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House GOP review for 4/10/2008

The Tennessee Republican Party LogoThe House GOP Review is a weekly feature that gives Tennesseans an in-depth look at what our Republican state legislators have been working on this week, and a glimpse into what’s planned for the coming week at our state house

Consensus reached on cable bill

Legislative leaders reached a consensus this week on the much-anticipated “Competitive Cable and Video Services Act.” Legislators held a press conference this week to announce that they had come to an agreement, stating that all parties involved were pleased with the progress that was made, and that consumers would be the real winners of the hard work.

Representatives from the competing cable industries have worked on a compromise with legislative leadership for the past 14 weeks. The bill was put on hold a year ago, with the legislature adjourning before a decision was reached. It passed House Commerce Committee this week, and is now headed to Finance, Ways and Means. Leaders said they believe the passage of the bill will expand competition, jobs, choice for consumers, and investment in Tennessee with broadband infrastructure.

Under House Bill 1421 / Senate Bill 1933, new cable competitors could obtain a 10 year franchise certificate from the Tennessee Regulatory Authority (TRA) beginning July 1. Existing providers would continue to pay local franchise fees directly to local government. New competitors operating under a state franchise would also pay for access permits to right of ways for cable lines. In addition, the bill requires service providers to continue allowing access to PEG channels (public, education, and government programming).

With regards to consumer protection, the bill specifically prohibits discrimination based on income or race with strong penalties against violations. Similarly, existing cable companies would be required to continue to serve unprofitable areas. New providers must demonstrate at the end of 3.5 years that 25 percent of the households with access to the service are low income. All providers must meet FCC mandated customer service standards and the TRA can require credits if a provider does not remedy service complaints.

Legislators said the expansion of high speed broadband to un-served and under-served communities was one of the key provisions of the legislation in order to foster access to rural areas of the state. Video providers that deploy broadband in new areas will get a four to one credit against their video build-out requirements in un-served areas, and a two to one credit in under-served areas, under the proposal. Local governments may subsidize broadband deployment to under-served areas if a TRA review determines no private sector interest exists.

Constitutional amendment to elect Lt. Governor granted approval by subcommittee

Senate Joint Resolution 687 cleared the first of many hurdles in the House this week by winning the approval of the State Government Subcommittee, but was amended to delete what proponents argue is a key component of the bill. SJR 687 is a constitutional amendment that would allow voters to elect their Lieutenant Governor and Secretary of State. The resolution would also solve a succession problem that was realized in 2006 when the Governor became ill due to a tick bite. It was determined then that there was no one to temporarily succeed the Governor should he become incapacitated.

Currently, if the Governor becomes incapacitated, the next in the line of succession would be the Lieutenant Governor, who also serves as Speaker of the Senate. The Attorney General recently opined that if the Lieutenant Governor were to assume the position of Governor, even if only temporarily, he or she would have to vacate their senate seat. If the Lt. Governor or the Speaker of the House (who follows the Lt. Governor in the line of succession) were to refuse, the unelected Secretary of State would then assume the position of Governor.

How would SJR 687 work?

After the gubernatorial primary, the candidate for each party would select a running mate that would serve as their Lieutenant Governor. The running mate would run on the same ticket as the Governor. The sponsor pointed out that we would not be creating a new position or adding a new salary, because the Lieutenant Governor would essentially replace the position of Deputy to the Governor, which is currently unelected.

The resolution also calls for a statewide elected Secretary of State, which the sponsor pointed to as a critical component to solving the succession problem. This component was stripped from the bill through an amendment that narrowly passed, in a move that the sponsor warned was problematic. Should both the Governor and the Lieutenant Governor be unable to serve, the Secretary of State would assume the position of Governor—and should therefore be elected by the people. The sponsor stated that while it may not seem likely that both the Governor and Lt. Governor would be either permanently or temporarily incapacitated, we must be prepared in this post-9/11 world.

Proponents of the legislation argue that there would be several advantages to restructuring the system via Senate Joint Resolution 687. The constitutional amendment would not only solve the succession problem, but it would also provide an opportunity for more diversity in the Executive Branch. Further, the Secretary of State—being in charge of elections—would be accountable to the voters, not the elected officials.

The resolution has already passed the Senate, and must now work its way through the House. It could be on the ballot, letting voters decide whether or not they want to amend the constitution, as early as 2010. For that to happen, the resolution must pass the 105th General Assembly (2007-2008) by a simple majority and the 106th General Assembly (2009-2010) by a supermajority. The referendum would then have to receive 50 percent plus one of those voting for Governor in 2010.

In brief…

  • House Bill 3339 will transfer jurisdiction of the Off-Highway Vehicle Act from Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency to the Department of Environment and Conservation. It also includes a hold-harmless provision, which states that a person cannot sue the landowner if that person is injured on the landowner’s land. The intent of the general assembly is to encourage off-highway vehicle activities by limiting the civil liability of those facilitating or providing access to such activities. The bill is currently in the Conservation and Environment Committee.

  • A house joint resolution that urges the Department of Education to study and develop lesson plans for parents to utilize in conjunction with the Books from Birth program is on its way to the House floor. The sponsor said he hopes HJR 932 will take the already successful program one step further in fostering a sense of educational responsibility in our children and their parents.

  • House Republicans are continuing their efforts to crack down on sexual offenders this year. House Bill 957 saw passage out of Judiciary Committee this week; the bill requires resident sexual offenders and violent sexual offenders to obtain and carry a driver license or photo identification card in a manner that allows law enforcement officers to ascertain the person is a sexual offender.

  • Friday, April 11th is Tax Freedom Day in Tennessee, with the national Tax Freedom Day on April 23rd. The Tax Foundation describes the occasion

“Tax Freedom Day is a vivid, calendar-based illustration of government’s cost, and it gives Americans an easy way to gauge the overall tax take. We count every dollar that is officially part of national income according to the Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis, and every payment to the government that is officially considered a tax is counted. Taxes at all levels of government are included, whether levied by Uncle Sam or state and local governments.”

For more information, visit www.taxfoundation.org.

The week ahead…

  • House Bill 3715 requires meat for milk from cloned animals and all food for human consumption that has been genetically altered or modified to be labeled as such and that notice is appropriately given to the public. (Agriculture Committee)

  • House Bill 2883 creates the legal status of a de facto custodian and provides standards and procedures to be used by a court to determine if a person should be awarded permanent custody or joint custody of a child. (Children and Family Affairs Committee)

  • House Bill 3019 prohibits buildings in which educational activities are conducted from being treated as schools for fire safety and building code inspection purposes when the primary purpose of such facilities is not for educational activities. (Commerce Committee)

  • House Bill 4029 creates a pilot program to make laptops available to juniors and seniors attending high school who are also enrolled in college courses at eligible post-secondary institutions. (Education Committee)

  • House Bill 2750 authorizes a governing body to allow electronic communication between members under certain conditions in an effort to expand ways elected officials can effectively communicate with one another. (Finance, Ways and Means Committee)

  • House Bill 1231 requires the commissioner of finance and administration to seek a new federal waiver or an amendment to the TennCare waiver in order to implement a personal health accounts program. (Health and Human Resources Committee)

  • House Bill 955 requires the TBI sexual offender and violent sexual offender registration form to disclose the number of different victims involved in the offenders’ convictions. (Judiciary Committee)

  • House Bill 3661 creates within the TBI a “Repeat DUI Offender” registry of persons who have two or more DUI convictions and whose license is currently suspended or revoked, and also makes this information available on the Internet. (Judiciary Committee)

  • House Bill 3155 would require the governor to declare a day of mourning and fly the state flag at half-staff over the state capitol whenever a Tennessee member of the armed forces is killed in action or dies from combat-related wounds and stipulates that the flag be delivered to the deceased member’s family. (State and Local Government Committee)

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The House GOP Review is written by Kara Watkins the press secetary for the House Republican caucus. Kara was an administrative assistant for Marsha Blackburn for Congress, and she also has worked for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

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