This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Republican Gov. Bill Haslam says legislative efforts to make children of people living in the country illegally eligible for in-state tuition “have some merit,” but he has no plans to change his free tuition proposal. Haslam wants to create a free community college program for all high school graduates by using state lottery reserves to cover the difference between tuition costs and all available aid. His proposal would require students to fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid, which requires a Social Security number. Haslam said Wednesday that removing that requirement would raise the cost too much.
Gov. Bill Haslam said Wednesday that legislative efforts to make children of illegal immigrants eligible for in-state college tuition have “some merit,” but he doesn’t see including them in his own proposal to offer free tuition to students attending community colleges. “We’re just beginning to dive into and understand the impact, but I think the concept has some merit and we’re going to be considering it as it heads down the road,” Haslam said of two bills dealing with children of illegal immigrants. Both bills are sponsored by Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, in the Senate.
Governor Bill Haslam says he knows best when making appointments to boards and commissions in Tennessee. The legislature’s Republican majority is working on bills which would take away some of that power GOP lawmakers want to have their say on bodies related to education, like the State Textbook Commission, and the State Board of Education. They say appointees would be more responsive to the legislature, and therefore, the public. Governor Haslam takes exception. “You know, legislators feel like ‘gosh, we’re the ones who are out there close to the people and hearing things,’” Haslam told reporters Wednesday.
The beating of an intellectually disabled young man by his caretaker, captured in disturbing cellphone video footage obtained by The Tennessean, is a rare occurrence, “something so egregious and so horrendous it bothers every one of us to know it’s occurred,” the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities’ chief attorney said Wednesday. “We don’t see this very often, and as soon as we became aware, we took swift action to make sure the person was safe and appropriate action was taken against the perpetrator,” said Theresa Sloan, DIDD’s general counsel.
Unions may face new restrictions when they picket, under a bill making its way through the Tennessee legislature. House Bill 1688 would add a new misdemeanor of “mass picketing” that could be used to punish labor activists who block the entrance to a business or private residence. The bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Jeremy Durham, and other supporters say the legislation would supplement laws already on the books that prohibit trespassing. “People have the right to free speech, but they do not have the right to prevent people from going to work,” said Durham, R-Franklin.
Democratic lawmakers’ efforts to make Tennessee the 22nd state to set a minimum wage higher than the federal standard failed in a Republican-led House panel Wednesday. The bill, which would have raised the minimum wage for tens of thousands of hourly wage earners in the Volunteer State by $1 per hour, failed on a 3-2 party line vote with all three Republicans on the House Consumer and Human Resources Subcommittee voting no. House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner said his bill would exclude employers paying workers the minimum wage so long as they also pay employees’ health benefits.
After years of failure, a Tennessee State Government Subcommittee advanced on Wednesday state Rep. Jon Lundberg’s so-called “Pass The Bottle” legislation that would ban passengers from having open alcohol containers in vehicles. Lundberg, R-Bristol, had argued over the years that the legislation would save lives and bring more federal highway funds to Tennessee, but it repeatedly failed to get out of any committee. “It’s really quite sad. … It’s legal to drink alcohol in a car in Tennessee,” Lundberg told lawmakers on the subcommittee.
Should sex offenders have the status marked on their driver’s license in Tennessee? The idea received a good bit of debate Wednesday on Capitol Hill. A new bill would require the words “sex offender” to be stamped on a convicted offender’s driver’s license in red three times. It would increase state expenditures one time by $150,000. The sponsor of the House bill, Rep. Matthew Hill of Jonesborough, told a sub-committee he got the idea from a constituent at a daycare where people have to show identification to be on a list to pick up children.
More and more babies in Tennessee are being born addicted to drugs, and now a state lawmaker wants to hold moms accountable. Jackie Bains gave birth to a happy, healthy baby Tuesday night. It was an amazing day for a mom who has been battling an addiction to pain medication. “I had tried to get off of it on my own. It’s just harder to get off of it on your own. It’s easier to get the help,” Bains said. Bains was prescribed hydrocodone after nearly dying in a car accident just over a year ago. Months later, when she found out she was pregnant with her son, Korbin, she immediately sought help, afraid he could be born with a hydrocodone dependency.
There’s a push to make major changes to Tennessee law after a Channel 4 I-Team investigation. Earlier this month, the I-Team exposed what one lawmaker called clear abuses of the disabled parking system at meters in downtown Nashville. Now lawmakers say they need to revamp the system completely. State Rep. Darren Jernigan, D-Old Hickory, says his phone started ringing off the hook after our investigation. People from across Middle Tennessee called to say things need to change, and when lawmakers saw what the Channel 4 I-Team’s hidden cameras uncovered, they wanted to make major changes to state law.
Former House Speaker Kent Williams said Tuesday that he paid $100 to replace a microphone he tossed aside when his comments were cut off. An offer to prepay another $100 to cover any future damage was turned down, he said. Williams, an independent from Elizabethton, threw the microphone in anger when he wasn’t allowed to explain why he opposed a bill to allow supermarket wine sales in Tennessee after the chamber passed the bill Thursday. House Clerk Joe McCord said at the end of Monday’s floor session that the chamber’s policies require members to replace or repair any damaged property. Williams was House speaker from 2009 to 2011. He is retiring from the legislature this year and running for Carter County mayor.
A year after Gov. Bill Haslam vetoed a so-called “ag gag” bill, animal welfare activists say new legislative efforts pose an even greater threat to their efforts toward protecting animals from abuse. “This is worse than ag gag,” said Leighann McCollum, state director of the Humane Society of the United States. Sherry L. Rout, legislative director for the Southern region of the American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, described one of the three pending measures as “a cleverly crafted ag gag bill.” The bill vetoed by Haslam last year after considerable controversy would have required anyone making a photograph or video of livestock abuse to promptly report the abuse to law enforcement officials and turn over copies of the recordings.
There is growing interest in increasing the minimum wage above the current level of $7.25 per hour, but how many workers in Tennessee would see an immediate increase in their wallets? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Tennessee’s total workforce stood at about 2.67 million in December of last year and 58 percent of them — 1.58 million — are hourly rather than salary employees. Of the state’s hourly employees, 117,000 are making at or below the minimum wage. About 51,000 are minimum wage employees and 66,000 make below the minimum wage.
Caught between a gridlocked Congress and a Highway Trust Fund that will soon be broke, President Obama on Wednesday urged lawmakers to overhaul corporate and business taxes to pay for repairing and replacing the nation’s aging roads, rails, bridges and tunnels. Speaking at a cavernous renovated transit hub here, Mr. Obama avoided the politically treacherous solution that most transportation experts say is necessary in the short term: raising the federal gas tax that has been frozen at 18.4 cents per gallon for the past two decades. Officials said Mr. Obama opposes a gas-tax increase.
Life is quiet along this remote northern California coastline, unless you walk the craggy bluffs where surf pounds high against a rugged shoreline and seals honk from their rocky patios below. The world-class vistas boast wildflowers amid long grasses, and rock sculptures rise from the tide pools. Known as the Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands, it is a breathtaking landscape. And it is among the federal lands in numerous states that politicians and conservationists say are overdue for special protected status. A single line in President Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech indicated the waiting could end soon for at least some of these special places. He vowed to “use my authority to protect more of our pristine federal lands for future generations.”
Four Tennessee companies – including Nashville-based HCA Holdings Inc. – were among more than 100 Fortune 500 companies that paid zero or less in federal income taxes in at least one year from 2008 to 2012, according to a new study. In addition, the study found there were 26 Fortune 500 corporations that were consistently profitable between 2008 and 2012 yet paid no federal income taxes, according to a new study. The federal tax rate on corporate profits is set at 35 percent, although few companies actually pay that full rate. The findings are part of a survey of 288 profitable corporations by Citizens for Tax Justice, a left-leaning group.
Shelby County Schools board members completed Tuesday, Feb. 25, the first half of their actions to prepare the new map of the demerged school system for the academic year that begins in August. And they set the stage for more possible changes in years to come. The set of votes to close 10 schools at the end of the current academic year came before an audience of several hundred people that overflowed into another meeting room and grew noisier as the trend in the board votes became apparent. Shelby County Schools board members completed Tuesday, Feb. 25, the first half of their actions to prepare the new map of the demerged school system for the academic year that begins in August.
Here is an important effort we are happy to salute. The Tennessee Department of Veterans Affairs is coordinating a statewide campaign to better inform military veterans and their families of benefits to which they are entitled. This is an important and valuable step forward in honoring and supporting military veterans and their families, and thanking them for their service. When people volunteer to serve our country in the military, they give up a level of freedom we enjoy and too often take for granted. They serve at the pleasure and need of the U.S. Department of Defense and the several branches of military service.
The Shelby County Schools board’s decision to close nine schools is a heavy blow to the parents whose children attend those schools and residents of neighborhoods where the schools are community anchors. One of the nine, Shannon Elementary, is an important asset to North Memphis’ Hyde Park community. Ditto for Vance Middle on the north edge of South Memphis in an area where the city is planning a major redevelopment project, and Corry Middle in the Holiday Heights area of South Memphis. Despite the understandable angst over the closings, SCS Supt. Dorsey Hopson’s consistent message during public meetings on the issue has been that the closures will enhance the achievement level of hundreds of students now attending failing schools.
Some Tennessee legislators have a tendency to engage in political theater, but one such foray into such ideological farce recently had a relatively short run. A bill that would allow business owners to discriminate against gay couples who plan to marry was on stage for only about 24 hours. A similar theatrical production in Arizona has received a thumbs-down from Gov. Jan Brewer, who indicated Wednesday night that a related bill was loosely worded and could have “unintended consequences.” Brewer vetoed the bill. Tennessee does not yet allow same-sex marriage, but state Sen. Mike Bell, R- Riceville, apparently wanted to launch a pre-emptive strike.
The legislature is so afraid of adults talking about sex that it is willing to throw away the foundations of liberty to prevent it. The second edition of Sex Week at UT, a discussion organized by a student group to “foster a comprehensive and academically informed conversation about sex, sexuality and relationships,” has so undone our legislature that the House passed a resolution condemning it on Monday, and the General Assembly is considering two bills to limit how the university can spend the revenues from student fees to restrict who can speak on the campus. SB 2493 makes it unlawful to spend any money, regardless of source, to pay visiting or guest speakers for events at public universities.
Let’s Stop Democrats From Electing Republican Supermajorities? Like every session, there are wrong-headed and unnecessary bills down at the Legislature. This week, let’s just look at two. There is yet another attempt to pass an open-container law. The premise of this bill is that people drinking in a vehicle means they have a drinking or drunk driver. The argument is that a driver stopped by the police just tells a companion to “hold this.” First of all, have you ever heard about designated drivers? It’s one of the successful campaigns by anti-drunk driving advocates. One member of the group volunteers not to drink anything but ice tea on the way to the game, the tail gate, the lake, or back and forth to dinner.