This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Several states are considering offering free tuition at community colleges, as the cost of a college education continues to climb and as high school diplomas no longer guarantee a living wage….Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, a Republican, is also pitching a plan to make tuition free at community colleges and colleges of applied technology. “This is a bold promise,” Haslam said in his State of the State address in February. “It is a promise that will speak volumes to current and prospective employers. It is a promise that will make a real difference for generations of Tennesseans.” The proposal is part of the governor’s “Drive to 55” initiative to increase the percentage of state residents with college degrees or advanced certificates from the current 32 percent to 55 percent by 2025.
At an annual address to the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce Tuesday, Gov. Bill Haslam touched on the continued roll-out of the Common Core Education Standards and his initiatives to increase secondary education completion rates in Tennessee. Haslam highlighted his Drive to 55 Campaign, which aims to raise the percentage of Tennesseans with secondary degrees over the next decade. He also emphasized his Tennessee Promise, a plan designed to make two years of community college or technical school free to Tennessee high school graduates.
Gov. Bill Haslam asked business executives Tuesday to help persuade lawmakers not to roll back controversial Common Core state standards for education and tougher teacher evaluation processes. “There’s discussion about rolling back the Common Core standards happening in the Legislature. I think it’s critical that we not back up on that. There’s discussion about the new evaluation process that was put in place for teachers several years ago. I think its critical that we not back up,” the governor told a membership meeting of the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce.
A Senate panel approved Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposal to combat meth labs by tightening restrictions on a key ingredient, setting up a potential showdown with their counterparts in the state House of Representatives. The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 7-1 on Tuesday evening to pass Haslam’s plan to cap pseudoephedrine purchases at two 20-tablet boxes a month and six boxes a year. They also rejected a measure that advanced last week in the House. Members of the committee indicated they were willing to take an even harder line on pseudoephedrine than the governor suggested.
A state Senate committee Tuesday night approved four different proposals to crack down on the state’s meth problem, while voting 5-3 to kill a rival measure that advanced last week in the state House. Several officials at the meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee suggested a comprehensive plan will come together once the bills arrive in the Senate Health Committee. It’s not clear what the end product will look like, or what shot it has of attracting House support. One Senate bill moving forward would let cities and counties require prescriptions for the cold medicine used to make meth.
Gov. Bill Haslam on Tuesday raised concerns about efforts by fellow Republicans in the state Legislature to block a dedicated bus lane project through Nashville. The governor told reporters after a speech to the Nashville Chamber of Commerce that although he has not formed an opinion about whether the project – called the Amp – is a good idea, he’s worried about the possible precedent of legislative committees deciding over individual transportation projects in the state. “My concern is always going to be, do we want to do transportation by legislative committee, and I don’t think that’s the right approach,” Haslam said.
Seemingly everyone with a stake in an effort to block the Nashville mass transit project known as The Amp weighed in Tuesday, with the governor criticizing the bill, the mayor and the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce mobilizing their troops, and groups on both sides getting ready to rally Wednesday. Gov. Bill Haslam told reporters after a speech to the chamber that he hasn’t formed an opinion of the bus rapid transit project. But Haslam said he’s worried about the possible precedent of letting legislative panels decide the fate of individual transportation projects around the state.
Gov. Bill Haslam doesn’t like the current legislative push to halt Nashville’s proposed dedicated bus lane through downtown. Two committees of lawmakers are set to discuss a bill Wednesday that would stop the project, known as the Amp. Haslam cautioned he doesn’t know enough to say whether the Amp specifically is a worthwhile project, but he thinks Nashville Mayor Karl Dean is correct to prioritize transit. Haslam questions whether it’s appropriate for state lawmakers to wade into such plans: “My concern is always going to be, do we want to do transportation project by legislative committee? I don’t think that’s the right approach, so my concern is not so much the Amp as an issue, but are we doing the right thing long-term in terms of how we do government.”
Gov. Bill Haslam isn’t sure the time is right to cut a tax on income from investments. Lawmakers want to phase out what’s known as the Hall income tax. Haslam says philosophically he’d love to cut taxes, but realistically, the state can’t afford another cut this year. “We’re going to be scrapping even to get to where we thought we would be” in terms of state revenue, Haslam says. Senator Mark Green (R-Clarksville) says that’s not a problem, since the bill he’s pushing to gradually phase out the Hall income tax would only trigger in years when state revenue looks good.
Renal services provider Fresenius Medical Care has announced it will locate its East Coast manufacturing facility in Knoxville, creating 665 jobs in the coming years. Gov. Bill Haslam said in a release that the German company plans to spend up to $140 million on the project to build the plant in the city’s Panasonic building. Troy McGhee, vice president of manufacturing for Fresenius Medical Care North America, cited the available workforce, the existing facility and the location as factors in the decision to locate in Knoxville. A first production line is scheduled to begin moving to Knoxville in September, but production is not expected to begin until 2016.
A funding cut could scale back two Tennessee programs that send family support workers into homes to reduce child abuse and strengthen family bonds among first-time parents and low-income families. An effort to restore the funding attracted family advocates to Nashville on Tuesday to talk to lawmakers as part of Children’s Advocacy Days, an annual two-day conference. Hundreds of them learned Tuesday that the two home visitation programs may have to move ahead with budgets reduced by one-third — potentially the second year in a row of reductions by lawmakers.
The Tennessee Treasury Department is hosting a financial literacy summit for teachers next week in Nashville. The summit for kindergarten through eighth-grade teachers will be held on March 22 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Ezell Center on the campus of Lipscomb University. The free event is being sponsored by the Tennessee Financial Literacy Commission, which is emphasizing the teaching of financial literacy skills to students at young ages in hopes they will develop and follow good habits later in life.
The Tennessee Department of Agriculture Division of Forestry is reminding residents that a burn permit is currently required for outdoor burning. State Forester Jere Jeter says the state wants to continue a trend from last year when the agency recorded the lowest number of wildland fires since 1927. The division says burn permits for safe debris burning contributed to the decrease in fires along with increased efforts in fire prevention and suppression. The free burn permits are required in all areas of the state by law until May 15 unless otherwise covered by local ordinances.
Legislation that would let for-profit charter management organizations operate in Tennessee was advanced by the House Education Subcommittee by a voice vote on Tuesday. It will now move on to the full House Education Committee. Rep. John DeBerry, D-Memphis, has introduced the bill on the House side, arguing that it would simply allow boards of directors that oversee publicly financed, privately operated charter schools to do what public school districts can: hire outside companies for “better management.” Under existing law, charter operators must be nonprofit groups in Tennessee. Senate Education chair Dolores Gresham, R-Somerville, has sponsored the Senate bill.
Republican state Sen. Todd Gardenhire’s bill granting in-state college tuition rates to U.S.-born children of parents living here illegally cleared a key hurdle Tuesday. Following lengthy debate, Senate Finance Committee members approved the bill on a 10-1 vote. The bill now goes to the Senate Calendar Committee where it will be scheduled for Senate floor consideration. Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, said the bill would apply to students who have resided in Tennessee for at least one year and graduated from an in-state high school. Currently, the students have to pay out-of-state tuition to attend University of Tennessee or Tennessee Board of Regents institutions.
Tuesday proved to be an unlucky day for state Sen. Janice Bowling’s bill that sought to keep the names of Tennessee Lottery winners secret. Senate State and Local Government Committee members voted 4-2 against the Tullahoma Republican’s proposal after state Lottery Corp. and open-government advocates warned it would undermine players’ trust in the games. Two members abstained. Bowling said the bill was needed to deal with what she called the “vulnerability” of lottery winners caught up in a maelstrom of publicity and targeted with requests for money and even threatened over multimillion-dollar awards.
Tennessee House of Representatives Local Government Committee approved a proposal Tuesday to require a referendum if a county or city government wants to raise property taxes by more than 25 percent. State Rep. Mike Sparks, a Republican from Smyrna, is sponsoring a bill that picked up a 9-6 vote in support. “Twenty-five percent is a drastic increase,” Sparks said during the committee’s meeting. The bill will now go to the House’s Finance, Ways and Means Committee, which meets next week at 3 p.m. Tuesday in Room 16 of Legislative Plaza, which is next to the Capitol. State Rep. Vince Dean, a Republican from East Ridge in the Chattanooga area, questioned why the General Assembly should make it harder for local governments.
On Tuesday, action on medical marijuana in Tennessee was deferred a week by the state House of Representatives subcommittee on health, pending the addition of an amendment to House Bill 1385, while a related issue – industrial hemp – moved forward. According to Rebecca Johnston, a retired U.S. Marine and president of Tennesseans for Compassionate Care (TCC), Rep. Sherry Jones (D-Nashville) will try to increase the chances for passage of the Koozer-Kuhn Medical Cannabis Act by inserting an amendment removing the provision for smokable marijuana substances from the House version of the bill.
A bill to legalize the growing and processing of industrial hemp in Tennessee cruised through the state House Agriculture Committee Tuesday. The Senate’s version of the legislation is scheduled for discussion and a possible committee vote Wednesday. House Bill 2445 seeks to modify state law to enable farmers to grow cannabis that doesn’t contain enough delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) to produce a “high.” The state Department of Agriculture* would issue licenses to hemp farmers and certify that the seed they use is not a potentially psychoactive variety. The bill stipulates that anyone caught growing hemp without official state permission would be subject to criminal prosecution for marijuana production.
A bill to be discussed in a Senate sub-committee on Wednesday would begin a study into a monorail system for Middle Tennessee. Introduced by Senator Bill Ketron of Murfreesboro, the bill proposes a discussion regarding the creation of a monorail public transportation system along the Nashville Southeast Corridor. The corridor is described as being on and along Interstate-24, connecting downtown Murfreesboro to downtown Nashville. It is approximately 30 miles long. The bill directs the Department of Transportation to study the construction, operation and financing of the monorail system.
A bill before state lawmakers would honor long-time Senator Douglas Henry and would further protect a stretch of land along Interstate 440. The specific parcel of land included in the bill is the area north of 440 from the intersection of Lealand Lane and Gale Lane back toward Granny White Pike and Belmont Boulevard. The proposal would designate this parcel as “Senator Douglas Henry Urban Conservation District.” It would also prevent an interchange from being built in this area. This reinforces a resolution passed 16 years ago that designated the entire stretch of state-owned property as “parkland.”
Legislation that would prohibit student test scores from being tied to teacher licensing has passed a key House panel. The proposal sponsored by Republican Rep. Matthew Hill of Jonesborough passed the House Education Subcommittee 8-1 on Tuesday. The Tennessee Department of Education recommended the new licensure policy, and the State Board of Education voted in August to support it. However, the board changed its stance in January. The Tennessee Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union, has long argued that the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System, or TVAAS data, shouldn’t be relied upon because it’s a statistical estimate.
Fifty-five Shelby County teachers boarded a bus at 6 a.m. Tuesday, while the school system is on spring break, and headed to Nashville to lobby the Tennessee legislature on several bills educators are concerned about Those include bills allowing students to take public school funding to pay private school tuition, allowing charter schools to hire for-profit school operators, and tying teacher licensure to the state’s student-testing regime called the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System, or TVAAS.
A coalition of close to 200 workers rallied on the steps of the state Capitol on Tuesday to speak out on issues ranging from increasing Tennessee’s minimum wage to supporting public schools. Following the rally about 30 of the protesters delivered a letter expressing their concerns to the office of Republican Gov. Bill Haslam. Thomas Walker is a member of the United Campus Workers, one of about 24 organizations that are part of the coalition. He helped draft the letter, which stressed raising the state’s minimum wage, one of the coalition’s main concerns. Currently, Tennessee’s minimum wage is $7.25.
Unions from around the state rallied at the Tennessee capitol Tuesday in support of raising the minimum wage, despite the defeat of a minimum wage proposal last month. “What do we want? Justice. When do we want it? Now,” a few hundred chanted. Members of the UAW, Campus Workers, Fast Food Workers and the SEIU waved signs outside Gov. BIll Haslam’s office. One of the speakers is even a worker at Volkswagen who said he “couldn’t believe the lip-flapping” from Republican politicians like Haslam in opposition to union organizing. Not only has Haslam campaigned against the UAW.
Roughly 18,000 Tennesseans signed up for plans on the new health insurance exchange in February. That’s a drop from the prior month – reflecting a national trend – even as the enrollment deadline is just a few weeks out. Unlike states with Democratic governors, Tennessee hasn’t thrown its weight behind helping market the exchange. CMS spokesperson Julie Bataille says libraries, hospitals and community health groups are getting the word out. “We’re working very closely with coalitions of external organizations and partners very committed in making sure people know about and enroll in affordable health care coverage,” she told reporters on a conference call Tuesday.
The battle over union representation at Volkswagen of America will shift this month from plant workers in Chattanooga to a hearing officer for the National Labor Relations Board. Supporters and opponents of the United Auto Workers union will soon be allowed to argue before the NLRB whether another election should be conducted for workers to decide on representation by the UAW. Despite objections from both VW and the UAW, the labor board agreed this week to allow opponents to the union to argue against UAW’s petition for the new election.
A simple four-page order U.S. Dist. Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays issued this week is intended to close the complex lawsuit about local education that tied up sides from Memphis, its suburbs, Shelby County, and the state of Tennessee for more than three years. Mays granted a joint request Monday to dismiss the legal case regarding the formation of municipal schools, ending the battle that followed the Memphis City Schools’ decision to surrender its charter in 2010 and merge with Shelby County Schools.
If only more of our state legislators were paying attention what’s going on in the real world? As some House members try to gut Gov. Bill Haslam’s bill for a prescription requirement on cold remedies containing pseudoephedrine, consequences of Tennessee’s methamphetamine habit become more dire by the day. Meth makers and users mock public safety measures in communities large and small across Tennessee. As a Tennessean series recently detailed, meth use costs Tennessee $1.6 billion a year in enforcement, cleanup and treatment, along with lost work productivity, child protection and more. Let’s call lawmakers’ attention to the case of Holly Bobo.
Tennessee’s use of Common Core State Standards in its public schools will continue, providing that desperate efforts to repeal them are quashed in the Legislature. A generally harmless bill on Common Core sailed to passage in the House on Monday and awaits a floor vote in the Senate, which could come as soon as Thursday. But opponents continue to fight. The Common Core State Standards, adopted in 2010 by the state Board of Education, represent a commitment to improving education in Tennessee that must not be derailed. Lawmakers who care about the future of the state’s public schools should block any and all repeal efforts.
Sometimes legislation being considered in the Tennessee General Assembly makes us scratch our heads and wonder why. Such a bill is HB1943, sponsored by Rep. David Hawk, R-Greeneville. It would offer civil immunity to people who forcibly enter a vehicle to remove a minor locked or otherwise trapped inside. Do we really need a law to do this? Apparently, we do. In the past, people who smashed vehicle windows to save children from heat stroke have later found themselves sued by parents and vehicle owners. So much for trying to be the Good Samaritan. Under the proposed legislation, someone concerned about a child’s immediate safety in a locked vehicle would first have to call police before forcing their way in.
While we certainly don’t support all the proposed legislation that has come before the Tennessee General Assembly this session, we are pleased that the tone of the bills introduced this year doesn’t seem quite as, well, wacky. Yes, wacky. That’s one way to describe some of the more ridiculous bills that have been introduced in the state Legislature in recent years. Mean-spirited may be another. The nation laughed as our lawmakers presented the “Don’t Say Gay” bill that would prevent discussion about homosexuality in schools, the “Bathroom Bill” aimed at forcing transgendered residents into the public restroom of their birth gender, and, the cringe-worthy proposal that would have Tennessee creating its own currency as an alternative to the federal dollar.