No “Park”ing for Bredesen
The Senate Environment, Conservation, and Tourism Committee told the Bredesen administration to cut evenly when it unanimously voted to restore over $15 million in funding to four funds for parks, wetlands, and agriculture by adopting an amendment proposed by Sen. Jerry Cooper (D-Morrison). The amendment would prevent the Governor from taking all of the revenue from the Real Estate Transfer tax that is now used to support the Wetland Acquisition Fund, the Local Parks Acquisition Fund, the State Lands Acquisition Fund, and the Agricultural Resources Conservation Fund. Cooper’s amendment would limit the Governor to only 9% of the funds, or about $1.5 million, the same figure the administration is touting in its across the board state budget cuts.
“These funds are critical to the preservation of our parks and our environment,” Cooper said. “I’m just not comfortable with totally eliminating these funds. This money goes to support very important projects. It needs to be a priority.”
The amendment is the second high profile move by the General Assembly as it considers the governor’s budget proposal.
Senator Tim Burchett (R-Knoxville) passed a measure through the Senate 32-0 that would allow students in Tennessee colleges and universities who are victims of violent crimes and nonforcible sex offenses to be made aware of the disciplinary outcomes of the cases of those who have assaulted them, if the institution determines a crime did take place. Previously that information was sealed under state law for student privacy. The measure would also require the written consent of a victim before their name could be included in the reports.
Can we enforce it?
Similar to the Sevier County Commission’s bind on county beer regulations, the state has had to alter its campaign election laws on the advice of counsel. The General Assembly has removed a provision that limited how much personal money a candidate could contribute to his election. The measure was deemed unconstitutional by legal opinion and has therefore not been enforced by the Election Commission.
In a somewhat bizarre piece of legislation co-sponsored by the House Conservation and Environment Committee including Rep. Joe McCord (R-Gatlinburg), the House and Senate are considering a bill which mandates that, “No public official shall be given the right to play golf free for life or for any other extended period of time on courses in state parks.” It does however provide a remedy for public official putters. They can be granted this privilege by a vote in the standing committee of each house that authorizes the park budgets. The bill has been touted as a fiscally responsible move, as it removes the discretion of the Commissioner who could previously had autonomous control over all discounts on the greens. Previous Commissioner Milton Hamilton granted lifetime free play to Governor and Mrs. Sundquist according to TDEC.
However, the measure goes on to say that, “ Nothing in this act shall prohibit the management of a golf course in state parks from occasionally extending free play to such public officials under appropriate circumstances.” So in a secondary effect, this provision also legalizes and guarantees the existence of the free play benefit for public officials, who previously had to ask the Commissioner of Environment and Conservation for the privilege. Now state golf course managers will be able to grant request to “public officials,” though even the C.E.C.’s office has asked for clarification on the legislature’s meaning of public official. Governors? Senators? County Mayors? Constables? It seems the bill could accomplish its mission without making “public officials” the only class of citizens guaranteed by statute the right to discounts and free play.