This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Gov. Bill Haslam’s signature proposal to create a program that would cover tuition at two-year colleges for any high school graduate is headed to a full House vote. The House Finance Committee approved the measure on a voice vote on Tuesday. Called “Tennessee Promise,” the companion bill was scheduled to be heard in the Senate Finance Committee. The legislation is a cornerstone of Haslam’s “Drive to 55” campaign to improve the state’s graduation rates from the current 32 percent to 55 percent by 2025 to help improve overall job qualifications and attract employers to the state.
Gov. Bill Haslam’s marquee legislation to offer free community college to high school graduates is headed to the state House floor for a vote after clearing the chamber’s finance committee Tuesday. The program, called “Tennessee Promise,” was also scheduled to go before the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday, but was continued until today’s meeting. The bill has already passed the House and Senate education committees. The latest version includes amendments that would extend the last-dollar scholarships to students attending Hiwassee College, Knoxville College and a handful of other private schools.
Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposal to create a school voucher program in Tennessee is headed for a full Senate vote. The measure was approved 8-2 in the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday. Haslam originally sought to limit the vouchers – or so-called “opportunity scholarships” – to students from low-income families attending the bottom 5 percent of failing schools. Under the new version, if there are not enough students for the available slots, then eligibility would be opened to low-income students in districts that have a school in the bottom 5 percent.
Gov. Bill Haslam’s school voucher proposal, which would affect Hamilton County schools, is headed for a Senate floor vote after clearing a key Senate hurdle today. Senate Finance Committee members approved the revised measure on an 8-2 vote. The bill was delayed the House Budget Subcommittee. Haslam had tried to limit the proposal to low-incomes families whose children attend the bottom 5 percent of the state’s lowest performing public schools. Last year, he even jerked the bill from final consideration when senators sought to expand it. But this year Haslam finally agreed to expand the bill, which would allow the use of public money to pay for vouchers to send students to private or religious schools.
The Senate Finance Committee approved on Tuesday Gov. Bill Haslam’s plan for launching a limited school voucher system in five Tennessee counties, including Knox. The committee voted 8-2 for the bill (SB196), an indication it has enough support to clear the full Senate, though many believe support is considerably softer in the House. There, the measure still awaits a House Finance Committee vote — tentatively scheduled for Wednesday — with legislative leaders pushing for adjournment by next week.
The controversial school-voucher bill jumped its last Senate committee hurdle Tuesday en route to a full Senate floor vote. The finance committee voted 8-2 to recommend the measure, drafted by Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration and sponsored by Senate Republican Majority Leader Mark Norris of Collierville. But its biggest hurdle is in the House, where it has more opposition. If approved, starting in August for the upcoming school year, it would allow up to 5,000 children from low-income households attending a school in the bottom 5 percent in academic performance to take their full per-pupil share of state and local funding to pay tuition at participating private schools.
Gov. Bill Haslam is requesting a presidential disaster declaration for nine Tennessee counties affected by extreme winter weather last month. The federal assistance programs would provide access to a 75 percent reimbursement of the eligible costs to Carroll, Cheatham, Dickson, Fayette, Haywood, Houston, Madison, Shelby, and Tipton counties. The powerful arctic cold front brought winter precipitation that lasted from March 2 to March 4. Officials say the state, local governments and electrical utilities spent more than $12 million in preparation for, response to, and recovery from the storm’s impact.
Shelby County is one of nine counties Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has requested a presidential disaster declaration for because of extreme winter weather on March 2-4, 2014. If the declaration is made, the federal assistance programs would provide access to a 75 percent reimbursement of the eligible costs to Carroll, Cheatham, Dickson, Fayette, Haywood, Houston, Madison, Shelby, and Tipton counties. According to state figures, more than 75,000 residents were left without power because of the storm that took place beginning March 2. State and local governments, as well as electrical utilities spent more than $12.2 million to prepare, respond and recover from the storm, which brought frigid temperatures, snow, sleet and freezing rain.
Gov. Bill Haslam said it’s premature to say whether state incentives for Volkswagen would go away if the company were to recognize the United Auto Workers despite a narrow employee vote against unionization. “We’ll have to wait and see how that plays out. Obviously, we believe in the importance of a vote. We think democracy matters, no matter where you are. There was a vote at the plant and the UAW did not win the vote, we think that should mean something,” said Haslam. The governor said his administration has not heard word whether the chatter is true. An anti-union group, the Center for Worker Freedom, alleged Monday that VW may let the union in anyway despite it losing on a 53 percent to 47 percent vote
Gov. Bill Haslam said Tuesday he doesn’t want Volkswagen to recognize the United Auto Workers based upon union authorization cards gathered last year after plant employees narrowly voted in February against UAW representation. ut the governor, who along with fellow Republican politicians has fought the UAW’s unionization attempts at VW at virtually every turn, said it’s premature to say whether his administration wouldn’t offer state incentives to Volkswagen if that were to occur, The Nashville Post reported Tuesday.
Governor Bill Haslam’s plan for free tuition at Tennessee community colleges may not get a free ride on Tennessee’s Capitol Hill. Hallway whispers are turning into concern as the bill begins to wind its way through legislative committees. Maury County Republican Representative Sheila Butt says she has heard that concern from about half of House Republicans–and plenty of constituents. “They see it as another entitlement program,” she told News 2. “They see it as us, giving–quote–a free education.” Along with the “entitlement” criticism Rep. Butt said there are concerns about the annual funding to maintain the proposed free tuition for tens of thousands of community college students.
Three counties in East Tennessee are set to receive funding this week for programs to help reduce tobacco use. As part of the Tennessee Tobacco Settlement Program, the Tennessee Department of Health is presenting the Roane County Health Department with $38,860 on Thursday. On Friday, departments in Loudon County will receive $38,103 and in Anderson County will receive $64,600. This is the beginning of a three-year program to distribute $15 million to all 95 counties in Tennessee. “We’re using the money to target three areas: secondhand smoke, smoking during pregnancy and prevention of smoking with school age children,” said Teresa Harrill, Loudon County Health Department director.
Tennessee had engineered some major education policy changes before boasting historic gains on the National Assessment for Education Progress last year. But the Tennessee Education Association, the state’s largest teachers organization, has started to point to something simpler to help explain the big jump: a 90-second Tennessee Department of Education motivational video featuring then-Tennessee Titans quarterback Matt Hasselbeck and first lady Crissy Haslam.
The state Senate has passed a bill to allow Tennesseans to openly carry guns without a state-issued permit. The chamber voted 25-2 in favor of the bill sponsored by Republican Sen. Mae Beavers of Mt. Juliet. Beavers said the measure would keep the background checks and training requirements in order to carry concealed firearms, but would allow anyone legally allowed to own a gun to carry it openly. The bill would also remove state restrictions on the location of ammunition when firearms are being transported in vehicles, and would allow guns to be removed from cars on school property for the purposes of moving storing them in another part of the vehicle.
The Tennessee Senate approved a bill Tuesday that would let gun owners carry their weapons openly without a permit. Lawmakers voted 25-2 to pass a measure filed by state Sen. Mae Beavers that would do away with the requirement that gun owners go through a background check, receive training and obtain a permit before carrying a handgun in public. Gun owners would have to get a permit only if they plan to conceal their weapons. State Sens. Charlotte Burks, D-Monterrey, and Thelma Harper, D-Nashville, cast the only votes against the bill, though six senators abstained. The bill’s prospects in the House of Representatives are uncertain.
Any Tennessean who can legally have a firearm would be able to carry a handgun openly with no need for any state-issued permit under a bill that whizzed through the Senate on Tuesday. The bill passed 25-2. The House version remains in the chamber’s Budget Subcommittee and there is some disagreement among lawmakers about whether it has enough votes to pass the panel. Sen. Mae Beavers’ bill would apply to anyone so long as they are not legally prohibited from having a firearm. It excludes felons who have not had their voting rights restored.
A bill allowing anyone who lawfully possesses a firearm to carry their gun in “open” and visible fashion without need of first obtaining a government-issued permit has cleared the Tennessee Senate. The measure’s sponsor, Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, said that under Senate Bill 2424, guns could be worn legally, provided the firearm was “openly observable by the ordinary person.” The bill makes it a criminal offense for a non-permitted gun owner to keep a firearm on their body hidden from plain view. There was no debate on the bill, dubbed the “Open Carry Firearms Freedom Act of 2014.”
Tennesseans would be allowed to openly carry guns without a permit under a bill passed Tuesday in the state Senate. If the House also approves the bill, carry permits would only be needed for concealed weapons, thereby making it legal for most anyone to walk around with a gun proudly displayed in a holster. In years past, lawmakers fought long and hard over details that seem small by comparison, like whether gun owners can be fired for having one in their car outside their workplace. This spring though, the open carry proposal flew by largely under the radar, getting less than 20 minutes of discussion in Senate committees, before passing a floor vote 25 to 2 on Tuesday.
Tennessee gun owners could soon see a change in carry laws. Senate Bill 2424, sponsored by Sen. Mae Beavers (R-Mt. Juliet), would allow for the open carry of firearms in Tennessee without a permit as long as they are plainly visible. The bill would do away with the current law, which requires gun owners to go through a background check and training before being eligible to carry a gun in plain sight. “The Supreme Court has ruled in the past that no state shall convert a liberty into a privilege, license it and attach a fee to it,” Sen. Beavers told News 2. “And essentially that’s what we’re doing now.”
A plan to bring back the electric chair is making its way through the Tennessee legislature, though some lawmakers have voiced uneasiness about returning to an execution method the state largely had abandoned. A House committee approved a bill this morning that would make electrocution the state’s method for killing inmates sentenced to death if lethal injection were declared unconstitutional or the drugs needed to carry it out were unavailable. But a handful of members said they have reservations about the electric chair, which the state has used only once since 1960. “It seems barbaric to me,” said state Rep. Darren Jernigan, D-Nashville. “I’d rather go with the gas chamber, myself. … The electric chair bothers me.”
A House subcommittee has killed a bill that would cut the maximum lifetime benefits under the state’s welfare program, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, from the current five years to four. Senate Bill 2039 won Senate approval Monday night but failed in the Republican-dominated House finance subcommittee after Department of Human Services officials and the social workers association confirmed the legislature’s fiscal analysis that it wouldn’t save taxpayers any money and would make Tennessee the lowest-benefit state in the nation.
A bill seeking to forbid the state from using student standardized testing scores as a base to grant or renew teachers’ licenses could soon be placed under the governor’s pen, but that doesn’t mean he’ll sign it. Riding a wave of lawmaker opposition to a policy adopted last summer by the State Board of Education tying licensure decisions in part to growth scores calculated using the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System, or TVAAS, the House of Representatives voted 88-0 Monday to approve a bill sponsored by Republican John Forgety. Forgety’s bill, and its Senate companion, passed 26-6 last week, bars student growth data from being used to deny a license to a school supervisor, principal or teacher.
A push to eliminate Tennessee’s “Hall income tax” has a new twist that could make it more palatable during a tough budget year: It ties a reduction in the tax to increases in state revenue, meaning the tax would only be reduced if the total state revenues go up enough to offset the loss in funds. It also falls short of a complete repeal, instead cutting the 6 percent tax on investment income to 2.25 percent. “This would be the beginning of the end of the Hall income tax,” said Sen. Mark Green, D-Clarksville. The tax on investments, the only Tennessee tax on income, has been targeted by fiscal conservatives for several years, but eliminating it wholesale has been a challenge.
School districts that own their own school buses may get some relief as a new bill approved by the Tennessee General Assembly will allow school buses to stay on the road longer. The bill, which is projected to save local school systems an estimated $56 million in the 2014-2015 school year alone, was given final approval by the House on Monday following its passage last week by senators. Sponsored by Rep. Ron Travis, R-Dayton, and Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, the bill authorizes the use of conventional and Class D school buses until their 18th year of service.
Tennessee lawmakers are considering a bill that allows pregnant mothers with drug addictions to face criminal punishment if the baby is harmed. The State Senate passed a bill Monday. The State House of Representatives will vote Wednesday on the bill. The latest bills, HB 1295 and SB 1391, aim to change a previous law which eliminated the criminal penalty. Evangaline “Red” Smith suffered from addiction for 20 years. She has been sober for 19 months and receives treatment from Peninsula Outpatient Centers.
With preventable diseases such as measles staging a resurgence, a leading Nashville physician says it’s time for Tennessee and other states to stop allowing parents to opt out of vaccinating their children. Exemptions for personal or religious beliefs put children at risk who have legitimate medical reasons for not getting vaccines, said Dr. Bill Schaffner, an infectious diseases professor at Vanderbilt University. Forty-eight states, including Tennessee, have passed laws allowing parents to opt out of mandatory school vaccinations.
TVA has begun making involuntary reductions in its workforce as it seeks to reach a cost-cutting goal in its operations and maintenance expenses. The federal agency would not discuss numbers, but spokesman Duncan Mansfield said TVA, which has been cutting positions through attrition and voluntary reduction incentives, is now letting some people go involuntarily. “We will not be in a position to comment on the total reduction until we have fully implemented the reorganization process,” he said. Mansfield confirmed that TVA has set up outplacement resource centers in Knoxville and Chattanooga offering career counseling, job-search workshops, help in developing resumes and other services.
Tennessee takes great pride in its “pay as you go” approach to highway construction and maintenance, and it is right to do so. Only four states can boast that residents don’t have to bear responsibility for road construction debt. Unfortunately, that approach is about to hit a bump in the road. Because of uncertainty in federal transportation funding, Gov. Bill Haslam’s budget significantly throttles back on state highway spending for the coming years. One result is that the Tennessee Department of Transportation is reluctant to take on any new projects. It also will not start early engineering studies for new projects.
As the Tennessee legislative session nears its close, educational choice remains a leading policy discussion in the Capitol. Some opponents of the Tennessee Choice & Opportunity Scholarship Act malign parental empowerment, while I view a child’s right to a quality education as the civil rights issue of our time. I was one of a group of black students hand-picked to continue the desegregation of the high schools in Little Rock in the mid-1960s. Up to that point, we had attended segregated, substandard schools because of the color of our skin. Enrollment in a desegregated school afforded me a new education, with new tools and experiences that were only dreamed about in previous academic years.