Gov. Bill Haslam spoke to reporters about several issues Monday morning following an event to praise the state’s drive to bring more jobs to Tennessee by focusing schools on science, technology, engineering and math.
One item reporters discussed with Haslam was a bill, SB0893, which intends to protect teachers “from discipline for teaching scientific subjects in an objective manner.”
The governor also addressed bills on making public the names of doctors who perform abortions and culling the horse population. He said his administration would take the long view when considering new spending in light of increased revenues.
The event took place at Stratford STEM Magnet High school. Here are some excerpts:
Q: Regarding teachers and evolution – being able to comment on evolution – what’s your take on that?
A: I actually haven’t – to be honest with you, I haven’t actually seen that bill. I knew it was coming up tonight – I don’t know that I have any great insight there for you on that one.
Q: Do you think as a general principle that the General Assembly should be telling teachers what to do in terms of curriculum?
A: I think it is a fair question, maybe what the General Assembly’s role is with determining curriculum. I think that’s why we have a State Board of Education. I think that the General Assembly, though, does represent people, and their votes and thoughts matter there. I always, when it comes to interjecting in the curriculum, I know as governor, I’m always going to be a little hesitant to do that until I’ve really had those conversations with both local boards, but particularly state boards who control the curriculum.
Q: What’s your take on the Defense of Life Act? It’s the one that would require the Health Department to publish doctors’ names and demographic information about women receiving abortions?
A: I’m actually going to meet with Dr. (John) Dreyzehner, our health commissioner, on that. As I understand, the state used to do that and then quit doing that, and what I want to understand is, why did we do it originally, and why did we quit doing it, and does the Health Department have a concern about that?
Q: Do you worry at all that doctors would be in danger with this information public?
A: I think that, maybe, is one of the concerns that people opposed to it expressed. Again, I want to go back and find out why did the state do it originally, and then why did we quit doing it.
Q: Any concerns about women in small communities, and people finding out if they’ve had an abortion?
A: Yeah, I guess. I don’t know enough about the statistics to know if one should get the demographics in a small town, then can you go back and do the math and figure out who that is. I don’t know enough to know if that’s a real fear yet. But I will do my homework.
Q: The House is considering a bill, HB3619, that carries an amendment to allow for the sanitary slaughter of excess domestic horses in the state. What are your thoughts on horse slaughter, another big one going on today?
A: I think a lot of folks who are in horse farming feel like that’s actually the ethical way to treat animals, if we have a lot of people who own older horses that can’t take care of them anymore. So, they actually feel like that’s a more ethical response to it. We haven’t actually formed an opinion position on that one yet.
Q: Improving revenues – you look at pressure to do tax cuts on various fronts, you look at rainy day funds, maybe programs, spending restoration – where are you at in your thinking on those things, and where are you gravitating toward, if doing anything at the moment?
A: Obviously, we’ve said we’re going to present a budget amendment in the first week of April. In terms of the bigger picture of improving revenues, my thoughts are, you put together a budget over a long period of time that has everything from department hearings, to public hearings, to legislative committee hearings, and you do that because you want to be thoughtful, not just about “Should we restore what we took out two years ago?” but “Where are the right places to use increased revenue when you do have that?”
So, I would say two prevailing thoughts there.
Number one, while revenues are looking up, there’s also some clouds on the horizon. TennCare pharmacy costs are up – we’d projected to be up about three percent, but we’re up about nine percent, which could be as much as $60 million. So there’s some threats out there along those lines.
But secondly, if we do have some increased revenue, I think the better approach is to be more thoughtful about it than just to say, what’re we going to go back and address that maybe is at the top of the people’s mind right now, rather than say if you had that, would it be better to put more of it toward our community college system, or technology centers, or TennCare, or a lot of those other things. So I would always advocate for a longer term budget proposal rather than, ‘Oh, we found a little pocket of money, let’s figure out where to spend it.’
Q: Do you have any comment on Rep. David Hawk’s arrest on a domestic violence charge?
A: Domestic violence is a serious issue in Tennessee, and that’s why we brought up the policies that we did, and we do think it’s a major issue in Tennessee. In regards to Rep. Hawk’s case, I obviously don’t know enough to have any comment on it. I know what you (reported), I know what I read in the paper, and naturally I don’t know that it’s appropriate for me to really comment on something that all I know about it is the actual arrest event.
Q: Back on some of these cuts, a number of social service groups are concerned about some of these cuts that they say are safety net-type things. Some of it involving the family resource centers that they say help some of these kids get ready to learn, from poor families.
A: First of all, let’s back up. We actually didn’t cut that. That was actually cut two years ago. We actually restored $100 million of cuts in this year’s budget. So those were actually cut out of the budget two years ago, and put on a non-recurring basis. And so, we were able to — out of those things — add back in $100 million of items that had been cut before.