This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Opposition to the Common Core educational standards has grown more vocal at the state and local levels as Tennessee nears full implementation next school year. Madison County commissioners voted 19-4 in February to oppose the Common Core standards, and they were not alone. The Bradley County Board of Education drafted a similar resolution. And last month the Tennessee House of Representatives voted 82-11 to delay further implementation of Common Core. The main effect of a delay — if it’s also approved by the Senate — would be to put off new testing for two years, until the 2016-17 school year.
Tennessee’s legislative leaders are eyeing a one-year delay in launching student testing connected with implementation of Common Core standards as a compromise over a controversial education issue. As things now stand, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers tests are scheduled to begin statewide in the school year that begins in August. A bill passed by the state House last month, since held without a vote in the Senate, calls for delaying the PARCC tests for two years and declares there shall be no further implementation of Common Core.
Tennessee lawmakers have put the state budget behind them. Now they’ll turn to what really worries them: getting re-elected. Members of the legislature will return to Nashville on Monday for what many of them (and perhaps many Tennesseans) hope will be the last time this year. But they’re facing a long list of issues that have been pushed to the session’s final days — many of which could have serious ramifications to their chances of returning to the Capitol in 2015. After resisting the urge last week to load up Gov. Bill Haslam’s $32.4 billion budget proposal with special projects for their districts or raises for state employees, lawmakers now could face crucial votes on guns, education, drugs and taxes.
Christopher Parks launched Change Healthcare in 2007 to bring more transparency to health care, building the company with $1 million he raised from local investors. In 2010, a year after the state’s TNInvestco program was created with the mission of supporting entrepreneurship and job creation by funding early-stage companies, Parks landed $5.5 million, $1.5 million of that coming from TNInvestco. His company has since raised $25 million more from local and national investors, allowing it to grow its staff to more than 70 employees with nearly 7 million people on the health care platform nationally.
Fields of tall hemp stalks won’t dominate Tennessee farms this summer, despite overwhelming support from state lawmakers last week to allow the plants to be grown legally. Both houses of the Tennessee General Assembly have passed bills decriminalizing the growth of industrial hemp, which has been defined as strains of cannabis with less than 0.3 percent THC, the high-inducing psychoactive chemical found in marijuana. Hemp can be used to make plastics, insulation and a concrete-like material called “hempcrete.” Some strains of the plant are prized for their nutrition. And clothes and shoes made from the product are already commonplace across the country.
A bill that would keep a victim of domestic abuse from paying for a spouse’s rehab program in the midst of a divorce is on its way to state Gov. Bill Haslam’s desk. The legislation is intended to keep a husband or wife who is the victim of domestic abuse from having to pay for any drug or alcohol rehabilitation program the abuser may have entered after a divorce is filed. For the bill to apply, there must either be an order of protection in place or a court finding of domestic abuse or criminal conviction involving domestic abuse within the marriage. If so, only the abuser will be responsible for any debt the abuser incurs in a drug or alcohol rehab program. The state House version of the bill, HB1877, passed unanimously April 3.
Sen. Lamar Alexander already senses the opportunities for shaping domestic policy — likewise for Sen. Bob Corker and foreign policy. The 2014 elections could lift both Tennessee Republicans to chairmanships of high-profile Senate committees. If Republicans take control of the Senate, which some political prognosticators consider likely, Alexander is in line to become chairman of Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, giving him considerable influence over huge areas of domestic policy. Corker likely would be the next head of Foreign Relations. They are ranking Republicans on those panels now.
Former Hamilton County Mayor Claude Ramsey recalls flying into Arizona four years ago as part of a job recruiting trip to check out three Amazon distribution facilities in the Phoenix area. “They wanted us to see what they were doing so we all could understand,” Ramsey said. Since that time, Amazon has invested in excess of $139 million in Southeast Tennessee and hired more than 2,500 full-time workers, including more than 2,000 at its Chattanooga operation, according to the company’s latest figures. Amazon also has a significant part-time workforce at its Chattanooga and Charleston, Tenn., distribution centers though it wouldn’t give any firm numbers.
As the Tennessee General Assembly comes to a close this week, lawmakers have one last chance to approve legislation to allow the state to experiment with public school vouchers. We urge members of the House to overcome their legislative stubbornness and approve Gov. Haslam’s bill, as amended in the Senate. This is the second year Haslam has put forth a limited school voucher bill that would allow certain Tennessee public schools to try school vouchers. The governor has taken a hard line against the broader approach to vouchers favored by many in the House. We think the limited approach is the place to start.
This week, the Tennessee state legislature passed a bill that would allow drug-addicted pregnant women to be prosecuted as criminals. The bill would permit a woman who used illegal drugs during pregnancy to be charged with assault if her child is born addicted to or harmed, by the drug and to be charged with homicide if the child dies. It also would allow women to avoid those charges if they volunteer for drug treatment. But before Tennessee’s governor makes it official with his signature, I wanted to urge him to consider that this proposed solution may only exacerbate the problem his state is trying to solve. Dear Governor Bill Haslam: It’s me, Melissa. I understand that the magnitude of the crisis facing your state and how daunting it must feel.
What do you think the slogans would be for an advertisement promoting the state of Tennessee to people who have never been here? Perhaps “Welcoming to visitors.” “Great place to raise a family.” “Ideal place to start a business or to get an education.” But what if some of our state legislators wrote the ad? Would it be “Armed to the teeth” or “Loaded for bear” or perhaps “Itching for a fight”? Tennessee is a state whose residents revere their right to own guns. There is no doubt about that. But why are so many of our lawmakers intent on making such a coarse, even threatening, display of this fact with bill after bill to encourage more guns in public than the public itself would ever want?
Time and again in the 2014 legislative session, the Senate has established itself as the throttle on the Republican supermajority railroad while the House has become the brakes. The bill to legalize the open carrying of pistols without a permit, roaring through the Senate last week on a 25-2 vote with no debate, provides an example. In the House, the companion measure has been parked in a subcommittee under circumstances that would normally mean it’s dead. Now, it is possible that the brakes on that one could loosen in the last moments as the session lurches to adjournment this week and strange things start to happen.
Just when we thought legislators might make it out of town without embarrassing the state too much more, they decided to pass a law that bars the United Nations from sending monitors to state elections. Election officials in Afghanistan, Syria and Ukraine may regret that the United Nations will be able to focus its attention on them rather than the Volunteer State, and it’s nice to know that Tennessee does not have any serious problems like a revenue deficit. Oh, that’s right, it does have a revenue deficit that the Legislature had to resolve to approve a balanced budget before it adjourns. The General Assembly seems to operate in something of a dual universe.