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MOTION DENIED: Lawsuit Against Sec. Tre Hargett’s Voter Registration Criminalization “SCHEME” Allowed to Proceed

A federal judge today said a lawsuit from the League of Women Voters, the American Muslim Advisory Council, Mid-South Peace and Justice Center, Rock the Vote, Memphis Central Labor Council, and Headcount challenging Secretary of State Tre Hargett’s new voter registration criminalization bill – which passed this past session despite outcries from protestors about the constitutionality – is allowed to proceed, striking down Hargett’s motion to dismiss the suit.

The bill came on the heels of the Tennessee Black Voter Project registering over 90,000 voters in 2018, a fact Hargett insisted had no bearing on his decision to push it through. A likely story.


U.S. District Judge Aleta Trauger expressed much skepticism of Hargett’s bill in the decision, essentially pointing to all the things those who spoke out against the bill warned about during discussion of the bill in the legislative session, including the chilling effect it would have on voter registration efforts.

As Judge Trauger says:

“Restricting voter registration drives in order to try to preserve election commission resources is like poisoning the soil in order to have an easier harvest.”

She wondered about some key elements of the bill, for instance why people who are getting paid to registered voters should be subject to requirements those working for free would not be subject to:

“The Act’s two-tiered system both lack justification in its own right and undermines any claim that its provisions are truly necessary.”

Judge Trauger also says there is “no basis for requiring registration workers and volunteers mandatory government training.”

She went on to talk about the punishments leveled by the bill against registration workers, saying that it “punishes a person for doing too much of something it requires them to do” by essentially requiring them to turn in forms even if they’re incomplete – something many, including Senator Jeff Yarbro, pointed out during committee.

Judge Trauger notes that the punishment for turning incomplete forms is not levied on a % basis, but on a total basis of over 100 incomplete forms, which means “the result is The Act holds an organization to an increasingly more onerous standard the more effective it is at recruiting new voters.”

Which is likely EXACTLY the intention of the bill.

The Bill also imposes an additional penalty in each county where the violation occurred, which Judge Trauger pointed out is especially onerous and flies in the face of the interest of the state in actually registering voters.

That assumes the state is actually trying to register MORE voters, but more and more it seems Tennessee is perfectly fine being at the very bottom in voter turnout and voter registration.

Judge Trauger then points out how vulnerable these voter registrations are financially, since they are not backed by large and wealthy institutions, and says that the grand total of the penalties amounts to them being “attacked from all sides.”

She calls it a “complex and punitive regulatory scheme”, instead suggesting public education rather than an “intrusive prophylactic scheme true bad actors would likely evade regardless.”

At the end, Judge Trauger uses the exact language used by opponents of the bill to allow the suit to continue, pointing out that it will have a “chilling effect” on voter registration – which we have heard from groups registering voters in Tennessee is happening already.

Here’s the ruling in its entirety

VIDEO: BLOCK GRANTS VS. MEDICAID EXPANSION (Floor Debate Highlights)

Tennessee has lost $3.1 Million every single day since refusing to expand medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, which amounts to over $7 Billion and counting. 300,000 Tennesseans remain without coverage as a result, including 25,000 veterans.

The state leads the country in rural hospital closures, which even some Republicans say would be helped by expanding Medicaid.

Governor Haslam wanted to expand Medicaid. 37 other states have expanded Medicaid, including in “Red” states like Louisiana, to very positive results.

Instead, Tennessee’s Republicans are trying to have the Federal Government send the funding to the state in the form of a block grant, despite the warnings of many experts, who point out that block grants would cover fewer people, not more, and would do nothing to address the health care inequities in our state or to help with rural hospital closures.

Watch the FLOOR DEBATE HIGHLIGHTS:

The refrain from Republicans like Rep. Andy Holt is that we shouldn’t get “tangled up” with the federal government – which seems to ignore the fact that Tennessee is already tangled up with it plenty – between, the TVA, the V.A., Fort Campbell, Medicare, Social Security, SNAP, Oak Ridge National Lab, K-12 Federal funding, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the list goes on.

In fact, for every $1 Tennessee sends to the Federal Government it receives $1.46 in Federal spending.

This isn’t fiscal responsibility, it’s putting politics ahead of people.

Betsy Devos In Nashville TODAY To Help “Advance God’s Kingdom” With Lee’s School Vouchers

Trump’s Secretary of Education Betsy Devos – most recently seen trying to cut funding from the Special Olympics (because that’s What Jesus Would Do, right?) – is in town TODAY to help Governor Lee push his school vouchers plan (aka “Education Savings Accounts”) which passed the House Education Committee last week.

Supporters of the vouchers say they will help some kids in failing schools escape to a better education.

Opponents say we shouldn’t be steering public money away from already struggling public schools to do that, that it amounts to the privatization of education, and that the private schools in receipt of the money wouldn’t be subject to the same kind of accountability, and would be able to discriminate against certain kids using public funds.

(Watch our highlights of the Education Committee debate HERE.)

The TEA says Vouchers have been a “disaster” where implemented and remains against them, as are a number of other organizations.

Many of the schools on the list of Tennessee schools which would accept the vouchers are small Christian schools. This is noteworthy because of an interview Devos and her husband gave in 2001 in which they answered the question of why she wasn’t just focused on funding private Christian schools on her own by saying they were looking for a greater opportunity to “advance God’s kingdom”.

Listen to 90 seconds of the interview:

The audio clip, which was exclusively obtained by Politico, reveals how the religion of the Devos family fuels their drive to reform public education. It comes from the 2001 edition of a conference known as The Gathering, an annual meeting of some of the nation’s most wealthy Christians.

The interviewer asks:

“Wouldn’t it have been easier to simply fund Christian private schools and be done with it?”

Betsy Devos answers:

“There are not enough philanthropic dollars in America to fund what is currently the need in education.”

The couple goes on to describe school choice as leading to “greater kingdom gain” explaining how public education has “displaced” the church as the center of communities, and said providing parents with school choice is one way to undo that displacement.

They say their work is an effort to remain active in the “Shephelah”, a region they learned about on a trip to Israel, which is supposedly where David and Goliath fought, which represents a public forum where the influence of the church is needed, rather than fleeing to the hills to live comfortably.

Betsy Devos:

“Our desire is to be in that Shephelah, and to confront the culture in which we all live today in ways that will continue to help advance God’s Kingdom, but not to stay in our own faith territory.”

Her husband Dick then adds:

“We could run away and just go back up in the hills and live very safely and very comfortably — or are we going to exist in the Shephelah and try to impact the view of the community around us with the ideas we believe are more powerful ideas of a better way to live one’s life and a more meaningful and a more rewarding way to live one’s life as a Christian?”

(Their talk does not touch on LGBT issues, but Politico points out that “Other members of the DeVos family have contributed to anti-LGBT causes; there have been conflicting reports about the work by Betsy DeVos and her husband in this arena.”)

Governor Lee, who is a driving force behind this legislation, makes no secret about his religious beliefs, often bringing up his faith in ads and campaign stops during his race.

Tennessee is a largely Christian state, as is America on the whole, and everyone should be free to practice their own faith, but a valid question remains: Should government money help finance religious education?

Religion is central to the school choice debate. There’s concern about the effects of blurring the line of church-state separation, something which we see plenty of in the state legislature these days as the anti-LGBT “slate of hate” snakes it’s way through the process.

The courts have been mixed on the issue of sending public money to private schools, but in 2006 the Florida Supreme Court did strike down a school voucher plan in the state, saying that the program was unconstitutional and that it channeled tax dollars into “separate private systems parallel to and in competition with the free public schools.”

Tennessee is 45th in spending per pupil. 

The vouchers bill is heading towards a floor vote in the house, and it is likely to have support in the senate, where Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson has already said he supports them “1000%” but made it clear he intends to keep them far away from Williamson County, where he, Speaker Casada, and Governor Lee all live.

Devos will have company today. If you want to join Indivisible to *welcome* her to Tennessee, holler at them HERE. And holler at Governor Lee HERE.

STATE OF THE STATE: Unhealthy, Impoverished, Underfunded Ed, Low Pay… But Cheap!

Our friends at Think Tennessee have just put out their yearly breakdown of where Tennessee stacks up with the other states on important things like opioid prescriptions (49th), poverty (41st), education funding (45th), Adult diabetes (45th), infant mortality (47th), mental health providers (45th) life expectancy (44th), and much more.

Some people are doing very well in our state, but on the whole the news is really not very good. We’re unhealthy, there’s a lot of poverty, our education is underfunded, and the jobs – although we have them – don’t pay well.

We deeply appreciate that Think Tennessee does this, and have made a video out of what they’ve found. If you enjoy it, feel free to share on Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, or anywhere else you spend your time.

Casada Makes Pedophile Head of Ed Subcommittee #StopByrd

Rep. David Byrd has admitted on tape to Sexual misconduct with the basketball players he coached. Speaker Harwell, from Byrd’s own Republican Party, asked him to step down, but he refused, and promptly ran for re-election, where he won with nearly 80% of the vote.

As if all that wasn’t bad enough, now Speaker Casada has appointed Byrd head of the Education Subcommittee, a slap in the face to moms and daughters and survivors everywhere.

Had enough? Contact Enough Is Enough and join the fight to get right of Rep. Byrd, and the men who protect him.