are at another senators office now. Can you say ethics reform?

More

Supposedly dixon a former senator and a staff person for Willie herndon went down also

UPDATE

rumor has it Crutchfield Bowers Ford and Newton supposedly about a computer recycle bill. if it is the one I think I spoke against it when it came to committee.

NEWS FLASH !!!!

!1 senator and 1 rep were supposedly taken away in cuffs .It is not who you think. more later.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

gun bill back

The conceal carry bill HB 2225 was back today. This is simmilar to the bill that caused so much stir in my previous posts. Chris Newton attempted to bring the bill back directly to the house floor. As I mentioned in earlier posts, this action is allowed by rule with 66 votes necessary from the house.

It was definitely intense---and tense too. Speaker Naifeh even personally came down to the well to argue against this bill. He argued that his polling indicated people were against the bill. He argued that it was a bad bill. And he didn't stop there. He went on to attack the NRA. He closed by saying we should not vote to allow this bill to come forward.

It came to a vote. 66 votes were needed to bring it to the house floor, but only 54 voted yes. 36 members voted no, and 8 didn't vote. Curious is that there were 63 sponsors and co-sponsors of this bill. It now appears obvious that some members signed on as co-sponsors banking on the standard operating procedure that it would be killed in committee and never come to a vote.

It looks like those “sponsors” were put to the test. When the rubber actually meets the pavement, how did they vote? Let's do the math:

63 sponsors and co-sponsors
-54 yes votes
_________________
= 9 legislators who didn't really mean they supported the legislation they put their names on.

Interesting. It will be interesting to see how this vote effects election time next year.

Safety net and budget

Well, we finally received some facts regarding the Governor's TennCare “safety net” and how he plans to spend the excess revenues. The safety net program comprises about 76 million of the revenue surplus. We were given a two page synopsis and will probably be voting on it in two days. We spent more time discussing the 25 million Pre-K program than a 76 million dollar expenditure. In only two days we have to digest, study, and vote on a program with few facts.

This appears to be standard operating procedure and is why we are in the TennCare mess in the first place. Sometimes haste makes waste and this may be one of those times.

I see no true reform in the TennCare program. Instead the Governor's plan is simply kicking people off the program. With a temporary cash infusion fewer enrollees will be kicked off-but for how long? One of the best points raised in our caucus meeting with Governor's people on TennCare was this question: “Are we fixing the problem or just buying time? If we are just buying time, how long before the other shoe drops?”

Their answer: two to three years.

The rest of the new money goes for raises ,higher ed and other items I mentioned in my previous posts. I tried to get our caucus to push for a tax cut, but we could not reach a consensus on where to cut or even the type of tax to cut. Some wanted a sales tax holiday, others wanted to cut tax on food.

Others said we really don't have enough time to put together a new budget and present a well thought out alternative view. Most were just trying to get a handle on the current one. Too much too fast I guess. Perhaps that was the plan from the start. Instead of hurry up and wait---the plan is wait, wait, wait, and then hurry up.

Many legislators seem tired, and I can surely understand that. I think however this was a lost opportunity. If we would have had some facts and figures even two weeks ago, I feel confidant we could have come up a viable and responsible alternative.

I have to wonder how long the Governor has known about the excess. If he had time to put together such plans, then why wasn't the Legislature more informed?

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

MO' MONEY

Belly-up to the trough boys! We've got a windfall of cash and only a little time to spend it!

This may be the feeling of many legislators who specialize in bringing home the pork, but a few of us remember that the pig belongs to the people in the first place. I believe we should give it back!

Several ideas are floating around--some of them originating at the Tennessee Center for Policy Research. One idea is an extended sales tax holiday (we already passed one for next year, but another would be nice.)

Another idea is lowering or taking the sales tax off of food for the rest of the year. Another idea is to put the money in the rainy day fund to improve our bond rating and lower interest rates of loans obtained by the state.

Whatever the idea or the merit---don't count on it materializing or getting much money. Most legislators hate to give money back to the people who worked for it in the first place. Giving it back might lead people to expect efficient government, and many a legislator doesn't want that to happen.

The most wasteful idea to materialize has got to be giving the legislature new voting boards. I have never witnessed them broken, nor has anyone said there is a problem with them. Wait--retraction: I guess no problems unless you count the time Speaker Naifeh left the boards open to try to pass an the income tax vote. I hate to tell them, but new boards won't change any votes on the that issue.

Even if they are needed, are new boards the best use of our money?

What about the cries from 2 years ago how we need to take the tax off of food and how we are losing sales to lower taxed stores across our state border? What about the money from the cities and counties? They are going to need it with the shift in expenses due to the broken promise of TennCare.

If the money is not designated immediately then it will go Governor Bredesen's slush fund to be doled out(out of session) as he sees fit with no questions asked. Republicans had a bill to stop this practice, but guess what? It was killed in committee.

TABOR (Taxpayer Bill of Rights) is a great idea and I've supported the idea for 3 or 4 years now. Now that I'm in the legislature serving Tennesseans, the idea only looks more attractive. This surplus which rightly belongs to Tennesseans, is a great example why TABOR is needed. The current majority will NEVER have enough money-they will always want more.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Good dish from blogs

I just thought I would let you all know that you are helping to force accountability with regard to Senator Ford's actions--as well as making it difficult for anyone to continue to ignore Ford's "business as usual."

I was surfing other blogs late last night before I went to see Star Wars. I visited Bill Hobbs and GOP bloggers where I read a post by Paul Lewis. From there I linked to a story by News Channel 5 on Senator Ford and the money he is receiving from the state.

I took a copy of the story today, and got together with one of the House Committee Chairmen. I talked to him about stopping the flow of money if it is still going on. Once money starts to flow, it is quite difficult to turn it off-especially in government.

Governor Bredesen has made mention of perhaps issuing a veto regarding the money flowing to Senator Ford, but I believe the committee that has oversight of the funds should be called to the carpet as well, and asked to explain why this has been allowed to go on for years.

The Chairman indicated that he would be willing to work on it. If we can at least stop the money now, that would be a good first step.

Other representatives and people seeking higher office read and took notice of a post by Rob Huddleston. Some requested copies-you might guess who and which post.

To Tennessee's newest blogging Senator Roy Herron: Welcome! I hope you enjoy the communication opportunities and find it as informative as I have.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

kill bill vol?

My bill on ethics reform was killed today in house state and local govt. sub committee. It dealt with conflicts of interest, for instance where a member is voting on a bill that would directly benefit the legislator financially, or benefit an immediate family member or business partner. The bill also addressed the use of public funds, time, or personnel for personal gain or political activity except where already provided by law. It also addressed using the state seal on stationary for fund raising purposes.

I knew the Democrat controlled committee would try to kill the bill as quickly as possible in order to create as little attention or “mess” as possible. I asked for a roll call vote on the bill so everyone had to go on record. I also asked to divide the bill into parts to force voting section by section.

Some questions were asked in an attempt to muddy the water on the bill-and those questions were answered and clarified. Next, representative Rinks started to speak and ask questions.

It transpired something like this:

Rinks: What about the use of the state seal on a blog? We have to watch out for them, these blogs can be a problem.

The legal staff responded that the bill had nothing to do with that.But evryone got the point.

A few more comments were made and then there seemed to be agreement by the majority that they would need to study this bill over the summer (a way of killing bills.) I brought up the fact that I had asked to divide the question (so they would have to kill the bill piece by piece showing Tennesseans their insincere desire for accountability in ethics and transparency in government) but Chairman Miller said I was out of order.

The bill was killed--all Republicans voted yes to save it, Democrats voted no. As I was thanking the committee, a State Representative on the committee(I believe it was Rep. Jones) laughed and said something to the effect of “go write that in your little blog.”

Well Representative Jones, I've written it. More obstructionism and stalling on ethics legislation, and possibly as bad, the revelation of a general feeling of disdain, if not antagonism for open government. To criticize a blog-which is only a tool to communicate with Tennesseans-- should speak volumes to Tennessee taxpayers.

It is ironic to hear such antagonism about a means of telling Tennesseans what is going on in Nashville--after all, government belongs to the people. Nashville isn't the personal playground for a privileged few elected officials at least it shouldn't be.

More time to squander

Well, you would think with all the noise about the last do-nothing bill (see my last post) that the Democrats would learn. But no, there are actually two other bills drawn up with the exact same purpose as the last. One bill is attacking the president on social security reform and one bill attacks the president on gas prices.

The gas bill is supposed to come up Wednesday, but we will see. They rolled the last one three times before they presented it. I guess they needed time to produce those pretty charts. I am sort of curious to see what they will say this time since gas prices are going down, and also because the democrats have offered no plan of their own regarding social security.

Once again the point is to mire constituents and the media onlookers in a partisan sideshow, therefore shifting the spotlight away from the issues that we as legislators in the Tennessee General Assembly can actually do something about. The Democratic leadership is waving charts and gas prices in one hand so that you don't notice that they are missing-in-action on TennCare, ethics indiscretions, anti-gun votes, etc.

The Democrats must be getting nervous that their lack of any real legislative agenda is finally being exposed. I encourage constituents to pay attention to what I consider to be campaign tactics on the taxpayer dime. Maybe some people think it was cute the first time Democratic leadership was grandstanding about the federal budget, but I'm interested to see what taxpayers think about an ongoing partisan waste of taxpayer time.

I wonder if the media will find it funny, or if it will anger them that a lot of serious issues aren't getting near the legislative attention as these bills.

John J. Hooker now has a blog. I wonder if he can post his old jingles he used to have. They were great.

Governor Bredesen took down his Pre-K survey. Why aren't the results up? Wonder why he took it down?

The Governor had a piece in the Knoxville News Sentinel this Saturday-a lot of generalities and fluff about his Pre-K victory. It would have been a good opportunity to tout his blog survey results-but he didn't put it in there (wonder why?) Terry Frank wrote a great piece that appeared opposite Bredesen's in the Sentinel. It's worth the read, and she mentioned some of the concerns that we Republican legislators had tried to get across.

Remember the battle cry of the politician who doesn't want the facts examined: “It's for the children!” It works every time. Enough said.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

GIVE ME A BREAK!!

Today was probably one of the biggest wastes of time yet. We spent about an hour on the full house floor arguing a bill drafted by house democrat leadership and others. The bill was purely political in purpose. Democrats wanted to approve a bill condemning the President and the federal government for the federal deficit.

Giant charts and signs were drafted (I assume at taxpayer expense). Arguments and counter arguments were prepared. Bills were drafted and amendments were brought. Tons of time and energy was obviously put into this effort. To date, this is the most elaborate presentation I have seen on any bill.

We can argue all day long how the deficit is shrinking according to the latest numbers, or we can argue how we are at war, or are spending more on education than ever before, etc. But the real point is, we have absolutely NO control over the federal government.

No suggestions were made-it was just an all out attack bill intended to smear the President.

The real irony is that these Democrats trying to tell Washington how to run business should be explaining to Washington and our state why they can't run TennCare properly as was promised at election time. If I was sitting in Washington and was the recipient of this bill, I would send it straight over to the Department of Health and Human Services to show the “ill will” in Tennessee----the state where taxpayers from all over the nation are financing fraud and abuse exemplified by Senator John Ford.

When we are trying to work out TennCare problems---problems that require working closely with the federal government, this bill shows shallow shortsightedness on behalf of the Democrats. This bill can only serve to further the wearing thin of patience by the federal government regarding TennCare.

To sit through this show was a waste of time-not only my time as your legislator, but a waste of taxpayer time. I wish the same energy spent on this political jab would have been spent on solving the bigger problems in our state.

I guess some legislators feel we don't have anything bigger on our plate to do than to throw pointless bills at the federal government.

This was so political, that many legislators refused to even vote on it. To all legislators on both sides of the political isle who oppose this type of waste of time, money, and energy: my hat is off to you.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

BREDESEN STUFFS BALLOT BOX

BREDESEN'S BLOG: ONE DAY OF SUNSHINE…AND THEN THE DARK CLOUDS MOVE IN

Well, it didn't take long to find out about the Governor's blog and its political instead of communicative purposes.

First, he doesn't allow comments. All you can do is fill out a one-question survey on how you feel about Pre-K. (And yes, I voted on his site.)

The results were about 60% for and 40% opposed when I was on the site. Gauging from my own input from my constituents, I had figured the results would have been the opposite. But anyway, I found it interesting.

I held out hope for a comment section though-and remained optimistic. Unfortunately, I have now discovered that the Governor's blog/web designer sent out a mass email to all the pro pre-K people indicating that a blog had been set up for the Governor with a pre-K poll on it. The email encouraged them to go online and vote in favor of Pre-K.

Come on Governor! This is a terrible way to start your blog. Perhaps there wouldn't have been a computer trail of emails if he would have “fixed” the poll by configuring the program to automatically register two “yes” votes for every one “no.” Is there really a difference between a mass email and fixing the numbers? And wouldn't that be more in keeping with the efficiency he's always talking about?

I was genuinely excited that the Governor had started a blog. I think communicating with Tennesseans is good for government, good for the people, and great for accountability. But sadly, it just looks like Phil Blog is going to be a political tool with an unfortunate, shady start.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

FORD AND MORE

Yes, Senator Ford is not going to run for reelection, supposedly due to his “indiscretions.” Constituents continue to ask me about the new ethics law that passed. They have hope that the new law will change things, but they aren't sure. They keep asking me “things will change, won't they?” They ask “is this just an isolated incident?”

Let me say that I don't think this is an isolated incident, but many times a lot of questionable activities aren't technically illegal-so business as usual continues and most turn a blind eye, pretending nothing is going on.

Many fear reprisals or lawsuits if they start to talk. Others feel they might hurt their friends.

Let me point out that Senator Ford brought in somewhere around a million dollars last year alone from questionable sources. No one said anything or talked about it until the news story broke. Suddenly, stories have appeared left and right.

But what about the last 30 years? Is this a problem that has its origins in 2005? If he has slipped by the system for this long, how much more is out there and how long would it have continued had the news not broke the story?

The only reason it was noticed was because of a private child support lawsuit. I have heard rumors of shady deals and how Ford was making money off of TennCare. These rumors circulated long before the media ever broke a story. Now proof substantiates what were once rumors and everyone connected is dodging, hiding, rolling over-in order to save their own skins or appear innocent.

Allow me to say that rumors did not only mention Senator Ford. But the regretful part is that because of the power of incumbency, most legislators would be re-elected if truths were revealed-Ford probably would too if he ran again. This may be good for the legislator, but horrible for public trust.

The law that was passed was a start. But honestly, it is closer to giving a person who needs $50,000 a five dollar bill. Yes, the person in need will probably take the $5, but will it really help?

Any bill that passes 97-0 on this issue probably doesn't have enough teeth in it. Many legislators have put forward some good bills to try to change this, but are getting the run-around. These bills are getting killed in state and local subcommittees where votes are not recorded, filmed, or taped. These subcommittees are the easy kill zones (see my previous posts on this.)

[Good idea for activists: volunteer army needed to tape subcommittee meetings for 2006 until state relents and provides proper accountability to citizens]

When good ethics bills die, you have to ask yourself why, or for whom did they die?

Monday, May 09, 2005

BREDESEN IS "NUMBER 2!!"

BREDESEN IS “NUMBER 2!”

No-I'm not talking about his Tenn-Used-to-Care plan. I'm talking about blogging. The Governor has joined the information age-making him politician “NUMBER 2” to start a dialogue with Tennesseans.

While I doubt he will actually be sitting at the computer punching on the keys, it is at least a start. Hopefully he won't have staff type it up, but I'll give him the benefit of the doubt. It's good to see him recognize the “blogosphere” and the role it is playing in government. I understand the political risks of taking comments, but I hope he joins me in accepting input from constituents.

I didn't know about Gov. Bredesen's blog until Channel 2 wanted to interview me about it. I complimented Governor Bredesen on this new venture and offered assistance to anyone else who would like to start a blog.

The interviewer from Channel 2, Chris Bundgaurd, actually asked Speaker Jimmy Naifeh if he was going to join the information age, but apparently he said he didn't know how to do any of that stuff.

Well, my offer to the Speaker: I will do all I can to help him. I will go to his office, set it up (or help set it up). I will show him how it works and how easy it is. As he and I don't agree on much, I will even keep all my comments and opinions to myself or I will seek a willing volunteer to set it up for him if he doesn't want me around. I know he's no Campfield fan.

When I first came to Nashville, I could hardly even turn on the computer (some say I never should have. My favorite quote is “Stacey, you on a computer is like a 16 year old kid with a learner's permit driving a Ferrari! Look out here he comes!)

But if you have a desire to communicate with the people, like I do, a blog is a great medium.

More legislators are starting to take notice and a lot of them are talking about blogs. They are hearing from their constituents and receiving emails. Your input is starting to have an effect, so keep up the feedback and input---more may be on the way!

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

SBOR,GUNS N' THREATS

It is really getting down to crunch time now. Most committees are closing up. Rumor has it we will close up session the last week in May, first week in June. However with everything going on with TennCare, many people feel we may be back for a special session. When, I don't know. Some say in July-others August or September.

Regarding the Student Bill of Rights. UT and the THEC (Tennessee Higher Education Committee) representatives finally decided to sit down and talk about Senator Finney and my concerns for students' rights.

It was total crunch time. We had to make a decision in a 30-minute conversation. We were faced with the choice of either forgetting about any negotiation and moving forward with the risk of burning bridges, or putting the bill aside for the year and work something out with our universities ensuring that students have rights and recourse.

With some light assurances from the representatives that we would at the very least sit down again with some people and talk further about negotiating, we decided to continue on a peaceful course with the reminder that if this is just a stall tactic, this bill will be back with a vengeance next year---and no more Mr. Nice Guy!

Later in the day I went to the subcommittee to watch the gun bill that I've talked about on this site. It was a forgone conclusion that it would be killed, but it sounded interesting to watch. I missed the first half of the meeting but others filled me in.

The house was packed-all seats were filled and plenty of people were standing around the perimeter. There were also 3 or 4 cameras there. I guess the news did get out! (Bloggers read it here first and then sounded the alarm. Bloggers are relentless!!)

Unfortunately I missed the best part of the meeting. Apparently Naifeh complained about all the calls, e-mails, and threats going on about this bill. I wonder if he was complaining about the complaints and threats coming into his office, or coming out of his office---because I heard there were plenty of both.

Oh well, the debate was good but the bill was killed as expected and not to be seen again this year. A lot of good points were made and people know the issue is out there. They saw clearly and now know Speaker Naifeh killed it. Hopefully, the subcommittee issue was raised to a new level-and truly, that was the real story all along.

e4 as promised

As I promised one of our senators (Mae Beavers) has some good input on ethics reform. The following is from Senator Beavers:


"The hot topic of the year for this legislative session is ethics. I think everyone is well aware of the events that have precipitated this discussion. However, you may not be aware that no matter how many ethics bills pass, very little will actually change up here on the Hill.
The primary reason for this is the lack of an elected Attorney General.


In other states that have an elected Attorney General, such as in Kentucky, one will often hear stories of legislative or executive ethics violations. However, these stories are usually accompanied by
indictments.

In Tennessee, the laws are so vague that they are difficult to interpret. Often a crime will be stated in the code but there be no penalty set forth. In other cases, a penalty will be set forth but there will be no jurisdiction given. This is why even if a crime can be identified; there is no one who can take action on it. These are just a
few of the tricks used by law makers to ensure the status quo.

This year I have authored a bill that would provide for an elected Solicitor General. The Tennessee State Constitution calls for an appointed Attorney General, so rather than attempt to amend the constitution, we have simply asked for a Solicitor General who would be over the Attorney General. The Attorney General would still be appointed by the Supreme Court. The Solicitor General would assume most of the duties of the Attorney General but would not be beholding to anyone, but the voters, for his position.

It is my hope that we can change the system so that it will keep law makers accountable and always remind us that we are sent here to serve the people, not to enrich ourselves at their expense."

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Weekend Update with Stacey Campfield

I'm happy to report I had a good weekend. I was invited to debate some of my bills on the radio as well as on a college campus. I am always excited to talk with people and I especially enjoy discussing issues with people in or near my district.

I did encounter one problem at these debates, namely those I was debating did not have current or accurate copies of my bills. This made it difficult to discuss and debate, and was not fair to either my bill or to those in attendance trying to understand the debate.

For instance, at the college forum, the only information given to the group was an academic bill of rights copy that was dramatically different from the one that I am sponsoring. So in this case, many times I found myself answering questions that were not relevant to my bill.

I did learn a lesson though. In the future I will take multiple copies of my bill or supporting documents in order to hand out to those involved in the debate as well as for those attending. I strongly feel people should be able to see what their representative is sponsoring whether they believe the bill to be good, bad, or even if they're indifferent.

Politicians usually say anything at election time, but their voting record and bill sponsorship should give the voter a good idea of where their politician stands and who or what they stand for-regardless of the passage of bills.

When I first arrived in Nashville, one of the first things I wanted to do was put a list of my bills online and allow constituents the opportunity to see them travel through the system. Some say this is stupid idea for a legislator-critics say you are just handing your opponent opposition research without making them work for it.

My theory however is that if what I am doing is good, than I have nothing to fear. When I first arrived, I wanted to let my constituents know how to find my legislation just by pulling up my name on the legislature's website.

For legislators like myself, we have what is called “bill tracking.” We can pull it up on our computers. I was excited to learn of bill tracking and told many of my constituents about it and they were eager to learn more about our Tennessee government. When I inquired about how to inform my constituents how to use bill tracking, I was dealt a painful blow.

I learned that “bill tracking” can only be done from our own computers (although these computers are owned by the taxpayers of Tennessee). I called information systems and was that told that people used to be able to pull up information by sponsor but when the new computer system came in, the “people in power” said for them NOT to add this ability.

Now the only way to pull a bill up is by number. This seems reasonable with the exception that we have about 4,000 bills!

Most citizens trying to get through the day to day chore of working and caring for themselves and their families, don't have time wade through 4,000 bills looking for the ones that may interest them.

Most people don't know the bill numbers either for the bills being sponsored by their representatives. Bills aren't listed by category either. In many cases, even the sponsors themselves don't know their bill numbers.

This information should be opened up further. Bills should be listed by category. It doesn't have to be specific, but for instance, “health care.” If constituents were able to see the bills being sponsored about health care, they would be able to read them and then talk with their representative about them.

There needs to be more transparency. If a representative is sponsoring a bill constituents should be able to commend or admonish, based on their own personal opinions. If you see a bill you like, you should be able to let your representative know that he should work to pass the bill. (We just witnessed the input about a gun bill that just got killed. I know a few legislators that have a target on their chest---no pun intended-for their anti-second amendment vote last week. But the important point is that voters should know where their representative stands.)

Computers should make constituent access to information easier, not more frustrating.

On another note, radio talk show host Phil Valentine in Nashville did a story on this blog and the stir it is creating. Terry Frank's column this week in the Courier News in Anderson County also mentioned me and this blog site and the good that blogging in general is doing for transparency and accountability in government. Thank you Phil and Terry!

Blogging is becoming the new media, and you-the bloggers-- are in on the ground floor! Keep up the good work true believers!