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Tennessee editorial roundup

June 6, 2018

Recent editorials from Tennessee newspapers:

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June 6

The Chattanooga Times on Sen. Bob Corker’s response to tariffs on steel and aluminum imports:

Thank you, Sen. Bob Corker.

Once again, the Tennessee Republican has shown the courage and common sense to speak truth to power with Donald Trump.

The Trump administration shocked lawmakers last week when it announced it would impose tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from U.S. allies in the European Union, Canada and Mexico, a move Republicans had tried publicly and privately for months to discourage. In response, all three allies promised retaliatory actions of their own. Then on Friday, Trump added insult to injury, saying he was considering similar tariffs on autos and auto parts, and saying he “wouldn’t mind” scrapping the North American Free Trade Agreement.

The result is a widening cleavage in the GOP about its previously unwavering support of President Trump.

On Saturday, Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, tweeted that two national news stories in The Washington Post and in The Wall Street Journal about the tariffs and Trump’s attacks on some businesses. Corker said the stories felt “like something I could have read in a local Caracas newspaper last week, not in America. Venezuela, here WE come!”

A little later, Corker tweeted again, writing: “I am working with like-minded Republican senators on ways to push back on the president using authorities in ways never intended and that are damaging to our country and our allies. Will Democrats join us?”

Corker started Monday by backing up his words with action.

“It’s interfering inappropriately in markets, so we’re going to try and figure out a way to push back,” Corker told CNN of Trump’s action. “We’re working on legislation to be able to negate the fact that (Trump’s) abusing the authorities that were given to him under the national security waivers.”

But it isn’t just tariffs and markets that concern our senator, who has spent the past 12 years deeply studying America’s relationship with the world.

“We seem to want to punish our allies and befriend our enemies.” He added: “I’m opposed to the tariffs, but I’m also opposed to the executive branch abusing authorities (by using national security as an excuse and other legislative amendments passed in the 1960s delegating Congressional authority to the president to impose tariffs.)”

Canadian soldiers fought and died beside ours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now to call them a national threat is absurd. But whether there will be a large enough coalition to force legislative change isn’t clear.

Sen. John Cornyn, the second-ranking Republican in the chamber as majority whip, and Missouri Republican Sen. Roy Blunt, a member of GOP leadership, told national reporters they didn’t see Congress tackling legislation to roll back Trump’s authority on tariffs.

“I don’t see any likely legislative remedy that the President would agree to, so why would we want to waste our time on a legislative solution where hopefully the collective persuasive efforts at the White House will get us in a different direction?” Blunt asked.

Clearly collective persuasion efforts haven’t worked, otherwise we wouldn’t be here.

Now political observers say the groundswell of dismay over the tariffs and over what Corker and others see as unjust actions against allies may have created a coalition made quite strong by a stranger set of bedfellows than just Republicans and Democrats. The Koch Brothers and a number of unions come to mind.

One also can’t dismiss the very real Republican fear that tariff-induced costs on consumer goods in an election year might cast a long shadow over mid-terms.

For his part, Corker believes his push for legislation to retake Congress’ authority to weigh in on presidential tariff moves using national security excuses (and retroactively for two years) is gaining momentum. He hopes to get an OK on the proposal during this month’s Senate’s floor debate on the annual National Defense Authorization Act — something that always gets a vote every year.

“There’s a lot of interest in it, for what it’s worth,” Corker told reporters Tuesday. “But, you know, doing anything around here is like pushing a major boulder uphill, so we’ll see.” (Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, has introduced a separate bill that would require congressional approval over trade decision-making, including tariffs. That bill also is backed by Sens. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz.; Pat Toomey, R-Pa.; Cory Gardner, R-Colo., and Ben Sasse, R-Neb.

Politico writes: “It’s a long shot given skepticism from Republican leadership, but still a critical test of the GOP’s willingness to take on Trump.”

Thank you, Sen. Corker. You give rational Americans hope.

Online: http://www.timesfreepress.com

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June 5

Kingsport Times-News says the state should study the financial impact of sports gambling:

When the U.S. Supreme Court by a 6-3 vote recently announced a decision to enable more states to make money off sports gambling, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and a couple of local lawmakers were not impressed.

“That would obviously have to go through the legislature. . It’s not something I would focus on,” Haslam, a Republican, said during a stop in Blountville.

State Sen. Jon Lundberg and state Rep. Bud Hulsey didn’t think Tennessee would be in the mix of about 30 states looking to legally get into the sports gambling business.

“No. Not in the foreseeable future,” said Lundberg, R-Bristol. “We haven’t talked about sports betting. . I haven’t seen any major push or initiative at all.”

Lundberg noted that state Sen. Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains, filed legislation in the last legislative session to set up a Tennessee Horse Racing Commission to regulate parimutuel wagering in the state, but the bill did not move forward.

Hulsey, R-Kingsport, agreed he doesn’t see sports gambling happening with the GOP-controlled legislature.

“You may have a portion of folks who may be OK with that, but I don’t think the majority of the legislature would support that,” Hulsey pointed out. “The way it is right now, I don’t think so.”

We think the legislature at least needs to do a fiscal review of what it would cost to set up a structure to regulate sports gambling and what would be the potential revenues from it.

Currently, sports gambling under federal law is allowed only in Nevada and a few other exceptions, but the bucket of money looks big.

Of the $58 billion wagered last year on NFL and college football games, $56 billion was bet illegally through bookies or online operations, according to Nevada Assemblywoman Maggie Carlton, a Democrat, in her remarks on “The Future of Sports Betting.”

And that’s just football. Under the Supreme Court decision, sports gambling could take many forms.

People could bet on balls and strikes and even fishing.

State lawmakers have their own think tank, the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations, that could study this. The legislature also has a Fiscal Review Office that calculates the fiscal impact of legislation.

The resources are there to see if sports gambling in Tennessee is a good or bad bet.

The money from sports gambling is going to go somewhere. State lawmakers at least need to see if it’s worth bringing that cash to Tennessee.

Online: http://www.timesnews.net

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May 31

The Johnson City Press on access to public records:

There’s no question the public has a right to access records it pays to produce. But across Tennessee, local governments have confusing and conflicting laws governing that right, some of which even violate state law.

It’s a mess created by the state when it issued a model policy to local governments that watchdogs like the Tennessee Press Association warned would only lead to confusion. The state needs to issue new standards, which also correct the mindset of too many local government officials that they, and not the citizens, own public records.

A study by the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government finds conflicting, contradictory and arbitrary rules across the state for accessing public records. For instance, some localities refuse to allow residents to use a cell phone to photograph a public record despite that state law allows it. Just 5 percent of cities and counties — and no school systems in the entire state — have policies allowing photographs of records rather than paying for copies. And even then, some localities charge residents for taking a photo.

“It’s unreasonable,” said Deborah Fisher, executive director of TCOG, which champions access to public records around the state. “If someone has a cell phone and just wants to take a picture of a document it’s essentially the same thing as taking a pencil and paper and writing the information down, just easier and faster.”

Two years ago, the Tennessee Legislature instructed all cities, counties and school districts to adopt records policies, using a model policy, the wording of which resulted in some of the confusion. TCOG, among others, called repeatedly for the state to revise or clarify its model, but were ignored. Had the state listened to voices of experience this would have been avoided.

Some officials argue that persons requesting records shouldn’t be able to just snap a picture of a record without paying for it, that they ought to be reimbursed for the time they spend finding the records and in some cases redacting them. But they’re already being paid by the taxpayers to maintain these records and any time it takes to retrieve them is simply part of the job and the cost of doing the public’s business.

As well, some localities demand identification to ensure that only state residents are given access to records. And some refuse to allow e-mail requests for records. It shouldn’t matter where a requester lives — a public record is just that. And the state allows e-mailed requests and therefore, so should localities.

TCOG’s study is a great public service in exposing a huge problem that needs to be remedied immediately.

Online: http://www.johnsoncitypress.com

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