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Views from across the state in Tennessee

Views from across the state in Tennessee

By: AP

The following is a roundup of recent editorials from Tennessee members of The Associated Press. In some cases, the editorials have been edited for length. They do not reflect an editorial position of the AP but represent the opinions of the newspapers from which they are taken.
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The (Memphis) Commercial Appeal, Jan. 12
State Sen. Ophelia Ford’s absence from the General Assembly is a problem for her Memphis constituents and a problem for Democrats, leaving the party, in effect, a 15-16 minority in the upper chamber, with one independent.
With the best of intentions, state Senate Democratic Leader Jim Kyle of Memphis offered something that would solve both of those problems this week — fast-track legislation that would allow lawmakers who are unable to perform their duties to temporarily vacate their seats and appoint a replacement until they return.
The bill covers occasions such as the current one that has left Ford’s District 29 constituents without representation in the Senate, when the member won’t or can’t step aside and fellow members feel they are not performing their duties.
In that case, the House or Senate would be empowered to remove them by a two-thirds vote and the governor would appoint the temporary replacement.
It would be overly optimistic to expect Republicans to help solve the Democrats’ problem, though, and early reaction to the bill portends a partisan battle that might not be worth the hassle.
Indeed, the bill has a serious flaw. A law permitting a member of the legislature to take time off from the job and name a temporary replacement invites abuse.
Still, Ford’s case illustrates a problem that could probably be solved if Ford herself were out of the picture.
Perhaps the best way to deal with it would be to leave her in office until both parties can agree on a sound, systematic way to replace nonfunctioning members.
Set a limit on the length of the absence, for example, before the replacement mechanism can kick in. Set the effective date beyond the present session.
As was the case last year when Ford was missing for a large part of the session’s first half, a lot of problems could be solved by her gracious exit. Without that, the Senate just has to find a way to work around the empty chair.
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The (Clarksville) Leaf-Chronicle, Jan. 14
A Democratic proposal in the state Legislature to allow for the temporary replacement of a lawmaker who can’t serve doesn’t pass the constitutional smell test.
Senate Democratic Leader Jim Kyle put forth the legislation so that, specifically, a temporary replacement could be named for fellow Sen. Ophelia Ford, who missed much of last session and is expected to miss several weeks of this one due to an unspecified illness.
It’s important for the Democrats that they have a Democrat vote in Ford’s seat; otherwise, they might lose power. Republicans and Democrats each have 16 seats in the upper chamber. There is one independent.
Under Kyle’s proposal, lawmakers could either go with a temporary replacement chosen by the legislator who was stepping aside, or two-thirds of the members of the chamber could vote to force a temporary handoff. In the latter case, the governor would choose the temporary replacement.
The state constitution is silent on temporary replacements, both for the governor and for legislators. This session, lawmakers are expected to consider a proposal amending the constitution to allow for a temporary replacement for the governor, should he or she become incapacitated. If they are so concerned with temporarily replacing legislators, that process should fall under a constitutional amendment proposal as well. Then it can be fully vetted and voted on by the people.
Legislators should not, however, rip the power from the people to choose their representatives in state government, all in the name of political expediency.
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The Knoxville News Sentinel, Jan. 11
Here’s what we have to say about the state Revenue Department ending its surveillance program to catch people bringing in large amounts of cigarettes from out of state: Goodbye and good riddance.
It all started when Tennessee raised its tax on a pack of cigarettes from 20 cents to 62 cents in July. That’s higher than its neighbors in eight bordering states.
So enterprising Tennesseans began buying them in other states and bringing them back to Tennessee. The Revenue Department frowned on this and began its surveillance program.
Revenue agents seized more than 31,000 packs of cigarettes from the end of September through December.
Commissioner Reagan Farr, however, said the program has accomplished its objective of educating people that only 20 packs, or two cartons, can legally be transported across state lines.
The department still plans to enforce the law, but it won’t conduct scheduled surveillance of tobacco stores in neighboring states, Farr said.
Good to know, as we thought that was a little Big Brother-ish. Under the program, a monitoring agent spots people in cars with Tennessee license plates who buy more than two cartons of cigarettes outside the state. The monitoring agent then calls an arresting agent, who stops the motorists when they drive inside the Tennessee border.
We wholeheartedly supported the additional tax on cigarettes. There were numerous good reasons to increase Tennessee’s tax. But the surveillance program was a bit overzealous.
Now that Tennesseans are educated about how many cigarettes they can bring across state lines, we hope revenue agents are targeting more serious offenses.
Published in The Messenger 1.18.08

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